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Story of Ozymandias (Rabat, Morocco)

Rabat is the capital of Morocco and home to Morocco’s Royal Palace. The large estate can be described as a walled city that not only houses one of the King’s Palace’s but also the minions who work there. Though we were excited to visit the grounds, we were more than disappointed with the reception we received. Neither buses nor taxis were allowed within a reasonable distance of the Palace; and thus, everyone had to walk approximately three to four blocks to photograph the palace. Actually we didn’t mind the walk; however, when we arrived, we didn’t appreciate the attitude of the many armed guards that kept us more than several hundred feet from the entry archway by blowing their whistles and using hostile gestures indicating we must not go further.

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 OK so let’s photograph another building. How about the King’s personal royal mosque. However, the moment we stepped on a grass like carpet that covered the cement outside of this building, the whistles began blowing again. Our advice is to forget visiting the King’s Palace if you go to Rabat. (We later learned that people are treated this way at all seven of the King’s Palaces in Morocco!) Better to spend your time at the ruins of Sala.

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In contrast, the Roman ruins of the town of Sala were delightful! The mosque, cemetery, and walls are largely ruins (some merely large square stone blocks stacked on top of each other).   Some of the towers are, however, in relatively good shape and are well used by the storks as building blocks for their large nests. We were not the only ones enjoying Sala that day. Students have a half-day of school on Fridays, and several teachers brought their primary school students to visit the area. They ran about having a great time, getting lots of exercise, but learning little history. The children and their teachers were all anxious to have their pictures taken; so much of our time was spent photographing them rather than the ruins. But it certainly was an experience we will remember! 

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 Another interesting site was the Hassan Tower, a reminder of a great mosque that was never completed. Begun in 1195, both the mosque and the tower were intended to be the largest minaret (tower from which people would be called to prayer) and mosque in the world. Instead of stairs, the tower was intended to be ascended by ramps that would have allowed the muezzin (a man who calls Muslims to prayer) to ride a horse to the top of the tower to issue the call to prayer. The tower reached 140 feet (about ½ of its intended 260 feet), however, neither it nor the mosque were ever completed because after four years of construction, the sultan died and construction was halted. What is left are the tower plus the beginnings of several walls and 200 columns. Leaders in olden times certainly had grandiose ideas!!! . . . but at what cost were they to the people? 

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Barbara Wood Cook at Hassan Tower

 So many times during this trip we have seen monument after monument, ruin after ruin . . . On so many levels I have been reminded of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem, “Ozymandias.” A traveler describes what he saw upon his visit to a spot where ancient civilizations once existed: a broken statue with the face of a stern and powerful man. On the pedestal, near the statue’s face, the traveler reads an inscription:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings.
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Taroudant Morocco Souks and Medina

Capturing the essence of life centuries ago in Taroudant requires no imagination as not much has changed there in a very long time under many dynasties. Taroudant developed as an agricultural center far from the crowded cities. In this area they grow cotton, rice fruit, vegetables and sugar cane. The distinctive essence of this quiet town is found in its souks (markets) located in the Old Town medina area – among the most colorful in Morocco 

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 The first place we stopped was a shop where they showed us how they made Argon oil by getting the seeds out of a fruit and hand grinding them to make oil. The oil was then flavored with herbs and scents and sold as cosmetics for the hair and skin, as well as to use in place of olive oil in salads and cooking, or to consume as an elixir that could cure or help you with just about every medical challenge you might have.

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 There is a quirky side to the Argon oil story. The Argania tree itself has rough, thorny bark and crooked branches. According to the articles from the Internet, “the tree produces an annual fruit crop and it is this delicious morsel that attracts legions of local goats that hop up into the branches to pick the fruit and nuts. The animals stand on the impossibly precarious branches and get down to their seasonal feast. Far from just a single ambitious goat climbing a single tree, the animals tend to swarm into the branches in number.”

 Our bus did not go to see this phenomenon, but other buses did, so we wanted you to see what it looks like to have goats in a tree, so here is a glimpse of life that you will see only in this area of Morocco.

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Back to our visit in Taroudant . . .

 The streets in the medina were narrow and shared by pedestrians, horses, donkeys, bicycles, pushcarts, and motorcycles.

