It was 6.00 am, and the only thing I could find fault with at the guest farm 70 odd kilometres from Sossusvlei, was that I had to get out to the dining area to make my morning coffee. The guy next to me, said something about being a farmer, and having to have coffee as soon as he woke up. Oh, I thought, he’s actually local, where does that sort of German accent come from? Politely, I asked what he farmed. ‘Cattle, small stock and tourists’. He then added, that the tourist part was the more lucrative of his farming efforts.
In retrospect, I think the forced coffee making trip was great, it forced people out doors early. As a bird watcher, I had all ready been up and seen the rosy faced love birds scavenging for food, and a lonely little Springbok walk past my verandah. Now having coffee in hand, the bird watching was more enjoyable.
A few months before our trip, Donald Trump had made another of his gaffs, and called Namibia, Nambia, and sparked off a few hilarious videos, which ridiculed Trump, and put Namibia firmly on the tourism destination maps of the world. Trump’s gaff did wonders for the country’s tourism industry. Namibia had also benefitted from them having their own video in the older, ‘(Insert country here) First’, series; Namibia was now known to the world. For a good laugh and amazing visuals, google these videos. Tourism had grown, thanks to Trump. The tourist farmers were happy.
I had been there 13 years ago, and this trip was unexpected. Shall we go to Etosha, said a friend? I said yes, and started planning. Originally, the trip was to be all Etosha, but we decided that we had both seen more than enough game, and that 7 days, even in a huge park, would be too much. We met at Johannesburg Airport, and boarded an Air Namibia flight for Windhoek. Air Namibia runs a very slick operation, and we landed at hot and dry Windhoek’s International Hosea Kutako Airport a few hours later. We went to collect the car I had hired, to be met by a blank look from the front office man. He searched through papers, checked on my surname several times, and asked for my confirmation document. He kept a professional face, but he must have been thinking I was some kind of stupid – I had reserved the car to be picked up in Walvis Bay. Ja well no fine, ek se niks nie. Alright, in that case what did he have available? Cars were available, but if not pre – booked, the price as good as doubles. So we went shopping at the various companies, and Thrifty Car Hire had a car a decent price. A VW Polo, which lived up to the old VW saying: You can take a VW anywhere. The drive to Windhoek was like already being in a game reserve, there were warthog and baboons all the way into the city. And a serious police road block. Uh uh, was my initial reaction- but it turned out to be a very pleasant and efficient check, the first of many we were to go through. One question that I was so pleased to be asked, was ‘are your headlights on?’ I was completely taken aback, but answered yes, I always drive with my lights on. ‘Good’, he said, ‘it’s compulsory here.’ Why is it not compulsory in South Africa?
We checked into Rivendell Guest House, in Beethhoven Strasse in a quiet suburb. Rivendell had also been our Windhoek base on the previous trip. I remembered the guesthouse as lovely, but had forgotten the name. During the planning stages for the trip, I had asked a friend who guides in Namibia for advice and recommendations. His recommendation of Rivendell and the memory trigger of the name was welcomed. In Windhoek and Swakopmund, many street names are in German, as are a large percentage of shop signs. After independence, it was decided to make English the official language, so as to get away from the languages of two oppressors; German and Afrikaans. A good call, but it wasn’t really followed through in daily life. Driving around, I brushed up on my German sign board reading, and spent the week speaking Afrikaans to everybody, whether they were shop assistants, petrol attendants or guesthouse owners.
It rained on that first afternoon; I was so surprised that I went on to Face Book to ask if that was normal.
The answer: not really, but all rain in Nam is good, said a Namibian friend.
In the morning we drove north east, Namutoni Camp in Etosha Park being our destination. Namibian roads are good, both the tar ones and the gravel ones. Later, during our trip, we drove on only one road that wasn’t so good: the Remshoogte Pass, which we were advised as the best road between Solitaire and Rehoboth. It was interesting, and there was a couple of places where, I thought if we get stuck here, we have a long walk to find help. We saw nobody on the road until we got near Klein Aub, but the scenery was spectacular, and we saw real, wet water in two rivers!
Now at the start of our trip, we drove through the towns of Okahandja (where a sign pointed to where an area called ”gross barmen” could be found – we avoided it), Otjiwarongo (very pretty with brilliant flamboyant trees in full flower lining the main road), Otavi and Tsumeb. Namibia is clean. As in super clean and litter free. I drove 2000 odd kilometres, and I think I saw five pieces of litter, which must have been escapees from a litter bin.
