Three days and two nights spent walking and sleeping in the Namib Desert, with expert local guides from Tok Tokkie Trails.
Get a close-up view of life in the desert: chameleons, scorpions, snakes, etc. You may only see tracks, but the feeling of being in the middle of a fragile eco-system will be strong.
I learned more about the Namib desert from these 20kms than the 2,000kms I drove round Namibia.
We made the four hours boot trip in the morning. We saw countless cormorants. But only two or three dolphins. Friends who made the trip the day before saw many dolphins. We hadn't so much luck. But any way the trip was great fun. At the end of the trip before you go back to the harbour your get a snack. Oysters, Champagne and finger food. The oysters tasted delicious. Lucky me that my friend doesn't eat any sea food :-))
The Ostrich is a huge, ungraceful and flightless bird which is common in Namibia. They are the largest birds in the world. For some reason they seem to thrive in arid (dry) areas like the desert. They are usually seen in groups, so be careful when you drive! During the breeding season they go off in pairs or maybe even 2 females with 1 male. When they see you, they usually run off – very fast. They can obtain speeds of more than 40 km/h (24.8 mph). Females lay 10-20 eggs at a time making sure there are plenty of Ostriches out there!
I can assure you that if you do decide to drive in Nambia, they will be in the road waiting for you to damage your car. Never drive at night. This is one of the many reasons.
When in Rome do as the Romans do; when in Namibia drink the Windhoek draught - probably the most popular (and the best) beer here. Available in special bottle stores but also in supermarkets. I had a nasty adventure with the 'bottle version' of Windhoek draught. When iIwas putting it into the trolley in a supermarket, it just burst in my hands , splashing all over the place. Since then , I chose to buy a can of Windhoek draught to enjoy with my meal.
If you come to Namibia by plane, it's most likely that you will land in Windhoek, as a number of foreign airlines operate here. In that case, it's advisable to spend a day or two in this capital city and immerse in its laid back atmosphere.
Windhoek is located in central Namibia 1680 m above sea level and is surrounded by hills and mountains. Its population is almost 300 thousand people, which makes it a small capital by world standards.
The city's architecture is mostly colonial, which gives it a German feel. The most interesting buildings are probably the Houses of Parliament and Christuskirche - a Lutheran church in the middle of big traffic.
Windhoek is a good place to do shopping - either as food supply for your trip if you start here or when you want to buy some souvenirs to take home.
With some good restaurants and bars it's one of the few places in Namibia where you can enjoy nightlife in the literal meaning of the word. For a very nice place to sample traditional food (or German, f.e. Eisbein) and drink beer, I would recommend Joe's beer house - very popular with travellers. Apart from drinks and very big portions of good food it also has an interesting collection of artifacts displayed all over the place. So if you have an evening to spare, go to Joe's in Nelson Mandela Avenue. (You may need to book in advance there.)
Etosha is a must when you visit Namibia. It offers an abundance of wildlife and understandably attracts lots of visitors. There are two ways of observing animals in Etosha: game drives and viewing them at waterholes while you are staying at a campsite. The floodlit waterholes ( there are three of them in Etosha) allow you to watch animals practically for twenty four hours a day.
I personally found the waterhole at the Okaukuejo camp the best place to observe animals. It was never empty, even at midday. Herds of antelopes, zebras and wildebeest visited it in daylight. So did the elephants that seem omnipresent in Etosha. After dusk the place became the stage for different animals. A couple of rhinos emerged from the darkness, followed by giraffes and then elephants again. The 'audience' sat in silence looking at the amazing spectacle.
Game drives must be done at daylight but they are hardly ever disappointing. During one of them we spotted groups of lions in just a few km intervals amounting to about 25 of them altogether.
Herero women are very eye-catching because of their picturesque attire. They wear colourful dresses with crinoline over several petticoats and a horn-shaped hat to match. This traditional outfit comes from colonial times and is based on Victorian women's dresses. The horns on the hat are pieces of rolled cloth and are meant to resemble the horns of a cow.
The Herero were nomadic pastoralists who arrived in present day Namibia in the 16thcentury. Until colonial times they were mainly occupied with herding and grazing cattle and sheep. In the late 19th century the conflicts with the Nama people and German settlers led to Herero uprising, followed by the tragic battle of Waterberg, which in turn resulted in wiping out a bigger part of Herero population (see my Swakopmund cemetery tip).
Today there are about 100 000 Herero people living in Namibia, mostly in the central and eastern parts of the country.
In several places we met Herero women selling little dolls dressed in colourful tribal costumes - a nice souvenir to take home.
Himba are a pastoral people who breed animals such as goats and cattle.
Their skin is reddish-brown because they use a kind of ointment made from butter, red ochre and herbs. They rub it in their skin and hair. They don't use water to wash themselves but take a smoke bath which also helps them avoid insects. Their complicated hairstyles indicate their tribe status. Another hairstyle is used by girls before puberty, another by married women, still another one by a mother. They wear leather jewellery and skirts made of animal skins.
They are a polygamous society with men having several wives. Children are cared for by all community members. At the age of 11-12 they have their front teeth knocked out - apparently for beauty reasons. Some of the Himba children are sent to school. It often happens that getting to know the world outside their village makes them abandon their traditional way of life. I am not to judge if it is good or bad.