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On the way to the souks we were fascinated by the pushcart hardware store. Seems he had everything there, but you just have to dig to uncover it.

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 Also many blankets laid on the side of the streets with very odd assortments of “treasures” that were hawked to the passersby. 

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 We reached the village square to find the snake charmer was there, drumming up business for his snake-handling act. His unwilling participants were three or four cobras and a couple of rattlesnakes, none of which were friendly. We “stole” a couple of snapshots and went into the nearby souk.

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The souks are not laid out on a grid pattern and you wander from one building to another and turn down aisles that are not straight at all. The sales people aggressively promote their goods and promise each and every one of us that “he” would give you the best deal if you just bought from him.

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 We left the souks with a few purchases, and worked our way back to the buses, encountering a number of interesting faces along the way.

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 We next stopped at one of the city’s ancient palaces, now transformed into a luxury hotel, where we relaxed for a few minutes and enjoyed a cup of delicious mint tea with honey before our drive back to the port city of Agadir.

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Before reaching the port we made a quick detour up to the Kasbah high above the city that also overlooked our ship in the harbor.

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The Power of Bom Dia

The history of Cape Verde is reflected not only in the music of the islands but also in the souls of the people. As but one example, the songs of Cesaria Evora, harken back to earlier times expressing the sorrow and grief experienced by the women whose husbands, primarily slaves from Africa, left Cape Verde in search of jobs. The men promised to return but most were unable to do so, particularly if they became indentured servants to those “employing” them. Evora’s music expresses the “women’s call to home.” Her style, dubbed as “morna,” consists of slow, pensive ballads conveying nostalgic longing and sorrow. An internationally known artist, she is called the “barefoot diva” because she never wore shoes no matter where she performed — a gesture of solidarity with poor women. (Go to iTunes to listen to songs from her award-winning albums such as “Cesaria,” “Cabo Verde,” “Miss Perfumado,” and “Voz d’Amor.”)

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By necessity, the women of Cape Verde in those early years had to find work, and they often did so as prostitutes. Given that the women consorted with the Portuguese as well as the sailors and merchants passing through, generations of Cape Verdeans thought of themselves as bastards — as lost, not knowing who they were. Were they Portuguese? African? Or perhaps a member of another nationality that stopped by the islands? More recently, they have resolved the dilemma by coming together and calling themselves, “Cape Verdeans.”

It is said of Cape Verde that it is “a place not to be consumed but to be understood.” And, indeed, we found ourselves in the midst of putting the pieces of the puzzle together as we strolled around two of the islands. We had been told that the people didn’t want their pictures taken. Thus, we took along our cameras expecting to limit ourselves to photographing buildings.

As we wandered through the cities of Cape Verde, we smiled and said “bom dia,” (Portuguese for good morning or good day) to the people we met along the way. As we passed by an older stern- looking couple, we greeted them with “bom dia.” The man grasped my hand and began vigorously shaking it, and his scowl turned to a grin as his eyes danced in the morning light. I didn’t understand all of his animated speech, but I knew without a doubt that he was exceedingly happy with our greeting. And yes, of course, he indicated that he wanted us to take their picture.

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Another curious event occurred in Assomada. We had been taking pictures in the market, with most people agreeing to be photographed. I stepped out on the street for a few minutes and a woman began speaking to me. Although I do not understand Portuguese, I was able to understand that she wanted me to take her picture, indicating to me that she wanted to be remembered.

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The following day, after greeting Mr. Totasch, an 85-year-old man who spoke English, we asked if we could take his picture. He responded, “Yes, because then you’ll remember me.” A few minutes later, a woman we hadn’t seen before, but who obviously saw us taking a picture of Mr. Totasch, walked up and motioned for me to take her picture. After taking it I gestured for her to follow me into the shadow so I could show her the photo. As I brought up the picture and turned around to show her, she was gone. All I can glean from this is that it wasn’t that she wanted to see the photo of herself; she simply wanted me to have her photo – again, to be remembered.

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Later we discussed our experiences in Cape Verde. We came to the conclusion that you show respect for people by speaking their language. Even if it is just give a brief greeting, it will make a difference to them and will open doors for you.

If you talk to a man in a language he understands,

That goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language,

That goes to his heart.

