Sunday, January 20, 2013

We arrived safely in Luderitz, Namibia a couple of days ago and yesterday we went to visit the ghost town of Kolmanskuppe.   It is an abandoned diamond mining town, being restored by the mining company that is still operating in the area.  As old mining town dwellers both Barry and I were fascinated with the experience.  It had so many similarities to other old towns we had visited in the NWT, there was the very posh mine managers house in the best location, there was the bowling alley, we saw one in Gunnar, an abandoned gold mining town near Uranium City and of course the gymnasium with the stage for local dramas and musicals. The difference was that everything was really well preserved because it is so dry and if the doors had been left open, sand had encroached the boundaries of the dwellings and was attempting to reclaim the area. Wandering around the single man's bunk house we found the drawing of the lady on the wall, we didn't kiss this lady though!
The Germans had control of the area in the late 1800's when the town was built and there are still original tiles on the floor and in a few buildings, beautifully restored wood floors.  There were   borders stenciled on the walls about normal ceiling height, but the walls continued upwards  about 4 meters to keep the building cool.  The doors and windows were very decorative, but the windows in the unrestored buildings were sand blasted and people had etched their names on the now opaque windows.  There was about 250 Germans in the town  and 800 workers, the hospital could house almost the whole town. Back then the doctors had access to the latest in x-ray technology, not only to help diagnose disease but to find diamonds in suspected smugglers.
There was a section on the ingenious ways people figured out how to smuggle the diamonds out.  I thought that cutting a hole in the top off of a guard rail on a train that took the workers back and forth to the mine site and then stuffing diamonds wrapped in cloth in the hole and fastening the hole was quite clever.  The other one  I enjoyed was a fellow that had a ringed notepad with him all the time and he would have to pass through an x-ray machine.  He would always give the notepad to the guard and walk through the machine. One day a guard made him keep his pad as he passed through the x-ray and lo and behold he had stuffed the binding at the top of the notebook with shiny rocks.  To encourage the security crew to vigilante, any diamonds recovered from smugglers netted the finders 33 percent of their worth.
A description of the first diamond discovery in the area filled me with awe.  As an explorer was going through the area, he asked his helpers to hunt for firewood.  He reminded them to keep an eye out for shiny rocks. The worker came back with a handful of diamonds, dropping his wood and stuffing his discovery in his mouth so he could gather more with his hands. After picking up as many as they could they went back to their campsite to get out of the wind and possibly fog.  That night the wind abated and they crept back to their find to make sure it was real and there in the moonlight were the glittering diamonds laying on the desert floor. They named the area fairly land.
We made our way up to the top of the hill behind town and took a look at the swimming pool. I kid you not; they used to pump sea water up to the site and used it to wash the diamonds. They might as well pump a little more for the enjoyment of the employees and their families.  The old diving board was still there and the ghosts must have taken a few plunges on a hot windy day.
We were driven back to town through a landscape that was barren and unforgiving. It reminded us of the north, treeless, rocky and stark.  The sand dunes started a little further south.  We are on our way to Walvis Bay at the moment. Our route has us travelling within sight of the coast.  We are hoping to stop at an uninhabited bay but only if we can find good holding. pictures to be posted later.