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We met Billy at the waterfront and climbed aboard his boat, Flipper, for a cruise of the harbour. The contrast between Swakopomund's tourist-friendly beaches and the industrial foreshore of Walvis Bay is a striking example of the different roles played by the two towns. Pulling away from the dock, we passed warehouses and fabricating shops flickering with the light of welding torches. Ships of every imaginable size and condition fill the harbour – some at anchor others tethered, four or more abreast to the docks. Billy, a third generation Namibian of German heritage, was a wealth of information, given first in German and then in English. He pointed to a couple of rusting hulks that have been riding at anchor for 15 years. "When the Russian fleet pulled out of Angola at the end of the civil war," he told us "they stopped here for fuel, took on a million dollars worth of diesel, but had no rubles to pay for it. The ships were seized and several are still here."
Looking back across the town, its buildings dwarfed by giant dunes, it's obvious why this coast was shunned by early mariners. The lighthouse at Pelican Point, which marks the entrance to the harbour, is painted black and white. "It was originally red," Billy told us "but from offshore it was hard to see against the red dunes so she was given a fresh coat of black paint."
"What's that," I asked pointing to a huge platform on stilts in the middle of nowhere. And we got the guano story.
Since pre-colonial time ships from around the world came here to collect guano from tiny off-shore islands where birds had nested and left their droppings for thousands of years. In places the valuable nitrogen-rich fertilizer, referred to as "white gold," was a hundred feet thick. But by 1932 most of the ancient deposits had been carted off to enrich the farmland of Europe.
That's when Adolf Winter, a local carpenter, got the bright idea of building a guano island of his own. For three years the birds ignored his creation and the huge platform, suspended on 1,000 stainless steel pilings, came to be known as "Winter's Folly".
And then they came. Cormorants by the hundreds of thousands crowded onto Adolf's platform to nest and raise their young. And as the poop built up on his platform the money piled up in his bank account. Within a few years Adolf Winter was a millionaire and an inspiration to other entrepreneurs who have since made harvesting guano from artificial islands a thriving export industry.
May 23, 2013, 5:02 AM
Locals frustrated by damage to village; police log 17 cases of mischief over one night More...
May 23, 2013, 5:01 AM
Task handed to EPI Committee for attention More...
May 23, 2013, 5:00 AM
Work to begin this summer in an effort to update hall, improve customer service More...