Custom Search

Friday, August 27, 2010

Namibia, 7 years later…

I set out to the meeting point of my tour at about 7:45AM…I had made sure I knew exactly where I was going so had scouted out the place the day before. I didn't want to walk around with my entire luggage and get lost! At the entrance of the building, in the small lobby area, mountains of bags piled on top of each other. Walking upstairs, there was a small room and another adjoining room with about 30 or so people squeezing through, politely exchanging pleasantries. There seemed to be two groups assembling here and those of us who were 'camping' where instructed to go to the smaller adjoining room. A quick survey of the room, it didn't seem that our group was as 'young' as I was hoping it would be. I was told that most of these trips sponsored by Nomad, consisted of people between the ages of 20 and 40. Checked around, no potential bachelors either! Oh well.

My main purpose of doing this tour was that I really wanted to see the towns in the southern part of Namibia. If I didn't do this tour, my options were to take a 20 hour bus to Windhoek, the capital, then find day tours to go out to some of the places. Due to an almost non-existent public transportation system, I wouldn't be able to stop through some of these smaller towns. Additionally, Soussisvlei, one of the main highlights boasting commanding sand dunes, would also cost me at least $150-$300 to do for either a day trip or a weekend tour. So for almost $700, I pulled the trigger and decided that it was better if I joined the 6 night, 7 day tour that would take me and 22 others from the cities of Cape Town and Citrusdal in South Africa onwards to Fish River Canyon, Sossusvlei, Solitaire and Swakopmund. The tour would include tenting equipment, 3 meals a day, guides and some activities.

The place that I booked my tour out of, DeTour Africa, was of great help. Located at the 'beginning' of Long Street - one of the main centers of night life in Cape Town, they are your one stop resource center for getting you around to see all the beauties that Africa, not just South Africa, has to offer. Rob, was really helpful and helped me sort myself out for this trip. Since I had time, I actually wanted to go all the way through Namibia and up through Zimbabwe via Botswana since I had already changed my departure date once and extended my stay for an additional month. So Rob had found me a seat on a trip led by Nomad Tours (http://www.http//, that was actually going up to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, departing from Cape Town on Wednesday, July 21. This was perfect for me because I was picking up my passport from the Russian consulate on the 20th. Fortunately (it was close to $2,000!) or unfortunately though, the 21 day tour was already booked BUT there was an available seat to participate in the first 7 days of the tour which would take me from Cape Town to Swakopmund. With the Word Cup and the influx of tourists that South Africa had seen at this time, I was to consider myself lucky that I could actually get a spot (5 days) before departure. So I booked the tour and was hoping that it would be a good decision. The only thing that I had to do was buy a sleeping bag which I wasn't happy about because I have a beautiful $200 sleeping back sitting in storage back home. Thankfully, the sleeping bag only cost me about $20 and probably saved me more money than I had anticipated!

Day 1
Besides the fact that I had no internet connection (teasing, I'm not that bad…or am I?), it was actually a great trip. We were led by a great crew: Sizibo and Norman, both from Zimbabwe.  We also had a volunteer German translator, Britta who was Ghanaian but born and bred in Germany....

The first day, we set out from Cape Town and got one last view of Table Mountain before setting on the road. It was about 200km to our first stop, Citrusdal which is known for their delightful citrus fruits! When we pulled into town, we also got to go around with a local 'bushman' and learn about the natural plants and history of the area. We also caught sight of some wild creatures and critters.

