Thursday, January 6, 2011

Epic Adventures Part II—Namibia

I hadn’t anticipated on going on two trips, since I thought I was already taking a lot of days off as it was. But the week before I left, we were told that Baylor would be closed for the whole last week of December, and we wouldn’t actually have to be back at work until the 5th of January. Now, I’m not one to waste an opportunity to travel for a whole week, so together with some of my friends from work, we decided to head to Victoria Falls (again) and this time venture into Zambia, and Chobe National Park. Turns out everyone in Southern Africa had the same idea, since it was impossible to find accommodation for the New Year period. I was already in Australia by this point, but knew I wanted to go somewhere, so the wheels were put in motion to plan a trip to Namibia instead. After countless e-mails back and forth (and lots of awesome people at Baylor who planned this trip for us while I was on another continent), we had a game plan. We would leave the day after I came back (the 29th of December); spend 1 night in the capital Windhoek, 3 nights in the seaside town of Swakopmund, and one night in a town called Ghanzi in Botswana to break up our trip back. I knew I was cutting it close with my flight and would probably be jet lagged (plus the 9 hour time difference between Botswana and Australia), but I didn’t mind. Little did I know, we were supposed to be on the bus to 12-hour bus to Windhoek at 5:30 am on the 29th. And my flight landed at 8 pm on the 28th. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much, but off we went.

I won’t get into too much detail about our transport: I’ll just say for next time, it’s probably a good idea to confirm how you’re getting there and back BEFORE deciding to leave on a trip. It was definitely an adventure in itself, though. We finally made it to Windhoek, and crashed for the night. I can’t say Windhoek is the most exciting of cities—but then again, we didn’t see very much of it. What struck me right off the bat though was how friendly the people of Namibia are; they were so kind to us when we needed help (which was a lot) and were just cool people in general. There was also a lot of buzz because Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt had just been in Namibia a few days prior (first I just miss Oprah, then the Jolie-Pitts? Gosh, I should have booked my trips a few days earlier!), so everyone was excited about that. After a quick tour of Windhoek, it was off to Swakopmund. We had to take a combi (that minibus-type thing that many African countries use as transport) for 4 hours to reach our final destination. Turns out, the Windhoek-Swakopmund ride ended up being one of my favourite parts of the whole trip; the landscape was just stunning. I’ve posted a few pictures on facebook, but they don’t do it justice. For the first part of the ride, we were surrounded by these beautiful mountains on both sides of us; a few hours in, this was replaced by the vast nothingness that is the Kalahari Desert—just a few bushes here and there. Finally, the area around Swakopmund was filled with these huge sand dunes, one of the coolest things I have ever seen.

After settling in, we did a quick tour of the town and saw the beach. Before I get into too much detail about that though, let me take a few seconds to describe the weirdness that is Swakopmund. Namibia is a former German colony, so you can definitely see the German influences—Swakopmund takes this to the extreme, though. Most of the signs and street names are German, and the white people there almost outnumber the native Namibians. Plus, there has been interracial mixing for generations, so a big chunk of the people are this beautiful Afro-German mix, with caramel skin and awesome afro hair. There were also lots of Afrikaners (white South Africans) and Germans there on holiday, so it didn’t really feel like I was in Africa at all. But Swakopmund is gorgeous, with lots of palm trees, endless desert and beaches along the Atlantic Ocean.

We were exhausted from our travels so after calling it an early night, we woke bright and early for a jam-packed day. Our first stop was Desert Explorers for quad biking and sandboarding! It’s a popular activity in Swakopmund, and Brangelina even did it the last time they were in Namibia. We started with one hour of high-adrenaline quad biking, which I can honestly say is the single-coolest thing I’ve done in Africa thus far. It felt such a rush to be racing these bikes through the desert that looked like it stretched on forever. I can’t even begin to describe the view—I was pretty much like “holy crap, am I really here right now?!?!?”. It was like those deserts you see on TV or magazines, but so much better in real life. The sand was the softest thing I’ve ever felt and just slipped through your fingers. And the dunes are huge! They were easily the size of tall buildings, and the ones in Walvis Bay (about 30 km away) are as big as 300 metres high! We got to ride up some of the smaller ones which was sooooo cool.

We eventually reached the place where we would be doing our sandboarding. Sandboarding is exactly like snowboarding, except you go down a huge desert dune instead of a snowy hill. However, I don’t actually know how to snowboard (and snowboarding experience is pretty much an asset), so I opted for lying-down sandboarding, which is pretty much tobogganing headfirst at 80 km an hour down a 50 metre dune. These hills looked scary, but going down was actually super fun. Thing is though, we’re in the middle of the desert, so there aren’t exactly ski lifts to bring us back up the hill. So we had to walk back up, uphill (with our boards) in the soft sand. It was exhausting and your thighs are burning afterward... after the second time doing it, we sweet-talked one of the guides into bringing us back up the hill on his bike. The thing about sandboarding though; you get sand EVERYWHERE. All of the usual places of course—in your shoes, hair etc. But I didn’t expect to get sand up my nose or in between my teeth haha. After sandboarding, it was one hour of quad biking back to the starting place. This time we went a lot faster and a lot higher up the dunes. All of a sudden, our guide stops at the top of this huge dune, and when I look out, I was literally taken aback; right at the end of the dune was the ocean. It was definitely a sight that I won’t forget anytime soon. We stayed up there for a little bit, and then it was back to the main starting place. I would recommend it x 100000000000000 for anyone who’s going to Swakopmund. I had also considered skydiving which looked really fun, but a) I wanted to spare my mother the heart attack, at least for now; and b) I didn’t have 300 bucks to cough up . Oh well, maybe next time.

From Desert Explorers, it was straight off to a fun-filled day at the beach. To be honest, I preferred the beach in Mozambique, where the water was warm and calm; but obviously, I’m in no position to complain. The tides were really strong, so we were more dragged by the waves than actual swimming, but it was still fun. After a quick shower and some dinner, we headed over to a local spot called Tiger Reef to spend New Years on the beach. There were fire-breathing ladies, music, a huge bonfire, and fireworks at midnight. Not a bad way to spent New Years, I think. Resolution-wise, I think I’m going to try and be a better cook this year and try to make new things (which I’m passing thus far, but it’s only day 6), as well as keep in better touch with family/friends back home, hence why I wasted no time in writing these entries. Let’s see how long I’ll keep that up for. New Years day was a more relaxed affair, with sleeping in and more time at the beach. Before we knew it, our short trip was over and it was time to go home.

A month to remember, that’s for sure. Now I’m back in Gabs, taking myself out of vacation-mode and settling in to everyday life again. But it’s good to be home.


- Yaz

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