About 15 kilometres from Tsumeb, you can stop at Lake Otjikoto. This is really a sink hole that has filled with water. It is very pretty, and the bird life is fantastic. As with most places of interest in Namibia, the lake is gated, and you a pay a fee to enjoy the beauty. I think that this is a brilliant idea, as the money goes to the local communities. The local community here, are the Etosha Bushmen, who did a traditional dance for us on the way out. Not being sure about which people the locals are, I asked (in Afrikaans) the older man who was in charge of the performers. He proudly said they were Etosha Bushmen, which is why I use the term here. Bushmen is not a term that I’m comfortable with, so I asked if they were Khoi or San.
The old man shook his head, and said no, they were Etosha Bushmen, so I accepted that. We had a lovely chat about their lifestyle while the youngsters danced. The money generated from visitors to the lake, goes back into their community, and pays for, amongst other things, the school teachers and electricity. Personally, I think it wonderful that these people can have a foot in both worlds, the old cultural one, and the modern one. If you are one those people who resent paying for the pleasure of viewing other peoples’ backyards or natural resources, please stop and think for a minute and ask yourself: do you resent paying the entrance fee at a museum or zoo? Just because an area of beauty is part of nature, it still needs maintenance to be kept in the pristine condition you enjoy, and the people who belong there, if they cannot make a living of it, and view it with pride, will have no reason to look after it. I live on South Africa’s Wild Coast, and am involved in tourism; for many years I have been rooting for our area to adopt a ‘pay and enjoy’ policy; unfortunately most people think my idea as ridiculous, and it is not implemented (insert rueful emoticon here), so there is no pride in the natural resources, and ownership and guardianship are not worthwhile, with the result that many environmental tragedies happen on a daily basis on the Wild Coast.
Etosha Game Reserve was now directly ahead of us.
At the gate, forms were filled in, and then we drove towards Namutoni, playing the old game – the one who sees the first animal is bought the first drink by the other person. The first animal was a giraffe, lying down, right next to the road. He or she just lay there, under few trees, and balefully stared at us. It wasn’t my sighting, so the first drink was on me.
Having done some homework, I knew that there is a German Fort at the camp. But nothing actually prepares you for the gleaming white fort that looms up ahead of you.
It really is unexpected and spectacular. We checked in; our rooms were large and beautifully appointed, without being flashy. We headed for the waterhole, for a quick look see before going out for late game drive. Oh yes, welcome to Etosha, Namibia’s largest game reserve: a herd of between 20 and 30 Oryx (Gemsbok in Afrikaans), arrived for a late afternoon drink just then. I think that after Sable, Oryx are the most beautiful of African antelopes. I was now in heaven. I had never seen that many Oryx at one time before.
later, our first game drive didn’t produce much in the way of game, some zebra, some springbok and some Kori Bustard.
And of course, the great flat expanses of the smaller pans in that area were beautiful.
Dinner at the restaurant was lovely, complete with a lion roaring in the distance. After dinner, we took a trip up to the waterhole, but just a few zebra were roaming around.
I was up at dawn, and bird watching, seeing new species and old familiars. After breakfast, we drove towards Okaukuejo, the camp on the western side of the park. Zebras and springboks by the hundreds, if not thousands, were everywhere. I regard myself as spoilt, as I was partly brought up in East Africa, and I have seen a lot of wildlife, but even so, Etosha’s large herds were impressive. Seeing and experiencing the actual Etosha Pan is what we were there for, the animals were a second consideration to me; it would have been lovely to see lion or cheetah, but it wasn’t to be.
The pan itself is an amazing study of seemingly nothing. A huge expanse of shimmering sand. A few hardy bushes cling to life on it, and insects, I would imagine, but when looking out at it, one sees an incredible emptiness.
A hundred years ago, the Germans were in charge, building their Namutoni Fort in the middle of nowhere, and having battles with the local people. A plaque at the entrance commemorates (in German of course) a battle at the Fort, where 500 Hereros, and 10 Germans were killed. The Germans’ names are listed. As is the norm in battle, only the victor’s losses were noted.
