Namibia is an incredibly diverse country. The landscape changes as you drive from east to west and then north to south. Namibia is split into 14 distinct regions. The country is also split north and south by what is called the Red Line with differing laws governing farmers on either side of the line. Up until my recent holiday, I had not been able to travel around Namibia other than on the one highway that runs from Windhoek to Rundu. Even driving that road I could see the scenery, people, and developments change, so I was excited to finally be able to interact with the people in the various regions of Namibia and witness first-hand the country’s differences in terrain, culture, and quality of life.
The first leg of my journey began with riding from Rundu to Ongwediva. Ongwediva is located in the Oshana region which is part of the four Wambo regions, collectively known as O-land. As soon as I crossed into O-land, I could tell I was in quite a different place. This part of Namibia is more developed as the country is contributing significant resources to improve the region. One of the first things I noticed when I crossed into the Ohangwena region was that most of the homesteads, if not all, included at least one concrete structure. Concrete structures are a rarity in the Kvango region where I live. In Kvango most homesteads are made up almost entirely of mud huts, with an occasional zinc house here and there. As I traveled across O-land I also noted a lack of green terrain. This is not entirely the fault of the region. In Kvango we have a large river that runs along the whole region providing water to the nuture the fields and provide some green space. However, all of Namibia is facing one of the worst droughts in recent memory. According to most locals, rain should have started to fall in November, but it had yet to rain more than a few minutes when I left Kvango.
As I arrived in Ongwediva I could tell right away that it was a more developed city than Rundu, the closest city to my homestead. I saw many malls as I traveled along the road from Ondangwa to Ongwediva finally ending in Oshakati. That stretch of road offered many shops, shebeens, and restaurants for the population living near these cities. While in Ongwediva I spent two nights with another Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) and explored what the city had to offer. One of the first things we did when we got into town was to see the newly released Star Wars movie. With only three movie theaters in the whole country, it seemed like I’d better take advantage of the opportunity to see this long-awaited space adventure. After the movie, we went to the Ongwediva open market to sample some “street meat.” I may be slightly biased, but I think that the Rundu open market is a little better. Despite my personal bias, the meat was great and the atmosphere was fun and welcoming, as it is in most of Namibia. We sat and talked about the differences between the regions I’d visited so far and what I still had to experience in O-land in the coming week. The next day I traveled on to stay with another PCV at his homestead in a village just 15 km outside of Ongwediva. It was just before Christmas.
A New Kind of Christmas
There were about 8 other PCVs visiting the same homestead for the first few days I was there. This is where I celebrated my first Christmas away from the United States. Let’s just say it was not the same Christmas I have come to know and love for the past 23 years of my life! I am from Wisconsin, where sometimes we don’t have white Christmases, but most of the time there is a thin layer of snow covering the ground on the 25th. In O-land it was as opposite of Wisconsin as it could possibly get. But I am getting ahead of myself. Rewind to Christmas Eve. I woke up on the 24th and walked out of the homestead to see one of the PCV’s brothers slaughtering a goat the family has just purchased that morning. This was the food we were going to eat for the next two days. After watching them cut the goat into the different parts, take the skin off, and eventually separate the meat into two piles, we began to braii (barbecue) the pieces with the best meat. As we sat around watching the goat meat cook, all of us PCVs talked about the different holiday traditions we celebrated back home. Not surprisingly, none of us had ever spent it cooking goat! After we were done cooking and then eating the goat meat (which was incredible, by the way), we decided to play a fun game of makalani baseball. Basically this is the same as regular baseball except we used makalani nuts as the ball. We played the game for an hour until it was too dark to see the nut flying through the air. We didn’t want to sustain too many injuries.
The next day was Christmas day. There was no running downstairs to look under the tree, no presents to rip open. It was a simple Christmas with only relaxation in mind. We all woke up, wished each other a “Merry Christmas,” and piled into a truck that headed to a lodge on the outskirts of Oshakati where we could swim around and relax in the sun. The drought had hit Namibia hard, so it was a scorcher outside…about 95-100 degrees. The pool was the perfect answer to cool down in the heat of the day. We spent a majority of the day swimming and laying around soaking up the sun. When we finally returned to the village, we decided to play our “traditional” (Well, OK… this was our first one.) Christmas soccer game. We went over to the village soccer field and played with as many locals as we could round up. With a rousing 3-2 final score, it was time to call it a day. We returned to the homestead to eat, you guessed it, some more goat! The following day we cleaned up the homestead and headed back into the city of Ongwediva. It was time for all of us PCVs to part ways and move on to our next destinations. New adventures and places to explore were awaiting all of us. I was anxious to meet the opportunities waiting for me!