                           –Nelson Mandela

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strolling Through Mindelo, Cape Verde

Mindelo is a port city on the northern part of the island of Sao Vicente in Cape Verde. The city is home to 93% of the island’s population and is known for its colorful and animated carnival celebrations. 

The British formed a colony here in the nineteenth century and used it as a coal station at the height of the steam ship era, but this declined after 1900 causing unemployment and poverty. Now the population makes its living by fishing and the tourist trade.

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 Mindelo retains the influences of the past, from its Portuguese architecture to the British afternoon tea. The winding cobblestone streets and open-air cafes call to mind Portugal, but there is a distinct African feel to the pace of life here.

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Governor’s Palace

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Portuguese decorative tiles 

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We visited the National Artisan and Design Museum that showcases local crafts and tapestries. Three of the craftsmen were demonstrating their hand weaving projects during the time we visited the workroom whose walls were decorated with finished tapestries as well as samples of hand made batiks for us to admire. 

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 After walking around the downtown area we headed out of town and up the Mount Verde for scenic view of the island. Unfortunately the island received very little rain this year and instead of being green and luxurious, it was mostly brown and tan with evidence of serious erosion from a lack of vegetation when it did rain.        

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The Kids

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Mountain Trek to Assomada

The Cape Verde consists of ten islands 500 km off the west coast of Africa and 1000 km southwest of the Canary Islands. They were claimed in 1456 by Portugal, as a refreshment station for voyages to and from South America. Later, the Portuguese developed vineyards and imported African slaves to work with the vines. 

The two islands we visited were Santiago (46 by 25 miles in area) and Sao Vicente (14 by 10 miles in area). Praia on the island of Santiago has been the capital of Cape Verde since 1770 and was built primarily by slave labor. In the late 1700’s, the islands were hit by a 100-year drought, resulting in a devastating loss of life and mass emigration. Gradually, during the 1900’s, the economy based on agriculture and fishing rebuilt itself.

We hired a taxi to take us into the interior of the island, heading towards Assomada, with a stop on the way in Sao Jorge to see the beautiful Jardim Botanico. The drive was full of twists, turns, and switchbacks as we made our way through the mountains, passing by many small villages. 

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 Our young, but very accomplished taxi driver.

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 As we passed through one of the small villages, two policemen were manning a roadblock, stopping all the taxis driving through the area. Our driver was nervous as he quickly gathered together all the paperwork for the vehicle. The policeman asked that he get out of the car and they moved to the back of the car to search the trunk. We wanted to see what was happening, but thought it might cause a problem to get out of the car with our cameras. But we caught the action through the rearview mirror for our memory book.

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 On our way to the botanical gardens in Sao Jorge, we stopped to take pictures of the school children who had been released from their lessons for the day. 

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Jardim Botanico 

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This picnic area was beautiful enough to be an outdoor chapel.

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Christmas poinsettias

We continued our drive through the mountains to finally reach Assomada, a town that is home to one of the island’s largest, most vibrant markets as well as many examples of Portuguese colonial buildings.

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Town of Assomada

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 Solar panel “tree” in town square

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 Truly cobblestone streets!

Assomada Market Activities and People

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Our super hero!

Cape Verde ~ Emerging Country With Interesting People

Today, Praia is a city of 120,000, the cultural center of Cape Verde as well as home to its government offices and important educational institutions. Many of the colonial era buildings still exist, but the town also has a modern African feel, with influenced from the continent in its music, food and fashions.

Access to the island’s beaches and small villages is easy and provide a different view of the Cape Verdean culture. With a dry, warm climate, fascinating history and interesting blend of past and present, European and African, Praia is indeed a confluence of cultures. About half of the island’s population now lives in Praia of which the majority of it is perched on a high plateau overlooking the sea with a fortified wall around it.

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The arid climate makes it difficult to grow crops, but the people have found ways to cultivate peppers, corn, beans, sweet potatoes, bananas, and cassava. Fishing has been a way of life on the island for centuries and many local recipes incorporate fish into them. The most common crafts are baskets made from coconut fibers and beautiful woven cloth (the country’s only export).   