What was it like to ride out in to this inhospitable land, trying to find one building (albeit a big white one), in the middle of thousands of square kilometres of bush in the baking sun? ‘Kurt, you haf ze kompas, ja? Left or ryte at zees bush?’ Dressed in heavy military uniforms; it must have been hell. That your horse could step on a venomous snake or get munched by a lion, or that you could get punctured by a poison tipped arrow at any stage, must have made being posted to this area hellish.
The landscape varied from the flat shimmering pan, to low bushes, to what I think were Mopane woods; they weren’t big enough to be called forests, to areas where there were just big, loose rocks. The roads were good in general, except the last 20 or so km from Okaukuejo.
There the road deteriorated badly, and I was glad that we had started from the other direction, because I think if I had started on the bad section, I may just have said to hell with it, turned back and stayed at the camp.
Okaukuejo Camp, the administrative center of the park, was also big and well run. Again, we had lovely rooms, chalets really. With air-conditioning and small kitchens, which would be really handy if one stayed for a few days, and didn’t feel like eating out every night. Again, we explored the water hole after checking in. A few springbok were at the edge of the forest, and a scarlet chested shrike made my day. We drove out, and returned before a big thunder storm hit us. We grabbed a bottle of wine, a couple of packets of chips, and joined the rest of the guests who were hoping to see something exciting come down for a drink at the waterhole.
At waterholes, you’re supposed to be quiet, at least only whisper. I had no idea that a potato chip packet could be as noisy as they are. I tried to keep the rustling of the foil to a minimum, but the social weavers who were building their multi compartmented colony nest above us, must have had a lot of experience of noisy chip packets, and we were surrounded by them immediately; the little birds doing their best we-are-little-starving-birds begging act, looking up at me with beseeching eyes.
Unfortunately for them, we stuck to the don’t feed the animals rule, but they did pick up the odd crumb. Our second packet of chips got opened by accidently popping it. It sounded like a gun shot; any whispering by fellow game watchers stopped, heads swivelled in our direction, eyes glared at us accusingly. My shock at the noise made me want to giggle hysterically, the whole thing was totally farcical. The social weavers took cover in their nest, the springboks stopped grazing, their eyes alert, ears flicking, their tails wagging at speed, and they moved into bush with some dignity. The duck that had been sitting on the water squawked and disappeared, the flock of guinea fowl that had been coming down for a drink, scuttled off in the opposite direction. Oh, for an invisibility cloak to hide under. I pretended I had one, and sat out the glares and head shakings in the hopes that an animal would arrive and draw the attention away from us. Nothing ventured anywhere near the waterhole that evening. After dinner at the restaurant, we again went to the waterhole. Still no animals, but I did get some beautiful photos. It was dark, we were incognito, so there were no glares from the other guests either, thank goodness.
That night I was woken up at 12.15, by a lion roaring. He was so close, that I thought he was on my verandah. I actually got up and checked that the doors and windows were properly closed. I hoped he’d be at the waterhole in the morning, but no, he was elsewhere.
There is a tower at Okaukuejo.
I asked the staff what and why about it, but all I got was ‘from the war, when they were killing our people’. I decided that it was probably best to google it later, as my guide book didn’t mention it. Sometimes, Google just doesn’t cut it, the tower is hardly mentioned, only that it was built in 1963, as a watch tower. It looks older, feels older,but if it was built in 1963, it must have been built by the South Africans; after all, the Germans surrendered to the South Africans in 1915. Okaukuejo dates back to 1901 when it was a German Military Camp, but, unlike Namutoni, there is no visible evidence of the Germans having been there.
Etosha, as a park, dates back to 1907, when the German Governor realised that the slaughter of the animals had to be curbed before they were exterminated.
The borders of the park have changed over the years, and currently it extends over 20 000 square kilometres, of which 5000 square kilometers is the pan. The pan, in years of good rains, is home to thousands of flamingo. Over 340 bird species have been recorded in the park.
