By Safari Mike
The Skeleton Coast of Namibia (Southern Africa) is one of the most uninhabited and desolate places on the planet. It is also the most unique and challenging of all African Safari destinations. The oldest desert on the planet, see the two prior articles for more insight and adventure.
This is INSANE! Where are we? If we didn’t have our incredible guide, Festus, we might just be another statistic…I can picture the headline…lost explorer (that sounds so much sexier than tourist) eaten by hyenas after wandering aimlessly in circles in Skeleton Coast Desert. It’s absolutely crazy out here. No roads, no trails, no landmarks…but one hell of a lot of sand… constantly blowing and changing the landscape. Even the massive sand dunes keep changing. Actually, this is not unusual, nor is it a problem for Festus. He navigates this place like it has street signs. Unbelievable ! Festus knows exactly where he wants to take us and we soon find ourselves at this huge amphitheater sized sand dune.
So, now that we made it here, join me for the fun part. OK… just picture yourself at the beach. Any beach that has nice deep sand. Take off your shoes and feel the sand between your toes and how you sink in a bit with each step. Now close your eyes, really, close them…you need to be in the moment with me. Now imagine this nice deep granular surface under your bare feet as you begin to ascend a mountain of sand. Still barefoot begin your climb…step after mushy step constantly getting steeper as you continue. After just a few minutes your calves begin to tighten (I can feel it even if you can’t). The wind is howling at about 25 miles an hour with absolutely nothing to protect you from its force. You are still climbing (still barefoot). At the point where you are wondering why you or anyone would do this…you are at your destination. Your hair is a complete wreck from the wind, your legs are crying in pain and you are at the very top of a massive sand dune. Now you’re looking down well over 100 feet to the level where you left your shoes. So let’s put this in perspective…looking down just 100 feet is like looking down from the height of a 10th floor balcony of a New York apartment building. Hmm, why did we do this? How can we get the Land Rover up here to pick us up?
Since you can see the photo I know you’ve already figured…no Land Rover. Alright then, what about the first question… What ARE we doing here?
Remember, at the Skeleton Coast we do whatever Festus tells us. No kidding we trust him with our life, did I mention, no kidding…
As instructed, we sit down at the edge of the dune and look where our bodies are pointed. I suddenly feel like a member of the Jamaican bobsled team…without the damn bobsled! You’ve got to be kidding, that’s a long way down! At this point you might say a little prayer (I added that part since one of the women was pretty obvious about it) and proceed to enjoy one of the best rides Disney Never Had. However, the ride down on our keesters is only part of the attraction. We have just climbed to the very top of one of Namibia’s famous ROARING DUNES and the entire slide down it’s steep face is accompanied by the VERY REAL, VERY LOUD roaring sound of a jet engine. Not a little turbo prop like we came in on, I’m talking at least a B-737. You see, under certain ideal conditions of temperature, wind, humidity (which is almost nil) sand structure and shape of the dune…as you slide down, the movement of the sand under your butt moves and builds to create an unbelievably unexpected crescendo. This was amazing! We were actually creating this amazing roaring sound the entire slide down the dune. Actually, the sound was coming from our sliding butt!!! (There are several phrases that come to mind right now and butt is not the word I’m thinking of). Well, this was truly another experience never to be duplicated and it’s only noon.
Since we had come all this way there was one more objective. The drive continued along the coast to Cape Fria, the home of one of Africa’s largest colonies of Cape Fur Seals. Thousands of seals! Sometimes numbering almost 20,000. If you remember I said the icy cold Benguela Current from Antarctica carries nutrients north along the Skeleton Coast, and nutrients bring fish….and fish bring seals. We spent several hours just walking among seals, seals and more seals. They didn’t care about us and allowed us to walk among them with absolutely no problem. Like everything else on the Skeleton Coast the seals are protected from humans, but unfortunately the seals couldn’t do much about the jackals that also walked among them, occasionally snatching a meal when a pup got too far from its mother. The jackals are opportunists and find little resistance when they hunt for the very young pups during the breeding months.
The unique situation on the Skeleton Coast is that hyena and even desert lion have adapted to this strange environment by hunting Cape Fur Seals. Yes, I did say lion. This is the only place on the planet where lion sometimes hunt seals and other marine animals. The harsh desert existence has even changed the behavior of the lion living here and has forced them to adapt to the scarcity of their normal prey. This day we saw only jackals, however, signs of hyena (only brown hyena here in the desert) from their morning visit were everywhere. Once again we are reminded that this is still Africa.