NAMIBIA – A VAST COUNTRY OF BREATHTAKING CONTRASTS
NAMIBIA – A VAST COUNTRY OF BREATHTAKING CONTRASTS
by Lesley Thomson (African Insight)
In size Namibia is larger than Spain and Germany combined, with a small and scattered population of English, German and Afrikaans speaking people living alongside the Owambo, Nama, Herero and Damara communities. It is the second least populated country in the world after Mongolia, but surely one of the friendliest?
Knowing we would travel long distances to see the highlights of Namibia, and wanting to learn more about the country and people as we went along, we choose to join a tour with Wild Dog Safaris, a Windhoek based company that had been successfully running safaris for many years.
The first thing we noticed about Windhoek, the capital, built in a bowl surrounded by the Auas Mountains, was how much the German influence remained from when they occupied South West Africa, as it was previously known. Very continental in its architecture, the German names on the shops, restaurants and cafes, gave the impression that you were walking along a street in Germany.
Our first surprise was the countryside on leaving Windhoek travelling north. We had expected the land to look flat, but instead the road went alongside hills and farm lands. At Okahandja we stopped at Namibia’s largest wood carving market. Rows of stalls selling expertly sculptured wooden artefacts from tiny to a life-size elephant, there was also a wide selection of bead work and malachite. We rather fancied a very old looking, and expensive, wooden mask, but could not be sure of its provenance despite the keen salesman telling us all sorts of stories about it.
That afternoon we made another tick on our wish-list. A real live pangolin!
Being so aware of the vulnerability of these highly endangered creatures, not only was it exciting to see one tripping along on the verge of the road, but so encouraging meeting Margaret, it’s au pair. Keeping a watchful eye on her charge, Margaret held the controls of the transmitter attached to the pangolins back.
It is here, at Okonjima Reserve that the Africat Foundation has built its base affording us the opportunity of seeing cheetah in its natural habitat. We would have liked to have spent more time here, so have added it to the list of what to do and see next time we come back to Namibia.
The view from the loos and showers at this campsite were amazing, the sunrise on the surrounding hills turning them into shades of ochre and musty-red. We were to discover that the weather- sculptured rocky outcrops, mountains and landscapes of Namibia changed colour as the sun moved over them, always appearing to be alive, never just stationary.
Etosha National Park was the next destination. So much has been written about Etosha it is hard not to duplicate all the superlatives. It truly is amazing. To actually walk on the Pan and to realise how insignificant you really are when you can see for miles and miles, from horizon to horizon, is quite an experience.
Etosha is home to many animals. It was quite absurd to see a lion sitting out in the sun without a tree in sight, and to watch large herds of springbok grazing amongst the stony soil, with no grass to be seen. The amazing fact is they all looked in such good condition. We knew that when the rains came the bushveld would come alive with leafy trees and lush grasses and the pans would fill with water again.
A visit to a Himba Village gave us an insight into a totally unsophisticated way of life that had not changed for centuries. The little almost-naked children, with such big happy smiles, thought it was great to pose on condition you showed them their picture on your camera – magic! However, we were not sure of the advantages of having a bit of upright dead animal skin as part of your hair style?
One of the unexpected pleasures of travelling around Namibia must surely be the Community Campsites. These are in areas you would miss if you didn’t turn off the main road. Built in and amongst natural vegetation and huge rocks, they are fun, spacious, clean and comfortable. The two we stayed at had swimming pools and bars serving cold beers, wine and ice as well as the usual cool drinks – and great birdlife! Sunsets from the top of the kopjes were spectacular. One could easily spend a couple of nights at these sites.
We visited the San rock engravings with a local guide who knew how to express the wonder of the history of these ancient sites,and the Seal Colony with its thousands of seals all barking and diving into the cold ocean – their smell is something else one would not forget in a hurry!
Swakopmund was a sheer delight. Wide streets, prettily painted houses, well tended, even if small, gardens, a holiday and continental atmosphere, for here again is the old German influence.
Another tick on the wish-list was the desert adapted elephants – yes, we saw a small group and two lone bulls. And watched the elusive desert adapted lion as it majestically strode along a sandy track. One can only marvel at nature, how it sustains and preserves life.
One thinks of Namibia as massive red sand dunes, the Skeleton Coast, flat deserts and quiver trees. The Fish River Canyon, the Dragon’s Breath Lake (the world’s largest underground lake) in the Otavi Mountains, the largest piece of meteorite in the world, diamond mines and the Welwitshia Mirabilis, a fossil plant that can live to be 2000 years old. It may not be a particularly pretty plant, but it is a truly amazing one.
Namibia, however, is so much more. It is the contrasts, the unexpected mountain ranges, the breath-taking passes from desert to plateaus, the people, the pride in their country and yes, the cleanliness of the towns.
Our lasting impression will be the light. The light seemed to have a character all of its own. From before sunrise, to when the last evening shadows had disappeared, there was a magical light in Namibia.
We travelled with Wild Dog Safaris on their Northern Adventure Safari www.wilddog-safaris.com