As we had a short drive to Khorixas that day, it made sense to drive around the southern part of the park and do some animal spotting, and then exit at around two o’clock in the afternoon. This we did, and found out that rain water does not seep away rapidly in Etosha. Some pretty hectic puddles were around. So hectic that at one, we came up behind one 4 x 4 vehicle, which had come to a standstill at the edge of the puddle. Ok, small pool may be a better description. The driver eventually decided to take the plunge, and drove through the centre of it at speed, creating quite a wave. Should I? Shouldn’t I? Ours was no 4 x 4, it was a sweet little VW Polo. I waited for the wave to subside and did. Why? Because, I reasoned, if we did get into trouble, another 4 x 4 would be bound to come along soon, and would help. I hugged the edge of the pool, and took it slowly, but steadily. The grey water washed right over the bonnet and windscreen, causing a white out. I concentrated on getting through the puddle and not stuck, so I only used the windscreen wipers on the other side of the puddle, while extolling the virtues of our little best 4 x 4 by far. It was only once we were out of the park, and buying curios, that I realised our car had had a colour change. No longer a sporty red, she was now in the Etosha camouflage colour of a lighter shade of grey.
It was hot, animals other that zebra and springbok were few and far between. I started a long distance conversation with the not-to-be-seen-elephants, telling them that I appreciated them waiting near the gate for us, and would they please be patient, we were getting there, albeit slowly, via most of the loops.
They obviously heard my one sided conversation; and there he was, a few kilometres from the gate. I nearly missed him. A huge lone bull elephant.
Solitary, leaning against a tree, swaying slightly – it looked as if he was asleep. We watched him for a long time, and he didn’t acknowledge our presence at all. On reflection, our car colour was the
same colour as the road, maybe he couldn’t see us?
Thank-you Mr Elephant, I would have been very disappointed if I had not seen you. A few kilometres later, in the distance, we saw a small herd that had just been to a waterhole, and the babies were delightfully wet and muddy.
Although Namibia’s elephants are of the same species as all other Savannah or Bush African elephants, Loxondonta africana ( only the leeeetle Forest elephants of Gabon, Loxodonta cyclotis are a separate sub species), Etosha’s elephants are taller than the average elephant. Also, their tusks tend to be short. The reason for this is that they use their tusks for digging for water and roots, and they break off. The short tusks thankfully make them undesirable to poachers. The desert elephants of Namibia are also regular elephants, which have adapted to the harsh conditions, and have in their adaptations to survive in the hot dry conditions, developed longer legs and bigger feet.
We exited the park, and stopped just on the other side of the gate, because I wanted one of those cute, if badly carved and painted bird mobiles that I had see at the Nanutomi side. Which one? Many bird species were represented – I chose one which had a Crimson breasted shrike on it. My Crimson breasted shrike sighting had been one of those quick-intake-of-breath moments. It truly is a magnificent bird.
At the gate, there is also a group of Himba women, who sell their crafts. Lovely items, made and sold by lovely, proud people. Seldom in Africa nowadays, does one see bare breasted woman going about their daily lives.
Going bare breasted nowadays is most often kept for ceremonies or protests. The Himba Women were dressed completely in traditional garb, which only covered their lower bodies. As I realised later, somewhere in a non-touristy area, the Himba don’t dress traditionally for the tourists, they do what they do, because they are Himba.
Our next stop was Khorixas. First petrol, then a car wash. Yes, we got ripped off, but we did get our red car back. Everyone who saw our pre-wash car were most impressed that she has taken a deep ditch in her stride.
Khorixas was also our overnight stop, at the Khorixas Rest Camp. First impressions weren’t favourable; the rooms, from the outside, looked like the single quarters of a road construction camp. Inside, they were pleasant enough, simple, and utilitarian with just enough space for a single bed and a chair. Good beds, newly done up bathrooms, a kettle with lots of tea and coffee, and air conditioning made for a very comfortable stay.
Recently taken over by NWR (Namibia Wildlife Reservations), the exterior will probably get prettied up soon; a coat of non drab khaki paint and some potted plants will make it pretty, fast. A large pool, great staff, and plentiful bird life make this a worthwhile stop.
The next morning we headed for the coast. We swapped, I became the passenger. I asked, as we passed a ‘beware of desert elephants’ sign, and hit the gravel road: how much experience have you had on dirt roads?