The streets and sidewalks were all cobblestone making walking difficult on feet and knees. The patterns in some of the sidewalks were very unusual and intricate. All of the young men in Cape Verde are required to serve one year in the armed services and some then go into law enforcement. We did feel safe while traveling around this country that is trying to expand its share of the tourist market.

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We also visited an early Catholic church and learned that about 90% of the Cape Verdean population is Catholic. Free Wi-Fi is available in the city square and many students and tourists take advantage of this. 

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Visiting the colorful vegetable market of Praia was quite an experience! Corn, peas and beans are staples in the diets in Cape Verde along with other fresh vegetables, fruits, and chicken and fish.

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High over the Old Town of Cidade Velha, we visited the fortress of San Filipe, built by the orders of Filipe I, King of Portugal and Spain.

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In the Old Town, below the fort, we also saw the Pelourinho – a reminder of the island’s history of slavery and the sad commerce of human souls. In another part of Old Town we walked along the Rua Banana to see the traditional stone houses and to visit with some of the locals. 

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Luanda ~ No Longer the Paris of Africa

In 1576, the Portuguese explorer Paulo Dias de Nova arrived on what is now the Ilha de Luanda in Angola and the city he established here became the center of the slave trade (1550-1836) in Central Africa.

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 At one time almost every enslaved individual in Brazil left Africa through Luanda. The Portuguese continuously staved off attacks by the Dutch and Spanish. In 1640, the Dutch took over Luanda, and the slave trade stopped; but the Portuguese took it back in 1648, and it resumed.

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 Two of a group of musician/dancers who came to meet the ship

 After 400 years of colonization, an independence movement began in 1961, leading to armed conflict. It was not until 1975 that Angola finally gained its independence. Shortly thereafter, the country was plunged into decades-long civil wars that decimated its infrastructure and an already weak economy. Luanda is now undergoing a renaissance of epic proportions, driven by the vast natural resources of oil and diamonds. 

Oil was discovered in the country in 1955; and when the 30-year civil war ended in 2002, the country experienced an economic boom. Luanda is a city of about 5 million people, with slums ringing the city as well as present in the downtown area.

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 For the last three years it has been the world’s most expensive city in which to live. Its population is either very rich (1/3) or very poor (2/3).

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 As fast as multi-story government housing can be built, the residents of the “depressed areas” are moved into it and their old homes/hovels are bulldozed for new high-rise buildings to be built in their place. In some areas land is being reclaimed from the ocean and built upon.

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 One of the sights was the Iron Palace designed by Gustav Eiffel or one of his associates. Originally the structure had been manufactured in Paris, France and then shipped in pieces to Madagascar, but it never reached its destination, as the ship washed ashore in Luanda and eventually was reassembled in its present home here in Angola. 


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 Below are pictures of the Gothic-style Church of Los Remedios that was built in 1719.

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The Angolan National Museum of Anthropology is a nice but rather small establishment. None of the signs were in English, so it did not help us learn much about the exhibits.

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The San Miguel Fort built in 1576 was constructed to defend the port and city from the French, Spanish and Dutch armies. It was large in area and well built. Today it is Angola’s military museum.

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Our last stop was the Agostinho Neto Mausoleum with its impressive obelisk marking the grave of Angola’s first president; it was built with funds from Russia. The edifice itself and grounds were both very well done and impressive 

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At one point in its history, Luanda was considered the “Paris of Africa.” However, It will be many years before the city ever regains any sort of glittering stature. It still is a third-world country. The tour buses went in police protected convoys, sirens blaring and lights flashing, with an ambulance bringing up the rear. Shopping stops were practically non-existent and water was unsafe to drink       unless bottled. A few of our passengers were accosted and robbed during their visit to the city. We do wish the people of Angola will be able to pull their country back from strife and warring, but it might not be wise for you to put this one high on your bucket list. Check back in a few years.

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“The Marginal” waterfront promenade with manicured grass and native vegetation.

It is a beautiful place for an afternoon stroll, or to walk your dog.

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The gardeners who do the manicuring leaving on their lunch break.

 

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Meeting some of the local people on the streets of Luanda.

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Pelicans and a Seal Named Nicholas

Walvis Bay means “Whale Bay” and is a deep-water haven for sea and whaling vessels along the Southern Atlantic between Cape Town and Windhoek, Namibia. The town became part of the English Cape Colony (a portion of what is now South Africa) after WWI and in 1994 became part of Namibia.

