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Diamonds on the soles of your shoes - wading through garnets on Namibia’s Skeleton Coast

Standing on the crest of one of the massive dunes on Namibia’s skeleton coast it’s as if the world has been filtered to leave only sand and sky. 

Here the mineral world prevails over the animal and vegetable.  It’s hard not to feel like a spec of organic plankton adrift in a sea of sand.

For two days I’ve been camping in the dunes behind Sandwich Bay, in the company of Bruno Nebe, a highly experienced guide who after a lifetime in this area knows it like the back of his hand.  Carrying a small simple camp we’ve explored  Sandwich Bay itself, the Kuiseb River Delta and the extensive dune system that surrounds it.

The dunes are mesmerizing on many levels; their extent and beauty are beguiling and there’s a fascination that comes with the latent threat the desert exudes; like staring at the patterns of a venomous snake.   Without Bruno, just how long would it take to lose my bearings in such a place?

But perhaps most striking are the shifting patterns and colours that the dunes throw up as the light shifts, which it constantly does. The picture is rarely still and the immense blond dunes create abstract patterns with their shadows.

Ridges and intricate ripples are etched into the surface of the sand, crisp and immaculate, constantly refreshed by the wind.  In places the sand has a vivid purple patina that glows in the sunlight.

Approaching one such area we get down on our hands and knees to take a closer look.  What we see are distinct patches of purple sand, lying in the troughs between ripples. 

Using our reversed binoculars as magnifying glasses, we zoom in to see individual grains of sand.  And at this point we realize it’s not simply sand that we’re holding in our hands, but gemstones.

The purple colour is a haze of garnets.  And as any prospector worth his sand will tell you, garnets are one of the better indicators that you’re in diamond country. 

To walk along the skeleton coast is a tantalizing experience; Namibia is the richest diamond producing region in the world, with almost 20% of the world’s gem quality diamonds coming from the forbidden region, a short distance to the south of where I’m standing at Sperrgebiet. 

It is entirely possible that amongst the trillions of anonymous pebbles that I crunch blindly beneath my boots, lies a diamond, created 3 billion years ago, washed out of the diamond pipes in the Kimberley region of South Africa, down the Orange river into the South Atlantic and thrown up on to the shore by the ocean’s gigantic sorting machine for me to find. 

Its tempting to keep staring at my feet, but I’m keen not to lose sight of Bruno…

We organise safaris throughout Namibia, including trips into the Namib Desert, which can be easily combined with a visits to the rest of the country 

Posted by: Alex

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