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Published: June 10th 2019
Yes, folks, you read that exactly right, 100th nation visited to date, and still counting.....! On the basis of the symbolism behind the nature of the experience, the 100th country visited to date just had to be somewhere of a sufficiently other-worldly and memorable nature to make it stand out at least in a couple of ways from the rest of the pack - take a step forward Namibia! Prior research had revealed Namibia to be a relic of a German colonial era, which had left a legacy in some fascinatingly positive way. Arriving at Windhoek international airport and picking up a rental car (for the entire week away), the plan of action was a typically widescreen ambitious plan which attempted to condense the highlights of one entire sizeable nation into one neat-looking package. Passing through Windhoek revealed a few cultural facets which were due to be savoured later on in the trip, and then the drive north to the small-ish town of Outjo was the rest of the day's plan of action, rendered more pleasant by a drive through intriguing desert scenery, and quiet, straight-as-an-arrow roads which hinted at the relative ease which driving in Namibia would amount to. Outjo
lies roughly 120kms south of Etosha national park, perhaps the nation's most visited zone for all its wildlife viewing opportunities, and unsurprisingly, this was to be the destination for the very first full day spent in Namibia. Etosha National Park is essentially a huge salt pan with a few gravel track roads, and offshoots leading to various features of the park, most importantly watering holes where animals gather in relative abundance to enjoy their feeding sessions. A little research will reveal what kinds of animals will appear in what kinds of places at what time of year, but this drive out of peak season yielded sightings of impala, rhino, elephants, giraffes, zebras, springbok, gazelle, ostriches and a variety of bird species. The drive itself was a substantial trek covering the 100-plus kilometres distance from the towns of Okaukuejo to Namutoni (west to east), and back again, with a stop-off at Halali for a lunch break. The self-drive nature of the safari tour is about as free-spirited as you could possibly expect, especially when you consider that animals can easily stray across the road at any point along the way, making cautious driving and remaining within the vehicle an absolute must
within the confines of the park. Back on the road again on the following day, and the drive entailed a 440-km route taking in desert and mountain scenery and stop-off points such as Brandberg mountain and Spitzkoppe, Namibia's highest peak, and a centre of activity with a fair scattering of lodgings to match. A few curiosities loomed into view en route, and just had to be sampled, the most cultural of which was the Himba tribal village, consisting of circular mud huts with hand-made conical roofs arranged in similarly circular fashion around a central fire to shield inhabitants from the winter-time desert cold. Back onto the more civilized tarmac roads, the final stretch to the coastal town of Swakopmund revealed signs of life which you would more readily associate with the rest of the developed world. Swakopmund is the nation's prime resort town, and is a curious and satisfying mix of styles, ranging from German colonial architecture (with eateries and beerhouses to match), low-rise stores with natty arcades and courtyards, and landmarks such as the iconic lighthouse, jetty, and churches. Two of the city's museums, namely the Crystal Gallery and the city's own Swakopmund museum are top-flight collections of artefacts
and exhibits which easily render a half-day allocated to viewing them a worthwhile exercise. Further along the coast, on the road towards the nation's second city of Walvis Bay, the couple of centres which offer desert-related adventure sports are must-do stop-offs for the thrill-seeker, and the multiple joys of sandboarding and quadbiking over spectacular desertscapes are pure undeniable holiday highlights. Heading east from Swakopmund, on roads no more primitive than European road surfaces, the half-day drive eventually leads the motorist to the nation's capital city of Windhoek. In order to break up this journey however, a planned diversion became woven into the mix in the shape of Gross Barmen hot springs resort and adjoining hotel. The spa resort appears to have everything going for it, ranging from a huge palm tree-flanked outdoor pool, to indoor facilities spanning a heated pool, Jacuzzis, steam room and sauna, along with conference facilities for those whose idea of mixing business with pleasure is a sound prospect. Windhoek is not what you may expect from an African capital city, and therein lies an integral part of its charm. The urbanscape is strewn with landmarks and reference points a-plenty, from Christ Church to the craft centre, and a variety of retail and dining options in between. One particular landmark which clearly has a symbolic depth to it, but which might not be too apparent unless you have done the necessary research, are the various fragments of the Gibeon meteorite, on display in Windhoek's central business district, dating back to prehistoric times when the meteorite fell to earth. Finally, an evening of funky décor-laden fun is to be had both dining and drinking at Joe's beerhouse, and before you're even aware, the Namibian experience has drawn to a satisfying close, leaving this visitor to believe that a place with an identity and cultural depth as Namibia earns the title and accolade of 100th country visited to date, largely because, for the wealth of attractions and experiences it yields, there's just nowhere else quite like it.
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