The Kolmanskop ghost town; Tea-party at Fish River Canyon

If Lüderitz is a virtual ghost town, Kolamanskop is the real thing. Same circumstances – a diamond-boom town that dried up and blew away when the rush was over. I’ve always wanted to visit a ghost town. I love photographing abandoned buildings and derelict structures and industrial equipment. It’s always been an artistic theme of mine, though you’d never know it from looking at the work I’ve been producing during this round-the-world junket. My spiel has always run thus: That I’m fascinated by the ways people live in and around the bones of industry – the derelict, the rusted and the toxic. I’m intrigued both by the compromises that people need to make to inhabit an environment of crumbling industrial relics, and by the ways and means they use to humanize it physically and psychologically so that it can be inhabited. Or so my artist’s statement used to read, back when I thought that sort of thing was important. So a ghost town doesn’t fall precisely within my self-described remit, lying as it does outside the interface of human and former industry. The people are all gone, of course, so the only interaction is that of nature reclaiming a formerly human environment. Hackneyed as that particular theme might be, I still find it fascinating and I refuse to feel any shame over it. Call it a morbid streak if you like, or maybe just the persistent fantasy that goes: “What if everybody in the world suddenly disappeared except me…”

Kolmanskop was initially a little disappointing. We got stuck listening to a woman with a thick German accent in an echoing room for half an hour. Between the accent, the echo, and my bad hearing, I couldn’t understand a word. Worse was when she began to shuffle us from one building to another, all numbered beside their entrances and all nice clean period showpieces. This was a very far cry from the ghost town I’d envisioned, and I lost interest quickly. At last, though, she shut up and turned us loose to explore on our own. After that things improved. Only a couple of the buildings had been sanitized. The rest were just as I’d pictured – houses and buildings all swamped and drowning in drifts of sand. I found one house with peeling brocade wallpaper and another with mouse and antelope tracks on the ground floor. The houses built closest to the ground were buried most deeply – one of them to the rafters and another halfway up the doorframes. We had 45 minutes to explore and it passed in the blink of an eye.

Later in the day, after yet another hot, agonizingly long and boring drive, we reached our campground at the north end of Fish River Canyon. The Canyon is the third largest in the world, and it’s an impressive sight. We got dropped off at one observation point and strolled down to the next, maybe a kilometer down. I couldn’t manage to get any good pictures – canyons are hard to represent photographically, the perspective just doesn’t show up right – and the light that day had been terrible for photographs anyway. But to be honest, the canyon didn’t make much of an impression on me. It was just a big hole in the ground. I guess I like my rocks on a more human scale. Probably part of the problem was just that I was in a rotten mood. I’ve had enough of being on the truck, and I really wanted everybody just to go away and leave me alone. But it was our tour-mate Lee’s birthday that day, and we had a little tea-party at the edge of the canyon for her. There were crackers, nice cheeses, and cookies and biscuits of all sorts. Adam and Elton had prepared it while the rest of us were out walking, which was grand of them. Later on, back at the campsite, she had a cake with elephants on it too.


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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
This travelogue comprises 16,426 photographs and 402,515 words in 307 dispatches written from 335 places in 52 countries on 6 continents around the world.
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