Nambia and its Capital Windhoek

Namibia is located in Southwest Africa along the Atlantic coast. It is bordered by South Africa to the South, Angola to the North and Botswana to the East.

Namibia is one of the least densely populated countries in the world. It has a population of only 2.1 million people in a country of 825 thousand square kilometers, which is more than twice the size of Germany.

Namibia became a German colony in 1884, known as Deutsch-Südwestafrika, and remained under German control until the end of WWI. Following that it was occupied by South Africa until 1988. Namibia only became an independent country and a member of the UN in 1990. (Walvis Bay and the Penguin Islands remained under South African control until 1994.) Germany did not do itself proud as a colonial power, when they committed what is generally considered to be the first genocide of the 20th century. The German occupiers murdered more than 70,000 people from the Nama and Herero tribes as a systematic punishment for a revolt betweeen 1904 and 1907. This represented far more than 50% of the population of these tribes. Some historians have even speculated that the Namibian genocide was later used as a model by the Nazis.

Namibia has been a multi-party democracy and has had a stable government since independence. The leading political party is SWAPO (South West African People's Organization). SWAPO used to be a Marxist guerrilla group, which had been fighting for Namibia's independence since the 1960s. They were mostly based in Angola and supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba. After independence they became the largest democratic party, and they have won every election since. They gained 86% of popular vote in the last election. Namibia's economy largely consists of mining, agriculture and tourism. One of the main problems is a very high unemployment rate, estimated to about 35%. Even though only 1% of Namibia's land is arable, about 50% of the working population is employed in agriculture.

Being dominated by two huge deserts, the Namib and the Kalahari, Namibia is the country with the least amount of rain fall in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are no perennial rivers inside the country. The only rivers with water in them permanently are located along the borders. Looking at a map of Namibia shows a lot of rivers flowing towards the Atlantic oceans, but all of them are dry most of the time. Some of these rivers may only carry water once every 20 years, but then they can turn into raging torrents within minutes.

One of the things that most impressed me about Namibia, is that they seem to be doing tourism in a very smart and sustainable way. The government is very focused on conservation. Huge parts of the country are either national parks (like the Skeleton Coast and Etosha) or privately owned but protected lands, which means absolutely no development or mining allowed. Namibia is one of few countries in the world that has conservation and protection of natural resources written in its constitution. There are big conservation efforts under way to protect the most endangered species of animals, like the desert adapted lion and the black rhino. We were told that the conservation efforts are very successful, but no one knows any exact numbers, since they are kept strictly secret by the government. The reason for the secrecy is, that it is feared that the announcement of any wildlife population numbers could attract poachers.

Trip Report:
Lara and I met at the Johannesburg airport for our connecting flight to Windhoek, which took just under 2 hours. Immigration formalities in Namibia were very quick and easy. Nationals of most western countries do not need a visa in advance. You just fill out a short landing card and get a stamp in your passport. We had some troubles locating our driver at the airport. Only after waiting for half an hour and after calling the GeoEx office in Johannesburg did we manage to find him. Turns out he was there all along but did not have a sign with our names.

The international airport is quite a bit outside of Windhoek. It was about a 45 minute drive through totally empty bush land into the city. We saw a couple of baboons cross the road on the way. We stayed at the very nice Heinitzburg hotel inside the Heinitzburg castle, which is one of the three castles built by Germans in Windhoek. Heinitzburg was built in 1914, presumably to make Namibia look just a little more German.

We decide to rest in the afternoon to help us get over jetlag. We finish the day with a drink on the large terrace overlooking the city below and an early dinner at the fairly fancy hotel restaurant, where I get to try my first springbok filet, which was very nice.

Friday, Aug 21st
We had the day to ourselves to explore the city of Windhoek and rest by the nice hotel pool. After a nice breakfast at the hotel we walked down into the city. Windhoek is a small city of about 350,000 people, but it is growing fast. There aren't a whole lot of sites to see in the city. The main landmarks are the Christuskirche, the main Lutheran church in the city, and the Tintenpalast, the seat of parliament.

There are still a lot of signs of it being a former German colony. Many of the white people speak German as their first language. Many of the streets have German names and you see quite a few old German signs around. And the traditional dress of some of the tribes here is basically a 19th century German petticoat, which we saw at a wedding that took place in the gardens in front of the Tintenpalast.

We had a nice lunch in one of the outdoor cafes along Independence Avenue, the main business street. It is a remarkably clean city, and at least here in the city centre it seems quite affluent.

We finished the afternoon by the hotel pool and had another very nice dinner in the hotel restaurant, where I tried the Oryx filet, which tasted more like beef and much less gamey than the Springbok I had the previous night. We went to bed early to be ready and rested for the start of the wilderness and safari part of our trip tomorrow.

About our tour company:
We had booked our trip trough Geographic Expeditions in the US. (We had done a couple of trips with GeoEx previously and where always very happy with them. They are definitely not the cheapest of tour companies, but if you don't have the time to plan and design an adventure trip yourself, and if you want to have very good and experienced guides and stay in some of the nicest lodges and camps, they are definitely worth the extra money.) Our trip was supposed to be a group trip for up to 12 people, but no one else had signed up, and GeoEx guaranteed the trip departure for us. We paid a little more because they ran the trip just for the two of us, but this way we ended up with a private guided trip.

In Namibia GeoEx works with a company called Wilderness Safaris. They are based in South Africa but run lodges and trips across several countries in Southern Africa. We were very happy and impressed with Wilderness Safaris. They run all of the Camps we stayed at, and they have their own airline called Wilderness Air, which transported us safely and efficiently between the camps, albeit in tiny planes. Everything was very well organized and ran very smoothly, and all the lodges were in stunning locations providing significantly more luxury than we ever thought possible in these extremely remote placess. You cannot book trips directly though Wilderness Safaris. They only work with other agents, like GeoEx.

All the wilderness lodges we stayed at were also very much integrated with the local communities, diverting some of the profits towards building schools and other development projects for the nearby villages. In fact Wilderness Safaris only receives 15 to 20 year concessions after which the ownership of the lodges will go to the local communities.


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