Namibia is a country in Southwest Africa that meets the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Zambia, Angola, Botswana, South Africa, and shares a quadripoint border (actually 200 meters away) with Zimbabwe. Namibia gained independence from South Africa in 1990, following a War of Independence.
Namibia is the driest country in sub-Saharan Africa and one of the most sparse populated countries in the world, with a population of 2.5 million. It’s rich in natural resources, including diamonds, uranium, gold, silver and other minerals.
In 1884, the German Empire took control of most of the territory and from 1904 to 1908 committed a brutal genocide against the indigenous Herero and Nama tribes. In 1920, after the end of World War I, the League of Nations entrusted the administration of the colony to South Africa. South Africa enforced its laws, including racial discrimination and apartheid. In the late 20th century, African activists organized protests and demanded independence, which they eventually won after continuous guerilla wars. After independence, Namibia ended the apartheid rule of the white minority and established a parliamentary democracy.
The majority of Namibia’s population is of Bantu tribe. Other ethnic groups are the Herero and Himba, who speak a similar language, as well as the Damara and Nama.
Whites are mainly of German, British and Portuguese descent and make up just 7.0% of the population. Although their population percentage declined after independence, they still constitute the second largest population of Europeans in Sub-Saharan Africa. Most whites are descended from the German settlers of Namibia and retain German cultural traits.
English is the official language in Namibia, but only 3% speak it as a mother tongue. Oshiwambo is the most common language spoken and Afrikaans is a widely understood language.
Unfortunately, as in the neighboring countries, the rate of HIV infection reaches 25%. Imagine one in 4 people around you being HIV positive!
Namibia has a relatively high crime rate. Although the danger factor is not comparable to that of neighboring South Africa, armed robberies are not a rare case and caution is recommended at night and in isolated places on the outskirts of cities.
I personally met only smiling, kindhearted people everywhere, in the cities, in the tribal villages, in the ghettos of the slums (townships), so I could rank Namibians high on the list of friendliest Africans.
Namibia lies between the Namib and Kalahari deserts, and has the least rainfall of any country in sub-Saharan Africa. The Namib Desert is one of the oldest deserts in the world and the sand dunes created by the strong onshore winds are the highest in the world. Due to the location of the coastline, where the cold water of the Atlantic meets the warm climate of Africa, extremely dense fog often forms along the coast. Here is also the famous Skeleton Coast, which got its name from the whale and seal bones scattered by the whaling industry. In modern times the coast is home to the skeletons of shipwrecks washed up in shallow waters and reefs. More than a thousand ships of various sizes flood the coast.
The Bushveld is located in northeastern Namibia along the border with Angola and the Caprivi strip. The area receives more rainfall than the rest of the country, but the sandy soils lack the ability to retain water and support agriculture.
The Kalahari Desert, which straddles both South Africa and Botswana, is one of Namibia’s best-known geographical regions. The Kalahari, while known as a desert, has a variety of environmental features, and even includes areas of vegetation.
The capital and largest city is Windhoek, followed by Rundu, Walvis Bay, Swakopmund, Oshakati, Otjiwarongo, etc.
Τhe oldest desert in the world
Namibia has been for me a dream destination for many years. It is a country that has impressive geographical and ethnographic characteristics, but also has tourist infrastructure even for those who are not willing to sacrifice their comfort – and pay the respective price – and therefore attracts a large number of visitors from all over the world, especially from South Africa. and Germany.
The main postponing factor of the trip has always been the complexity of visa issue. While for most European passports the visa is issued on arrival, a bureaucratic process is required for Greek passports that need to be sent to the London Embassy, including photo, airline tickets, hotel bookings and travel insurance. On this trip, the team consists of 4 travelers, so the cost of courier and – most importantly – a vehicle hire cost is divided by four.
Namibia follows culturally, socially and administratively the standards of South Africa. Public transport exist, however, in order to reach national parks and other remote points of interest, it is necessary to rent a vehicle. Hitchhiking is prohibited.
