Namibia – Africa For Beginners.

A proper African holiday complete with lions, elephants and all the other trappings of Africa – most of which were absent from Angola as they had all been killed during the civil war (Mostly by Generals shooting them with heavy machine guns from Helicopter Gun Ships – Ah big game hunting is such fun!).

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Generally when we had holidays or breaks from our work at the Luanda International School, Lotty and I went and wandered around in Angola, since we wanted to come to grips with this fascinating and complex country while we had the chance.  But on one holiday, several of our colleagues asked us to join them on a holiday in the neighbouring country of Namibia.   A proper African holiday complete with lions, elephants and all the other trappings of Africa – most of which were absent from Angola as they had all been killed during the civil war (Mostly by Generals shooting them with heavy machine guns from Helicopter Gun Ships – Ah big game hunting is such fun!).

So in due time the great moment arrived, and we all boarded the plane to fly us from Luanda to Windhoek International Airport.

On arrival we were first somewhat stunned by the modernity and cleanliness of the terminal, and then even more stunned by the fact that the guys from the travel company we had arranged our hire vehicles with were actually there.

We were swept up by these good men, taken to remarkably modern and clean pick-up trucks and driven off to Windhoek.  This was also a serious form of culture shock for us Angolan refugees… The roads were perfect, the vehicles driving on them were all new, clean and driven sensibly.   No weird battered, rusty ancient wrecks creeping crablike down the pot-holed roads here…  Everything was modern, clean, well maintained and impeccable.  After the mess and chaos of Luanda this was an eye-opener for us all.

Then we got to Windhoek, which turned out to be a small and also totally neat, tidy and clean little city, full of well dressed and well fed looking people.  Not a cripple, street kid or dead body to be seen anywhere.

By this time we were all reeling somewhat from the totally different place we now found ourselves in.   In a matter of a couple of hours flying, we had gone from a war-torn, medieval city to a 20th century, well organised and normal place.

I was later told that the first thing the Namibian President ordered when they became independent of South Africa, was a huge clean up of the country.. It took them a year apparently, but the results were truly impressive…

We were taken to our hotel, and signed in and as one we all rushed straight out of the hotel to see for ourselves what it was like in the shops and cafes of this place.   Another shock, the Supermarket’s shelves were filled with all manner of food and other necessities, the cafes were clean and relaxed places serving delicious coffee in clean, uncracked cups – just like any normal western city in fact.   This was a very strange feeling for us, coming from a place where the Supermarkets frequently had almost completely empty shelves, cafes were rough and ready and the only drink you could rely on them having was beer.

Anyhow, we wandered around in a sort of daze for a few hours, then retired, confused and relaxed to our beds at the end of our very disconcerting first day in Namibia.

The next day, Lotty and I in one camping truck, and Jayne and Mathu in the other one set off northwards to go to a nature reserve way up on the Namibia/Angolan border.

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……………………… Sort of flat!

This entailed a drive of something like 1200 km over countryside that made Holland seem mountainous.    I have never seen such a flat landscape in my life…. Not even a pimple to be seen.   If it wasn’t for the occasional Elephant, or warthog wandering across the road and the regular police check points it would have been the most boring bit of driving I had ever done.  Occasionally one came to small remarkably neat little towns, all of which still showed very clearly that the Germans used to be the Colonial power in Namibia.. Sort of miniature German villages dropped in the middle of this vast African tundra.

When we finally reached the northern border of Namibia, which was demarcated by a wide, muddy and sluggish river, with Angola on the far side, we camped in an amazingly luxurious camp site and in the evening, we sat like good colonialists beside the river, with long cool drinks in our hands, listening to the frog chorus and gazing over the river at the darkness of Angola.  Not a light to be seen on the Angolan side of the river.. Just darkest Africa.   And then suddenly drums started up on the Angolan side… Very strange feeling, listening to that drumming in the pitch dark night.

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Gazing over the river at Angola…….

The next day we headed off into the Caprivi strip, a curious narrow strip of Namibia that runs west-east between Zambia and Botswana, where there was a nature reserve we wanted to explore.

We duly arrived at the entrance to the park, to be told that no one else was currently visiting, but that we were very welcome to stay if we wished.  And directed to the camp site – with dire warnings about not getting out of our vehicles anywhere except in the camp site – Lions you know.  The remarkably solid and tall wall around the reception offices rather reinforced this warning.

So off we drove, into the park.  Which was beautiful, sort of tall elephant grass and groups of trees.  Lots of warthogs and various sorts of deer, and loads of monkeys leaping about the place.   Not a lion or elephant to be seen.

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Warthogs with their ridiculous tails

We duly found the camp site – we recognised it as there was an outside lavatory block there – for the rest, nothing, no fence, electricity, water or even a place to dispose of our rubbish.  Obviously one of those places where if you brought it in you took it out when you left.  Reasonably enough, given the monkeys around the place.

The bit that worried me was that it was on the edge of a river, and had what was obviously the place where large creatures came out of the river right slap bang into the middle of the camp site.  Since these animals could only be crocodiles or hippopotamuses, both of which are highly dangerous, I wasn’t too happy about this.

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The camp site with our campers

We could see no crocs, but we did see the noses and eyes of quite a few hippos in the river.  Unsettling feeling.

Anyhow, we settled down, set up our camp and relaxed.

As the evening drew in, two wonderful things occurred.  The first was the arrival of a huge family group of baboons, who settled noisily down for the night in the trees around our campers.  In spite of having the reputation of being a real pest, and even dangerous to campers, this family group ignored us totally, and simply got on with their own domestic affairs.  Loved watching them doing this.

Then the second joy of the African countryside started up.. namely the evening chorus of hundreds of different sorts of frogs and toads.. Each sort with its own song…. These different songs combined to produce the most wonderful and huge choral work, that went on for about an hour… totally entrancing to listen to.

During the night we could hear the Hippos snorting and coughing in the river nearby, so I was extremely glad to be sleeping on the roof tent of our camper, rather than in a tent on the ground..   Hippos are generally considered the second most dangerous animal in Africa – the first of course, being humans – but they stayed in the river and didn’t bother us in any way, I am happy to say.

I shall write the second half of this Namibian thing later……..

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