The Himba people live scattered in the north of Namibia. You can see them in many towns selling their craft to tourists. But only a visit to a Himba village can give you an insight into their traditional way of life. Yes, they welcome visitors to their home and have some profit from that., but they do not keep their traditions because of tourists but in spite of them.
Before visiting the village ( near Kamanjab) we bought some food like flour or pasta for the hosts. We had been told not to buy any sweets. The gifts were presented to the chief lady and then fairly distributed among the villagers.
This little community consisted of 10 -12 women and lots of children (some of them orphans). Men, apart from our two guides and a teenage boy, were nowhere to be seen. Only at the end of our visit the chief, wearing traditional clothes, appeared. The women were occupied with their chores - churning butter, breastfeeding babies, cooking a meal. They didn't seem shy or disturbed by our presence - it was obvious that they were accustomed to visitors. Some were just interested to see their photos on the screens of our cameras. The children were much more keen on some kind of interaction - they wanted to be hugged, posed for pictures or just followed us.
The Himba live in circular huts made of branches and mud. We were invited into one of them. We sat on the ground and looked around at the few possessions. On the walls hung skirts made from animal skins. The hut resident showed us the Himba 'wash mashine' and other objects of everyday use.
I don't know if Spitzkoppe deserves its nickname 'Matternhorn of Africa' but I know for sure that this is the place of unique beauty. I didn't expect it to be so special, that's why my delight was even greater. The landscape is just stunning - rust and ochre rocks, groups of enormous boulders and the sense of isolation. We camped at the foot of granite rocks and didn't mind at all the lack of ablution blocks or 'civilised' toilet (there was just a long drop one).
We walked around the bizarre rock formations while some of the group went abseiling from the rock arch nearby. Suddenly we spotted a group of hyraxes observing us curiously. Meeting them was a kind of photo practice before Etosha. At night, sitting around the fire, we gazed at the enormous sky lit with countless stars - far from any civilisation, far from home ...
The Spitzkoppe is a group of bald granite peaks between Usakos and Swakopmund in the Namib desert. The highest peak is 1728 m above the sea level. In the area you can find many examples of Bushmen rock painting.
Swakopmund museum close to the lighthouse is definitely a place to visit. It was founded by Dr. Alfons Weber in 1951 and offers an interesting insight into the past and present of the region. There are various displays: like those presenting the flora and fauna in the Namib desert and Atlantinc Ocean, showing weapons and domestic utensils used by the namibian indigenous people or the reconstruction of the colonial home interior.
My photos show an original ox-wagon (1), the interior of the apothecary shop with an old-fashioned till (2) and the trunk of a thousand year old Welwitschia.
The museum is open daily from 10a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and 3-5.30 p.m. So if you have at least two hours to spare, visit and you will enjoy it.
Swakopmund is rich in examples of German historic architecture. The old houses have a year of their construction placed on their front wall. Walking around the town you will come across the finest examples of colonial buildings which have been maintained and preserved very well.
Here are just a few:
- Hohenzollern Building - in my opinion one of the most impressive in Swakopmund. This Baroque-style building was constructed in 1906 as a hotel. At the top we can see Atlas supporting the world.
- Altes Amtsgericht - was constructed in 1908 as a private school. Because of the shortage of funds it was taken over by the local government and converted into the magistrates court.
- Woermanhaus built in 1906 as the office for a trading company. Its prominent tower served for years as a landmark for sailors. Today you can climb it and view the panorama from its top. The building houses now a public library and art gallery.
Swakopmund was founded in 1892 as the only harbour of German South West Africa (nearby Walvis Bay was in British possesion). The German spirit is still present today in the form of beautiful colonial architecture, broad roads and the feeling of order and neatness. If it wasn't for the streets lined with palm trees you could think that you are somwhere in Germany.
Nowadays Swakopmund is the premier holiday resort and popular destination for extreme sport amateurs. Adventure activities include sand boarding, quad biking, scenic flights, hot air ballooning or deep sea fishing. There are a lot of activity operators in the town who have all those attractions in offer. But it's not cheap. For example skydiving may cost about 280-300 USD and for two hours of quad biking in the desert you are expected to pay around 60-70 USD.
Walvis Bay is considered to be one of the best spots in the world to view flamingos. It has been estimated that 80 % of all south African flamingos feed here.
The best place to see the birds is probably a shallow lagoon south-west of the town. Apart from large flocks of flamingos it attracts also other coastal water birds. As I am far from being an expert bird watcher I found flamingos most interesting and attractive.
It was fun to look at those long-legged birds wading graciously close to the shore or standing on one leg in water. The most convincing purpose explaining this behaviour seems to be regulating the body temperature. The birds alternate the leg they stand on to avoid the loss of heat. No matter what the reason is they look like acrobats bending and twisting their body parts.
It is a bit strange that crossing such imaginary lines like the tropic of Capricorn affects our imagination so much. it really does. At least in my case it is so. Yes, there is nothing more than a sign saying 'Tropic of Capricorn'. But cars stop there, people get out and everybody wants to have a picture there.
I did feel special standing there thinking to myself: 'you are just crossing that mysteriously alluring line you learnt about at school. Isn't it incredible?'
The Tropic of Capricorn lies at 23.5 degrees south of the equator and runs through Namibia, South Africa, Australia, Chile, Brazil. On December 21 at noon the sun here is directly overhead marking the beginning of summer in the southern hemisphere.
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