Head northwards from Swakopmund on the west coast of Namibia, travelling along the well known “Skeleton Coast”, and after 100 km or so, as you approach Cape Cross, (home to a wonderful seal colony), you may find an assortment of very basic, unmanned, tables set up at the side of the road. These rickety tables support a rather interesting-looking collection of crystals. If you stop and inspect these crystals – and you should! – you will find that they are crystals of rock salt that are harvested from the surrounding area.
These aggregates of salt crystals are for sale on an honesty system; if you take one you are honour bound to deposit the correct amount of money in the tin provided. The salt sellers return to the tables at the end of each day to collect the money and to replace any of the stock that has been sold.
Known as halite, or rock salt, these isometric crystals of sodium chloride may be colourless, white, light blue, pink, orange, yellow or gray depending on the type and quantity of impurities present. These variations in colour add to their charm.
The road north of Henties Bay (a small but rapidly expanding settlement north of Swakopmund) is known from its construction as a “salt road” and is as smooth as tar, but is, of course, devoid of road markings, being constructed of gravel and salt. When wet it can be very slippery and it carries a speed restriction as a result.
The global production of salt (sodium chloride – NaCl) is in excess of 210 million tons per annum, of which less than 6% is for human consumption. The rest is for industrial use. In the big picture, Namibia is a relatively small player in the global market, producing around 700 thousand tons per annum, or approximately 0.33% of the worldwide production. At the large salt-works not far from Cape Cross salt is mined on a commercial scale.
Salt is also produced in Namibia through the evaporation of water from sea water, for example in the large open pans near Walvis Bay. The climate of Walvis Bay being conducive to rapid evaporation, these salt pans are quite extensive, covering over 3,500 hectares and producing more than 400 thousand tons of high quality salt annually. At the time of our visit, the water in the pans from which the evaporation was taking place varied in colour from the expected pale blue to an eerie pink that looked totally unnatural.