We spent this morning exploring a bit of the Namib Desert and learning about the Topnaar People with our guide Herman from Photo Ventures (10/10 would recommend for any that find themselves in Namibia). The Topnaar people are a nomadic group of traditional people most known for their harvesting of the Nara Melon, a fruit that has adapted to growing in the harsh desert climate. In the past, when a Topnaar person was born, they received 1 Nara plant that would sustain them throughout their life. This practice no longer continues today as the amount of Nara plants has lessened greatly, making it more of a first come first service basis. Regardless, the Topnaar people return to their same plants each harvest season. For some this requires a days walk to get there and back, towing their melons in a donkey cart across the dunes when they return. After they cut open the melon, they place it in a drum over a fire and collect the seeds which rise to the top. These can be sold in town. Then the remaining parts are boiled for a bit longer, creating a paste like consistency. The paste is pushed drained through a cylinder with large holes to catch any of the fleshy parts of the melon that remain. The paste is then dried in the sun for 3 days before it too can be sold in town.
We asked Herman where people can get fresh water when they live so far into the desert. He said that as long as there is a Nara plant, there will be water underground within 40m of where the plant grows. And if someone doesn't feel like digging to find where the water is, they can chew on the Nara plant stems, which have reserves of water in them with a bitter taste that also quenches thirst. Herman informed us that eating the stems is also a great way of protecting oneself from bugs. The bitter taste of the stem eventually turns the blood bitter which deters ticks and mosquitos that can carry disease.
After our morning with Herman, we returned to Swakopmund to pack up our things before boarding our shuttle back to Windhoek (and our most favorite Cardboard Box). We have a very busy day planned for tomorrow which we are incredibly excited about. First a trip back over to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to pick up our permits for Bwabwata National Park, then meeting with Dean Angombe and some faculty at UNAM to conduct a few interviews, and finally meeting with Donovan Wagner of Eloolo Permaculture, an organization that our wonderful contact at NUST, Dr. Zimmerman, passed along to us. An action packed day before we depart for Bwabwata on Wednesday, where we will be staying until the 22nd.