We spent 9 days total in Namibia and it is one of my favourite countries so far. Namibia gained their independence in 1990 from South Africa. Namibia has a heavy German influence which makes for great food but a tough history. The colonization of Namibia was quite violent and up until the 1970’s the Native San Bushmen could be legally hunted like animals. It disgusted me that people used to make handbags out of the San women’s breasts but at that time they were considered non-humans.
After the mountains of North Namibia we headed towards the South with Swakopmund being our desired destination. On the way we made a few stops. First we went to a Hierera market. Hierera people wear giant colourful dresses with huge hats of cloth that look like buffalo horns.
Next we stopped at a Himba market. The Himba people are one of the most photographed tribes in the world. After menstruation the women are not allowed to use water except to drink or cook. Every day the women wake up and perform an hour long ritual that involves rubbing animal fats, sweet smelling herbs, and bright orange mud all over their bodies to cleanse themselves. They also cake the mud onto their hair and leave giant puffs at the bottom of their dreads. They wear headdresses and loincloths made out of hunted animals. They are so exotic looking.
Our last stop on the road trip to Swakopmund was the Skeleton Coast beach. Our guides dared us to jump in the freezing Ocean coming directly from the Antarctica current near one of the many shipwrecks. The Skeleton Coast was given this name because once a crew shipwrecked here they were guaranteed to die because there was only desert for miles.
Alas we reached Swakopmund which looked like a completely different world! The only way I could tell I was still in Africa and not the outlet malls in Florida was the signs saying if you bought a couch you had the chance to win a free sheep! We ditched the tents for 2 nights and stayed in a giant dorm of bunk beds. Following an afternoon of shopping and wandering the streets we went out for a night of dinner and dancing. I cannot stress how weird it felt to be in such a “normal” environment again.
The following day was one of my favourite days of the journey so far. Sandboarding and Quadbiking!!! In the morning we were driven out to the giant star-shaped sand dunes of the Namib Desert. After climbing for what seemed like ages we reached the top with our modified snowboards. At the top we waxed the bottom of the board, clipped in, and set off down the dunes. It was SO much fun and very similar to snowboarding except I could do it in my shorts and sunglasses.
After riding the dunes for a bit and trying our luck with the jump we switched to BellyBoarding. Basically BellyBoarding requires that you climb to the top of a sand dune, lay on your stomach on a flexible piece of wood, lift the front corners up and slide head first down the dune. This was essentially EXTREME tobogganing because you end up reaching speeds of 78 km/h (they have a police speed gun to clock you in). It was a blast.
Following a lunch of SANDwhiches (no pun intended) we all hopped on Quad bikes. The 2 hours on the bikes took us ATVing through the desert up and down the dunes. When we got more comfortable we sped up and started doing rollers. Rollers involve opening up the throttle and gunning it up the sand dune then back down like a giant berm. Aside from a few people getting stuck in the sand and one girl hitting a rock and rolling off her ATV, we came out safe and sound. After this day I had sand in every crevice of my body! I found sand in places I did not know sand could exist.
The following morning we did a township tour where we were taken out of the clean, dream like tourist area and into the blocks where the locals lived. Some of the houses were nicer than others. Back when the Germans were colonizing Namibia they strategically gave the best housing to the minority black tribe and the worst housing to the majority black tribe that had previously been in power. There were a few other tribes that received mediocre housing. The Germans did this on purpose to create jealousy and strife between the tribes so they would concentrate on squabbling with each other instead of using their numbers to unite and rise up against the white people. These tribes still exist today and for the most part they govern themselves with an elected chief who we met after we ate some traditional cooked worms. There was also special housing for the mine workers. The miners who work in uranium get the nicest homes in repayment for the toll working in a uranium mine will take on their health.
After saying our farewells to Swakopmund we hit the road again and headed to a farm in the middle of the desert. We passed an area called the Moonland (because it looks like the moon) and we also passed the Tropic of Capricorn which, as a Geography teacher, was a highlight for me.
When we arrived at our Farmstay, we went for a tour around the giant farm to learn about the local vegetation and how to spot certain animals and insects. One of the most interesting insects was the trap door spider. This spider weaves a pile of web just under the sand and then digs a tunnel that can go down 120 cm into the ground. The spider waits in its tunnel until it feels the vibrations of its prey. When the time is right the spider will scurry up the tunnel, pop open the trap door, grab its prey and pull it back down the tunnel to devour.
We ended our farm tour with a hike up a hardened sand dune to watch the sun set. It was absolutely stunning. What was even more striking was sleeping under the stars that night. There is something peacefully raw about sleeping outside with nothing between you and the surrounding wilderness. Due to our remote desert location there were no lights, no pollution, and few clouds. I didn’t know so many stars existed; it was overwhelmingly beautiful.
After surviving a night outside with no snake or scorpion bites we continued on to Sossusvlei. Following an afternoon of hiking through a canyon we rested up for a big surprise later that day. The big surprise was a visit to Fish River Canyon which is the second largest canyon in the world next to the Grand Canyon. Just like the Grand Canyon, the pictures do no properly show the beauty and depth of the enormous landscape. In typical African fashion there were no fences or warning signs anywhere at the canyon so we had to take care walking the kilometer long trail to the lookout point. To our delight our guides Colleen and Lucinda had prepared a wine and cheese tasting at the end of the hike for us. It was a lovely way to end the day.
The next day we headed further into the Namib desert, the oldest desert in the world. You could tell it was the oldest desert in the world because the sand grains were so small. It felt like you were walking on icing sugar. The dunes are a glorious red colour because of the tiny bits of metal in the sand that oxidize and rust. Following some intense DangerBall in the pool we took a drive out to the dunes. We visited Big Daddy and Little Mama and the dried up Lake that used to exist before the shifting sand dunes cut it off from the water source.
For sunset we made the trek up Dune 45, the most photographed sand dune in the world. If you’ve never climbed a sand dune I can tell you that it’s really hard work. Fortunately, sand dunes can only grow to a certain height because once the sand hits a 40 degree angle, it rolls down. At the top of Dune 45 we played Danger Dune (last one standing on the peak of the sand dune wins), somersaulted down the sand dune, made sand angels, and eventually watched the sun melt down over the horizon. After that we all used the momentum of the sand dune to run down at top speed. It was way easier going down than up! We fell asleep under the stunning view of the stars again that evening. Even though we had sand all over our bodies and grains infiltrating our sleeping bags, we were happy campers.
The next day we crossed the border to our final country on the tour. Stay tuned for The High Class Hobo’s South African adventures!