Friday, April 20, 2012

Traveling Namibia

          I have been the lucky participant in several travels around southern Africa recently. Unfortunately, I have been evading the writing about my trip to Namibia, for reasons uncertain to myself. Since it has taken so long to write, my detail will most likely sub-par relative to my usual style. In addition to Namibia, I also recently took an equally eventful trip through South Africa to the coastal city of Durban.
          There are so many great reasons for choosing to study abroad in Africa. Even in the peacefully modern city of Gaborone, you see a part of the world that is quite different from any place in America. This in itself has provided platform for the once in a lifetime experience that I have been a part of. The ease of travel, however, is not an advantage. Travel is difficult, to put it mildly. To make things even more difficult, my fellow travelers and I are not the most organized planners. For myself, this is not a major problem as I am always open to spontaneity, but for some it can cause major stress.
           For our part, we did decide that we wanted to travel to Namibia a good while in advance. The equivalent of American ‘Spring Break,’ called ‘Short-vacation’ here at UB occurred in the last week of February and the first week of March. As the time for travel approached however, we were in the midst of mid-term tests and only vague ideas were put forth about our plans. We wanted to see the capital city of Windhoek, and then go to the beach where we were advised that Swakopmund is the best option. Several days before our departure, we purchased bus tickets with a company called AT&T (no relation to the phone co.). Prior to the morning of our departure, we arranged for a cab to pick us up at 7:30am, in time for our 8:00am bus. Unfortunately, the cab arrived early, and several of us were late in being ready. The driver was not happy, and claimed to have another customer to attend to, for which he had scheduled 10 minutes after our own pickup (clearly not enough time). As his anger grew with our lateness, he decided to leave us in the parking lot, as we had not yet all arrived. The seeds of our non-preparation had begun before our trip had. I immediately called another taxi driver, who had been very dependable in the past. In reality, I had no expectation that our new driver would use the haste necessary for us to catch our bus. However, he arrived in the extraordinary short time of 5 minutes, and drove us swiftly (and probably dangerously) too the bus station. Just as our luck seemed to be turning towards the positive, our back door was opened, and a car immediately drove into the door. There had been minor damage done to the other car, and door of our taxi was too damaged to close properly. We gave our driver our information, and promised to help as we could. Unfortunately, most taxi drivers do not have insurance, and the price was significant. However, we were willing to put our unfortunate start behind us and set off for Namibia. As we boarded the bus, we soon realized, that it would be a long 14-hour ride to Windhoek. The seats in this bus were not built for adults, at least not average-sized adults. I can only assume they are built for children. Although, here, these buses frequently carry adults. No matter, I settled into the back seat, nestled between two people much larger than I. Throughout the trip; we would have to switch when to lean back, since our shoulders were much too broad for our seats. Luckily I had my Kindle and was able to accomplish some serious reading to pass the time.
Entering Windhoek
           As we entered the country of Namibia, I quickly realized that it is the most beautiful and diverse landscape I have yet seen in Southern Africa. The city of Windhoek is in the center of the country, and is situated in a basin between the Khomas Highland, Auas and Eros Mountains. The scenery of the mountains and the German architecture make it a beautiful, albeit relatively small little city. We stayed here for one night in a backpackers hostel called the Cardboard box. While the name may not make it sound flattering, it was quite accommodating and helpful in assisting to plan further travel. We decided that we would take a combi to Swakopmund, and set up plans to rent a house for the week. We were able to arrange everything from the hostel, and soon found ourselves on our way to the beach!
Leaving Windhoek
           As we arrived in Swakopmund, we could already smell the beach before it was even in view. The bus dropped us off at a barren looking station, where Susan, the landlord of the house we were to be renting was coming to pick us up. After several minutes of waiting with our luggage, chatting with a security guard, and fending off taxi drivers, Susan arrived to take us to our house. On the way, she stopped off on the beach to give us a quick glance of its beauty. We took in the view and absorbed the fresh salty air, a special moment for a landlocked person like myself. We then continued on to our house, which was along the beach about a mile outside of town. The front driveway of the house had a clear view of the beach, although it was a brief walk to actually reach it. Our house was also very accommodating. There were enough beds for everyone, a living room, kitchen and showers provided. In addition, Susan drove us to the nearest grocery store so that we could stock up on supplies for the week.