Later that night, we continued to get to know each other, still trying to remember names, faces and where everyone was from and what languages they spoke though most could speak English (the entire tour was conducted in English even though half the group came from Germany). I ended up sharing a tent with a Lithuanian Diva, Jolanda (pronounced Yolanda) who lived in England. She was my older sister's age and we got along nicely. A very attractive woman, she is very vocal and in her own 'Jolanda' way quite entertaining. Some years my senior she seemed very wise for her years and seemed to dish out a lot of well-founded advice. Also that night, we learned how to put up our tents and I was quite proud of myself! I had gone camping before but had never ever participated in tent pitching! When my ex-boyfriend and I camped out in Japan for a week, I made him do all the tent stuff, cooking, and whatever else you need to know how to do in the outdoors; I enjoy the outdoors but probably would not have been able to survive on my own…until now! It was a lot of work but it was a great experience and now I can proudly say that I can put up a tent on my own! But it's definitely a lot of hard work! Now I feel bad for not helping in the past! That night was the coldest night that we had on our tour. When we woke up the next morning, there was frost on the ground! We had to wake up at 6AM while it was still dark so that we could get an early start (7AM) on the road. It wasn't the easiest thing to have to take our tents down in the dark. That day I lost my finger flashlight (sold at McCully Bicycle!) and that would be the first of many things lost on the trip…

Day 2
We traveled north to Namaqualand and it was a long day on the bus. Much of the day was spent on the road until we finally settled in a town just off the Orange River. This river is what divides the countries of Namibia and South Africa and is the natural boundary line between the two countries. The following morning we had the option of going out kayaking on the Orange River. It sounded tempting…NOT for $40. I could go kayaking and have gone kayaking in other more exciting places. There were 3 others though that did opt to do the kayak and so they were waking up early the next morning while the rest of us got a treat and were able to sleep in for a few hours. I had to wake up early the last few days, my weekend road trip, Cape Peninsula, picking up my passport, tour, 7AM departure the earlier day so this late departure was warmly welcomed!

Much of our routine was to pull up into a town an hour or so prior to sunset, set up our tent, dinner then midway through dinner, our 'family meeting' to discuss the two most impending issues: what time is breakfast and what time are we leaving? Whatever breakfast time was, we needed to allot enough time to wake up, get ready, take down our tents, store them away, load our bags into the van, get ready for breakfast, have breakfast, and then head out. Most of the places that we stopped at also typically had some type of bar since we didn't have an early start on Day 3, a bunch of us ventured out to the bar for drinks. Not much to do though when the bar closes early (11PM) but we managed to make the most of it. Most of my nights camping out, I was in bed well before midnight. Can you believe it? This is what happens when you don't have the internet to keep you up!

Day 3

The following morning, we leisurely rolled out of our tents and then through the town of Springbok. We stopped in Springbok for an hour or so while our cook went to buy groceries and before we crossed over into Namibia. While in the town, I went with my new (Canadian) friend to a doctor. Spencer wasn't feeling well having just barely recovered from tonsillitis the week before. It was the first time to have gone to a doctor's office in a foreign country (outside of the time I lived in Japan). Springbok was a small town and the doctor's office was the type of office you'd imagine finding in a small town...small residential home with a small "Dr." sign out front. Luckily, we were able to find a doctor (after going door to door for a couple of houses) that was able to see him. The doctor gave him a prescription, which is what he wanted, and we were back in town 15 minutes later getting some drugs for the boy. It was actually quite interesting, I thought, that when he went to collect his prescription, they handed him his medicine in a caged box. I don't really take medicine, grew up not taking it but I have had to pick up some travel prescription in the last couple of years (Malarone = malaria drug), but this was something that I had never seen before. I thought it was funny and had to snap a photo. I suppose they do it so people won't steal it before paying (that was my assumption) but couldn't someone easily not pay and just walk out with the hand-carry cage of pills?

Left the town and made it to border control. It was a bit of a non-event without much people at the border nor was there any hoopla. I was reprimanded for taking photos at the border. Well, what got me was that there was a guy outside wearing a shirt from Hawaii! I had to take the photo!
After 3 days on the tour, we were finally in Namibia! The land that I had been urgently trying to get to since 2003. I didn't know what to expect of it but certainly it wasn't the dry and open landscape with barely any roads that was there to greet me. It was a bit like Indiana in the sense that it was just wide open area except here in Namibia it was literally nothing. A lot of gravel roads, dirt, open fields…At least in Indiana, when you passed wide open fields, there was evidence of life. But here, it looked a bit like Mars and no traces of human civilization. I may paint a dreary picture but that's really what I thought of when we were driving through. We saw a few wildlife but having seen zebras on my first day in South Africa, the novelty had worn out.

