I had no hesitation in agreeing to any available extra work-time at the bridge I was employed at in Swakopmund. We called it overtime, but the rate did not change. I was saving about R50-00 a fortnight. As my standard paypacket consisted of R54-00, I was able to survive off my overtime. At pay-day, I went shopping for the fortnight’s groceries. For two to three days I wallowed in luxury: eggs, bacon, bread, veg, maybe even a small roast, all prepared on my single plate electric cooker in my clapboard room on site. The rest of the time until the next payday my diet consisted of rice flavoured with soup powder.
My budget allowed for a couple of pub-crawls to the Egger’s Hotel and movies at the Atlanta Cinema. ‘Hotel’, ‘Of Human Bondage’, ‘Assault on a Queen’, ‘Hawaii’, and ‘Lost Patrol’ were a few of the movies I saw there.
Between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay, in the shifting dunes, was a particularly high dune called Dune Seven, where a fun outing consisted of climbing it and sledging down again on the upturned bonnet of a Volkswagen Beetle.
Quite possibly, the reason that Ernst Burhoven-Jaspers moved his family to Swakopmund was the abundance of semi-precious stones in the adjacent countryside. He had a collection of note, cutting and polishing stones and trading with collectors all over the world. He staked some fifteen to twenty claims and, provided he worked them himself without heavy machinery, he did not get them qualified as mines. Whenever he got a few days to spare, he would camp at one or the other, working the crystals free with a pick and shovel. On weekends, he and his family would head for some of the claims and scour the surrounds for treasure. A few of us from the bridge were sometimes invited to join this kind family on these excursions. We would be allowed to keep most of the plunder unless it was an exceptional specimen.
There was jasper, aquamarine, heliodor, rose-quartz, amethyst, chalcedony, golden beryl, and tourmaline in shades of blue to pale green. There were tiger’s eye and small garnets. At Rössing Mountain, where a few years later, Rio Tinto opened a uranium mine, Ernst had an aragonite claim. It’s a beautiful coffee and cream striped stone that is easy to polish into such articles as ash-trays and the like. He shipped a 360lb piece off to America, I remember. Another odd collectable were sand-roses; clusters of petal-shaped gypsum or barite crystals formed in this coarse-grained sand.
Diamonds, mainly found south of Walvis Bay in the Sperrgebiet, were, of course, by law, out of reach of individuals…
I went with them to both Klein Spitzkoppe and Groot Spitzkoppe to various claims that Ernst had in the vicinity. They are granite hills thrusting up from the relatively flat surrounding plain to the northwest of Swakopmund. There are San rock paintings near Klein Spitzkoppe, too. From the waterholes near there, it took me two hours to climb Klein Spitzkoppe to the natural rock bridge, while the others were fossicking for stones. From there I climbed the higher peak and was finally turned back from a forty-foot drop by the crumbly nature of the young granite and the wind that had sprung up that began to clutch at me. Back at the waterholes by mid-afternoon, I was reminded what wonderful stuff water is!
A couple of times Nico and I and one or two others from the bridge would go to camp out at the Brandberg. Ernst had a tourmaline claim not far from it, on the opposite side of the mountain to that where the famed ‘White Lady’ rock art is situated. Up the ravine from the foot of the mountain, where we had camped, was a pool where one could collect stones containing amethyst. On a Sunday in September, three of us were on our way up the ravine when, in the crevasses beneath our feet, we were shocked by an unearthly scream. Peering down into the shadows, we saw that a rare rock python had caught a hare by its leg. Quickly, it threw loop upon loop of its body over the petrified animal and began to squeeze. We could literally hear the bones crunch as it crushed it into a more convenient shape and slowly swallowed it, head first. I watched while the others went on up to the pool. It was an unforgettable, primal experience.
Worth more than precious stones…