Driving in Namibia - Driving in Windhoek
Windhoek is not a large city, but it is extremely hilly and like most places in the world the taxi drivers are prone to do unpredicable things; suddenly stopping, jumping in front of you without signaling, etc.
Even regular drivers are unpredicable, use of turn signals seems optional to many drivers and if they use them at all, they will signal a split second before turning or changing lanes. Many seem to view traffic lights as mere suggestions and wil run the red light.
Pedestrians are equally unpredicatble and they will just walk out across the road.
These issues can be compounded if you are not used to driving on the left or driving manual transmission vehicles in a right hand drive vehicle if you are not used to them.
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BANK CARD THIEVES
There is a very good chance you are looking at a picture of 2 Bank Card thieves. A guest at my Bed & Breakfast had his card stolen by 2 men right here 30 minutes before. What happened? The tourist had just put his card in and put in his pin code when 2 men standing behind him shouted “Oh, there’s a problem with the machine, hit reject and re-enter your pin code”. He did and while one man distracted him, the other grabbed the card that has just come out. Both men saw the pin code. A telephone call to the bank in the UK confirmed them tourist’s bank card was being charged hundreds of dollars as he spoke to them.
The Standard Bank ATM is on the street. The Bank Windhoek machine is just across the street and inside with an armed guard (also pictured). When in doubt in Windhoek, use a machine that is guarded. There are several of them.
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PARK YOUR CAR SECURELY
Every hotel, bed & breakfast and hostel I saw in Windhoek had secured car parking at night. Make sure you take advantage of this. Parking around Windhoek is not an issue during the day. The whole city has nice bright and wide avenues and the Police do walk and drive around. If you do wish to pay a little more, there are attended car parks during the day in the centre (pictured). In general just take simple precautions like not leaving anything on display at any time. Good advice in any big city really.
(All photos taken in Windhoek).
A word of warning on altitude and climate
(work in progress)
Windhoek is part of the Khomas Hochland (Highlands) and is unexpectedly high at 1650m - or just under a mile in old money - above sea level. This is high enough for those used to living at - or close to - sea level to detemine a difference in oxygen concentration. So, if you've just fallen off a long haul flight, just understand that if you're feeling exhausted is at least partly due to your new environment. So be gentle on yourself, as it won't take you long to adjust if you take things a bit more slowly the first few days, and anyway, Namibia's not the sort of place where anything tends to happen in a great rush ...
What might take you longer to adjust to is the extreme climate. What you are probably prepared for is the fact that Windhoek is scorchingly hot in summer ... routinely high 30s and early 40s centigrade during the day, but at least because it has a desert climate, it mercifully cools down at night, sleeping isn't usually a problem. Summer is also the rainy season - such that it is - so expect rain in the form of stunning thunderstorms ... these are a blessing in this thirstland, so if you happen to be caught up in one, just be grateful!
What is more unexpected is the winter. Windhoek is bitterly cold at night in winter (I have had to break the ice on the toilet in one garden cottage that I stayed in), but pleasant high teens in the day, and bone dry.
So pack so that you can layer clothing. The usual rules apply: natural fabrics in summer (don't forget that in this intense climate, you'll probably want to cover up rather than expose flesh to sunburn) and warm but lightweight garments such as thermal underwear and fleeces in winter.
Avoid Independence Avenue in rush hours
Windhoek may look like a sleepy place - and most of the time it is - but in rush hour, the main arterial routes do clog up with traffic. This is particularly true of the main street, Independence Avenue (formerly Kaiserstrasse).
This wouldn't usually be a major problem except if you are rushing to catch a flight. The new international airport is a long drive out of town, and many tourists underestimate the amount of time it takes to get there - as a rule of thumb, you should allow yourself at least 45 minutes, and preferably an hour outside of peak period.
The majority of tourists come back into Windhoek from the north (Swakopmund and Etosha) and many then travel down Independence Avenue before connecting to the airport road. If this is your intention, then don't complicate matters by getting stuck in the gridlock on Independence Avenue if you're arriving early morning or late afternoon: allow yourself ample time to cross Windhoek in order to get to the airport, and preferably try to take a road that completely avoids Independence Avenue.
General safety tips
Namibia is a peaceful, democratic country and is relatively crime free. However, as in any other place in the world there are undesirable elements.
By following basic advice it is possible to avoid most potential problems. It is advised that you carry a record of the numbers of your passport, airline tickets and travellers cheque's. These should be kept in a safe place. Please note expensive jewellery should not be taken on safari.
Do not flash lots of money, an expensive camera or jewellery. Take note of onlookers and keep your possessions in sight at all times to avoid opportunistic theft. Make use of your hotel safety deposit box for expensive items. Never leave baggage or personal items unattended, especially at airports. It is best not to wander around the streets after dark.
