Swakopmund, South West Africa, December 1976
Just like the year before my parents had driven the long road from where we lived in Vanderbijlpark, South Africa, to Swakopmund, South West Africa (now Namibia) for the summer holidays. This year, it wasn’t only our family, but also that of my mom’s sister, and they had the same setting as ours – father, mother, daughter and son.
Now I don’t know how it is nowadays, but back then you could camp anywhere you could find a spot. On the road towards our holiday location, we always overnight next to the road just before we reached Rehoboth. When we reached Swakopmund, our parents looked for a place to camp. For those who don’t know, most of the Namibian coastline is a desert – the Namib desert.
Camping in the desert comes with its own challenges. One of those challenges was driving through all that sand, and since neither of the families owned a 4×4, we did what so many others did: let out half of the air from the tires, and somehow because the tires were softer, they could drive through the sand. Don’t ask me the mechanics behind this, all I know is that it worked.
Another challenge was finding a proper place to set up camp. I have no idea how my parents had decided to set up the tents in that particular spot, except that the ground was a bit more solid there than in the dunes. Oh there were plenty of dunes around, but this particular spot was quite flat, and solid, and close to the ocean. After camp had been set up, my father and uncle took their fishing gear and headed to the seashore. My mom was a keen fisher too, but she and my aunt stayed by the tents. And of course, us children — two nine-year old girls, and two boys, one eight, one seven — were exploring the place around the tents, running between our fathers and mothers.
I still vividly remember the big fishing rods my parents had. They were heavy and the only way they could be held when fishing in sea was to rest them in a kind of harness (think strap-on style, but replace the hole with a sort of shallow ‘tunnel’). It was on one of my trips back from where my father was waiting for a fish to catch on a hook, that I saw the helicopter in the distance.
Now seeing a helicopter in the desert isn’t that strange, but it grew larger and larger and soon my mom and aunt were standing with us kids and watched that big machine approaching. My father and uncle were still oblivious, as the roar of the sea drowned out the sound of the helicopter. It was only when it hovered above us, and started to descend, blowing up sand and having us shield our eyes, that the men realized something was happening.
Two men in uniforms jumped from the helicopter, and came running towards my mom. We were told to leave the camping spot immediately. They were of the National Nature Conservation, and explained that it had rained heavily in the inland, and water was coming down to the ocean. My mom was stunned. Why would we have to move only because rain water was coming down to the ocean? The men showed my mom the edges of the flat area where our camp was. It turned out the camp site was right in middle of the wide river mouth of an ephemeral river*, and from what I can see on the map now, it must have been the Omaruru river.
We had an hour to break down the camp and move our arses out of there, and those two uniformed men helped my parents to get the tents down as quickly as possible. In less than an hour we were in the car, and my parents drove through the desert and we ended up setting up camp on an official camping site, called Mile 14.
When I saw the prompt ‘big’ for Feve’s Reminiscences Project, no memory came to mind. I started thinking of the places we have lived, thought of Namibia (the best years of my childhood) and then Swakopmund came to mind. And that’s why I remembered how wide (big) that river mouth was. It also reminded me of another ephemeral river close to Rehoboth where my brother and I played in the river, of course while it was dry. There are a lot of ephemeral rivers in Namibia. When I started drafting this post in my head, I wanted the year mentioned at the top, and I sat wondering whether it was 1976 or 1977 that this happened. I checked with my father, and he confirmed it was 1976, and that he still has the photos of back then!
Also… 1976. That’s like… SO long ago!
* An ephemeral river is a river that only flows when there is rain or snow has melted. The rest of the year there is just a dry river bed with no water.
© Rebel’s Notes
Image from Wikipedia