Ice cream at the Mole in Swakopmund

You have probably noticed that it has been a long time since Flat Kathy has written anything on her blog. As our jet-setting friend and aspiring world traveller is currently in ye olde England with our neighbours (I know! Isn’t Flat Kathy amazing? She makes friends wherever she goes!), and probably far too busy charming the Brits to do any work on her blog, she has asked me to finish the story (her story) of our trip to Namibia. Cheeky lass!

So here we go.


04 April 2013

It had been a very busy morning.

I had met Aunty Margot and her family, the naughty twins had had a thrilling playdate with Jenna and Bella, and we had enjoyed positively scrumptious lunch at the Wild Rocket with Uncle Hermann and Aunty Christa. Oh, and we had worked off some of those calories with an exploratory walk around Swakopmund, which is a really pretty town.

“Right, who wants to have some ice cream at the beach?” asked Aunty Lissi, as we made our way back to the car.

What a question! We promptly replied with a chorus of “I do! I do!”

Aunty Christa met us at the Mole, and we ambled down to the beach together. It was a lovely sandy beach, with a broad walkway alongside, lined by palm trees. I was surprised to see so many palm trees here; it made the place feel like an oasis in the desert. And in a way, I suppose that’s exactly what it is, as the town does sprawl along the Atlantic Ocean, on the edge of the inhospitable and vast Namib Desert with its ochre-and-red sand dunes and gravel-covered lichen fields.

This is the lovely, sheltered sandy beach at Swakopmund
This is the lovely, sheltered sandy beach at Swakopmund

“The Mole, also known as a breakwater, was constructed at the start of the 20th century – about 1900,” explained Reggie, putting on her tour guide hat, which she likes to do sometimes. “To give you a very brief history, this area used to be a German colony. The town of Swakopmund was founded in 1892 by Major Curt van Francois of the Schutztruppe, the ‘German imperial protection force’. The town was intended as the main harbour for German South West Africa (now Namibia) — because the deep sea harbour of Walvis Bay, some 30 km south, was under British control. In 1915, South Africa took control of the country from Germany, until Namibia achieved independence in 1990.”

“Was there a harbour here before then?” I inquired, curious.

Reggie shook her head. “No, there wasn’t. The authorities decided that here, slightly north of the Tsoakhaub – or Swakop – River mouth, would be a good place to construct a harbour. You must remember that there wasn’t much here – it was just a vast desert. No houses, no roads, no infrastructure, no agriculture, no farms, no forests to supply wood… They started from scratch, using whatever natural resources they could find here, but the rest all had to be imported, mainly by sea, from Europe and from South Africa.”

“But this doesn’t look like a harbour,” I remarked, gazing at the beach, where people were sunning themselves, or playing beach tennis, or kicking a ball around. Little kids were dashing in and out of the waves, squealing with delight. It looked idyllic.

We walk towards the Museum Café, where we want to buy some ice-cream
We walk towards the Museum Café, where we want to buy some ice-cream

“That’s because the prevailing ocean currents shifted the sandbanks, and caused the harbour to silt up very quickly,” clarified Reggie. “Also, when the Swakop River comes down in flood, which only rarely happens, then it dumps masses of sand and debris from upstream into the ocean. The cold Benguela current, which flows from south to north along this coast, carries this sand and silt northwards, and deposits it here, around the Mole.”

“As a result, the Mole wasn’t used as a harbour for very long. On the far side, though, there is a small launching area, where small crafts, fishing boats, sail boats, etc. can be launched. I don’t know if it’s still used for that today though; it was when I was little. When it became clear that the Mole wasn’t a good harbour, a wooden jetty was built on the long stretch of sandy beach just to the south of the Mole. It was soon replaced by one with iron and steel pillars and braces to withstand the pounding surf. Ships anchored out at sea, waiting for good conditions to offload passengers and freight, but even when the sea was fairly calm, it was still a hair-raisingly dangerous operation.”

“Can we see the jetty sometime?”

“Yes, Flat Kathy,” interjected Richard. “We’re going to go for a walk to the tip of the jetty later, to see the sunset.”

“Ooh, nice!”

Reggie and I share a delicious fruit-sorbet ice-cream
Reggie and I share a delicious fruit-sorbet ice-cream

We got ourselves a couple of ice creams at the café next to the Museum. On the right, a shady palm-tree lined pedestrian avenue led off into the distance. On the left was a sandy playground with colourfully painted wooden structures – merry-go-rounds, jungle gyms, a ‘car’ and a ‘ship’.

Reggie beamed at me, “Flat Kathy, this was my playground when I was little. I used to come down here with my gran, and she’d sit over there on the benches, keeping an eye on me, while I played in the sand.”

“Do you see the sign above the entrance to the building that says ‘Museum’? This is where the original customs house used to stand, with that beautiful red-and-white lighthouse on the hill above,” indicated Reggie. “It was apparently shot up by British warships lying off the coast, at the start of the World War I, and burnt to the ground. When it was rebuilt around 1960, part of it was used to house the Swakopmund Museum.”

Reggie and I climb onto the rocks that shelter the bay from the powerful surf
Reggie and I climb onto the rocks that shelter the bay from the powerful surf

We walked to the front of the Mole, where the breakers were thundering against the rocks, sending spray high up into the air.  I inhaled deeply – the fresh air was invigorating! We climbed onto the cluster of dry rocks facing away from the ocean, on the inside of the sheltered little bay, and gazed back at the beach. The red-and-white lighthouse was starting to disappear in the misty haze, the waves were lapping around a small wooden jetty sticking out into the water above the line of dark rocks, and a small wooden platform was bobbing gently in the middle of the bay.

“What is that for?” I pointed at the platform.

“Many people swim out to it,” said Reggie, “and then have a little rest before they swim back again, or to the far side.”

“Did you swim here when you were little?”

“Yes, I did. But the water is usually quite cold, and I didn’t like swimming when there was too much seaweed floating around… it gave me the heebie-jeebies!” She laughed. “When I was little, I was convinced that the seaweed would wrap itself around me and drag me down. Luckily, my gran always knew where there was seaweed; she’d help me to find the best route into the water and out again.”

And with that, we cast a final look at the ocean, before returning to our car, now swathed in mist.

(Click on any of the photos below to access the slideshow with captions.)

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