‘Not very much, actually; nothing’, was the reply. I took a deep breath, and swallowing my reservations, I instead launched into a lecture on how to drive on gravel and sand, which was pretty loose most of the way. It wasn’t taken that well. I cited that accidents on Namibian gravel roads are generally caused through speeding by non-gravel-and-dirt-road-drivers. Oh come on, says the one from Europe, a mutual friend said the roads in Namibia are so good, you can travel them at 140km per hour. Say what? I said. Actually, I didn’t, what I said contained several expletives. Yes, the roads are great, but only an idiot travels on loose dirt at 140 kilometres per hour. We drove on. An area of where the sands were different colours approached. We didn’t slow down, I had a near cadenza; different colour sands mean: ‘be aware, something could be wrong’; and as we didn’t reduce speed, we went into a skid. Only a skid, thank-goodness. More how-to-drive-on-dirt-roads lectures followed. Going through the dry river beds was an education in how driving teachers must feel – scared! Europeans are spoilt; real, out in the bush dirt roads are few, so those driving skills are not learned. Dry river beds don’t exist in Europe, so how would you learn how to go through a huge dip? They should be treated the reverse way of how one goes over big speed bumps:, brake, slow, speed up as you hit the top, or the bottom, in this case.
Driving through this mineral rich area, could take me forever. Along the way are stalls where pretty, and semi precious, stones and crystals are sold, often by Herero women in their multi coloured and layered long European / Quakerish dresses. They are absolutely beautiful, and incongruous, out here in the desert. Often, they have a dead tree planted next to their stall, with stones and crystals tied to the branches.
In a Face Book post, I called them ‘Boompie geograficus’ (a bad mix of Afrikaans and bad Latin), and, that the crystals were the fruit of these rare trees. Friends and I had fun expanding on this silly theme at the expense of other friends. You do realise, we said, that green fluorite is unripe fruit, and that in a few million year’s time, it’ll ripen into purple amethyst or red carnelian?
The landscape was flat, and it was tempting to drive at a trouble making 140km per hour. We drove through the town of Uis, passing the beautiful Brandberg and some wonderful natural stone sculptures, and arrived at the coast just north of Henties Bay. Now, that has to be one of strangest towns one can visit. It has holiday homes with the weirdest architecture and decorations, which are so ugly, that one thinks one has surely seen the worst of bad taste, when one finds another that eclipses the last one.
The closer we got to Swakopmund, the more picture book desert like the landscape became. And it got cold. We checked into our very pleasant guest house, Amarachi Guest House, located in a suburb, and then went into the still very German town.
We decided to have lunch down at the waterfront. As the restaurants were all very cafe-ish and casual looking, we chose what looked like the best of a lousy choice, and sat outside and froze with blankets wrapped around us. Only afterwards, when we went exploring, did we realise that the water front area is full of regular inside, out of the cold restaurants.
Shopping was fun, there were so many German products on the shelves. Mozart Kuglen, and Fenchal tea for a friend’s baby, were part of the purchases. Fenchal – waz zat you ask? The best anti colic stuff ever – no new mother should be without it. The craft market was a bewildering array of local crafts and what looked like rare masks from Central Africa, but possibly they had been made for the tourist trade. We purchased a hippo carved from beautiful malachite.
Swakopmund is famous for its German architecture, and many of the buildings are beautiful. Even the prison is beautiful, and is often mistaken for a hotel. The tall red and white light house stands guard over the ‘Mole’, as the water front area is called.
I went for a run in the morning, around the streets with gem stone names; Amythyst, Emerald, Ruby, Tanzanite (you’d think that Namibia, with its amazing variety of gemstones wouldn’t have to name a street after a stone only found in Tanzania) and more. I found my way to the beach, with very cold looking waves breaking close to the buildings. Up and around the gem stone streets again, and then I was in for another surprise; I was at the edge of the desert! Remarkable!
After a yummy breakfast, we drove to Windhoek; drove around the harbour area, up and down a few streets, and then left – it was quite boring compared to Swakopmund. It had always been British controlled, and they couldn’t have had any reason to pretty up this far away post of the British Empire.
We drove inland, through the desert with real dunes. Miles and miles of sand.
Through the Namib Desert Park. Through the Namib–Naukluft Park, through the Kuiseb Canyon, which must be one of the harshest places on earth. Have you read ‘The Sheltering Desert’? It’s about two German geologists, who, during the Second World War, to avoid conscription into the army, hid in this amazing geological area. Harsh, as harsh as harsh can possibly be, they survived, even managing to grow some vegetables. I don’t think one can appreciate their lifestyle and survival, without having seen this amazing part of the world.
Signs to ‘keep our desert clean’ pop up in strange places. The desert is clean, and taken care of.