 The waters in this area are rich in plankton and marine life that attract whales and fishing vessels alike, with shipping, fishing and salt processing supporting the economy. The Walvis Bay salt fields produce 400,000 tons of salt a year.

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 Walvis Bay Lagoon, known as a birder’s paradise, is a stopover for thousands of migratory birds and flamingoes year round, but the only birds we saw on a four-hour catamaran adventure were pelicans.

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 This pelican knows where the goodies are stored.

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Later in the trip a seal named Nicholas came aboard the catamaran.

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 From a distance we saw a large colony of seals lounging along the sand bar. Most of the big males/bulls were on shore, with each male having about 40 females in its harem. Some of the females and younger seals were in the water playing. The males spent most of the time taking it easy, as it was the breeding season.

 

 

 

 

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The Namib Desert is Alive

One of the best shore excursions on the entire trip is seeing the “Living Namib Desert” via 4×4 vehicles driving through the sands outside Swakopmund, Namibia.

The coastal dune belt seems barren and lifeless at first glance, but it is in fact very much alive, if you know where to look. There are a fascinating variety of specially adapted plants and creatures that are able to survive in this desert area, utilizing the daily life-giving fog that rolls in from the cold Atlantic Ocean. 

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 We saw the following creatures endemic to the area including sidewinder snakes (Peringuey’s adder), the palmato or Namib dune gecko (Pachydactylus rangei) with its transparent skin, beautiful colors and webbed feet that function as snowshoes. Other creatures we saw were the black scorpion, sand snake, Namaqua chameleons, and beetles. 

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Everyday this beetle stands on his head in order to capture the dew from the fog,

allowing the water to run down to his mouth. 

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Beautiful, non-poisonous sand snake

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Namaqua chameleon, loves to eat beetles, and can see what is behind him.

 

The mysterious and beautiful ever-shifting sand dunes are captivating

but they are seemingly impossible to photograph.

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This snake, a poisonous, sidewinder (Peringuey’s adder)

is a master at camouflage. In less than a minute it can completely disappear from view.

 

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This little animal is a shovel snouted lizard that will hang onto your earlobe if you let him.

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Along the way we learned about the geology structure and formation of the desert. The landscapes were dramatic and colorful as we continued our scenic drive.

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Kolmanskop ~ From Diamonds to Dust

Luderitz is an isolated, harbor town in southwest Namibia on a very windy, in-hospitable coast that is lined and littered with shipwrecks. German colonists developed Luderitz as a diamond-mining town in 1883 on land that had been nearly inaccessible.

In 1905 a concentration camp was established on Shark Island (just outside Luderitz) that functioned between 1905 and 1907 and, unfortunately during that time, the Germans systematically exterminated three and a half thousand Africans from the Herero and Nama tribes by forced labor to expand the city, railway, port and farms of white German settlers. 

Luderitz is known for its colonial architecture and for its wildlife including seals, penguins, flamingos and ostriches. From a distance the town looks as if it belonged in Northern Europe because of the characteristic church steeple and architecture.

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German Evangelical Lutheran Church, known as the Church of the Rocks, was built in 1912 in the Vertical Gothic style.

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Luderitz Railway Station ~ No train has come here in over 50 years. They are in the process of refurbishing the tracks now.

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Haus Goerke ~ Built for the Prime Minister, but after one year his wife refused to live there, so she left permanently.

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Located a few miles from Luderitz is the town of Kolmanskop that sprang into existence in 1908 after a railway worker found a sparkling stone (diamond) in the sand. Large elegant houses were built and the area soon resembled a German town including a hospital, ballroom, power station, school, two-lane skittle alley, theater and sports hall, casino, ice factory, butchery, bakery, and the first x-ray station in the Southern hemisphere. 

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 However, in the 1920’s, Kolmanskop’s history peaked with approximately 300 German adults, 40 children and 800 contract workers living there. Forty years later, it had died, and this ghost town’s crumbling ruins speak little of its former glory. The stately homes have nearly been demolished by the wind and are gradually becoming enveloped by encroaching sand dunes.

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