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Namibia tour

Namibia tour: June - July 2004 (PIC ABOVE: Quiver tree en route in the desert). Namibia, capital Windhoek, has a population of about 1.8m folk so there are not too many people per square kilometer! The first European explorers to set foot on the arid Namib coastline were Diego Cao and Bartholomew Diaz in 1486. The country (then known as German Southwest Africa) was a German colony from 1880 onwards until the end of WW1 when it was administered by South Africa (on behalf of Britain) as a mandate. It gained independence from South Africa in 1990 with Sam Nujoma the first president – he is due to retire in 2005 – so they say!?! The country offers superb wildlife and vast expanses of unspoilt wilderness and desert. It also boasts a fascinating German colonial history – reflected by the colonial German-style buildings still in evidence in most towns. The oldest inhabitants are the Bushmen or San people and Namibia is the last refuge of this ancient and fragile tribe. Thursday 10th June: we left the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park heading west through the Kalahari Desert all on gravel roads (tarmac is an unknown road surface hereabouts) and crossed into Namibia at the tiny border post of Rietfontein/Klein Menasse. This is a very quiet border crossing – laidback and fairly informal. In fact on the South African side the police sergeant was playing Solitaire on his PC while the constable did all the paperwork. Busy or what and throwing rank or what? A further 175 kms on gravel roads followed before reaching Keetmanshoop, the capital of Southern Namibia, dating to the late 18th century. It was named after Johan Keetman a rich industrialist and started life as a mission station (like so many towns here) and trading post. A wave of German immigrants arrived from 1890 and a fort was established. From Keetmanshoop our route took us north on more gravel roads past Seeheim, Goageb, Bethanie (another forgotten town from 1880 boasting a petrol station and hotel and not much else!), past Helmeringhausen to Duwisib Farm Rest Camp adjacent to Duwisib Castle – a German castle built in the middle of the Namib Desert. We had stayed here before on our last visit to Namibia in 2002 and it was good to meet our host and excellent cook, Jochen Frank-Schultz, again. He is a second-generation Namibian of German descent and runs goats on the farm as well as providing excellent accommodation to travelers. We dined well on kudu steaks and other good grub. The red sandstone Duwisib Castle was built by “Baron” Hansheinrich von Wolff in 1909 as a home for himself and his American wife Jayta. The sandstone was quarried locally in the hills, dressed on site and then carried the one kilometer by ox-wagon to where the castle was being built. Imported Italian stonemasons did the rest and carpenters came from Scandinavia to do the internal work. Von Wolff was initially stationed in Namibia with the German colonial troops; he resigned his commission to build the castle but at the outbreak of the First World War returned to Germany to sign up. He was killed at the Battle of the Somme in 1916; his wife never returned to Namibia; the castle had a succession of private residences before it became a national monument. From Duwisib we continued northwards and westwards further through the Namib Desert – over the spectacular Tsarishoogte Pass – with the Tsaris Mountains on our right and the unrelenting desert comprising sea upon sea of dunes interspersed with vast gravel plains. And mountains and outcrops of volcanic rock, granite and gneiss as well as black limestone (the latter left behind from 650 million years ago when a shallow tropical sea covered the area.) On the other side of the desert are the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean, but where we were it was very hot (and this is winter!) We stopped at the mystic town of Solitaire for fuel for the 4x4 and coffee and scrumptious cheese & tomato sandwiches (made from excellent home-baked bread) for us. Solitaire was immortalized in a local Toyota TV ad, but gets its name from the solitary dead skeletal tree still standing in front of the petrol station. Then it was onwards – more wide gravel roads encountering about one car per hour (if you are lucky!) Just dunes, sand, dunes, sand and some rock outcrops and more dunes! But it is great – the gravel roads are excellent and driving along at between 80-100 kph is no problem – just the billowing cloud of dust visible in the wing mirrors betraying your presence the odd oryx in this wild empty world. Heading directly west into the setting sun – an amazing golden red orb sinking ever lower into the green-blue sky, we eventually reached the very German town of Swakopmund on the coast, about 30kms north of Walvis Bay. Swakopmund was founded in 1892 by Hauptmann Kurt von Francois and is a veritable oasis between the cold Atlantic Ocean and the searing Namib Desert – a right old sandwich! There are lots of old German colonial