Before sunset, we headed out to Fish River Canyon and got to see one of the most beautiful sites that we had seen up until that point. Fish River Canyon is the largest canyon in Africa. I was told that it was second in the world to none other than our very own, the Grand Canyon, but just as I went online to validate my points, I found that the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon in Tibet was discovered to be the largest canyon in the world as recent as 1994; now I know where I need to go when I'm in Tibet! Anyway, regardless of how Fish River Canyon ranks to its counterparts across the world, it was still an amazing sight nonetheless. We got to walk around along the edges of the canyon and enjoy the breathtaking sunset.
That night I headed to bed early…all that car riding made me sleepy! It wasn't a rested sleep though as my tent mate decided to invite someone into our tent….the someone just so happened to be the 20 year old son of a family that was traveling together… Although most would say that I'm outspoken, I do try to avoid confrontation (believe it or not) as much as I can. So, I pretended to sleep and tried to ignore their whispering and the movements that they thought were so silent. It was a bit uncomfortable. After about 45 minutes, I put on my earphones and tried to listen to my ipod. Jolanda must have heard my music because she called out to me. At first I pretended to be sleeping and then maybe another 45 minutes later she called out to me. I couldn't take it anymore and finally I spoke up and said that they were making too much noise and I couldn't sleep. I eventually fell asleep after being up for almost 2 hours! The next morning the two acted as if nothing had happened...

Day 4
We drove out to Sossusvlei which is on the Western side of Namibia, up north from Fish River Canyon. Along the way, we crossed the 'Tropic of Capricorn' which was so cool! I think I may be crossing it again when I'm in South America! We took a group photo and I had everyone take a photo with the Hawaiian flag! That night we settled at Namib-Naukluft National Park and it was going to be an early night because we had to be on the road at 5:30AM! We were leaving our tents behind and we were driving out to the sand dunes to catch the sunrise from atop the hills. To get there, we'd have to hike on the sand dunes! It didn't look that far but it so was! At least breakfast was ready for us when we finally came back down and the first time that we were finally getting eggs for breakfast, a jump from the usual breakfast of bread and cereal, tea and coffee.
Luckily I had a restful sleep and although it was so early, it was so worth it! We were racing out to Dune 45; named so because it is 45 km away from the campsite – creative!, in order to make it there before sunrise. As big as our van was, our driver passed almost all the cars in front of us and we were second to arrive at Dune 45.** Catching the sunrise on top of these magnificent sand dunes was priceless! Up until now, the most magnificent view I have ever seen (if I were forced to rank) was waking up in the mornings in Nepal, coming out of my little hut and seeing the majestic Himalayas stretched out across the sky. I will have to say that the sand dunes here in Sossusvlei are a very close second. It was beautiful!

After breakfast, we were rounded up like cattle and headed out toward Deadvlei which was about 15km away. We had a local tour guide who took us around and explained how the area came to be but I had a hard time understanding his accent so found it concisely explained on

Sossusvlei is a mud pan created by a river that flows through the Namib every 5 to 10 years. Even in very wet years it does not reach the Atlantic Ocean but drains away between the dunes of Sossusvlei. Sossus means "place of no return" (note: there are other explanations, this is the one given by local guides).
Dead Vlei
The mud from the river stacks up at Sossusvlei and after some 1000 years the river searches its way through the next row of dunes. This is how the place called Dead Vlei was created, here the river used to drain away many years ago. Because of the lack of water all the trees in this valley have died, so the meaning of "Dead Vlei" becomes clear.
What makes the sight of the Dead Vlei so remarkable is that there is not even moisture enough for normal decomposition to occur. So all the trees here, though dead, have been nearly perfectly preserved for centuries.