          We spent the rest of our first day in Swakopmund hanging out on the beach with some beer, books, and great friends. In the following days, our time was filled with exciting adventures. We began by exploring the odd town a bit further. As I said, our house was about a mile down the beach outside of the town. We were able to easily walk into the city to find restaurants, bars, and casinos scattered throughout this small tourist town. The most striking part about both the walk in, and the town itself was the odd architecture. The buildings were far from anything else we had seen in Gaborone or any of the surrounding villages we had visited. The architecture was clearly of German influence but they also had a very modern style. The buildings simply did not seem like something that belonged in Africa, especially from what we had seen thus far. After exploring the town, we stopped at a restaurant that was set on the beach and enjoyed some delicious seafood. Being from Nebraska, I have never really understood the seafood obsession, however all of my friends are nothing short of passionate about it, so it was fun to join in their indulgence. The next day, we went quad biking in the Namib desert, which contains beautiful sand dunes very much alike to those seen in the desert of Tatooine (for any Star Wars buffs, this is a point of pride in the brochure).       We arranged this the prior day, and were picked up from our house by a man named Charles. Charles took us to the administrative office to cover financial and legal requirements, and then we were off to the desert. Being in the midst of the desert was an experience unlike any I have had before. In the
Sand Dunes in the Namib Desert
States, I have seen many beautiful landscapes, but the dunes of this desert seemed almost unreal, they were simply so different from anything I had ever been exposed to in my life. Riding 4-wheelers through these dunes was also exciting. The traction in the sand makes the ride completely different from anything I have expereienced in the fields of Nebraska. We also were able to sand board down several of the major dunes in the desert. This simply involves waxing sheets of plywood and sliding down the dunes on your stomach. After three hours of excitement in the Namib, our time was up and Charles led us out of the desert, and returned us to our house. On our drive back, Charles also mentioned the possibility of skydiving. One of my friends had done this once before and immediately was ready for round 2. After two others decided to join her, I consented to join as well, not be left out of an adventure. Charles set up all of the logistics, and the next day we were preparing to jump out of a plane 10,000 feet in the air! The morning of our jump was a blur of fear and excitement for myself. The more I talked about it, however, the more comfortable I became and all my fears shifted to sheer excitement. Before I knew it, I was harnessed up and ready to board my plane. The plane was tiny, with chairs only for the pilots with 6 passengers seated on the floor behind the pilot. The ascent took 30 minutes, during which we were able to view the beautiful beach of Namibia and the Namib desert. I was also strapped to an experienced jumper, who would control parachute. After reaching 10,000 feet, we were brought to the edge of the door and before I knew it, I was in complete free fall. These 30 seconds contain the most exciting experience of my life, hands down. Once the chute was pulled, the descent down was nothing short of surreal. The entire jump was over in just over 5 minutes. Words cannot possibly describe the experience, so I will leave it to the photo of myself to describe my emotions.
           The rest of our time in Swakopmund was filled with time spent hanging out on the beach, and finding more unique restaurants. One of these restaurants was built at the end of a dock that extended into the ocean. On the night we went, it was a particularly windy and rough night for the water. This made the view and experience of eating on the ocean even more special.
The view from our house.
           The next day, we cleaned our house, and struggled with the landlady in getting our deposit back (a struggle in which we have been unsuccessful thus far). But no matter, despite spending nearly an entire day on this frustrating business, we eventually caught a combi back to Windhoek. On the ride, I had a conversation with a friendly man, who eventually found us a ride back to the hostel where we would be staying. We stayed in Windhoek for two more nights, spending the next day exploring the city further. Finally, our adventures in Namibia had come to an end, and it was time to make the long journey back to Gaborone. On Monday morning, we took the 6:00am bus out of Windhoek. The bus was exactly the same as the one we took on the journey into Windhoek, and equally as miserable. After 14 hours on the hot, cramped bus, we finally arrived back in Gaborone. Still not quite ready for vacation to be over, it was time to prepare for the second half of our semester at UB.

            Okay, this post became more detailed than I thought was in me, so I will end it here. Some of the finer points may not be in the exact order in which they happened, so if any of my friends disagree with the order of events, I apologize. I will also soon try to post about my recent trip to Durban, South Africa. I am planning a trip to Cape Town, South Africa as well, so stay posted for more updates. More about health care is soon to come as well. Classes are officially over now, and tests begin on Tuesday. It doesn’t seem possible that the semester is nearly over!


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