April 13th, 1991 – Windhoek
Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, is quite a nice town, with a small centre that, on further inspection, turns out to be almost the entire town. Pretty houses, shopping malls, supermarkets, all very well organised. But coming from Harare in Zimbabwe, the thing that strikes me here most is that almost everybody in the streets is white – quite remarkable in a country where, according to the latest statistics, 92.5% of the population is black. I guess that has something to do with the pre-independence apartheid-practice of forcing black people to the so-called homelands only, which allowed only those with a job, and an associated travel permit, to enter the whites-only areas. Independence only having been achieved about one year old, it obviously takes time to get accustomed to your rights.
April 14th – the bird watching
For the next two weeks of this journey I have signed up for a camping trip, with a small group of like-minded tourists. So I got picked up from my hotel in the morning, with a minivan in which the other seven or eight participants had already assembled. First stop was the Naukluft Park, 250 km south of Windhoek.
The first hours of exposure to Namibian country side were not very exciting: a very dry country, very few trees; there is just a bit of yellowish, burnt grass, and some low scrub, that’s all. No people, either. And thus no traffic: where in many other African country roads are full of all sorts of busses, here the roads are empty, like the land.
Closer to the park the scenery gets a little better, still very dry, but in the distance some mountains appear. Bare rocks, still hardly any vegetation, except for some cacti on the ridges. But in the subsurface, there must be some water, because in and along the dry river beds we see the occasional trees.
The main activity in the park is walking and bird watching: remarkably, there are still quite a lot of birds around, despite the dryness and the limited vegetation. Personally I am not much into bird watching – I like seeing beautiful, brightly coloured birds for their aesthetic qualities, but I have little interest in the details, in the minor differences between sub-species. But watching the bird watchers is quite entertaining in itself. Our group would arrive at a tree, and one of the members would spot a bird, upon which everybody stops to pull out their binoculars. First challenge is to point out where the bird is, which goes something like this: “see the second tree left of those three big rocks? Halfway up that large branch, five leaves to the right, then two branches down, that’s where he is!”. By then, somebody else will have see another bird, and tells the others where to look (“no, no, to the right of the two thin protruding branches, and then up!”), which greatly adds to the overall confusion. When everybody is finally focused on the same bird, the conversation continues: “look, that is a white-tailed what-so-ever”, “what sort of what-so-ever?”, “a white-tailed what-so-ever”. I would have thought you can see that it is white-tailed, or red-breasted, or yellow-spotted, or whichever other characteristic are being used to describe the bird, but apparently, that is all not so clear, not even through binoculars. Anyhow, walking in the park is quite pleasant, and some of the birds are quite nice.
April 16th – Sossusvlei
My initial reservations about the Namibian countryside had to be adjusted. From Naukluft we drove west, to Sesriem, which is no more than a camping place, really, in the Namib desert. Initially we were still surrounded by the rocky hills, but increasingly they were partly being covered with sand, that had blown up against them. Quite recently it had rained a little, and this had been enough to germinate the grasses, which now cover the yellow sand with a green haze, against a background of dark, black rocks and the red and purple of the sand dunes that increasingly appeared, the further west we came. Quite spectacular, especially in the late afternoon sunlight!
The next day, very early and still in the dark, we left for Sossusvlei, famous for the highest dunes in the world. We arrived just as the sun came up, and whilst walking up the biggest dune, which is some 350 meters high, we got to see more and more from the landscape around us. What had initially been still in the shadow started to colour in the early morning light, gradually changing in all grades of yellow and orange and red. And from the top – after a strenuous climb through soft sand – we have a superb view of ridge after ridge of sand dunes, perfectly crescent-shaped by the wind. I was just a bit quicker than the rest of the group, which had the advantage that I walked up through undisturbed sand – beautiful! – and that I had about 5 or 10 minutes alone, at the top, without anybody else. Magic!
April 17th – Swakopmund
The main ports along Namibia’s coast are Walvisbay and Swakupmund. In 1991, Walvisbay was still a South African enclave, and in order to get in, one needed to go through formal border crossing formalities. We did, to get to a lagoon full of flamingos.
We slept in Swakopmund, in proper beds in holiday bungalows, which was a nice break from the tents and matrass-on-the-floor routine of the past few days.
next: to the north