Namibia - Skydiving and concentration camps

Trip Start Apr 27, 2010
Trip End Apr 13, 2011

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Being awoken by strange noises at night is never pleasant.  It is more disturbing when you are in a tent in the middle of nowhere though! The noises, heavy footsteps and sniffing, were made a few inches from my face on the other side of my tent. I wasn't brave enough to look outside and investigate, as there were supposedly leopards around where we were camping. After getting up with only 2 hours sleep,  I relayed my experience to the guide and he explained that it was probably only a donkey.

We were 'bush camping’ again, ie, not at a campsite, just camped outside, with no facilities whatsoever. The location was Spitzkoppe, a huge jagged red mountain jutting out of the surrounding flat desert plain. It is certainly a spectacular sight as the sun is going down, with the rocks turning the colour of flames.  We only had one evening there, we were shown some ancient rock paintings by a local guide, then after dinner, I just lay on the rocks staring at the clear milky way and counting shooting stars.

The following morning, we drove through the flat lifeless desert along the skeleton coast. We stopped at an immense seal colony, with thousands of braying seals lying on the rocky shore and cavorting in the yellow tinged surf. It was quite an effort not to gag at the overpowering stench -  rancid fish mixed with tonnes of excrement and rotting carcases.

Our final destination was Swakopmund.  Imagine if aliens decided to build a German themed wild west frontier town and populate it with not quite perfect replications of humans and you have Swakopmund.  It is a modern town, build on a US grid style plan, with wide streets, eerily empty roads and a lot of fake looking toy-town style buildings. We stayed at a weird complex of pink triangular buildings, which had the look of a gay concentration camp. Fittingly, a remake of the 60’s sci fi show ‘The Prisoner’ was recently filmed here. The adjoining holiday home complex, with its wooden chalets, barbed wire, and electrified fence looked like Auschwitz. The final piece of the jigsaw of weirdness is provided by the brusque, android-like German speaking locals, who seem to have been programmed not to smile. 

It was in this surreal place that I decided to jump out of a plane at 10,000ft, and signed up for a skydive along with 7 of my group.

We were driven through the vast nothingness surrounding Swakopmund to the airstrip – two huts and some smoother desert ground. The world’s smallest plane then arrived, and I was dressed in a fetching pink jumpsuit before boarding. The plane had no seats inside, and no door, so I was sat on the floor next to oblivion as the ground dropped away beneath us. I was trying hard to appreciate the amazing views of the town, coastline and huge sand dunes, whilst contemplating the fact that I would be jumping out of the adjacent gaping void at any given moment. As it was a tandem jump,  I was attached to a guide who would operate the parachute. He  didn’t really say much or explain the procedure right until the last moment.

I had to shuffle to the gaping door-hole, looking out from 10,000ft and stick my legs out of the plane. This is easily the scariest thing I have done in my life! I wasn’t given time to dwell on my precarious position as parachute-man then jumped out, with me attached to his front. The freefall was the best bit, 30 seconds of what felt like flight, air rushing past my ears at a deafening volume and the ground too far away to for me to notice it was rushing up towards my face. The cord was then pulled and I was jerked upwards  as the parachute unfurled and we slowed down to a peaceful and relaxing pace. I had a go at steering the parachute, by pulling on two straps and making it spin around. After a textbook landing, the simultaneously traumatic and relaxing experience was over.  I didn’t feel the sense of elation that some of the others did – I got a way bigger rush viewing the animals at Etosha. Maybe this was due to the horrendous hangover I had though.

Despite its weirdness, Swakopmund was a much needed return to civilisation – showers, laundry, an actual bed, free-time, nice restaurants and a big boozy night out. This involved a group meal then a visit to the local karaoke bar where I treated the the crowd to a rendition of The Proclaimers and a duet of ‘Especially For You’ with Kelly from my group. Needless to say I was very, very drunk and regretted it the next day as I was jumping out of the plane!
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