If you are travelling in a car, do not leave your purse or bag lying on the passenger seat in clear view - rather keep them in the car boot. Do not consider picking up hitchhikers
It can get wet
During the dry season, the streams in Windhoek are dry and the road goes right through them, but come rainy seaon, things can change. The nice people in the city even provide guages in these streams to tell you how deep the water is.
The pictures show things when there is no water, but it had been raining hard just before we left and we went through one of these that had well over 30 cm / 1 ft of water in them when returning the truck we rented.
Unlike its neighbours, Namibia has Daylight Saving
(work in progress)
One very happy memory I have of my time in Namibia is from 1994, when one of my contracts coincided with their implementation of Daylight Saving for the first time. The sense of excitement at this prospect was palpable, and the advertising was endearingly nationalistic: I forget the exact wording, but something along the lines of, "First we achieved our independence, and now we have our very own time!"
To date, Namibia is the only nation in Southern Africa to have Daylight Saving, so be aware that between the first Sunday in every September and the first Sunday in April, Namibia is only one hour ahead of GMT. This means that over the winter months, Namibia is one hour behind its neighbours, but is in the same time zone (ie. two hours ahead of GMT) for the rest of the year.
This may be a particular issue if you are crossing borders into Angola, Botswana, Zambia or South Africa, so be sure to factor the time difference into your planning if you're planning to travel in the Southern Hemisphere winter.
If you plan self drive in Namibia, when obtaining your car in Windhoek, ask to have a 2nd spare tire. Most of the roads in Namibia are gravel and it is almost certain that you will have a flat tire somewhere so its good to have the 2nd one available as well till you get to repair the 1st one.
There are places or neighborhoods that are recommended not to hang out at night if you are not sure where you going to, ask for help before you go and the best is of course to let the local's to show you around, they know their own town.
avoid Hertz. unreliable and outright liars
I had the most amazing bad service from Hertz in Windhoek. I would avoid them at all costs.
I had a confirmed car reservation (with confirmation number) that I made at least one week before. My flight was 2h late arriving and when I arrived the hertz desk at the airport was closed (this was at 2130). Luckily Avis was open and they got someone from hertz on the phone, hertz said they didn't have any cars and didn't even seem to understand that I had a reservation and expected a car. They said the best they could do was drive me to my hotel and TRY to find a car for me the next day. I waited 45mins at the airport, eventually I found a driver from my hotel collecting someone else and he took me to the hotel since hertz did not turn up during that time.
The next day the fun really started. I had given Hertz the reservation number and they said they'd bring a car to the hotel. I kept phoning them, first every hour and then every 10 minutes. The story changed minute by minute, the car is on it's way, the car is being washed, the driver is filling the car with petrol. Finally someone from Hertz turned up at the hotel, BUT NOT WITH A CAR FOR ME! Despite telling me 20mins before that a car for me was ready and being "filled with fuel", THEY had decided to drive me to my meeting at 11 and deliver the car there after my meeting. So the story of the fuelling and washing were complete lies!
I got to my meeting and a car did arrive at 1230, but not only did they not offer any apology about losing my CONFIRMED reservation (which they did find with the confirmation # I gave them), but they tried to charge me the rental price STARTING AT THE AIRPORT THE NIGHT BEFORE!! This was so outrageous that it was funny !! They also did not offer the rental rate I had booked (company corporate rate), but a general rate.
Finally when I returned the car I tried to get the invoice to confirm how much they would charge and as I expected they charged me the airport surcharge (9%) for renting from the airport, even though I got the car in the city centre. They promised to refund the 9% charge later.
The lost reservation I can accept since those things happen from time to time, but the stream of lies about the car being ready when it wasn't and they'd sent someone to drive me to my meeting instead make Hertz Windhoek totally unreliable and I will never rent from them in Namibia again.
**UPDATED A MONTH LATER**
I happened to check my credit card statement after the trip. Hertz Windhoek did not give the refund for the unnecessary airport tax but also separately charged me another 175euro three days after my rental was charged. After many phone calls to both the windhoek and Hertz south africa offices, I found out they had charged MY credit card for damage done by another renter to another rental car. Nothing to do why my rental at all. They had used my credit card by mistake for that payment !! Even though they admitted this after two phone calls, it took a further THREE WEEKS and four more phone calls before i received credit for the wrong charges!!
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Safety and crime in Windhoek
I was told by the hotel reception to be careful when I walked in the city. Especially after dark. But I didn't notice anything. No incidents at all. I saw some boards on the wall in front of the residents "Entry at own risk", "Beware of the dog", etc. The private business have good days in Windhoek, and teh company G4S was in majority.
It also seamed to me that the goverment takes the security of its people serious. You could see boards in many streets with "Call our 24 hour crime prevention team on 2902018".
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