Warning! This is a bit of a long post! Sorry!
If you want to skim through it and just check out the pictures we will certainly understand.
Double clik a picture to see in full size – some of the dunes are impressive!
There is a fun Seal Video Link towards the end too!
We just returned from a five day trip to Namibia (the country just west of Botswana). Namibia is a relatively new country having received its independence from South Africa in 1990. Before it was administered by South Africa it was a German colony. Most recently, Namibia was in the news because Angela Jolie and Brad Pitt decided to have their baby and now often visit.
We decided to attended the Oktoberfest in Windhoek and then head to the beach at Swakopmund. We couldn’t decide if we were going to drive, hitch or fly. Flying is expensive on our budget, driving would be 18 hours on the wrong side of the road and somewhat dangerous – and hitching is always very time consuming, unpredictable, and extremely uncomfortable.
We booked a direct flight. The day before we were to leave, Namibia Air lines changed our flight to include a layover in SA adding 4 hours more to our travel schedule. There were only 14 people on a plane for 100 people – but the air lines did provide free lunch with drinks for our 45 minute flight. We enjoyed a few art shops at the SA airport and made a plan to purchase some ostrich eggs on our way home. After we left the airport we remembered we would not be returning this way – but we did get good pictures which are hundreds of dollars cheaper than the actual eggs.
The flight to Namibia was packed, and there was another free dinner with drinks (including alcoholic) served in economy. Africa airline companies provide significantly better customer service than American airlines companies, but I doubt they are earning more money.
In Windhoek we landed in the middle of nowhere! You can’t see a village or anything looking like it might lead to a country capital anywhere around. There is one small two lane road that seems to meander – I hope to the countries capitol. As we made arrangements to enter the country, I realize now that I am not nervous, afraid or timid about any of this – I am truly getting to be an experienced world traveler.
The airport is about 50K from the capitol. Windhoek is located in central Namibia in the Khomas Highland plateau area. The population of Windhoek is 300,000. The city is nestled between some beautiful mountains. The view reminded me of Telluride – except it went on 10 times longer.
In Africa many of the hotels offer rooms from campsite up to luxury – which seems like a good idea and I wonder why it is not more prevalent in America or Europe, especially Europe.
We had booked at one such place for economy accommodations, but they let us upgrade for nearly nothing since we told them we are celebrating our honeymoon! As most of you know, we got married to join the Peace Corps and the Peace Corps was our planned honeymoon.
We met our friends at the Festival later that night. There were at least 1,000 people and only 1% was non-white. People were dressed in German garb and drinking out of Africa steins, which mean they were plastic instead of glass, and had stickers instead of printed designs. There was only one band – but they played a lot of international songs, and many people were dancing and enjoying. There was good German food there including pork, dumplings, sour kraut, and pretzels. There was one sort of hangy ornament from the tent top that you would not recognize to be a decoration unless you knew it was supposed to look like the bier tents in Munich. They also had cookie hearts on strings with little love messages just like Munich.
The band eventually started playing less popular songs – and the crowd slowly left.
The next day we checked out Windhoek. We stopped at the Maurau Mall – which was a unique indoors/outdoors multi-level curving and turning around mall. Most of the stores were the same as in Botswana or Durban – but the setting was unique. I was surprised by the percent of white people, which seemed to be about 60%. Upon further research I found the actual percent of white people in Windhoek is 16%. Apparently white people like hanging out in the malls as well as going to festivals. We did not trust there would be much of a downtown – and lingered at the mall for quite a while.
Finally – we started walking for downtown and came upon the “Las Vegas Strip” of Windhoek – which had about 6 or 7 “casinos” comprised mostly of slot machines. We did win 29.00 Namibian Dollars! The only disappointment was that most shops closed at 1:00 PM (on Saturday). It is so strange to see so little value put on making money. We could hardly believe the capitol city of the country closed nearly all it shops on Saturday afternoon! We found a nice park and there were a few traditional women covered in clay and mostly naked selling souvenir junk that was reasonably priced on Fidel Castro Road – which I found slightly ironic. We wanted to take pictures but it seemed way to exploitative However, they would let you take their picture for N50.00. Instead of pay these extortion prices, we decided we would download a picture for the blog. The clay is meant to protect their skin and hair, and these women did have flawless skin.
