Destination Memories: Namibia, Africa
Members and travel writers share the places they’re travelling to, albeit in their minds
Solar-powered cabins near Mowe Bay; scattered whale bones and wreckage in the sand
Known for its shipwrecked vessels and vast coastal sand dunes, Skeleton Coast is a castaway’s paradise
By Susan Ward Davies Images courtesy of Susan Ward Davies Thursday 30 April, 2020 Short read
It’s dawn. I’m tucked up in bed with a hot-water bottle, cosy in brushed cotton sheets and faux-fur blankets. As the light seeps into my wooden cabin, through the almost floor-to-ceiling window, I watch wisps of fog curling up a huge expanse of wild beach, the bleached white sand speckled with tufts of coarse grass and silvery green lichen.
I’m in the aptly named Shipwreck Lodge on Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, which spans 500km between the little seaside town of Swakopmund and the Angolan border. I have a bit of an obsession with bleak places: Bolivia’s Uyuni salt flats, the strange luna landscape of parts of The Hebrides, Chile’s Atacama Desert – but this turns out to be one of the most remote and otherworldly places I have ever slept in.
Even the name, Skeleton Coast, is evocative – so-called because of the whale and animal bones strewn along its length, as well as the skeletal remains of the wave-battered shipwrecks. In places, giant sand dunes can tower up to 100m above the shoreline and the Atlantic Ocean is fierce, with massive breakers shooting out clouds of sea spray as they thunder furiously onto the beach.
Scattered along the sand, 45km from Mowe Bay (just an airstrip, a huddle of little huts and a quirky museum of birds’ eggs, whale bones and wreck memorabilia), are 10 solar-powered cabins with curved, whale bone-shaped wooden supports to evoke ships washed up on the beach. Inside the one where I’m staying, all is calm comfort – a kind of ELLE Decoration version of Jack Sparrow’s cabin, with porthole windows, ship’s rope serving as towel rails, artistically shredded curtains and a wood-burning stove. In the stylish main cabin/ dining room, a 200m trudge away through deep sand, I drink crisp South African Sauvignon and try the innovative meals conjured up by the chef via weekly deliveries from Swakopmund – nearly 500km away. By day, I scoot around the dunes on a quad bike, take a jeep to find shipwrecks and Cape fur seals at Mowe Bay, and swap travellers’ tales with my fellow shipmates over dinner. But my favourite part is sitting on my window seat writing my diary in the moonlight, feeling like a castaway, and waking up in the half light as another misty dawn breaks.
Solitude is a strange thing – some of us crave it and don’t have enough, and others have too much. But as cabin fever grows, I can’t think of a better place to be than stranded among those endless miles of deserted sand dunes.