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Published: November 23rd 2008
More than any other trip, I worried about travelling to Namibia the most. It was the first trip I’d planned purely on my own, and I was going with no other American study abroad students. I tried comforting myself by saying that this is how true backpackers travel, but my worries still lingered.
But in the end I had nothing to worry about.
I started early Sunday morning by taking a 24 hour coach bus ride from Cape Town to Windhoek (pronounced “Vind-hook”), with a coach company called Intercape, and it turned out to be the Bellagio of coach buses; a double decker with nearly 180 degree reclining seats, air conditioned, a host serving drinks and a leg rest. You know you've been in Africa too long when you pass a herd of zebra on the side of the road and you barely tilt your head to look at them, as happened during the bus journey. Sleeping on the coach was one of the best night’s sleeps I’d gotten the entire semester and I didn’t want to get off the bus when we arrived in Windhoek.
Windhoek is a modern city with heavy German and Dutch influence. Afrikaans
Me atop Dune 45
Charleton Heston called, he wants his Moses costume back.
is spoken much more widely in Windhoek than in Cape Town, and many of the older buildings and churches have Bavarian-style architecture. The hostel I stayed at had complimentary pancakes for breakfast and they were excellent. I hadn’t had pancakes since before I came down here, and it was the best breakfast I’d had my entire semester.
The safari company I booked was called Wild Dog & Crazy Kudu Safaris, which may be why I was nervous before I left, but they picked me up at the hostel along with three other guests. There were 15 total people on the safari, and we spent all day driving in a safari truck across the Namib Desert towards Sossusvlei, the site of the famous red sand dunes from National Geographic. While we were all strangers at the beginning, we developed quick friendships. There were a handful of British travelers, three Dutch, four Germans and two Americans, one of which was me. We joked that our group was divided between the English speakers and the Dutch/German speakers with Charles, our Namibian tour guide who spoke English, Afrikaans, German, Dutch and Portuguese, who could fit in any group. The other American was a
gentleman named Mark, a home equity lawyer from New York City, who was backpacking across Namibia for two weeks. He went to the University of Michigan for Graduate school, so he was familiar with the Ann Arbor area and knew where Albion was. Like I’ve said before, if someone has heard of Albion, I consider it a positive, and it’s always nice when someone knows specifics about Albion, even on the other side of the world.
I wasn’t anticipating becoming such good friends with the people on my trip, but camping has a way of bonding people together that hotels and other conventional trips can’t do. There were two couples from the UK; Mark and Louise, and Will and Amanda, who were both backpacking around the world for the next year. Mark and Louise started in Tanzania and were working their way down to South Africa, then off to Southeast Asia before finishing up in South America next summer. They plan on visiting 22-24 countries total. Will and Amanda started in Tanzania and Kenya, were working their way down to South Africa, before heading to Thailand and finally down into Australia and New Zealand. They were very nice people,
A desert within a desert
and we eventually figured out that we were all on the same Intercape bus heading back to Cape Town together after our safari.
Wednesday morning we woke up at 4:30 to see the sand dunes at sunrise in Sossusvlei National Park. Before leaving Charles told us that a hat was essential since we’d be out in the desert all day in the hot sun. I’ve spent the whole semester debating about buying a traditional broad rimmed safari hat or not, and determined that it would be a binge buy and that I’d never wear it. On this trip, nearly everyone had a safari hat and I had no hat to shield myself from the sunlight. One thing I’ve learned this semester is how to improvise. Not in a Robin Williams or Whose Line Is It Anyway?-type of improvise, but to use my available resources to compensate for my lack of preparation and stupidity. I grabbed my old shirt from the previous day and wore it over my head, protecting the back of my neck, ears, and forehead. Since we were walking in the desert, all I needed was a wooden staff and a bushy beard and I could have walked onto the set of The Ten Commandments.
We first climbed Dune 45, one of the most famous dunes in the Namib, and then went on our hike across the sand dunes of the desert. Sossusvlei is actually a large clay pan in between the dunes that looks like an ice rink from afar. Walking across the desert I went from thinking about one George Lucas movie, Indiana Jones, to another George Lucas movie, Star Wars, because the desert reminded me a lot of Luke Skywalker’s home planet Tatooine. Charles told us that heat stroke is very common among tourists walking through the Namib and we each brought big 2 liter bottles of water with us for our trek. We saw ostriches, Oryx, gemsbok and a dancing lizard, which is that lizard you’ve seen on Animal Planet that runs on its hind legs due to the hot sand.
Thursday we drove back to Windhoek, and later that evening the English speakers from our safari channeled our inner Anthony Bourdain and went to Joe’s Beer House, a local restaurant in downtown Windhoek famous for game food. It was a huge restaurant and it reminded me of a Rainforest Café, only instead of the animals being the restaurant’s theme, they’re the restaurant’s main entrée. I had a skewer kabob of ostrich, chicken, crocodile, kudu and zebra. Zebra was my favorite meat, followed by ostrich and the kudu was my least favorite.
Friday was our last full day in Windhoek and we went and saw the new James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, at a movie theater in a nearby mall. Yes, in Namibia, a third world country, I saw a newly released movie. I also heard Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” on the radio and ran into a guy in the restaurant at my hostel with a Detroit Tigers’ hat on, who was from Pontiac, Michigan. I met two Americans on my trip to Namibia, and they both had Michigan connections. I definitely had the most “World Is Flat” moments in Windhoek.
Mark, Louise, Will, Amanda and I took the Intercape back to Cape Town, and during the course of our 24 hour bus ride I had 40 Toppers (a local cookie similar to Snack Wells) as well as a roast beef pie for lunch and a cheeseburger for dinner. It wasn’t the healthiest food day of my trip, that’s certain. I felt like Rudolph leaving Yukon Cornelius and Herbie in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as I said goodbye to my UK friends. I couldn’t believe how nervous I was before the trip, yet how well things turned out in the end.
Today is my last full day here in Cape Town, and I can’t believe how fast the semester has gone. I’ll do one more blog tomorrow, but I don’t think it will have as much hype as the last Harry Potter book or the final episode of Seinfeld. I’m looking forward to the snow, Wal Marts, Hot-N-Ready Little Caesar’s pizzas, American football, and of course, Thanksgiving, where I’d much rather have turkey than ostrich!
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