Hi! Annabel Paxton here. Recently celebrated my 6th birthday but I think it’s still safe to say I’m Africa’s youngest travel correspondent. It’s my job to offer advice to you parents vis a vis where to take your young ones. Just don’t sue me if it all goes horribly wrong.
While at university, my father established The Oxford University Ghost Hunting Society (OUGHS). This fearless group of scheming delinquents then scoured England in search of free accommodation in luxurious country houses (inns and pubs were another favoured destination) armed with tape recorders, cameras, thermometers and other such props designed to convince the gullible fools who were hosting them that they weren’t just a bunch of scrounging charlatans.
OUGHS, it has to be said, was noteworthy for its total lack of success in locating anything remotely supernatural (the only spirits it hunted successfully came in liquid form) but nonetheless it proved habit forming. Ex-members are still up to their old tricks (and still aren’t finding any ghosts). My father included. Which brings me to Namibia.
One of the things you will not have failed to notice if you are a regular reader of the daily papers here is that this country is not short of bizarre stories.
To take just a few examples, a woman in Katutura made recent headlines by turning into a lion (from the breasts up) and threatening to eat her friend. She then threw water at an invisible fire while a crowd of some 200 onlookers either spoke in tongues, laughed derisively or merely looked understandably confused. In another incident a man went berserk after his neighbour became a giant, started levitating and sprouted donkey ears. A ghostly crocodile ate three postmen in Katima Mulilo. A demon elephant came back from the dead and went on a vengeful rampage in Bushmanland. Etc.
I could go on – the stories certainly do – but that’s not the point of this column.
If a ghost ever appears in a luxury hotel with a great chef, fine wine cellar and four poster beds – the Hotel Heinitzberg castle springs to mind – my father would be over like a shot with his thermometer and claptrap.
But most of the hauntings, werelions and ghostly mountains that suddenly appear in the middle of the trans-Caprivi highway, causing drunk taxi drivers to swerve off the road and hit trees, occur in areas that lack electricity or fluffy duvets or are three feet under water and fizzing with mosquitoes. And that sort of scenario fails to inspire my father’s former investigative zeal.
Being young, with an enquiring mind (and thoroughly tired of his increasingly repetitive “the ghost that got away” stories), I decided that it was time to rouse him from his inertia. “Together”, I informed him, “A hunting we will go! And bring Haunted Namibia to the attention of the Flamingo readership!”
His first course of action was lamentably predictable. I caught him phoning Hotel Heinitzberg and in a pathetically ingratiating voice asking whether they were haunted and could he stay there for a week in a room that overlooked the swimming pool to monitor the supernatural activtiy.
He was informed that they were not haunted, and no he couldn’t.
Next port of call was the Spook House. If you’ve taken the road from Windhoek to Rehoboth you’ll have seen the place. Not a mansion perhaps but a formerly grand farm house now abandoned and fallen into disrepair. Quite who it was that coined the title Spook House is unknown, but the name has stuck and that is how it is known to all Windhoekers, more than a few of whom have had a fearful peek inside the premises, conducted séances where somebody is cheating (or fired up a braai outside accompanied by ghost stories and panic attacks of the type designed to bring courting couples together). But it certainly looks the part. Quite who the spook is, is also unknown. (See Box for Potential Candidates).
The Spook House, upon closer inspection, had bats, spider webs and such like Scooby Doo accoutrements. Of the spook there was no sign. This might not be giving it justice. I’d describe our hunt as perfunctory. After ascertaining that there was no wet bar or free massage service my father dispensed with the “Temperature is ambient…shows no signs of oscillation…no movement of objects… dog exhibits no evidential negative reaction, but that’s normal, it’s a dozy little mutt …” routine and cleared off in search of fancy restaurants experiencing poltergeists. Without success
Namibian’s southern coastline is well endowed with ghost towns, thrown up by diamond miners and then abandoned when the stones ran out. Kolmanskop on the road to Luderitz is the most famous and most easily visited. The hospital, which once hosted a wine cellar for medicinal purposes and the first X-ray machine in the southern hemisphere, is said to have “an atmosphere”. It certainly did when we visited. A savage gale was shrieking, slinging grit and making the thing wobble. It also sand-blasted our faces, made visibility not just invisible but agonising and after dropping his thermometer and blaspheming, we both fled for The Nest hotel in Luderitz where (after the management had explained that there were no ghosts and they didn’t need ghost hunters) my father reluctantly reached for his wallet.
An obscenely large glut of oysters and crisp Chardonnay had him briefly bellowing about ghosts at around 3 AM.
Diabolic snoring subsequently plagued the hotel. A zombie-like figure staggered down for breakfast and then ordered blood.
This was more like it! First a zombie! My father was now a vampire!
After several gallons of blood from Mary, we then went back to our room whereupon he returned to his grave (or more accurately his bed).
He rose from the dead when the cleaner told him it was check out time.
We subsequently investigated a few more ghost towns. No ghosts. Sorry. But! On the long drive back home my father had that rare thing – a good idea. And it worked!
He announced that he would invite everybody he knew in Namibia who had seen a ghost, had a ghost, or a ghost story to get in touch. The results are already astounding. And more are incoming.
A REALLY CREEPY ONE (and not one I’m about to hunt if I can help it!)
THE HAUNTED MINE
Got this from an extremely level headed German geologist who was overseeing the reopening of an abandoned mine down south in the Namib desert.
The workers went in to clear rubble and detritus, make preliminary checks of the condition of props etc. Then they came out again and refused to go back in, on the grounds that there was a ghost sticking its head out of the wall of the access tunnel.
The geologist informed them that there were no such things as ghosts and if this was some African bullshine excuse to squeeze more money out of the company then the guys were wasting their time.
He then bullied everybody into resuming work and, to dispel the atmosphere of fear among his men, led the way into the workings.
The ghost stuck its head out of the wall and then climbed out and ran towards our fearless and skeptical geologist, who scarpered along with everybody else.
Outside, in the bright sunlight, there was a brief pause as the German tried to think of a rational explanation. A build up of mind altering gas? Optical illusion? Prank?
His thoughts were interrupted by the ghost which emerged from the mine. He jumped into the driving seat of his bakkie (pickup truck), the workers scrambled onto the back ASAP.
The ghost kept coming. The geologist remembers it as looking like a young man, an adolescent perhaps, but the wrong colour. It grabbed one of the workers in the back of the vehicle and tried to pull him out. The other workers grabbed the guy and pulled him back in. The ghost pulled, (it seemed to want to drag the man into the mine). The guys pulled.
A lot of yelling and screaming but no sound from the ghost. It was apparently a remorseless, determined, very silent thing. No emotions obvious on its face. The geologist floored the accelerator and the ghost let go.
They drove away. The ghost watched them depart then returned to its mine. Which is still abandoned.
NOTE: The geologist doesn’t want to be named. He doesn’t want people to think that he’s hallucinating, using LSD, or is just plain yarn spinning. But he states that the incident occurred exactly as described.