We tried tapas at a restaurant owned by a Venezuelan married to a Spaniard. The food was definitely tapas – but with many weird Indian/African twists and accents. After we adjusted our expectations it was enjoyable – and now we know what African/Spanish tapas taste like.
We proceeded to the festival for the second night, that was much the same as the first, except there were more PCV’s there. In total, 16 of us came to the festival. It took some people 2.5 days to get there using hitches, buses, and khombi’s. It took another 2.5 days to get home too. I’m sure glad they had the energy to do that – because they made the festival a lot more fun for us. At the end of the night we got a baked chicken and dumplings. We sat at a table with a man who had passed out on the table – which indicated it had been a good party, but was coming to the end.
The next day started off with a challenge. We were to leave for Swakopmund, about 400K from Windhoek to enjoy the rest of our vacation on the beach. While making plans to pick up a rental car we realized we had not brought a driver’s license. We don’t carry DLs anymore! The hotel had good Internet service and John was able to remote into Aaron’s computer system and retrieve a copy of his license he had left for Aaron. Of course the hotel computer did not have a PDF reader so we were not able to print the document. So we saved to a flash stick and hoped we could see it on my computer and maybe print it at the rental place???? When we got to the car rental place they did in fact require a driver’s license – but the image from the computer was good enough!!!! It is in these small moments I love living in Africa.
We got a Nissan with automatic transmission – which was twice as much as manual – but we thought it was necessary as it was going to be hard enough to navigate with the steering wheel on the right and the cars on the “wrong” side of the road. It is a 5 hour drive to Swakopmund. It was BEAUTIFUL. It was the sort of picturesque stuff we see and read about in Africa. Mountain ranges all around – and a new shade of green previously unseen in Botswana made us think it rained a little more here. About 2 hours into the drive we came to a little town called Usako, and there appeared to be a restaurant – or a cafe It was called The Tree House. There was a beautiful bier garden, and five nicely decorated rooms. They served German food as well as pizza, burgers, tea and coffee. It was just like real cafe in Europe – in the middle of nowhere on the way to Swakopmund. I ordered the curry wurst – which was not quite as good as Munich, but better than all my attempts to duplicate the dish.
Another deli in town sold what they called the “Best Biltong” in Namibia . Biltong is supposed to be a kind of beef jerky – but for some reason this jerky was very wet – and we decided there were probably a lot of eyeballs or other parts ground into this meat so we simply could not bare to try a second bite!
About 20K from Swakopmund we saw a sign for a Camel Farm. An elderly German woman was running the place with about 20 camels, one crazy dachshund, one cat, 50 chickens and 10 geese. She had carved a little oasis in the dessert with special plantings here and there as well as a bunch of beautiful animals. She would charge N125.00 for a 20 minute ride – and we asked how much too just climb on one and take a picture. She said it was the same costs – because the hardest part is getting the saddle on the camel and then the human on the saddle. But she did let us take any pictures of the place – and gave us a good history and botany lesson and offered us a cup of coffee. We paid her N50.00 – which probably is not enough – but it is all we had at the moment.
On the plane ride we had read an article about when donkeys mate with zebras. The article said it is a rare mating and even more rare that it results in offspring (which are all sterile). The off-spring are called different things by different folks. Coincidentally we saw one of these creatures on the Camel Farm:
As we approached the ocean from the East, we could now clearly see dark clouds ahead – and it looked like a giant waterfall in the sky was ahead of us. When we arrived Swakopmund seemed deserted and overcast. It was cold and windy outside! John and I cannot believe what bad travelers we have turned into. We can’t believe we forgot our drivers license and we can’t believe we forgot to check on the climate conditions –we later found it is only warm one month a year! And I was feeling so good about my travel skills just a few days ago at the airport! This was disappointing – but we tried to make the best of it. We met with a smaller group of 10 PCV’s that had also continued on to the beach via hitchhiking.
