The first rays of the early morning sun deliver a cascade of bright yellow and warm earthy colours, reflecting from the still sand dunes against a bright blue sky. The light green !Nara bushes and capparis hereroensis, a type of capers bush, complete the colourful picture.
The fruit has a thorny appearance and lies hidden amongst a labyrinth of twigs and thin branches of the plant, a natural shelter for the one or other desert snake, lurking in the sand, patiently waiting for an inattentive gecko. Tok-tokkies flit across sandy hills in search of food, brought in by desert winds, an array of decaying plant material, dried pieces of wood, grass and seeds.
Ancient footprints - 2000 years oldA slight breeze moves across dry mud plains, which have been evolved over centuries during rainy seasons, appearing in shades of dark brown and grey. Footprints of man and beast are imprinted on the petrified soil. The tiny footprints of a child have been criss-crossed by the spoor of goat, antelope and even elephant. Giraffe and rhino tracks are embedded forever in the mud which has turned into stone by the heat of an unforgiving sun.
Lush vegetation was to be found along the Kuiseb delta centuries ago, when the floods used to follow the riverbed without any obstruction into the ocean; the desert sand dunes of the south had not moved in so closely, as they have today.
Looking at the topographical map, one can observe that the Kuiseb acts as a natural barrier against the dune belt. Still today the Kuiseb delta holds a tremendous living environment, including herds of springbuck, hyenas and jackals.
Fanie du Preez, owner of the tour operation "Kuiseb Delta Adventures" offers guided quadbike expeditions along the fascinating Kuiseb riverbed and explains: "Some of the footprints of the Kuiseb delta has been estimated by researchers to be almost 2000 years old. A variety of desert animals hase roamed this region over ages. The underground water of the riverbed reaches the topsoil at numerous places, although the sand appears to be dried out." Fanie has explored this region and is familiar with it like no other.
The extraordinary good rainy season in 2011 has made it possible for the floods to reach the Atlantik Ocean again, thereby creating an enormous underground water reservoir.
Fanie starts digging a mere 40cm deep hole and hands out pure drinking water to the astonished group, served in the shell of a mussel, which might have been used in ancient times already for the same purpose.
The traditional life of the TopnaarsFanie du Preez shows us the secrets of this impressive dunescape, which appears arid at first, but enfolds into an environment, brimming with life as we will discover during the course of the day.
Numerous generations of the Topnaar tribe, also known as "Strandlopers" had lived here already, their nutrition consisting of fish and the !Nara fruit. Fanie explains that the sand draws closer continually and has already cut off the accers to the sea for the Topnaar people, isolating the tribe from main stream coastal activities. Caught up in their traditional lifestyle, it is difficult to believe that only a few kilometres away our economy and modern life pounds on.
The !Nara fruit is the main food constituent of every meal. The seeds and pulp, both high in vitamins and minerals are being cooked, fermented and dried so that even in times, when the plant does not bear fruits there will always be food to eat.
One of the Topnaars explains that he has eaten meat only twice during the course of the last year. He lives with his family in a modest hut, built out of pieces of wood and plasticsheets. One of his thre echildren has been sent to the nearby Topnaar-school, close to the research centre Gobabed at Homeb. More funds are not available. He earns some money by selling the seeds of the !Nara fruit, which enables him to obtain a few bags of maize meal, to cook the well known "Millie-pap", a meal supplemented by the seeds and pulp of the thorny fruit.
The Topnaar assures us that many generations of his peoples have survived in this arid region along the Kuiseb river and that they will carry on making a living here, in co-existence with nature, as they have known it throughout their life.
Today it is estimated that between 300 and 400 families have settled along the delta. The Topnaar cannot imagine a life in the city, which proves how deeply they are rooted in this untouched nature and in their traditions. Attached to their belts they carry a stick, slightly bent, which they use when harvesting the !Nara fruit, assuring that the snakes clear out to prevent harm or even death, which the bite of a black mamba will inevitably cause.
Cemetries in the dry mud of the deltaSun bleached bones and sculls can be seen scattered across the petrified soil and burnt mud, a testimony of life from ancient times, the arid country being the homeland for generations of Topnaars. Fragments of clay pots have been part of their burial ceremonies, indicating a strong belief in life after death.
Pieces of kitchenware, originating from Portugal and the Netherlands can be found amongst stone carved tools, ostrich eggs, which have been used by the Khoi to store drinking water, as well as a very special jug, made out of clay with two handles, the bottom unfortunately missing. These objects for rituals and traditional customs have hardly been explored.
From time to time these treasures are being exposed by the wind and again being covered by sand, hidden away safely for decades to come.
It is with great respect that we move along carefully in this awe-inspiring stillness that surrounds us, the scattered bones creating an unreal atmosphere, a feeling of long forgotten days of which we know so little and do not want to disturb.
Fanie du Preez, a born Namibian, offers these historical tours on quadbikes from Walvis Bay. The motorized vehicles are easy to handle and even the inexperienced driver has no problem to follow through thick sand and across dunes.
The wind helps to cover the tracks, thus no harm is being done to this vulnerable environment. Our expedition is packed with fun and adventure, historical and cultural aspects and an opportunity to learn the secrets of an ancient desert and its safely guarded tribe.