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To the Diamond Coast

March 12, 2018

Heading due west from the Quiver Tree Forest through the barren Kalahari Desert, the iron oxide sand of the Namib altered the landscape, and we began to see red dunes in the distance. If it was possible, the scene became even more desolate, almost making the Kalahari look like a garden. We met fewer than a handful of vehicles on the dusty road, and went through only one town, Aus, where we had a pleasant lunch and filled the gas tanks.

A single railroad track ran parallel to the road, and from time to time we passed an abandoned station, testament to the pointlessness of trying to keep the track open in the face of wind-blown sand.

Luderitz, situated on the coast, has a distinctly German atmosphere. From our room we had a nice view of the Felsenkirche, rising from a rocky crest above the town, and of the harbor hosting a thriving fishing industry.

Rock lobster and oysters are a special treat here, and we had dinner at the Diaz Coffee Shop, which looked an unlikely place for seafood. But it was exceptionally tasty; in addition to a rock lobster tail and some baked oysters I had kingclip, a type of rock fish.

In the morning we made our way just a short drive out of town to Kolmanskoop, an abandoned mining town originally established in 1908 after diamonds were discovered there. At its height some 300 people lived there, including over 40 children; and they had a school, hospital, shops, bowling alley, gym, casino, ice house and the first x-ray machine in the southern hemisphere (developed to ensure workers weren’t smuggling diamonds out). The town was fashioned like a German village, and the wealthy owners/managers imported building materials from Germany to construct their palatial homes. When the diamonds had played out, by the late 1920s, most of the townsfolk decamped to a larger field further south along the Orange River, leaving everything behind, and the town was abandoned. In the intervening years the relentless desert winds have blown sand into all the structures, resulting in an eerie, ghostly feel to the ruins. Remnants remain of the fancy wallpaper, elaborate woodwork and generous windows overlooking a barren landscape.

The late-morning sun filtering through rafters and windows creates dramatic effects.

The teacher’s house remains standing only because of the sand packed tightly inside.

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In the photo above right, the mine-workers’ quarters are seen away from the main part of the town (and they’re not part of the tour). Working conditions were severe, with the crew managers taking extraordinary measures against smuggling. Besides periodic x-rays, workers were subject to involuntary enemas and other indignities. Miners worked on all fours above ground, scarves wound around their lower faces against the blowing sand, picking diamonds off the surface and collecting them in jelly jars (working at night under a full moon was common, as the gems gleamed in the moonlight).

Water for the town was brought by rail from 75 miles away, but this was no hardship for the prosperous townspeople, who cultivated lawns and gardens and lived in luxury.

A small museum exhibits tools, household items and clothing from the period.

So many photo opportunities…

3 Comments
  1. Marlo Quick permalink

    This really shows the power of nature, doesn’t it? And the arrogance and greed of those who thought to conquer it. Your photos are fabulous.

    Like

  2. Wonderful photos of the ghost town, A wonderful experience and photos of a locale not on your bucket list! My favorite pictures were of the giraffe, Chito‘s, and especially the little merkaat! Keep traveling!! 💖

    Like

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