Countries Visited

Svalbard Spain United States of America Antarctica South Georgia Falkland Islands Bolivia Peru Ecuador Colombia Venezuela Guyana Suriname French Guiana Brazil Paraguay Uruguay Argentina Chile Greenland Canada United States of America United States of America Israel Jordan Cyprus Qatar United Arab Emirates Oman Yemen Saudia Arabia Iraq Afghanistan Turkmenistan Iran Syria Singapore China Mongolia Papua New Guinea Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Malaysia Tiawan Philippines Vietnam Cambodia Laos Thailand Myanmar Bangladesh Sri Lanka India Bhutan Nepal Pakistan Afghanistan Turkmenistan Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan Japan North Korea South Korea Russia Kazakhstan Russia Montenegro Portugal Azerbaijan Armenia Georgia Ukraine Moldova Belarus Romania Bulgaria Macedonia Serbia Bosonia & Herzegovina Turkey Greece Albania Croatia Hungary Slovakia Slovenia Malta Spain Portugal Spain France Italy Italy Austria Switzerland Belgium France Ireland United Kingdom Norway Sweden Finland Estonia Latvia Lithuania Russia Poland Czech Republic Germany Denmark The Netherlands Iceland El Salvador Guatemala Panama Costa Rica Nicaragua Honduras Belize Mexico Trinidad & Tobago Puerto Rico Dominican Republic Haiti Jamaica The Bahamas Cuba Vanuatu Australia Solomon Islands Fiji New Caledonia New Zealand Eritrea Ethiopia Djibouti Somalia Kenya Uganda Tanzania Rwanda Burundi Madagascar Namibia Botswana South Africa Lesotho Swaziland Zimbabwe Mozambique Malawi Zambia Angola Democratic Repbulic of Congo Republic of Congo Gabon Equatorial Guinea Central African Republic Cameroon Nigeria Togo Ghana Burkina Fasso Cote d'Ivoire Liberia Sierra Leone Guinea Guinea Bissau The Gambia Senegal Mali Mauritania Niger Western Sahara Sudan Chad Egypt Libya Tunisia Morocco Algeria
Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Nam: More of a War Than Expected

Namibia was supposed to be our vacation from the difficulties of self-planned travel. According to our guide book and to many people we had met who had been to Namibia in the last few years, it was very cheap and fairly easy to get tours that cover the highlights of the country and where they take care of all the planning, meals, and transport. So, we headed from Botswana to the Caprivi Strip--a long piece of land that juts out from the rest of the country. We crossed the border and were immediately shocked at the cost of transport from the border to the closest town. It was twice as expensive as Botswana, which had already been very expensive. This is the way the whole country went. The country is beautiful, but it is probably the most expensive place we have ever been, and that includes London. We ended up with a drastically different trip than expected, but still had a really good time.

Almost no public transport exists, so we had to hitchhike with a semi driver the first day. We had never been in a semi, so this was sort of fun. Me being squeezed into a tiny space in the back on top of whatever junk the driver had was less fun. You can see that Tara is getting sleepy. You can also see the awesome leopard pattern of the seats.
That night, we paid more for a hotel than we had ever paid ($60 for the cheapest place in town). The next day, I essentially hijacked a woman's car--pleading with her to give us a ride to the next city. She was really nice and agreed, though I am sure she had never had hitchhikers before. After trying to get a tour for most of the rest of the day to Etosha National Park, we found that almost none existed and that they were all five times more expensive than our book believed. We gave up and decided to go to the capital where we would either rent a car or get out of the country quickly. We fortunately met our Australian friend, Ben, in the capital, with whom we then rented a car and camping gear for an 8 day exploration of Namibia.