On to Swakopmund
My next destination was the fun coastal town of Swakopmund. Looking at the map, I could see that Ongwediva is a good distance from Swakopmund. I started off bright and early, around 7:00, because it knew it was going to be a long day of traveling. I was able to find a hike pretty quickly that would take me from Ongwediva to Otjiworongo for N$50. That was a solid deal because normally it costs anywhere from N$100-150. This trip is around 6 hours depending on how fast your driver is going. When I arrived in Otjiworongo, I went to the hike point and was able to wave down a driver heading to Swakopmund. He offered to take me there for N$100, and I accepted. The normal rate is around N$150, so I felt pretty good about that day of traveling until about 20 minutes outside of Otjiworongo. This was when the driver looked at me and asked, “How do I get to Swakopmund?” Perfect……. I had no idea. I figured he knew. This was not my part of the country. Luckily, technology is everywhere, even remote corners of Africa. I was able to pull up a map on my phone, and I directed my driver to the correct road. We had been going the wrong way for about 10 minutes! Thanks to my phone map, we were off. When I finally arrived in Swakopmund, it was about 6:00 PM. The driver dropped me off at the PCV’s house where I planned to stay. I pulled out my wallet to pay him, and he thanked me for giving him directions. He told me it would only cost N$50 instead of the N$100 we decided on!! What a great way to end the drive! That night we went to a bar right on the beach called Tiger Reef and watched the sun set over the ocean. What an awesome sight! The next day it would be time to explore this new city.
Life in Swakopmund
Saying that Swakopmund is different from the rest of Namibia is an understatement. It is basically a whole new country. There are coffee shops on every corner, actual sit-down restaurants, and tourists, tourists, tourists as far as the eye can see. I learned that this is where tourists come when they want to see Namibia. I started my day off by going to a small coffee shop called Bojos. I sat down out on the patio with a pot of coffee and just people watched. It was fascinating watching the tourists and observing how they interacted with each other. Unlike in other parts of Namibia, the people kept to themselves or only other people they were with.
Later that day, a couple of the other volunteers and I went to the Strand Hotel to try a restaurant there called Brewerie and Butcherie. This is a microbrewery, one of the few in Namibia, with three different beers on tap that are brewed on site. Not only that but you can have a 3L boot of any of them. What a great way to spend the rest of the day, a 3L boot beer of amber ale. We ended the evening eating Indian food at Garnish, a highly visited restaurant for Peace Corps volunteers. Back home, we went to bed early to prepare for the next day climbing Dune 7.
Dune 7 is the largest sand dune in the world. It is an incredible sight to see as you approach. It just continues to get larger as you close in to the base. When we arrived at the dune, there were five or six other families there also setting out to climb to the top. Our group had joined one of the other PCVs host family, and as soon as we parked, the little eight-year-old girl jumped out of the car and started running up the dune. Not wanting to miss out, I chased up after her. This was a terrible idea! By the time I reached about half-way up the dune, I was completely out of breath. I finished the climb on all fours, crawling my way to the top. It was so worth it because as I reached the final step, I looked down on what I had accomplished and what I could see around me. The scene was unforgettable. Sand dunes stretched as far as the eye could see. Shining in the sunlight, the faint glistening of the ocean blinked just above me to the west. After taking some pictures of this beautiful view, it was time to head
down. There are a couple of ways to descend the largest sand dune in the world. Most people run down, trying to keep their balance. The child inside of me thought otherwise. I decided that it would be fun to roll down it. That was exhilarating to say the least!!! Once I have the video I will upload it here so that everyone to see the tornado of sand that I created on the way down! After leaving the dune, we went to a water park to clean off the sand. Behind the park there were a bunch of tide pools. Luckily it was low tide at the time, so we explored all around them looking for fun creatures and shells. I was able to find some beautiful shells, coral, and even a starfish. My day ended with a Mexican feast with the other PCVs. It would be New Year’s Eve tomorrow.
Celebrating the New Year in Swakopmund
New Year’s Eve started off much like all the rest of the days I had in Swakopmund, drinking coffee at one of the local coffee shops and then exploring. Around midday, all the PCVs staying in Swakopmund met for a braii to chill for the rest of the day. Later we went to a dune on the outskirts of Swakopmund to watch the sun go down over the ocean. It was a fitting way to end the year.
The next day, to officially welcome the new year, we all got together to play a game of football on the beach. It got pretty intense with the final game being a clash between the 42 or so visiting volunteers vs the group 40 PCVs who lived there. Unfortunately, we visitors did not come away with the victory, but it was still a blast running into the ocean to get all the sweat off after the game. All in all, Swakopmund is an excellent town to visit if you come to Namibia. Although it is unlike the rest of Namibia, I highly recommend visiting if you ever do travel here.
Time to Settle In
My vacation over the holidays was nothing short of an adventure. I was able to travel completely across the country and back. I met so many new people and reconnected with volunteers I hadn’t seen in a while. I enjoyed every minute of my trip with even a couple near death experiences on the ride back to my village thrown in. School just started here for the first term. I am sure I will have much to write about that as I begin my first real experience with teaching English to sixth and seventh graders in my next blog post. Until then, I hope all of you back home in the states are doing well, and I wish each of you a great 2016!