A Trek up the Skeleton Coast

Peter Turchin

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As a boy growing up in Russia I read a bunch of adventure stories about intrepid explorers traveling to far-off places. In one book a band of adventurers voyaged to the Skeleton Coast to search for diamonds. So one might say that it’s been a long time that I dreamed of visiting this remote and dangerous territory. Last week I finally realized the dream.

Over the past week I have been traveling in Namibia with two friends. It’s a spectacular country, justly famous for its landscapes and wildlife.

Our trek up the Skeleton Coast started at sunrise in the quaint town of Swakopmund (all photographs in this blog ©PeterTurchin):

Swakopmund in the early morning

Very quickly all signs of civilization are left behind, and all that one sees is a cold (water temperature is 15°C) and turbulent sea on the left hand side, and a desert on the right side. The road is basically sand cemented by salt:

The road

The road quality actually was quite good. According to reports, it becomes slick and treacherous after a rain, but it hardly ever rains on the Skeleton Coast.

Sand and salt are everywhere; in fact, there are a number of salt-production businesses along the road:

Salt

The Skeleton Coast got its name because it is an incredibly dangerous area for navigation. It is literally littered with shipwrecks, from recent ones:

A recent shipwreck

To older ones, which provide excellent nesting grounds for sea birds:

An older wreck

And then to ancient wrecks, that have sunk into the sand:

An ancient wreck

In addition to these “skeletons” of ships, the sand is littered with actual skeletons:

The Skeleton Coast, true to its name

The road ends at an isolated outpost of Terrace Bay:

Terrace Bay

which doesn’t have a permanent population (people come to work there for three weeks, and then take a week off with their families back home).

The Skeleton Coast is not quite as devoid of life as it looks. Driving out of Terrace Bay the next morning we saw a couple of jackals:

A jackal

All in all, traveling in this remote and desolate land was a wonderful adventure. Unlike the heroes of my childhood books, I didn’t dig for diamonds in the sand. But if you want to do it, apparently you can:

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Edward Downe

Never heard of it before. Very interesting.

Forecaster

I wonder why ships don’t sail farther out to sea to avoid such a dangerous shoreline.

JAMES EVANS

Amazing place! I was in Namibia in December/January and did a loop from Windhoek to Etosha down to Swakopmund, Seeheim, and back to Windhoek. The closest we got to the Skeleton Coast Park was perhaps in the area of the Torra Conservancy (just looking back at my Google Maps stars) and then when we merged back onto the main road north of Walvis Bay I think. I definitely thought one day I should go back and drive the actual Skeleton Coast and get up into the Kunene Region. I think I saw one of those wrecks as it was pretty far south. Great to see you made the trip as I’ve been following your blog for some time (think I remember reading some posts while camping on top of our Hilux in the desert) and it is definitely an exotic place.

Vladimir Dinets

You can also see brown hyenas at Terrace Bay, but only on weekends.

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