We started every morning well. The free breakfasts in Africa make American and European hotels look like cheap insults. I believe the restaurants in America and Europe are making money and I suspect the restaurants here are supported by the government.
We had troubles making plans because one of the more active persons was very sick, and he was hoping we would save the fun stuff until he felt better. We were procrastinating as large groups tend to do before John and I decided to take advantage of our car and drive 30K south to Walvis Bay in a desperate hope there would be sunshine and warmth there. Another couple drove with us.
It was a nice 30 minute drive with the cold, grey/blue Atlantic Ocean on one side and the huge golden sand dunes on the other side. The dunes are pretty unique looking and they just go on and on with little vegetation or any signs of life.
Alas, Walvis Bay was also cold and windy – with even fewer things to do. Of the 10 of us, only 3 of us had spent the few dollars to get a Namibian Cell Phone SIM card for our phones, so communicating with anyone was next to impossible. After hours of driving around and trying to hook up with other group members we finally found a small Catamaran Cruise business that was open and had “seal excursions” and would take us out in the late afternoon. For about 75% of the other excursions costs we would get two hours on the water, get to see seals, get two bottles of wine and a dozen oysters. Perhaps it was cheaper because it is much colder in the late afternoon on the beach.
We learned that our white captain grew up in Nigeria, but his family was from Australia, and he had gone to school in Texas. He had a big scare on his face and told us of a recent return from jail. He seemed like a character out of a book.
He explained how oyster farms are made and grow. They take long cable lines in the sea and sink large plastic containers filled with small purchased baby oysters about 30 feet down. It takes about 8 to 10 months to grow a little oyster into something eatable. They have to retrieve the containers every few months for cleaning and pruning out the bad ones. There were dozens of the 1/2 mile long lines growing oysters on our way out to see the seals. We finally made it out to the peninsula where there were at least a 1,000 seals. They had told us there would be 50,000 – but the 1,000 was impressive. We saw flamingo’s dining in front of the light house. There were tiny little baby seals, and big huge sloughs seals with extra fir all around their necks. Seals frolicking, and fighting, loving and biting – seals everywhere. We took about 100 pictures.
When we had had enough we headed back home and the Captain poured us some sherry, which was very warming. We got back to shore about 6:30 pm and felt like we had won the tourist prize for the day.
Next up was our free dinner included with the “Sun Downers” special at our hotel. As soon as we sat down I felt the bug in my stomach. I told John I knew I was going to puke later that night. I could barely get down the appetizers before I raced to the bathroom. I felt it was so unfair for this to happen on my free dinner night. I refused to admit I was sick and returned to the table and tried to eat my salad and even took a few bites of fish. But it was not meant to be. I left John to dine alone and went upstairs to start a night of alternating ends. It was exhausting and it hurt my whole body most of the night. I was done with the puking by morning, but still had some issues at the bottom. I was tired, but didn’t want to miss out on our vacation. John suggested we drive to Cape Cross – about 120K north to see more seals because we would be able to sit in the car for a few hours.
I took my bucket and cautiously agreed. We drove up the Skeletal Coast – which looked like a place people come to die. It was ancient and desolate. Called Skeletal Coast for all the sunken Portuguese warships, I believe. There is persistently nothing for miles and miles. And then out of nowhere is a small town. Each house had a water storage tank and there were no power lines. We wondered how or why anyone in the world would want to live is such desolation. In another 50K is another village. It looked like a nice town. Electricity, power lines, and there was even a golf course. It was all sand with little grass greens around the hole. The buildings were nice and the coast was gorgeous, but still grey and cold. While this did look like civilization – it was still just too far from anything for us to think of as a pleasant place to live and really to even visit.
About 10K from Cape Cross we started seeing little rickety, rusty broken down tables. Each table had 10 – 15 big chunks of salt crystals and a sign that said N100.00 , N50.00 or N30.00. We shook a few cans and none appeared to have money – I can’t imagine how people could make money – but there were about 100 tables.