When one clears the Kuiseb canyon, the landscape becomes almost soft. Muted colours, mountains and hills in many shades of russet rise around one. We had stopped to look at Oryx; a convoy of camper vans overtook us, they weren’t interested in Oryx. There’s definitely no shortage of tourists in Namibia, some travel in large groups, others alone.
I marveled at how healthy the antelope were, what do they eat? How do they survive on the little bits grass that exist? How can they be so fat and healthy looking, on what little food there appears to be in the area?
We opted not to stop at Solitaire, we wanted to push on, get to our next stop over, and see Sossusvlei that afternoon. Solitaire: – I have fond memories of having ‘kaffe und apfelstrudel’ there, I wonder if they still serve it? When I was last there, I was told of desert lion roaming the area, and that camping in the area was not a good idea. I mentioned the lions later to our hostess at the guest farm – she got that ‘oh no, not another tall story’ look in her eyes – no, she had lived in the area all her life, they did not have any lions in the area. Leopard, yes, but no lion.
We dumped our suitcases, told our hostess that we were off to Sossusvlei ‘quickly’. She thought we were mad, the light would be too harsh in the late afternoon, we wouldn’t enjoy it. Against her advice, we drove the 90 odd kilometres to this amazing place.
Now 13 years later, there was a gate with controls, and an office, loos, a shop and everything to make your trip to Sussusvlei perfect.
We paid the entrance fee, and drove off, calculating that we’d have enough time to get there, have a quick look see and get back to the gate before 6pm, and then enough time to get back to the farm before nightfall at about 7pm.
The road is now a tarred strip. A strong wind came up, and we worried about the car possibly being sand blasted, one thing that insurance didn’t cover. If that was to be, there wasn’t much we could do about it, there was no shelter anywhere, and I wasn’t about to drive back to the camp area. The wind caused the sand to swirl over the tar strip, it looked liquid, ethereal and mystical. Then the magical, red dunes appeared. They are truly beautiful. Tourists were walking up Dune 45, looking like little stick people silhouetted against the azure sky.
The tar strip ends, and there is a small office with parking space under a few lord-knows-how-they-survive-trees. A shuttle at a fee, takes you to the actual ‘vlei’. Thank goodness – I had forgotten that it was a good walk.
The ranger on duty took our money, and the shuttle arrived about 30 minutes later, driven by a delightful man (sorry, I can’t remember your name), who, if the Mad Max film series is continued, should get hired as stunt driver.
I said something about badly wanting to see Oryx up close and personal, and he broke into a grin, and drove on. There, a few hundred meters later, were a small herd of Oryx, well and truly upfront and personal, I could almost have stretched out my hand and petted them. They were nonchalant, uninterested in another bunch of oohing and aahing tourists. One promptly lay down and posed for photos. I could have spent hours with them, but it was getting late, and Sossusvlei was what we had come to see, so we drove on.
Sossusvlei is amazingly beautiful. The photographs that one sees of it, all effortlessly capture the amazing colours.
I had wanted to go to Dead Vlei, which is in the same area, but we just didn’t have time for that. Dead Vlei, in my opinion, is more beautiful than Sossusvlei. On the way back to the car, now with a bunch of French tourists on board, the Oryx again posed for us. They got oohed and aahed at in French this time, the Oryx posing on top of a dune, with the marvellous blue sky behind them.
Two other lots of tourists came past us, sorry, I’ll try that again, tried to come past us, as we drove back to the parking lot. Typically, with no idea how to drive in sand, they bogged down to their axles. Our Mr Wonder Driver, took control of both bogging downs, and had the cars out in no time.
Did they make it back to camp on their own I wonder? If they had gotten stuck again, they’d have had to sleep there until the first shuttle went past in the morning.
During the drive back to the guest farm, we had our first wake up call – a 4 x 4 hire vehicle had gone off the road at a corner, and rolled. It had been attended to, no-one was there now, but it was reminder not to drive badly, madly, or inattentively on loose gravel, especially not around corners.
Weltevrede Guest Farm was a true oasis in the desert. Lovely rooms, great hosts, and lovely food. Oryx steak was on the menu. Shot on the farm. Our hostess started the ‘sustainable hunting is an important part of conservation’ story; she must be so used to people doing the ‘ag shame, poor bokkie’ thing, that she automatically launches in to it. She was pretty relieved when I said something that made her realize that I fully agreed with her. Weltevrede’s Oryx steak was much better than the one I had at an upmarket restaurant in Windhoek.