buildings (built over a period of 25 years by the German Imperial Government) lining most of the streets – the old station (now a big hotel), Lutheran Church, Woermann (a shipping line|) Haus, the prison, garrison, hospital, school and a variety of shops all dating from the late 19th and very early 20th centuries. The old German street names (e.g. Bismarck Strasse, Kaiser Wilhelm Strasse) have now been twinned with more “politically correct” variants like Sam Nujoma Avenue and Theo-Ben Guribab Avenue. Times are indeed a-changin’. So, you get two name-plates for every street. We did a 150km round-trip excursion to gawp at the Lunar Landscape – an area of canyons, kloofs, ridges and rocky outcrops that very much resemble the surface of the moon: very similar to the Badlands in Alberta, Canada. A huge area of bizarrely contorted and misshapen rock formations – all covering the whole spectrum of reds, browns, ochres, yellows and black. There were some immense dark red (almost black) dolerite dykes, where molten lava penetrated the older granite resulting in these bristling ridges. Here we also saw those denizen plants – the Welwitschia Mirabilis – unique to Namibia. They grow to over a 1,000 years old (the oldest one at 1,500 years if it is a day, is fenced in for protection.) But we saw plenty of nippers at 1,000 years at least! They are huge sprawling plants with long, wide leaves and look for all the world like roosting spiders in the desert. They are known as living fossils. The evening meals comprised very German fare – bratwurst, spuds, sauerkraut, spatzle (a type of noodle) and the inevitable Apfelstrudel for afters. It is like being in Germany – but at the seaside with a very nice warm climate to boot. We stayed in Swakop for 3 nights – in that time sampling various coffee houses (all with excellent coffee, remember this is Germany by the Sea) and all those cakes and pastries to die for! From Swakop we continue further north to the Etosha Park, followed by an eastward foray into the Caprivi Strip (and hopefully to view the Vic Falls from the Zambian side) before heading south again to South Africa ultimately. Watch this space!!! Wednesday 16th June: Unfortunately we have had to alter our travel plans for Namibia. Due to an ongoing problem with my left foot (which is not getting any better) we have decided to return to South Africa 2 weeks earlier than planned to seek medical advice in Paarl. So, much as we were looking forward to going to Northern Namibia and the Caprivi Strip, this will have to wait for a future date sometime? We left Swakopmund heading east across flat, featureless expanses of white and red sand, through the Khomas Hochland (Highlands), traversing the amazingly tortuous and very steep Bosua Pass (in 1st gear and 4wheel-drive mode for the really interesting sections!) The Bosua Pass is a gravel road with precipitous drops (no crash barriers here!), hairpin bends, lots of loose sand, blind crests and deep dips between the crests – a real rollercoaster of a drive! We refuelled in Windhoek and then started heading south to Rehoboth where we spent the night at the Oanib Lake Resort. Next morning we continued heading south via Kalkrand, Mariental, Keetmanshoop and spent the 2nd night at the Savanna Guest Farm just outside the wee hamlet of Grünau. Another guest farm which provided excellent accommodation and superb catering: springbok fillets were on the menu this time! Dinner time conversation centred around two very contentious subjects, even in Namibia. Firstly, BEE – i.e. Black Economic Empowerment – whereby companies must have a black partner “on board” in order to secure government contracts. This has led to farcical situations where the “garden boy” has been made a director of a company just to satisfy the BEE condition, irrespective of his suitability for the post or not! The second issue is land ownership: the white farmers are fearful that their land is going to be expropriated by the government as has happened in Zimbabwe. The Namibian government under President Sam Nujoma has, however, stated that it will pay a fair price for any farms it takes over (the so-called “willing seller” and “willing buyer” scenario / principle.) Naturally there is the nagging fear that the farms (and farming) will then gradually decline with the resultant inevitable loss of agricultural output – exactly what transpired in Zim. Local fears amongst the farming fraternity have not been allayed by the recent visit to Namibia of “land distribution experts” from, of all places, Zimbabwe!!! It is no accident that Nujoma and Mugabe are pals. Interesting times ahead, eh? From Grünau we pressed on, eastwards this time, to Karasburg (last refuelling stop in Namibia) and the crossed into South Africa at the small Ariamsvlei/Nakop border post: another painless and very efficient border crossing. Then it was foot down for 150kms to Upington – so as we say farewell to Namibia, please go to the SOUTH AFRICA PART 2 webpage for further reports on our progress!

Duwisib Castle Rest Camp