Travelling Namibia: The Germany of Africa

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Namibia had been on my travel list since I met a Belgian girl who’d lived there for 8 months and described it as “Africa for beginners”. With the other continents visited it was time to see some of Africa. Earlier in the year I’d spent a week in Morocco and then a few days in Cape Town. However, the first is more Arabic Africa whereas the other has a very European feel to it. I flew to Windhoek, the capital, and while it’s a big city it also immediately felt more African. And very German!

The Germans

That seems like a good place to start when discussing Namibia. Because they are everywhere! At one point I was sat by the pool at Halali Camp in the middle of Etosha National Park and I was surrounded by them.

The main attraction in Windhoek is the Christuskirche, a pretty and very German church. The information inside was in German too. There are also many German sounding street names. In fact most of them use “straße” instead of “street”. Even the native Namibians pronounce the names of places in a German way, replacing W’s with a V sound (as in “Vindhoek” or “Svarkopmund”).

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Top: the very German Christuskirche church; Below: some of the many German sounding street names in Windhoek

Of course the benefit of all this is that Windhoek Draft is the best beer in that part of Africa. Nobody makes beer like the Germans.

Getting Around

If I went back now I’d do it completely differently, but at the time I didn’t know how to navigate the country and was still new to Africa in general. I booked a week tour through an agency taking in some of the best sights. However, if you do travel to Namibia I would recommend renting your own transport and doing it yourself. Ideally something with 4 wheel drive. The roads in general are good, but with a 4×4 you have less worries. Especially when you get near the dunes at Sossusvlei.

The basic rule is that the first letter of the road indicates how good it is, going from A roads all the way down to F. A and B class roads are perfect, whereas C can be hit and miss. By the time you hit an F road, you’re going to be wishing you paid for that 4 wheel drive.

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(Left) The only way to travel through the dunes and (Right) the main street through Swarkopmund

Without your own transport you’re limited to intercity taxis. The main thing about these taxis is they don’t leave until all the seats have been filled. So you could be waiting 20 minutes or two hours. And the longer they’re waiting to leave, the more desperate they become. Especially in Windhoek. If another car arrives with a potential passenger, eight or more people surround the car, opening the back, grabbing the luggage and dragging people out. Even before they’ve stopped. Another quirky feature is that for some reason the guys who run each site love wearing bucket hats.

The People

I’ll say this for the Namibians. They’re really friendly and can’t do enough for you. Everybody you meet will ask how you are and, if you’re really lucky, “How did you sleep?” They’re not so good at getting stuff done though. And I’m not talking about “Africa time”. That’s something else and common in all of Africa.

The advantage of not having my own transport was I spent a lot of time with locals and got to know them as well as the country itself. More so than if I had been driving around alone.

The sights

There are many things to see in Namibia and the scenery is so different in the flat, green north from the mountainous wastelands of the south. In the south are the dunes and the Namib Desert, heading up towards Walvis Bay. Whereas the north has the spectacular peaks at Spitzkoppe, the Skeleton Coast and the wildlife heavy Etosha National Park.

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(L-R) Spitzkoppe, the dunes of the Namib Desert and a herd of impala mixing with the resident zebra of Etosha National Park

In my three weeks or so I saw most of the things I wanted to with the exception of the big dunes at Sossusvlei and Fish River Canyon. It’s a country I’d like to go back to, which is not something I often feel. I didn’t know too much about Namibia before I went there, but it’s an amazing, safe, incredible place full of extraordinary welcoming people. Definitely worth the trip. Just make sure you have a 4×4.

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