‘Ostwind’ in Swakopmund

When one of my cousins forwarded me the following photograph, it brought back a flood of childhood memories of my Heimat (home-town).

Looking east towards the town

Looking east towards the town

Swakopmund (its German name means ‘the mouth of the Swakop river’), is a large town on the west coast of Namibia (previously South West Africa). It was founded in 1892, and was originally designed to be the harbour of Deutsch Südwest Afrika, as the German colony was known at that time. There’s quite a nice description of the town and its history in the Wikipedia.

Swakop has a temperate climate all year round. It is surrounded by the Namib desert on three sides, whereas the cold Benguela current washes along the coastline. The main source of precipitation is fog, which moves from the ocean inland across the town virtually every morning. By late morning, usually, this fog has dissipated, leaving blue skies and pleasantly warm temperatures (about 15 to 25° C).

In summer (November to February), Swakop is far cooler than the higher-lying areas inland, which is why almost all the Inländer rush down to the coast at that time of year. Of course, this mass exodus from the inland areas also coincides with the long summer school holidays and Christmas and New Year. So that’s not the best time of year to visit. 🙂

In winter, however, Swakop sometimes has unexpectedly high temperatures, soaring above 40° C. This coincides with the arrival of the dreaded Ostwind – the hot wind from the desert, which carries clouds of fine reddish and ochre dune sand into the town.

It whips the fronds of the palm trees, strips off loose and broken branches, and makes the window shutters rattle and clatter noisily as though a thief is trying to break in. It blows down street signs, tears at the washing on the line, and sometimes knocks down bits of garden walls. It collects in soft-looking drifts against the kerbs.

If you’re silly enough to drive anywhere when the wind is howling, you may have to turn on the headlights to see the road, whose markings will be hidden by an undulating carpet of sand and dust – and the sandblasting will remove some of the shiny new polish from your car.

The sand squeezes through the cracks around window and door frames, settles on the curtains, seeps into the blankets and towels, and leaves a thin film of dust on every single surface of the house. It lodges in your ears and your nose, irritates the eyes, makes you cough and sneeze, and you can feel it grinding between your teeth.

If you dare to venture outside, your head and face wrapped up in a scarf, the fine sand particles will somehow filter through all the layers of your clothes, right down to the skin. And if you are just wearing short sleeves and shorts, the fine sand particles being whipped against your bare skin feel like hundreds of thousands of needle pricks.

The arrival of the Ostwind is a housewife’s worst nightmare.

But the days of the Ostwindstimmung, the time before the wind arrives and after the wind has settled down, those are wonderful. Suddenly, the depressing grey fog of winter, which makes your joints ache and your spirit sink low, has lifted and you find yourself in a summer oasis: stunning sunrises and sunsets, mild evenings outside on the stoep, drinking ice-cold Windhoek beer, strolls along the beach with exuberant dogs, and swimming in the unseasonably warm ocean.

Man, I feel homesick.

4 thoughts on “‘Ostwind’ in Swakopmund

  1. Thanks, Slam, it IS a wonderful place. If you ever have an opportunity to visit Southern Africa, try to add in at least a week in Namibia. It’s a vast country whose blue skies and 360 degree horizons can have a profoundly healing on your spirit.

  2. Hi, Reggie! I have just “stolen” your image of Swakopmund engulfed in the Ostwind and put it on my fb page because I posted a beautiful film of the Namib and got talking about my experiences of the desert. I am from Swakopmund. Please forgive. I am setting exam papers and didn’t take the time to ask you first.

    Monika

    P.S. I so like your article. It reminds me of home and all its uniquenesses (There isn’t such a word, though.)

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