Some people are afraid of going on holiday to Africa, the most frequent question is probably ‘is it safe?’. Well, as a three time Africa traveler, I fell in love with this continent and like to share some stories and photos to convince the doubters that the African wild and untamed nature is not as ‘unreachable’ as some of you might think.
Namibia has a vast variety of landscapes and cultures and might therefore be the perfect ‘first time to Africa’ trip, although I need to warn you, you will get spoiled here with luxury compared to other African countries. So after having this African experience you might find the other countries are dirty and feel they’re not meeting the African standards you had in mind. So, this is a tricky location, an easy way to get into African culture instead of the ‘culture shock’ I experienced going to Mali the first time, one of the poorest countries in the world. Maybe this culture shock is what one needs to fall in love with Africa, who knows, but Namibia remains my favourite African destination.
It was my 3rd time in Africa, so I liked to see people’s faces when they first set eyes on Africa. As I was travelling in group, there were quite a few of them. Off course the plane lands in the capital Windhoek, which is like arriving somewhere in Europe, apart from the tons of people sitting on the street trying to sell you souvenirs ‘African style’, so not passively sitting but actively attracting tourists to come and have a look at their shop (basically a rug on a street corner). Mind your belongings because they’re masters in pick pocketing as someone quickly discovered when trying to buy a newspaper on the street. But this doesn’t mean you can’t have a look at what they have to offer and practice your ‘saying no’ skills. The newcomers weren’t feeling very comfortable here, because everyone is addressing you and saying NO can be hard at first. This skill I’ve mastered well enough to have a few chuckles with the clumsiness of the newbies and sometimes helping them get rid of pushy sellers was much appreciated.
From the moment we left the capital, the peace and quiet began. We drove through endless dry landscapes with some picturesque hills and crossed the tropic of Capricorn (one of the five major circles of latitude on the world map) to the south. We stopped in Keetmanshoop to see the famous Mesosaurus fossil site. Little did I know, this fossil was not more than 30cm big, but seeing it in the state it was found in and not behind glass in some museum pleased me as a semi-geologist. Also the Quiver tree forest wasn’t what I expected, I’m not sure what the definition of a ‘forest’ is, but if it means ’50 trees randomly spread over a big field’ then it was a forest. The quiver tree (Aloe dichotoma) was used by the bushman in earlier times to make quivers to carry arrows while hunting, although the name suggests it’s a tree it’s actually a big flower with a hardened stem.
A third thing to see around Keetmanshoop was the Giant’s Playground, big sandstone rocks scattered over an endless plain. Some rocks, although thousands of kilograms heavy, were positioned on top of each other forming seemingly unnatural constructions and mazes. The geology behind this is already know to be a process of erosion, but locals still like to believe this is work of giants that lived here a long time ago and used these rocks as playing attributes. You can walk through this maze for hours, but having a compass might be handy as you can get lost here easily.
The most southern part of Namibia against the border of South Africa is home to the second largest canyon in the world (after the Grand Canyon in the USA). It is called the Fish River Canyon, about 160km long, 27km wide and 550m deep this canyon is perfect for experienced hikers. Trips under 2 days are nearly impossible here and warning signs try to prevent hikers from starting this dangerous trip. Probably because some years ago hikers got lost in the canyon and were never found again.
Due to questionable physical state of some of our elderly travel mates, we were unable to go down into the canyon, and if we wanted to see entire Namibia in 26 days, we didn’t have the time for it either, so after doing some hikes on the edge of the
beautiful canyon we started driving northwards again to Aus. We put up our tents in an astonishingly beautiful camping area where each camping spot had a fence to break the wind, a picnic bench and a little tap for some non-drinkable water. We climbed up to the top of the hills next to our camping spot, to discover there was an amazing view on the other end of the hill. We tried to estimate how far we could see from here, we like to believe it was several tens of kilometers far and at the far end of the plain, we could even see the first sand dunes appearing.
The next day we drove through the huge open plain that we looked upon the other night until we reached the desert ghost city Kolmanskop, an abandoned German diamond mining city that was left in 1954 when the diamond stock got depleted. In only 50 years the desert took over this town and changed it into a beautiful scenery where sand dunes go through the windows and doors of the houses, a real treat to anyone interested in urbex (urban exploration). Travelling in group did have the disadvantage that other people might not be interested in the same things as you are, and after a long guided tour we only got 10 minutes to go out and explore the town on our own, too little time to please a photographer like me, but it were the best 10 urbex minutes of my life, crawling through the sand from room to room, running through a dark abandoned hospital and .. the 10minutes were up. Luckily I was able to take a few satisfying pictures and as we drove to the coastal city Lüderitz I dreamed on about Kolmanskop and the unbelievable state the ghost city was in.
In Lüderitz we made a picnic on the rocky coastline, listening to the seals on the background, someone spotted a whale and I spotted my first horned desert viper, an extremely venomous snake that hides in the sand for his prey. That night we decided to do some stargazing which in my opinion is a must when you’re camping in the middle of nowhere, anywhere in the world. Because Namibia is on the Southern hemisphere, the night sky is different from the Northern hemisphere where people used to navigate on the polestar. Here they navigate on the Southern cross which could be seen very clearly and I was even able to take a half decent picture of it.
After having a cold night once more (because summertime for Europe is wintertime here) we drove on to the real Namib desert this time. During the day it was maximum 30 degrees, during the night minimum 5 degrees. No wonder everyone got a cold during the trip due to the big temperature difference we had to experience living outside 24/7. We went to the Namib-Naukluft National Park in the desert, home to the largest sand dunes in the world. I could explain this with words but apart from saying WOW I would just like you to look at some of my pictures, they’ll tell you more than I can ever say in words.
[End of Part 1/2]