Namibia: An Oasis in the Desert
I had no idea what to expect in Namibia, but I was pleasantly surprised. Before arriving, the only thing I knew about Namibia was that it was the home of the Olympic sprinter; Frankie Fredricks. I was ignorant of its history, culture, and demographics. I was totally taken aback by how beautiful it is. It reminded me so much of Southern California with it's hot, dry and desert like conditions. It was also the first place that I heard Khoekhoe (the click language). I'm struggling to learn a second language and people here are proficient in 4. In one day you could hear Oshiwambo, English, Khoekhoe, Afrikaans, German being spoken from the same guy. Unfortunately, income disparity between whites and blacks is absolutely disheartening. There is a 14:1 wealth disparity. The vestiges of imperialism are ever present. Having been controlled by South Africa until 1990, Namibia has a shared history of apartheid with South Africa and thus is still plagued with high levels of economic inequality. Indigenous Namibians had a tumultuous and oppressive relationship with the Afrikaans who controlled Namibia up until its independence. To add even more context, the ex-German colony was once the guinea pig for the holocaust before the Nazi party attempted it against the Jews during World War II. Namibia has a very sordid history, but I will encourage everyone to research it more.
In light of its history, I still enjoyed Namibia immensely. It is modern, sunny and cheap. Heck, on my first day in Windhoek, I saw a guy propose to his girlfriend in front of our café. It’s also the place that got me addicted to meat pies. Savory meat stuffed inside a flakey pastry crust. Delicious! After a few days of adjusting to the desert sun, we rented a car and took an impromptu road trip to the coast. The road from Windhoek to Swakopmund is honestly one of the most scenic drives I’ve ever taken. There is something about the desert at dusk that is truly sublime. The sky has this vibrant orange hue as if it were set on fire. Definitely one of my favorite sights. Swakopmund ain’t too shabby itself. It’s as if someone took an idyllic European village and planted it on the coast of Namibia. Its architecture, food and even language are inextricably linked to its German past. German foods like schweinshaxe are served at the local brauhaus. But the real fun to be had in Swakopmund is in the deserts. The sand dunes of the Namib Desert are great for ATVing and sandboarding. There are a couple tour operators that will readily rent you an ATV and set you free on the dunes. Be warned, those things can be extremely dangerous if you don’t know how to ride them properly. Attack the dunes at an angle that is too steep and you risk rolling the ATV. Attack the dunes with too slow a speed and the ATV could lose traction causing it to flip onto you. Both were lessons that I nearly learnt the hard way. The less intimidating desert activity was sandboarding. It's like being a kid on a giant slide. Exhilarating yet sanitized fun.
A few hours on the dunes will have anyone exhausted. Thankfully, our guesthouse in Swakopmund had the most comfortable bed I have ever slept on. I still dream about that bed. It was like I was sleeping on a cloud. I would have easily spent a week in Swakopmund had it not been for an incident on my third night. Thieves scaled a 10 foot high wall with an electric fence on top. Then snuck into the room next to ours and relieved the guests of their possessions. Poor guys lost everything. I’m talking about iPads, computers, passports, everything. How do you carry out 3 gigantic backpacks without making a sound? Luckily the rest of us in the guesthouse were spared even though everyone else’s rooms were unlocked. That 10ft electric wall really gave us all a false sense of security. One guy was in the last week of vacation too. He had spent the last 3 months photographing wildlife in Zimbabwe. Over 4000 photographs lost forever. His flight back to Canada was in 5 days and now he didn’t even have a passport. I really felt for him. I was done with Swakopmund after that. Back to Windhoek we went.
On a mission to find the largest sand dune in the world, we set off to the nearby Walvis Bay with all our possessions hastily stuffed in the trunk. Without rhyme or reason, we took a random side-trip into the desert for the fun of it. Half an hour into our little detour and my travel buddy decides that he wants to continue on the desert trail all the way back to Windhoek. That’s over 400 km with a half-tank of gas and no water in the car. No surprise, the gas light lit up in the middle of the desert with the nearest town being over 65 km away. I don’t think I have ever been more nervous yet focused at the same time. I memorized the location of every remote ranch along the way. My survival skills were in overdrive. Luckily the reserve tank had enough gas to get us safely to the town of Karibib. I still can’t believe how reckless we were. When you’re young you really are dumb!