Flying across the windswept Namibian desert in a five passenger, single-engine Cessna with a twenty-two year old pilot is not something I would recommend to anyone. It is not at all what I imagined when I read in the guide, “Arrive for your two hour charter flight to Lüderitz….” Charter, it turns out, in aviation terminology means almost certain death.
And this is how my first day in the second most sparsely populated country on Earth (after Mongolia) began. There were a total of fifteen in the group for this sidetrip and they divided us into three five seater planes. When we got to the airport I just about died when I saw the plane. It had a REARVIEW MIRROR.
We finally arrived to the tiny town of Lüderitz -- Namibia was a German colony for nearly a century and retains a lot of German architecture and culture. When we climbed out of the planes we were very nearly knocked over by the wind. I quickly came to learn that Lüderitz is a god forsaken desolate village with a constant shrieking wind whipping around every corner, blowing sand in your eyes, nose, and mouth. We were there for the afternoon and as best as I tried to walk around the town and explore, it was impossible to fight the wind. I finally resigned myself to pass the day in a café drinking African coffee and eating strudel. I went to a couple of museums and then near sunset I trudged up the hill in a sand blizzard to get back to the hotel.
The hotel where we stayed was populated mostly by German tourists who often come to Namibia for vacation. Other than that, the dinner was good and was mostly fresh oysters and seafood caught there at the bay of Lüderitz. The next morning we checked out and moved on to Aus, an even tinier village to the South, which is known for the herd of wild desert horses that roam the area. No one knows how the horses got there, but most believe they were imported from Germany and were war horses which escaped in WWI and adapted to the desert. When you see them there is nothing that spectactular – they just look like regular horses, what’s weird is seeing horses in the middle of the desert where they very clearly don’t belong.
On the way to Aus we stopped in Kolmannskopp a ghost town outside of Lüderitz that used to be a diamond mine. It is a town that is on the edge of what they call the Sperrgebiet, or the forbidden territory, where they still mine diamonds today. The pictures on the walls of the museum in the ghost town show the town in the early 1900’s where men were lying down six abreast in the desert, pulling diamonds out of the sand with tweezers. Apparently they often worked at night because the diamonds reflected the moonlight and it was easy to find them.
I went back to the ship that night and then the next day went on a tour of some of the townships and social service programs in Walvis Bay. That was eye opening and very touching. The people in Namibia are very warm and friendly. We were well-received by curious onlookers and there was lots of waving. One little boy asked if we were Chinese. Our guide, Freid took us to his house, a tiny two room portable building where twenty people live. We ate porridge and worms, two staples of the Namibian diet. There are a lot of innovative social programs in the area, most of them targeted toward reducing the transmission of HIV/AIDS which infects about 20% of the population here.
During all of this, there was much buzz among Namibians about the political situation in South Africa where the president just resigned. We are now at sail again and will arrive in Capetown on Friday when they will very likely have a new interim president bythen. As South Africa is the economic and political hub of the continent, all of the other African nations have a tremendous stake in what is happening.
That’s all for now. I am actually in India now – and woefully behind on updating this journal. I’ve had very spotty internet access. I’m hopeful that here I can also get my entry uploaded for South Africa and then be caught up!
Everything is going great overall. Thanks for reading.