... but I aint got wings; coming down is the hardest thing
12.12.2009 31 °C
Entering Namibia has been, to me, the greatest culture change encountered. After recently traveling through so many war-torn, third-world, and undeveloped countries, my first impression of Namibia was utter civilization shock. The first change was switching to the left had side of the road, a change not advertised at the border but just assumed. Once in the first small village there were ATMs, western treats in convenience stores, KFC advertisements, and fully stocked proper supermarkets. Needless to say everyone went a bit crazy stocking up on candy, chips, meat pies, and other treats with an irrational, yet habituated, thought that we’d go another five months without seeing any.
Since we took longer than expected to get through Angola there was unfortunately not enough time to travel northwest to visit a Himba tribe. Instead we made headway to Etosha National Park after entering through the border towns of Santa Clara/Oshikango. We managed to get reservations at the first (Namutoni) and third (Okaukuejo) sections of the park for a couple days of game viewing. The three camps are situated around the main watering holes set up in such a way that the animals can be observed from a short distance via spotlights in the evening. The game drives were nothing short of fabulous and I was in heaven sitting at the watering holes late into the evenings. Okaukuejo camp in particular had excellent viewings: giraffes drinking at sunset, rhinos rustling at dusk, and a family of thirty elephants roaming in at nightfall. It was comparable to a live national geographic program but infinitely better than television; words could not express my glee. During the game drives we saw heaps of giraffe, dazzles of zebras, one lion pride, one cheetah hunting, a lone elephant bathing, and impala, springbok and oryx galore!
Next up on the dossier was cheetah park (Camp Otjitotongwe near Kamanjab), a refugee for about 70 cheetahs rescued from the crosshairs of farmers agitated by their dwindling herds. Included in the stay is the opportunity to interact with the ‘house cats’, two full grown cats and a cub, the largest of which greeted me by licking my arm upon entering the compound - similar to 60 grit sandpaper. After the visit we hopped in the back of the truck with a bin full of donkey meat to feed the other undomesticated cats on the premise. Our driver urged us to support the cheetahs by drinking in the bar… for the sake of the cheetahs I obliged J
Moving onward we stopped by the petrified forest near Khorixas, pretty lame if you ask me but maybe I just wasn’t in the mood to look at 260 million year old logs. The afternoon was spent at Twyfelfontein, home to arguably the most extensive collection of petroglyphs (rock art) in all of Africa. This activity was, to me, much more enjoyable but still not overly exciting.
The following night was spent at Spitzkoppe for a spectacular view of the sunset over the valley from atop the 1728m high boulders. We arrived the next afternoon in Swakopmund, the adventure capital of Namibia, for a few days of adrenaline and European luxury. The town is said to be more German than Germany, and since I’ve never visited the motherland I can’t confirm the statement except for the obligatory schnitzel offered on most menus. I, on the other hand, opted for the fabulous game meats. Steak alone is rare in west Africa, and it had been five months since I’d had a proper medium-rare cut of meat. The springbok was superb but I wouldn’t rate the oryx (and I couldn’t bring myself to eat a zebra :S ). The first day in town I was talked into sky-diving, and considering my moderate fear of heights and small planes I surprised myself by signing up. For the first time in my life I found myself to have clammy hands and spent the day with my stomach in knots. We drove out to the airfield, geared up, and started the jumps. To add to the unease I was, of course, last to jump. The fear of jumping at least took away from any motion sickness I might have had in the small Cessna aircraft. We flew around the area for close to 20 minutes (during which time I didn’t look outside much) and when it was time to go my tandem jumper shuffled us to the door, flung me out and let go… After the initial screaming and swearing I found myself looking towards the ground in freefall, a great feeling, but since it goes by so fast I wouldn’t say it’s worth the money; but maybe I’d have to try it again without such nerves to get the full effect.
One of the most exciting amenities Swakopmund offered were proper laundromats with washing MACHINES and DRYERS!!!! This was the first time since the UK I had seen such contraptions and it was a big indulgence to not have to hand-wash all my clothes in a bucket or river. The rest of the time in town was spent walking around the beautiful, clean and friendly boardwalk, shopping, and eating in proper restaurants and forgotten fast food joints. Unfortunately my stomach lost its ability to cope with western foods; but luckily I was in the land of luxury and flushing toilets, no need to dig one here!
As we headed onwards to the Namib desert area it became clear George still wanted a few extra days of rest, but we nursed him along to Sossusvlei for a morning viewing of dune 45, the most famous and photographed sand dune in the world. The early morning climb was magnificent, albeit rather cold and more tiring than it should have been given the lack of exercise over the past months aboard the truck. Once we’d had enough of playing around in the sand a shuttle brought us to Dead Vlei, (dead valley) a salt pan housing groupings of wiry petrified trees. The landscape here is rather stark and it was an interesting area to walk around and photograph.
The temperamental George forced us to bushcamp, once again, en route to Bethanie after increasingly frequent stops to tend to his many fissures. The remaining few kilometers to South Africa were spent along the Orange river, and a visit to Fish River Canyon (supposed 3rd largest in the world… not sure what definition that holds) was made. The canyon was impressive and worth a visit.
Namibia has been a great country overall, but bittersweet in contrast to the more ‘real’ feeling countries we’ve passed through on the west. This has been the first really touristy country visited on the trip since Morocco and I personally would rather spend my time away from any sign of Europeans. However, there has been much to do and see in Namibia, and Etosha alone blew my mind. Next up, Cape Town: the end of the west and the start of the second leg; and most importantly, the chance to see my Dad and sister!