Sunday, May 11, 2008

Spring Break, Round 2: Namibia

I’ve just finished my round of malaria pills, which means I’ve been back from Namibia for a week. Classes were cancelled last week because of three civil holidays, so two of my friends and I decided to take off the whole week to do a little exploring.

We left on Sunday morning, traveling due north through the Western Cape and Northern Cape provinces. The Northern Cape is supposed to be gorgeous and covered in wildflowers, but I guess we were a few weeks late as winter has just started to arrive. We got to our little inn in a charming small town called Springbok much earlier than we anticipated, but nearly everything was closed because it was a Sunday before a holiday. We found one small grocery store open and we cooked a nice dinner (my end-of-Passover celebratory meal) before settling in to watch a show about bear hunting and South Africa’s version of “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” We got up early the next morning to cross the border into Namibia.

Namibia is a large, sparsely populated country with its own developmental issues. I learned in one of my lectures that the country’s population is around 2,000,000, but only 130,000 pay income tax. Because of the small state revenue, there is virtually no infrastructure; there are only three paved highways in the entire country and we only used them on our first and last days of our trip. Namibia was first colonized by the Germans, who later lost their stake to the colony after World War I. The German influence is still greatly apparent on the descendents of colonists and indigenous peoples alike. Many of the native Namibian groups, such as the Himba and the Herero, assimilated German cultures into their own, while their women dress as late 19th Century German women would have. Many people still speak German and practice German culture, making Namibia a popular destination for German tourists. Another weird fact about Namibia: many of its towns share their names with places in Israel. Some that I noticed on the map were Rosh Pinah, Rehoboth, Berseba, and Nazareth. I found no answer for this coincidence.

Namibia's take on Table Mountain

creative marketing while crossing the border

Soon after crossing the border, we drove to Fish River Canyon, which—depending on your sources—is either the deepest or second deepest canyon in the world. Either way, it was pretty spectacular.

no fish, small river, big canyon

photographic proof that I was at the FRC

look how geometric the mountains are. geology is awesome.

We had booked a place to stay in Aus before we left Cape Town and we thought we were lucky to make it there just before dark. We had arranged to stay in a small cabin on a the property of an upscale hotel complex. When we arrived we were told that our accommodation was called Geisterschlucht, which apparently means “ghost cabin.” This was no joke, because it took us nearly half an hour to reach the Geisterschlucht, only to find it infested with bugs and mice. When we arrived at dinner back at the main lodge soon after, the hotel manager took pity on us and gave us an extremely generous upgrade to one of the hotel’s suites.

wild horses couldn't drag me away

mountains near our hotel

Aus is famous for its wild horses, so we made a special stop to see them before continuing our journey north into the Namib Desert. Despite the treacherous roads, the drives in Namibia are beautiful. While driving through the desert, we would see mountains on one side of the road and sand dunes on the other. We also saw a lot of animals on our journey. We often saw springbok, kudu, impala, and ostrich in the middle of the road. Despite our negative experience with a Namibian cabin the night before, we decided to spend Tuesday night on a small German farm next to Duwiseb Castle, an old German fortress. The farm had no electricity, but the cabin was lovely. Mr. Schultz, the proprietor, invited us to lamp-lit dinner with a German tour group, which was an experience unto itself.

admission inside the castle was too expensive, so that's all I got

We continued our journey the next morning to Sossusvlei, home to Namibia’s highest sand dunes. We weren’t able to say long but they were unbelievable to see.

assorted dunes and mountains pictures-- enjoy

We knew we were in for a long drive up the coast to Walvis Bay and Swakopmund, so we were surprised to find ourselves stopped in the middle of the desert road not too far outside of Sossusvlei. We had crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and the sign is a popular photo opportunity.

yay for crossing made-up lines!

We made it to Swakopmund before dark so we were able to explore the town for a while and make reservations for the next day. Swakopmund is a very quaint beach town with a distinctly German feel. We went to bed early as we planned to wake up at 4:00 a.m. to see the sunrise over the dunes. When we woke up, we found that it had rained during the night and our driver admitted that the fog was too dense to see anything that morning. We were disappointed, but we were lucky that the weather had cooperated up until then.

i know these look as fake as a Microsoft Windows background, but I really did sandboard on them

After a short nap (and game of Jenga) we met a guide who drove us out to the dunes. The weather had cleared up by then and we were able to go sandboarding—sliding down the dunes on a piece of cardboard (a “Kalahari Ferrari,” as the guide called it)—which was a definite highlight of the trip. The guide had a radar gun and tracked me going 74 kilometers an hour down the dunes (I was the fastest of the day on one of the rides). We ate a quick lunch before shuttling off to Windhoek, the capital, to fly back to Cape Town. We barely made our flight because our driver was unaware of the fact that the airport was 50 km outside of Windhoek proper (I’m pretty sure we broke 100 flying down a busy highway once this was discovered). I made up a sad story at the Air Namibia ticket counter and got the agent to hold the flight for a few minutes while we went through customs. This was right out of The Amazing Race. Namibia was on my “To Do” list before coming to Africa, and I’m so glad I was able to pull it off.

This semester’s winding down. I’ve finished all of my papers for the rest of the term, but I have two more tests before exams begin on the 29th. On the bright side (literally!), the blackouts have ended, allowing me to write this post. It’s also winter here now, which means I haven’t seen the sun since the middle of April. It’s a good thing, too, or else I would never want to leave…

1 comment:

SouthAfrica said...

Awesome blog entry, just great, not often I see blog entries on Namibia and even less on the Fish River Canyon. I run a travel blog at SouthAfrica.TO and originally chose this as blog posting of the week on the 7th June newsletter on Mango Airlines (a local low cost carrier). I've now short-listed this posting as one of our travel blog posts of 2008. I see the blog posts stopped in May, but hopefully you are carrying on your writings somewhere else. Thanks for sharing.