After our drive out to Sossusvlei and Dead Vlei, we went back to the campsite, packed up our tents and had an hour or so to relax by the poolside before we got to walk down into Sesriem Canyon. We walked around for a bit and then went back on the road again to Solitaire.

Day 5
There was nothing in Solitaire (the name says it all) except for these sinfully delicious apple pies freshly made here daily! Supposedly there was a Dutchman who decided to create a town here. When we were talking to the manager here, we were told that it was owned by a young man in his 30s but upon further research, it appears that the original development of this town happened in 1948 and that the town was eventually sold to someone else. What I didn't know was how this town was named and again thanks to I can offer an explanation:
The area was named Solitaire by Elsie Sophia van Coller (wife of Willem Christoffel van Coller). The name was chosen because of two meanings. Solitaire can mean a single set diamond and Solitaire can also mean solitude or loneliness. Combined these two meanings create the definition of being unique or one-of-a-kind and a precious but solitary place.
This area was also one of the only places with a gas station between Sossusvlei and Swakopmund and Sossusvlei and the capital city of Windhoek. The town was quiet and of course I went to bed again early while some of the younger ones, and my tent mate, partied until the wee hours of the morning.

Day 6
The following morning we drove out to Swakopmund which meant that my part of the tour would be nearing its end. Before stopping in Swakopmund though, we did a short stop at Walvis Bay for lunch. It was a nice lunch as we got to see flamingos! I had never imagined seeing flamingos in the wild! For some reason, I always associate these birds with the zoo and never considered their natural habitat. It was amazing to see flocks of them standing in the water with their stick legs.

Swakopmund which is located on the western coast of Namibia is a favorite city for many. One thing that I noticed about this town was how so much German architecture was still present. Namibia was formerly a German colony which I was led to believe happened over a long period of time. What I later learned however was that Namibia was only colonized by the Germans from 1894-1918. Considering that it was only 24 years under German rule, there is still a big chunk of a German presence left here. I also learned that during their time in Namibia (1904-1907), the local population (Herero and Namaqua peoples) had both tried to fight off their colonial oppressors and were fought off in what is known as the Herero and Namaqua Genocide where most of the population were killed, to the close point of extermination, a majority through starvation and the people drinking the water that was intentionally contaminated by the German military. Some have even noted that the procedure in which these mass killings were carried out were used as a model for the Holocaust that was to come later in World War II. It's sad how these grave acts against people are not more widely known and had it not been for my travels there, I would not have known about it. Supposedly a formal apology was issued by the German government as recently as in 2004.

The following day I would be separating the rest of the tour. How quickly the time went and I was so grateful for all that I was able to see! It's funny that for such a short time, 7 days (technically), I grew so close with my fellow tour mates. There's something about sharing an experience that is very meaningful to you. Even if the experience was very brief, all those involved form a very close connection. Same can be said of my 10 months studying abroad in Japan. Some of my closest friends today are the ones that I met on those 10 months abroad. One is actually going to come see me in Russia…but that's another story for another time…

So, I know all of you are wondering what happened to my 38 year old friend who became friendly with the 20 year old…well, as the days had gone by, especially after Solitaire, they started to get a bit more friendly and you'd often see them together but not doing anything that would label them as a couple. By the time my part of the tour was ending though, they were getting quite chummy…

And what would I do now that the tour was ending for me? Luckily, there was another girl, Antonia, who was also ending her tour with me. It turned out that she had about 5 days left before she needed to make it back to Johannesburg to catch her flight back to Paris. She had thought about renting a car and I was keen on going along with her. We weren't sure how much it was going to cost us but we were both set on trying to get around in the cheapest possible way…my kind of girl! So even though my travels with Nomad was ending, a new adventure was going to start (at least for the next 5 days) with my new partner-in-crime!

No comments:

Post a Comment