By Mehdy Ghannad
We left Etosha National Park early that morning, as we had a long haul ahead of us to the German-influenced beach town of Swakopmund. The first 100 km (62 Miles) of the drive took us further through the national park where we continued to see more wildlife. Giraffes, kudus, and oryxes all met us on the road at different spots during our journey. They even caused us to stop a few times as we had to wait for them to cross the road in front of us. We all joked that it’s going to be boring driving back home, as the most exciting thing that we see on the road is the occasional dead possum or armadillo.
As we looked ahead we saw this train of stripes across the horizon. The train of stripes was a herd of about 50 zebras single file all walking to some unknown destinations. I set out loud to the crew, “We are definitely in Africa.” We could not ask for a better photo opportunity.
We finally reached the other end of the National Park, which was the Okaukueio Camp. We had a decision to make, as there were two ways to get to our destination. Should we take the interior route that will take us mostly on the highway? Or maybe should we opt to head directly west and drive down the Skeleton Coast? With a name like the “Skeleton Coast,” how could we possibly not go that way? That’s like locking a kid in a candy store all by himself and asking him not to eat anything. So the Skeleton Coast it is. I whipped out the map to ensure there were gas stations on this route. Once again, with a name like the Skeleton Coast, that’s somewhere we do not want to get stranded.
It looked like from the map, as the gas station icon indicated, we would be able to get gas in the town of Khorixas and then we can continue on to the coast. So that’s where we headed and an hour and a half later that’s where we arrived. As we pulled into the gas station, we saw a bunch of jeeps that were all loaded up with gear and had stickers that said, Glo Ball 2012. Evan and I looked at each other, and both had the same idea. I had to go talk to them and he had to film it. We found out that these guys were from Poland and had their cars shipped down to South Africa. The Poles’ plan was to drive all the way from South Africa back to the homeland of Poland.
Glo Ball 2012’s mission, as their cars indicated, was to promote the international language of soccer (football) during the entire journey. Their plan was to travel to remote areas all over Africa to play soccer with anyone and everyone they met along the way. For our non-soccer friends, Poland is hosting the Euro Cup Championship this year. So the Glo Ball crew was traveling from the last hosting country of the World Cup, South Africa, to this year’s Euro Cup host. Instances like this just reconfirms my love for travel, finding extra-ordinary people doing extra-ordinary things. I later found out they are actually filming the whole adventure for a documentary for Discovery Channel. So be on the look out for these guys as your flipping through the channels in the upcoming year.
The next two hours of our adventure took us through some more mesmerizing and awe-inspiring landscapes. We passed two cars and a handful of people during this stretch as well, which left an uneasy feeling in my stomach. But just then in the distance, a building of some sort and a fence appeared in the horizon ahead of us. As we got closer we reached a closed gate with a skull and crossbones on it. Evan exclaimed in a sarcastic manner, “I think we have arrived to The Skeleton Coast.”
Now the gate was locked and there was no one around in sight that could potentially open it for us. I yelled out, “hello, hello,” and heard no response. I looked at the rest of the guys, in an 'oh shit' manner and said, “I think we are going to have to drive all the way back, in other words we just added six hours to our total trip for no reason.” Then all of a sudden a man in the distance in a uniform appeared. “Thank God,” I said out loud.
But maybe that response was much too soon. The gatekeeper quickly exclaimed as he walked towards us, “ You cannot pass as it is after 3:00pm.” He then further explained to all of us that no one is allowed to enter The Skeleton Coast after 3:00 pm. It was 5:00 pm at the moment, and that 'oh shit' look came back on all our faces. I decided to follow the gatekeeper into the office and see if I could persuade him into letting us pass. I gave him the full story. That I was a filmmaker and trying to promote travel to his beautiful country of Namibia and that we could not have a complete experience without taking in The Skeleton Coast firsthand. However, it was not working. The expression that was on his face pretty much said, 'sorry dude my hands are tied.' I glanced over on the counter, questioning what I should say or do next. Then in the corner of my eye I saw some artwork on the counter behind the gatekeeper.
I said to the gatekeeper, “ Did you make these?”
He responded, “ Yes, I am a bit of an artist.”
I then said, “Wow these are great, you are more than just a bit of an artist.”
I then continued to say, “Well, film is my art and to complete that art I would really love to see The Skeleton Coast.”
The gatekeeper then smirked at me, and shook his head. He then proceeded to fill out the paperwork for the permit free of charge, opened the gate, and we were on our way.
We continued another 30 miles down the gravel road until we finally reached the water. Now, “The Skeleton Coast” obtained its name mainly from the many whale bones that covered the shore when the whaling industry was still active in Namibia. The coast is also synonymous with shipwrecks, as this area is known for intense fog, causing ships to lose sight of land and crashing into the nearby rocks. So our expectations were really set high. We all were expecting to see massive whale carcasses and pirate ships scattered all over the coast that we can climb on and into. But to our dismay, all we were able to see was a few seal skeletons, a few smaller animal bones, and one mast poking out of the sand. I flipped through the trusty Lonely Planet to find out where we can see some more of the action, but it seems most of the wrecks are all now buried in the sand and the other bigger wrecks are more in the remote locations near the Angolan border to the north. And we all came to terms that we are not going to see a massive whale carcass laid out on the beach.
The journey wasn’t all a loss. We did take in the natural beauty of the water and the surrounding terrain for the next two hours to our final destination of Swakopmund.