Go Travel Namibia Part II: Squatters, Bowling and Blingin’ Ghosts
Now, ladies and gentlemen, we head west into the heart of Namibia’s nothingness. Goodbye, Fish River Canyon. Hello, Kolmanskop ghost town. Although this town might be lacking in night time entertainment, the ghosts aren’t complaining. Lame joke. After all, they struck it rich with diamonds during their time here on Earth and are now flashing their bling in the After World – I hear lady ghosts love that sort of thing. Wow, Kath, the jokes are not getting any better. Plus, that was a little bit sexist.
Our whopping nineteen hour drive from South Africa to Namibs included sleeping immigration officers (who did not appreciate being woken up to do something silly like stamp our passports), punishing heat and the discovery that our car has no working fan belt. Perfect for a road trip into the African desert. Of course it also included a brilliant full moon, an impromptu dune buggy ride when we took the wrong road, and an unforgettable first impression of Namibia as the sun came up over the landscape. The whole no-fan-belt- thing cost us a bit of time so we forwent the shower and nap to head straight to Kolmanskop. As JD pointed out, it doesn’t matter what you look like in a ghost town. Our Bob Marley CD ended its hundredth time playing just as we pulled in.
Even from a distance Kolmanskop is, well, strange. Before you notice the lack of windows and encroaching sand dunes, you wonder how or why anyone would build a town here, the middle of flipping nowhere. Ah, but then the Kolmanskop official tour begins and you hear the tales of shimmering diamonds so plentiful that children could find them lying on the sand.
That, my friends, is called travel incentive.
So at the turn of the twentieth century the German-turned-Africans did the only logical thing and went in search of these precious stones. They made the best of their barren desert situation. In a town with a total of seven streets, they grandly named one the Millionaire’s Mile. While it’s not exactly a whole mile long, it is full of impressive mansions. They built a communal kitchen, a state of the art gymnasium and even a bowling alley (which I suspect the groundskeepers still use since there was nary a grain of sand on the balls nor pins). In true colonial form they exploited the locals and created a miniature version of der Vater land. Things were looking good.
Unfortunately for the fortune seeking German-Africans, two world wars got in their way and the diamonds ran out. Not completely – diamond mining still goes on quite heavily – but there were no longer heaps of diamonds strewn about. A disappointment for them, and for JD and me, who were secretly hoping to take home some glittering souvenirs. By the 1930s most Kolmanskopians had headed back to Europe or to the coast where life was not so hard. By the 1950s the hospital was closed, and Team Kolmanskop was officially disbanded.
Just as you would expect, it hasn’t taken long for squatters to move in. Snakes and scorpions defy the demands of ghost landlords to pay rent on time (yet another bad joke). Sand dunes bully their way into the buildings – even the mansions on Millionaire’s Mile. Tourists pull in with their Bob Marley CDs, broken fan belts and unwashed hair.
But Kolmanskop is not disgraced by its abandonment. It embraces its new look of broken roofs and peeling paint, and creates an almost other worldly feel for visitors. It stands strong in its strangeness.
And so, without further ado (and before I think of another terrible joke), here are a few travel pictures of Kolmanskop.