Finally we come to the Cape Cross Lodge. A huge, nice, elaborate lodge. It nearly looked like a fort castle on the ocean. It was built for a huge crowd of vacationers – but there were only 3 cars on the parking lot. We had a bowl of soup in the elegant dining area overlooking the cold immense Atlantic Ocean. We could hear the roar of the ocean. We were the only one’s dining there. A short way off is a famous seal sanctuary. At the height of breeding season there are over a million seals. We were 20 feet away from 1000’s of seals. They stank to high heaven! Much the same as the day before – but it was a nice activity for a sick person. Just watching the seals. We saw several large crosses that were replicas of what the Portuguese laid down nearly 500 years ago when claiming parts of Africa for European kings.
If you want to see a Seal Video, click here: <Seals in Namibia Video>.
It is impossible to explain how immense this space is and how small we are as human beings. It seemed foreign to even be there – like humans are not supposed to be there. I slept in the car the two hours back. After resting a bit and feeling mostly on the incline, I decided to try the dune bikes at Walvis Bay. I had a lot of trouble steering and the guide had to stop several times to tell me things like I have to do more than move my knees or my head to make the bike turn. I felt good that I tried it and that in general I don’t just refuse to do things that don’t come natural to me, but it was not the most exciting part of my trip.
Half way through the tour our guide stopped us and scrambled off his quad and thrust his hand deep under the sand and pulled out a fun little lizard!
I was grateful to see the incredible landscape of big massive dunes and the pictures were great. We were both exhausted when it was over. Overall I feel like I accomplished something – and I am glad I pushed myself through the discomfort.
Our last day in Swakopmund was Halloween – but nothing feels like America here and we don’t even notice or give a single thought to dressing up. We headed back to Windhoek in our rental car giving a ride to two other volunteers, while the others assured us they would make it home in a few days via hitchhiking.
We dropped Corey and TJ at the Cardboard Box hostel – which was cheap –N95.00 ($12.00 US), and included free internet, pool, and breakfast – but bathrooms are shared and there were six nasty bunks in each room. No way for us – especially since I was still feeling a bit sick. I felt confident I could get a room at the Kalahari Sands (an exclusive 5 star casino hotel in downtown) for $100US and wanted to stay there. John was skeptical We went and they laughed in our face! They were not filled up, but the thought of $100 room seemed more crazy than an empty room getting nothing. Second choice was the Chameleon Backpackers for $50US a night. We had our own sleeping room and bathroom and it was clean – so we were happy.
While souvenir shopping we walked by a hidden, private little club and went in to check it out. It was a Snooker Club, with about 12 old German’s all sitting around classically drinking bier and playing a Snooker Tournament. It was not exactly a basement – but it was below ground level. It was small and dank. Cigarette smoke hung in the air. The people were most welcoming, and they had the largest pool table we ever saw in our lives. We found out it was a snooker table and John was invited to play. He made a good showing getting in several good shots, but they lost at the end and had to buy the other team a round of shots, never mind that that had not been agreed upon first!
The men talked of their roots in Namibia, and of the language and always threw in a few fun rules about the bar. For instance if you cuss someone really bad (not including shit or even the f word) you had to pay N1 into the pot. You could just pay and not say the word and the person being cussed could be equally insulted upon learning of your payment on his behalf. We finally couldn’t breathe anymore and took a ride to a local sushi place which we not had an opportunity to enjoy the whole vacation. The place was super nice and very Japanese – but we ordered dinner instead of sushi and were disappointed in our own choices. John said he ate to excess and his stomach was hurting – so we went home to get a good night sleep before our early flight the next day. About 11:00 PM John started vomiting and crapping too. It went on all night and throughout the next day too. John was super happy to be on a plane instead of a bus or hitching to get home. It really sucks to travel when you cant trust your butt! We made it home by 11:00 AM.
Overall – it was an ok vacation with some decent pictures, but it would have been nicer to have sat on a warm beach, or spent much less money considering we were not in New York City. At least we will enjoy a few good memories we made there.