Desert horses and a ghost town

The small town of Aus in southern Namibia is probably best known for the herd of feral horses that roam the Namib desert just to the west. Over the past 100 years the once-domesticated horses have adapted to the harsh environment of the desert and after many generations they have developed into a pure breed of their own. It is said that these desert horses can go up to 5 days without water and urinate less than their domestic cousins. As to how they escaped into the desert…there is a number of theories but until today their exact origin remains a mystery and probably adds to their allure.

We were lucky enough to see them on two occasions at the side of the road, but your best chance to see them is at the water hole at Garub Pan. But don’t expect them to stick around for very long. They come charging down to the water hole, drink for a few minutes and then disappear again.

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About 100 kilometres to the west of Aus, you will find the rather unusual but very interesting ghost town of Kolmanskop. This abandoned diamond-mining town, a mere 10km from Luderitz, is slowly being reclaimed by the desert. I must say, it takes a creative imagination to picture a thriving little German town amongst all the sand dunes.

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Born out of the diamond rush that followed the discovery of the first diamond in 1908 by a railway worker, this little town had a population of around 1300 in its heyday. The diamond deposits around Kolmanskop were so rich, it is said that the workers merely had to crawl on their hands and feet to fill jars full of diamonds they picked of the ground. So it is understandable when you read in the museum that Kolmanskop held the title of ‘the town with the highest per capita wealth in the world’ for a short while.

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Walking around in the abandoned ghost town, with nothing but desert around you, the feeling of isolation is very strong and you can understand why the entertainment complex housing a casino, bowling alley, pub and a theatre that also doubled as a sport hall,  was the heart of this little town. The big fancy houses were occupied by the town’s mining managers, doctor and teacher while the 3o or so smaller houses were for the married couples and all the single men were housed in barracks. Some of the buildings such as the houses of the mine captain and shopkeeper, the butchery and bowling alley as well as the theatre/gym have been renovated, whilst the rest of the town has been left to the mercy of Mother Nature.

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It is definitely worthwhile to join one of the guided tours as you learn some interesting facts about Kolmanskop. For example, the hospital boasted the first X-ray machine in the southern hemisphere and apart from the obvious medical applications, this X-ray machine was apparently also used to unmask diamond thieves. And as if this wasn’t enough, they also had the first tram in Africa. Amongst other things, the tram was used by the housewives to go shopping at the local shop, butchery, bakery and post office so they didn’t have to struggle through the sand. It was also used to deliver a block of ice from the ice factory to each household every day, where it was used in a “refrigerator”. And as a good example of how you learn to use all your resources when you live in such a harsh environment, they captured the water as the ice block melted to re-use it for other purposes. Since rainfall in the desert is very limited, all their fresh water was brought in by rail and stored in water tanks.

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The discovery of a very rich diamond field in 1928 at today’s Oranjemund, together with the gradual depletion of diamond deposits at Kolmanskop, led to the slow death of the town. More and more people left to join the new diamond rush with the last families abandoning the town in 1956.  And one can only wonder how long it will be until the desert has fully reclaimed the old town and Kolmanskop will only be a memory.

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