The violence of the wind whips me with my own hair and spills tears down my frozen cheek. Somewhere in the greyness, the wind howls, screams and groans, ripping up canvases and kicking over dustbins like the soundtrack to a teen horror film.
In fact, the whole place looks like the set from a horror film. Empty chairs, deserted walkways. Paint peeling from the walls and palm tree signposts creaking in the wind.
This is Swakopmund in Namibia, a town that squats south of the legendary Skeleton Coast. It’s billed as Namibia’s adrenaline, adventure town but from where I’m standing, everyone’s shut up shop and gone home.
I can hardly blame them in weather like this. No-one wants to hurl themselves down a sand dune when the wind would probably push you straight back up.
“I wonder if you can help me find the flamingos?” I ask the woman behind the counter.
There’s a long silence, except for the clattering of debris outside, and for a moment I wonder whether I said the words out loud.
With a forced sigh, she heaves herself up and waddles towards me. She shoves a leaflet about seals into my hand and turns to waddle back.
A few questions later, I’m still none the wiser.
We set off down the street just as the flatulent clouds spit rain down on Swakopmund. The roads are wide and gridlike, with plenty of opportunities to feel the malice of the clouds.
Swakopmund, Namibia – South of the Skeleton Coast
Swakopmund’s one of those odd outposts of colonialism, established when the powers of Europe used southern Africa as their venue for playground spats. The mouth of the Swakop River gave Germany the chance to establish a harbour – and a base to compete with nearby British Walvis Bay.
Amid electric fences and security guards, German houses still stand with lemon and blue walls, upright pillars and angular balconies: fighting the good fight against the salty assault from the sky.
From somewhere high above, someone watches me. A pelican, unblinking and still, feathers outlined by the rain, beak poised like a scythe. It’s the most outstanding thing I’ve seen here.
I blink first, as the lashing from the rain lures me back inside the car. With a glint of satisfaction, he watches for a few more minutes before turning to look away.
I scramble through the pages of the guide book, searching for a clue about those flamingos. My eyes rest on words that I can’t believe are true:
“Thanks to the mild temperatures and negligible rainfall, Swakopmund enjoys a statistically superb climate.”
A spark of outrage overwhelms me until I read the phrase where it all makes sense:
“When an easterly wind blows…sea fogs create an incessant drizzle and an unimaginably dreary atmosphere.”
That’s Swakopmund, alright.