In the morning, over breakfast, after seeing the wild love birds, routes back to Windhoek were discussed with other guests, and the Remshoogte Pass road was recommended.
All I can say is, there must be another road; don’t take it if you’re not driving a 4 x 4 (or VW Polo), it is totally devoid of people and traffic; we passed one farm, and no other sign of human habitation. Had we gotten stuck, we would have had a problem.
We had our second wake up on the main Solitaire road, before the turn off to Remshoogte Pass; another 4 x 4 had rolled. This time on a straight stretch of road. Again, the accident had been attended to, and no-one was around.
Eventually we got onto a better road, and followed it, towards what I hoped was in the direction of Rehoboth. A new road seemed to have been built since our map had been published, and we got to a very confusing fork in the road. I chose the better looking one without much discussion, but lots of consternation. “What happens if we get lost?” I was asked several times.
My standard reply: “I don’t do lost, sometimes I just do some unexpected sightseeing, and if it gets really bad, then I turn around.” Simple really, what’s complicated about that?!? The added bonus, if one does get lost, is seeing countryside that you hadn’t planned on seeing.
We went over the Klein Aub River bridge. There was some hardly moving water in the river, but judging by how deep and wide river bed is, occasionally, huge amounts of water must come thundering down with flash floods. There was antelope spoor in the mud, and also tracks of some largish cat, but no game showed itself.
Eventually, we got to Rehoboth, which is about 90km from Windhoek. Rehoboth is where the Baster People eventually settled after their trek from the Cape in the 1860’s, and is now the administrative centre of the Baster People. In brief, the Afrikaans speaking Baster were the offspring of the Dutch settler men and the local Nama women, who got fed up with being regarded as nothings, and decided to move off from the Cape, and find their own land. They settled around Rehoboth, and were even briefly given ‘independence’ by South Africa in the 1970’s. They are a fiercely independent and proud people, and up until fairly recently, were only allowed to marry other Basters, an outsider really had to have something of value to be allowed into the community resulting in that nearly all Basters are related. Basters are distantly related to the Griquas of South Africa.
My guide book was very disparaging about Rehoboth, describing it as a ‘scruffy bottle store town’, and had I not been there before, we would have driven through, but I had to see the museum again. The dusty little town isn’t too good with signboards, so we saw a fair amount of it (remember- I don’t do ‘lost’), but we did eventually find the museum. It was still run by the same knowledgeable curator who had given me a guided tour 13 years ago. We were given the history of the Baster people, and were shown all sorts of fascinating historical items. I wanted to photograph the oxen shoes that I thought I had seen there, but no, I must have seen them somewhere else. I had confused the Baster trek with another Afrikaner trek, the Dorsland Trek (Thirstland Journey), from what is now Gauteng in South Africa to what is now Angola; the oxen pulling the wagons were shod to protect their hooves from the hard ground and desert like conditions. Disappointed, I do wonder where I had seen them before.
Onwards to Windhoek. We rechecked in to Rivendell late in the afternoon, our last night in Namibia.
The swimming pool was heavenly after 40C heat. Over dinner at the nice, naaah, that’s not a suitable description: the delectable restaurant, Nice, in Mozart Strasse, we discussed how best to spend the next morning in Windhoek, before flying out in the afternoon. My choice as always, was museums. The Alte Feste where the hapless Reiterdenkmal (Equestrian Memorial) had been mysteriously dumped one night, was top of the list.
We started off at the centrally situated Christus Kirche, parking our car there, leaving it under the watchful eye of the car guard. The building of Christus Kirche was started in 1907 and finished in 1910.
It is what I call sugar top architecture, the sort of architecture that comes to mind when I think of Hansel and Gretel, but what architects call a mix of Art Nouveau, Romanesque and Gothic. Very pretty, very German, with a beautiful stained glass window, it was originally named the Church of Peace. It stands tall and proud on its own little island, in the middle of Windhoek, with museums, and the Parliament buildings flanking it.
Across the road is the Independence Memorial Museum, a very modern building; its design is mockingly and truthfully described as being akin to a coffee machine.