Tara just thought this was a fun name for a street. We were having a bad day that day as we discovered how expensive Namibia was, so maybe it didn't take much to brighten our spirits.
Namibia is the place that Germans go when they decide that Germany is no longer German enough. I was constantly surprised when we would go around a corner and not a single nazi was standing there. The architecture is strongly German. Here is one of the big churches in Windhoek, the capital.
After renting our car, we made for Brandberg Mountain, the tallest in Namibia and essentially a solitary mountain in the middle of nowhere. We decided to stay at a place at the base of the mountain. It was wise that the hotel did not advertise how far they were or we would have never tried to get there. In any case, upon arrival, the first thing I took a picture of was this nice lizard.
The mountain was less exciting than some of the surrounding structures. Much of the stone that forms mountains in Namibia has a tendency to fracture with heat and cold cycles. This results in a covering of stones and boulders that makes many of the mountains look like big rock piles.
Here is Tara with our trusty VW Golf rental car. Actually, we hated this car. They are everywhere in Southern Africa, but it is only because they are cheap. It did take us down some terrible rocky roads without any tires exploding, but that's all it has going for it.
About twenty minutes later, the keys got locked in the car. This is because the car often randomly locks all the doors. Unfortunately, on our first day, we didn't yet know that. So, the keys were on the front seat so that we wouldn't lose them while packing up, the doors were closed, and the car locked itself. Sounds crazy, but it happened. So, I went looking for someone to help us. At the hotel, I finally found a guy who said, "Golfs are easy to break into. Shouldn't take more than a few minutes." So, here he is breaking into our rental car. Took him maybe 5 minutes using a piece of wire and a screwdriver.The views in Namibia change constantly. Here are some small mountains with a beautiful blue sky as we were driving to our next destination.
Then we were suddenly on the Skeleton Coast, which is nothing but flat salt planes bordering the ocean. It was named because many wrecks occured there and people had almost no hope of survival in the inhospitable land.
Along the coast, though, is one of the largest colonies of fur seals. We stopped to visit the loud and smelly colony. They were all wearing expensive looking fur coats like this one.
Several thousand seals were all ove the beach and in the water.
Many little seals were also there. Some with their parents, others waiting for parents to return from fishing. Here are mom and pup taking a nap.
We reached the official Skeleton Coast Park and my conversation with the ranger went something like this:
Him: "Why would you want to pay to go into the park?"
Me: "Well, isn't there a lot to see?"
Him: "It is the Skeleton Coast. There is nothing to see. That is the point. It looks exactly like the last 100 miles you came up."
So, we turned around and drove back. The entrance to the park is cooler than most park entrances, though.
We were lucky to have rented a car with Ben because he could drive a manual car, which is about half the price of renting an automatic. Tara and I are lame Americans who never learned to drive manual cars, but we decided to try to learn. Here is me trying to drive. I am not bad except that I always release the clutch too fast going into first gear and stall the car. Tara is really good at that part, but she can't change gears to the right gear quickly enough if she is in a city.
Our next stop was Swakopmund, which is probably the tourist center of Namibia. It feels just like a little German village except that it is on the ocean. Here is sunset over the pier.
Just outside of town are some of the tallest sand dunes in Africa. So, Tara and I went sandboarding. Essentially sledding on sand, but they wax the boards for extra speed and some of the dunes are really tall. Here is Tara demonstrating the proper technique.
And us together in our excellent outfits. Our guide is a semi-professional sandboarder using a snowboard, and was really into snowboarding, but he had never seen snow. It is his life's dream to make it to a mountain with snow.
We then went to Walvis Bay, a more industrial city, but one that has thousands of flamingos that feed at low tide each day. These are Greater Flamingos. Or is it flamingoes? No time to look it up.
When they open their wings to fly, they are even better looking.
One of the best antelopes in Namibia is the oryx (also called the gemsbok). It is one of the largest antelopes and has nice markings. This one tried to cross the road only to find the fence, which he didn't seem thrilled about.
On our way to the famous sand dunes, we passed through a "town" called Solitaire. The whole town is about the size of a truck stop and serves the same purpose. A gas station and a famous bakery make up most of the town. The town is decorated with the remains of old cars.
We realized at the last minute that we were going into the dessert and had no kindling for our firewood. So, we stopped and got some. Later, we found out that it is illegal to burn anything except two types of wood and also that some wood is poisonous. Fortunately, ours was okay.
Ostriches are always fun to see and are even better with a great mountain backdrop. This one is a male ostrich, which you can tell from the black feathers. We learned a lot more about ostriches in South Africa and will share in a later post.
The red sand dunes of Namibia are the most famous part of the country. They house desert elephants and lions, though both are nearly impossible to see. They are massive and awe inspiring, but I also really like sand dunes. Here are some scarab beetles that live on the dunes. They reflect a light blue color in the sunlight.
Most of the dunes have very sharp edges so that they look like mountains rather than hills. At the bottoms are flat areas, often the remains of old lakes.
Here we are next to a vlei, or dried up lake.
From the top of this dune, you can see the vlei at the bottom.
And Tara meditating on the vlei.
She needed the meditation before I made her hike all the way to the top of one of the dunes. It wasn't even the tallest dune, though.
And one more of the dunes at sunset.
Oh, wait, one more. Here comes the sun the next morning.
Next stop: Luderitz. Named after the crazy German guy who established Namibia as a colony for Germany by trading with locals for the land. He ended up paying almost nothing for land that only later yielded diamonds galore. Luderitz also feels very German.
We then headed south to Fish River Canyon. On the way, we drove along the Orange River on the border with South Africa. A lovely setting with mountains on both sides and a green river between.
But as soon as you leave the river, it is back to desert. This is part of the Fish River Canyon area, which is Namibia's equivalent to the Grand Canyon.
Here is a shot down into the canyon. Not quite as deep or as colorful as the Grand Canyon, but a very impressive structure.
People hike along the river at the bottom, but it is a five day hike, and we did not have that much time. I would have tried to make Tara do it in a day, but it is close to 60 miles, so that might have been challenging.
Here is Tara demonstrating the tent that we rented. It was a very roomy tent, but also occupied more space in our little car than Tara did.
We hiked to the Brukkaros crater, which is a very old volcanic crater. Inside the crater grows the rare Quiver Tree, which is related to aloe, but grows into trees. The crater also has quartz littering the floor from the explosion, but is otherwise unremarkable.
Our camp near the crater was really nice. Beautiful views and the campsite only gets about one visitor per week, so not exactly a lot of competition for space.
Maybe half the cars in Namibia have a sticker with NAM on it, which inevitably makes us think of Vietnam.
In a small burned field in Windhoek, we found this little striped field mouse. At least, I think that's what it was.
That brings us to the end of Namibia. A long post. As I mentioned, Namibia is a beautiful country. However, it is not cheap and has no public transport. If you expected it to be expensive, or just booked an all-inclusive tour before going, you'll probably love it. If you try to travel around by yourself, you will be frustrated. We will always have mixed feelings about it because it caused us so much frustration before we could enjoy it.

1 comment:

  1. So I am finally getting around to posting on your awesome site, on an entry that is truly dear to my heart - Namibia !

    My stay there dates back to '89, so isn't that recent, but just to put the cost aspect into perspective: in the little over a half a year I lived there, the cost of living went up by about 200%. Problem is that with independence in 1989, this sleepy South African satellite went from being a well kept secret for low-budget German tourists to the mainstream; bringing with it all the negatives of the spotlight. If you ask me, Brangelina showing up and putting it on the map for US tourists did it a disservice as well; but I suppose that is selfish of me...

    Price aside, I still truly believe it is some of the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen...

    P.S: I believe your striped field mouse is a Chipmunk - we have a ton of them in our yard in Chappaqua :)