Friday, July 1, 2011

Namibia in review

It’s a very good thing that we rented a car for Namibia; otherwise travel there would have proved very difficult.  At the beginning of the trip we briefly discussed hooking up with one of those overland tours for Namibia, but ended up deciding against it, and luckily too because our abhorrence of them has increased with each one we encountered – big groups, loud people, late nights, forgetting other people are using the same campsites and don’t share the same schedule.  Okay, they haven’t been that bad, but on a tour like that there is no flexibility, and we like flexibility.  So, Good Sport ended up being a good thing, for us at least.  The poor car has suffered. (Luckily the guy at the rental car place who checked the car back in didn’t notice…. Thank goodness for a good car wash. J )

Namibia is a big country, and the cities/towns/places of interest are very spread out.  A few of the main roads are tarred, but otherwise there are different gradients of dirt road.  Some were kept up very nicely whereas others were in dire need of repair.  A few of the roads, or patches of them, were covered in rocks, and were very hard on tires.  We purposely rented a car with “no excess” which means it was fully insured, except that this insurance did not cover tires or the windshield, the two most vulnerable car parts on gravel or rocky roads.  Luckily we only had one flat tire and we were able to easily get it plugged and then kept it underneath the car as the spare.

It was easy to estimate driving times in South Africa because almost all major and secondary roads were paved, but here we quickly got into the habit of designating an entire day for travel even if our destination was just a few hundred kilometers away.  Gas was relatively easy to obtain in even small towns, but we filled up or topped off the tank whenever it was available just to be safe.  There were fewer cars on the roads here than in South Africa, and virtually no public transportation.  There were always people hitchhiking between towns, but in the more remote tourist destinations we didn’t see too many.

In the winter Namibia is very dry and very cold at night.  I am still shocked at how cold I have been most nights.  With the car we had an extra sleeping bag (because Anne needed to buy a new one) and an extra blanket that we used many nights and were loathe to give up when we cleaned out the car.  Oftentimes, we’d crawl into the tent right after it got dark and huddle under blankets and sleeping bags reading, then go to bed very early.  We went through an entire bottle of lotion in the one month we spent here, and even then our skin was constantly flaking off.  And here’s another big indicator of the dryness: we actually finished a tube of chapstick before we lost it.

Namibia has a lot of outdoor attractions but not a lot of hiking.  There were a few multi-day hiking trails that sounded awesome but a minimum of three people were required to obtain permits so none of those came to fruition for us.  As a result, we both feel as if we’ve been trapped in a car and have been very sedentary for the past few weeks.

Namibia Wildlife Resorts has the permit to run concessions in all national parks.  You may be able to tell from the name, but any organization with “resort” in its title doesn’t exactly cater to us lowly backpackers.  Accommodations were frighteningly expensive.  In fact, we had to pay more for camping than we have for a double en suite room.  And everything is per person, not per campsite.  Their facilities were decent but nothing special and due to the price we found ourselves trying to limit staying inside the parks, which means it also feels like we’ve constantly been on the go.  On top of that there were hefty “conservation” fees daily for each park.  Oddly though, the receipts for these say Department of Finance, not Department of Wildlife so I’m not sure what they are conserving.

Accommodations and provisions have been easy to get in all major towns, and many grocery stores and restaurant chains from South Africa are also here.  The people are friendly for the most part.  There is a large German influence from its colonization in the 1800s.  This is mostly noticed in large cities by the building styles (namely Swakopmund) or in restaurants (lots of German fare – sausages and schnitzels).  Our guidebooks all talked about the best German influence of all -  beer.  However, I tried several of the ones brewed here and they don’t taste much different from the South African lagers.  There is one microbrewery in Windhoek that was very tasty though. (This is Jeanette typing, can you tell?)

The parks in Namibia, although expensive to stay in, were some of my favorites; from the sand dunes in Soussvlei to the Skeleton Coast to Etosha, it was all pretty remarkable and ultimately worth every penny.  One of my favorite days by far was our big water hole day in Etosha, which happened to occur exactly on the three month anniversary of our trip.  I couldn’t believe it when we hit two months, and I believe it less now that we’re at three.  I am starting to get worried about having time and money to see it all. Namibia in general was more costly than expected and prices are very similar to South Africa. 

Up until now all countries we went to accepted the South African Rand – Swaziland, Lesotho, and Namibia – so we were fine as long as we had Rand on us.  We ran out of Rand early into Namibia, though, and were left with the much less useful Namibian dollar. Our last days in Windhoek were spent endlessly counting our money to see if we had enough to make it out without needing to hit the ATM one more time.  We didn’t, but it’s always better safe than sorry.  Our motto is ‘foreign currency not accepted is better than no currency’.  Okay, I just now made that up, but it is a good motto.

I distinctly remember writing the South Africa entry saying we were both ready to go to “Africa” now and I have to say that I feel the same way now.  Namibia has been wonderful and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it but it will be a nice change to get back to public transportation (I can’t believe that I’m actually saying that) and get into some more rural areas. Also, we’re broke and can’t afford these developed countries any more. I mean, seriously, how is Anne ever going to afford a new tooth?

To Botswana or bust…..

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