It is well planned and has different floors dedicated to Namibia’s history and wars. At the top of the building is a restaurant, which wasn’t very friendly, so we decided not to have breakfast there, just coffee. We went out on their verandah for a look at the sprawling city of Windhoek below us. Probably because we hadn’t sat down yet, we were promptly told that ‘we weren’t allowed’ to take photographs from there without buying anything. With that attitude, we left, and they lost out on the coffee sale they were about to make. That badly trained waitress was the only unpleasant person we met on our entire trip.
Next to the Independence Memorial is Alte Feste, originally a German fort and later the State Museum.
It’s very sad in its present state; exhibits have been moved to other museums, and only a few very interesting items have been left on the verandah. A sign says it’s being refurbished; I hope they hurry up. What is there, in the messy courtyard, is the beautiful Reiterdenkmal, which has been put out of everyday sight, because it commemorates a part of Namibia’s dark oppressed history. As so much other ‘oppressor’ history is everywhere in the country, hopefully, it will be displayed in a prominent place again sometime in the future.
Across the road, are the Museum administrative offices; they are not a museum at all, but have many exhibits lying around everywhere, and we were made welcome and were allowed to wander around and enjoy them.
Now starving, we walked the few blocks down past Zoo Park, into Independence Avenue, which is full of shops, history and good cafes. I love people watching, and the mix of people was fascinating.
Business people, classily power dressed; the women in designer outfits, the men in beautifully cut suits and ties, walked up and down the pavement, being jostled by tourists, army personnel, traditionally dressed women and the odd Rastafarian. It is a true cosmopolitan mix.
Our last visit was to be the Geological Museum, as it was on our way out to the airport. Mrs Google Maps was instructed to take us to the address, and it wasn’t there, at least there was no sign of it. We asked a number of people where it was, and they had never heard of it. I checked the address in my guide book; we were at the right address. It also said that few tourists know about this museum – we realized the locals didn’t know about it either. Someone had to know, so we enquired at the reception of the government offices there. Yes, it was right there, in the same government building. Entry was free, security was tight.
What an amazing place we had found, possibly one of the best small museums I have been to. Other than the expected geological exhibits, gem stones and history and tools of mining, there was a children’s play centre (digging in the sand for dinosaurs), fossils,with a dinosaur skeleton, fossilized animals and other ancient things. Also there were fascinating displays of everyday things – like a bathroom and a car, with descriptions of what metals and minerals went into what products. Have you ever wondered what is in your toothpaste? Or how many different metals are used in your car? No? Visit this museum and learn!
And so time went, it was time to head for the airport, and head home. It had been a wonderful trip, a trip whose planning that had driven me to distraction at one stage, as when I originally made booking inquiries, I got the answer fully booked/ not available, or just no reply. I don’t even remember filling out an enquiry form for Namibia Reservations, I think I was just writing to all and sundry in the hope of getting a reply. I was so pleased to get their reply, and I had a great rapport with their consultant, Millburches, who went the extra mile to make and change bookings, until I thought our itinerary was perfect.
As I’m about to click the ‘Publish’ button on my Blogspot, President Trump has done it again, calling African countries ‘sh*tholes’. Namibia,instead of causing political furores and recalling diplomatic staff as many countries have done, has produced a wonderful video of why Namibia is a “sh*thole”, in the same style as the Number One video, with beautiful visuals of the country and how it is the very opposite, ensuring once again that it is seen by a maximum number of people, who will all want to visit Namibia.
A thoroughly enjoyable read, thanks Kathryn, and one that’s firmly cemented my hope to get deeper into Namibia than the farmstall at Sitzas someday…soon!
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Kathryn this is a wonderful photo essay and journal of your trip to Namibia. It’s very complete and will be helpful for future travelers. We had a month-long trip to S. Africa planned in March and hoped to visit Namibia. Alas, the pandemic forced the cancellation of the entire trip and unfortunately we lost major bucks on our plane tickets, so who knows when we’ll be able to reschedule. We lived in Sudan for a couple of years, so some of your desert landscape photos look familiar … without the wildlife. ~James
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Thank-you! I d hope I’ll see the rest of the country some time. I have never never been to Sudan, it’s not on my Go To list either – Yet! maybe it’ll be added one day! So many places, so little time!
Hello – my apologies – I thought I had replied to your kind words. Thank-you!