Why Namibia? Mamibi what? Where is that?
Those were all questions I got when asked where my next adventure would be. And reality is, how did I choose this obscure destination? Due to a TV show I would fondly watch, of two Quebecer guys that were searching for a surfing adventure in various countries of Africa (OuiSurf). It was the wilderness, the vastness, the openness and the people that appealed to me. From this simple show, it was clear to me that Namibia would be a fantastic adventure, and it clearly lived up to all that I thought it would be. I literally had stepped into a National Geographic documentary.
Lets start with the people we met in Namibia. It is a new country, but filled with history and diversity. Everyone speaks English, but I was lucky to meet with various people that we only see on documentaries. The Herero tribe: memorable from the women’s beautiful dresses and horn shaped headpieces. The Damara: We met a young bartender that when asked his name, I was taken aback as it was my first introduction to the click language. I am unfortunately unable to write his name, as it was a musical piece of sounds…of click origin. The Himba: females known for enrobing their hair and bodies in red soil. It was a culture shock on our first day in the capital, Windhoek, as we walked through this mini-city of skyscrapers, with a couple of Himba women (only partially clothed as tradition calls), meandering in a place where one would expect otherwise. But hey, who are we to judge, this is Namibia. Full of diversity. I am the alien here.
I have never been to a country and seen such a variety of scenery, as I did in Namibia. As we drove for countless hours, we went through red desert, golden desert, mountains, ocean…For these varying terrains, you need to be prepared. When we picked up our rental truck, what I thought would be a simple exchange of keys, turned into a three hour training session (how to deflate, inflate tires, how to drive in the dunes, how to put up the tent on our rooftop). The anxiety had started to kick in. All this preparation! Are we on Mars, I thought. Were we going to be completely alone in the vastness of Namibia, the second least populated country in the world. What I learned is that there are a couple of ways of navigating your Namibian adventure. Either you can stick to the main roads, or venture off the beaten path. Both still require preparation, but one, a heck of a lot more than the other.
One incredible moment is when we had wandered through the Kalahari desert. Our tent was in the middle of nowhere (Kalahari Auob Camp) and just screamed serenity. Upon our arrival, we were told, watch out, “it is snake and scorpion season”. And low and behold, that night, we had such an encounter with a black scorpion. I was awoken by the sun rising in the wilderness, and the sound of sheep passing in front of our tent. It was such an incredible feeling. We had no internet, no technology, and all that was left to do was enjoy nature at its best. Even for those who don’t think they can camp, this was luxury camping! Hot water for our shower, but you had to work for it in the morning. Simply lighting a fire under the tank got you hot water!
Climbing up Dune 45 was an adventure itself. We had to wake up at 4:30am, picked up our breakfast box at 5am, and had to hit the one hour drive to arrive at the Sesriem gate (entrance to the dunes) for sunrise. I was incredibly awake, excited and happy to be up that early, and trust me, you are well compensated for it at the arrival of the dunes. At this time of day, the dunes are a fire bright orange, followed by their dark shadow that accents them even further. Makes for some incredible pictures.
As we continued up the coastline towards the North, we stopped in Swakopmund, a so-called Florida for the wealthy Namibians. But this is a Florida made up of German architecture (as Namibia is a German colony). It was interesting to see the contrast of the beautiful coastal mansions versus the shacks of Mondesa immediately behind. Driving through this impoverished area really hit home, and was a reality check.
Cape Cross is a nice stop between Swakopmund and Etosha National park. It is home for 100,000 seals. So for this amount of seals, you can expect that the sound, smell, and visual stimulation is quite intense. A fellow travelers truck had a seal unexpectedly call home, the underside of his truck. It was a site to see him try and get the seal to move on so he could drive his truck away!
Etosha National Park is one of the highlights of Namibia. It is one of the only places in Africa where you can do a self-drive safari (drive yourself through without a guide). As we were about to enter the park, even my GPS had stated, from this moment on “Stay in your car”! This is not your local zoo, this is the wild, you are in their home. Whose home? Lions, elephants, giraffes, zebra, rhinoceros, and many more. I definitely recommend sleeping in the park. It will provide you with an experience that you cannot get outside of the park. Of course you can choose to pay the big bucks to stay in one of the park lodges, but it can also be very affordable ($40CAD) to camp in the park. Our first night was an incredible experience. We were perched on a hill (Dolomite Camp) and had a view of the savanna from our balcony. I slept lightly, but was awoken by a noise from what sounded like a large animal. Total excitement overwhelmed me in hearing this big beast. It continued till almost sunrise. We found out the next day it was a lion. What a rush, to know that a lion was that close to us. As we continued to drive through this park that is the size of Switzerland, it was comparable to being in a treasure hunt. Always kept our eyes open, binoculars handy to spot the next animal, and eyes on the clock, as each day, it is mandatory to return to your hotel/camp site prior to sunset (for safety reasons). We did however, go on a nightly adventure, but this had to be done under thesupervision of a guide from the national park. Driving at night is such a rush. Silence. This is the time the animals like to come out and play. Approximately five minutes into the drive, wow…we see our first rhino! The driver said, “folks be ready”. His foot on the pedal ready to drive fast just in case. Rhinos can sometimes attack. This one actually crossed the road in front of us, keeping an eye on our open jeep. The adrenaline is pumping. Will he charge our truck? Before leaving for Namibia, I was informed that there was a recent total loss of a truck due to a rhino running into the car. Would this happen to us? Today, we were fortunately safe. The rhino kept going as he had better things to do.
We came home full of emotional stories from the incredible people we met. The anecdotes that gave us a sample of the lives of Namibia’s people changed mine. If you want to experience a life-changing trip, this is the country for you. If you are an adventure seeker, this is the country for you. Head over to Namibia, before the tourism industry takes it over and does not have the charm it does today. This is a hidden gem in this beautiful planet of ours. Namibia will give you the ultimate African experience. You will not regret it!