Namibia (December 9, 2009)

We ended up in Namibia a day early by accident (turns out that the town on the map on the South Africa side of the border isn’t all it appears to be- which was a sign of things to come….). Luckily, we stumbled upon a rafting camp on the Orange River (which constitutes the border) in time for a beautiful sunset.

We quickly discovered two things:

  1. Namibia is bigger than it seems, especially when driving 300 miles on dirt roads (though very good dirt roads to be fair),
  2.  As Meg said “there are no people here”. To put it in perspective, Namibia is slightly larger in size than the state of Texas with a population of on par with that of Houston alone.  (Nambia has 2 people per square kilometer; by comparison NYC has over 2000--no wonder we felt like we were alone the whole time.)

Both of these came into play when we got a flat tire in the middle of Fish River Canyon National Park with no one around.  Fortunately, we were well equipped…..

And for those of you who know the Herrllivann family at all know this was not a one person job

Fortunately our stop that night was in the lovely town of Keetsmanshoop which is known for having the most petrol stations per capita (and therefore lots of tire places as well.)  We set off the next morning to explore the dunes of Sosussvlei. Part of the bone-dry Namib desert, the dunes here are among the largest in the world. Spending (a slightly longer than anticipated) time walking through them one afternoon by ourselves (again, there is no one here), it really gave us the sense of what it would like to be stuck in a real desert in the old days. Thanks to the rental tent (surprisingly not as crappy as we first thought) we were able to experience the desert dunes at both sunset and sunrise. 

After a night in the German/Namibian town of Swakopmund (staying in 2 bed “fisherman’s shack” at the municipal rest camp), we did the 21st century version of desert exploration- on ATVs! 

But the true highlight of our trip to Swakopmund was our stop at the Total gas station. Outstanding service (we had at least 5 people addressing our vehicles various needs: gas, tires, windows, oil, etc.) coupled with good humor (the man taking the money referred to himself as “the minister of finance”) and an engaging manner made for our best visit ever to a gas station. In fact, “the minister of finance” upon seeing a photo in Jed’s wallet asked if that was a picture from our wedding (which, in fact, it was). He was very interesting studying the picture in great detail and asking who everyone was- however, in his honest manner he made two grave mistakes:

1.     He identified Meg’s sister-in-law Ali as best looking person in the picture

2.      When asked if Meg looked more beautiful now (in person) or in the picture, he answered that she definitely looked better in the picture

However, given his engaging manner and the multiple blessings he gave us for a happy life, we were able to forgive him his errors. (For those of you planning on visiting Swakopmund, it is the Total station on the corner of Nathaniel Maxuilili St and San Nujoma Ave:

Our next stop was Windhoek, which is a very pleasant capital city, though not known for its nightlife (about on par with Des Moines, Iowa) or historical sites (also on par with Des Moines).  The highlight there was our visit to the Zambian Embassy—we went there to explore transport options to Victoria Falls and left with much anticipation for the wonders of life in Zambia thanks to our new Zambian friends Tonnie and Kelvin (the “ambassadors”/bus ticket salespeople.)  Among their best recommendations were to try rat and fried caterpillars; they also emphatically stressed that Zambian corn was far superior to the Namibian variety. 

Given the bus to Victoria Falls didn’t leave for two days we decided to head to Northern Namibia and meet the “Nam-Zam Express” there.  We hopped on a mini-bus, which we discovered was also serving as a moving van for a Namibian family (we stopped approximately halfway at the new residence to unload the trailer.)  We got off in the town of Tsumeb which is described in the Lonely Planet as “Namibia’s loveliest town.”  While the town is perfectly nice and most Namibian “towns” usually consist of a couple of buildings at best (again, no people here), we quickly realized the guidebook author either had never been here or had a mistress in town (or some other reason for thinking the town so lovely).

With any luck we’ll be in Victoria Falls in day’s time- that is, if our new Zambian friends come through with our bus “reservation” (ie writing our first names down on a slip of paper and assuring us the bus would meet us in Grootfontein “at the gas station sometime between 8 and 9pm”)….

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