There are several car rental companies in Namibia that offer 4X4 vehicles with camping equipment. Since the country is sparsely populated, distances are long and accommodation is rare and too expensive, the camping choice offers not only a practical solution but also true nature experience, making an unforgettable travel experience. Our initial thought was to free camp in the bush (like in Iceland ), but local infos informed that this is dangerous, especially near cities but even at deserted locations. There is a big poverty rate in the country, so attacks or even opportunistic thefts are frequent, so we have to look for organised camping areas.
The road network is mostly untarred, the mobile network has no coverage outside of the few urban areas and the vehicle reliability is vital. </p >
After extensive search for car agencies we chose the cheapest being Camel Car Hire, and we had a fairly ok experience. The vehicle is a Toyota Hilux double cab 4×4, 2.4L pickup and costs N$ 1700 a day (€ 90) along with Camping equipment for 4 people/ 2 roof tents and zero waiver insurance ..
The contract, like the rest of agencies’, has some restrictions. It prohibits driving after 8pm, disrespecting speed limit, driving on some bad roads, dunes, beaches and rivers. Insurance coverage does not apply in these cases, however, the terms will not be respected on our part. Also all vehicles are equipped with a satellite tracking system and emit a sound beep to the driver when the speed limit is exceeded. The beep will be heard quite often.
The 10-day road trip begins.
5200 kilometers are waiting to be driven by the 4 travel buddies.
The agency staff demos how to open the two tents adapted on the car roof, the box with the cookware and tire change tools. Needless to say that the staff is black, as is usually the labour force in these countries, while the owner and her husband, whom we’ll meet during the vehicle delivery, are whites. “>
Before we leave the capital Windhoek, we obtain the necessary food and water for the first few days. In a small town we make a stop to get in touch with the residents and to buy a necessity we forgot, that’s a bottle of whiskey. Some children are begging with a cheerful mood, rather out of habit rather than need. We pay back the smiles donating some chocolate bars. The route to the south is rather boring, with no particular interest. But the sunset colors of Africa, these unique skies that you don’t meet elsewhere, turn the monotonous savannah to idyllic. Soon we leave the tarred road and need to drive a long time after dark, with increased attention for wild animals crossing. The first ones we come across are the tiny deer species called Dik-Dik and fortunately do not end up on our wheels.
Resisting the fatigue of the journey from Greece to Namibia and the 300km route from Windhoek, we drive as much as possible to be close to the next day’s destination. In the wilderness and darkness, we finally see lights of civilization on the horizon. Sesriem is not even a settlement, only 1-2 campsites are around, quite far from each other and here is the gate of Sossusvlei national park. The guard, who is probably surprised by the presence of people at this time, gives us some instructions to find a nearby campsite. In the dark we follow the fence, but we don’t easily find any gate, just the only gas station in the area. Crossing through it we see some camper vehicles in the background. We approach them, since there is no one else to direct us a camp space. The group of campers with the super-equipped vehicles have occupied the circular area, they are drunk and having fun around the barbecue. Somewhat inhospitably they tell us in a South African accent to move further. The next space is occupied as well, but in the end we discover an area to settle. The place provides only a water tap and a lamp, we don’t locate the toilets or other facilities until next morning. An unfortunate finding is that the cover of his car’s trunk does not lock tightly, resulting in all our food and luggage being covered in a thick layer of dust. This problem will follow us all days making our life hard. Cooking in these conditions is not easy, but thanks to our travel buddy who takes the role of chef, we enjoy a delicious dinner.
The galaxy spreads its diamond veil and the Southern cross mentioned by the poets, οn the starry sky above the Namib desert, defining the point of my tiny presence on this earth, in this universe. A few glasses of rum from the bottle we “borrowed” from the airport lounge and a few more from the whiskey we bought, send me to interact with this universe.
The fatigue of the previous day and the spell of the night stars did not allow for an early wake-up. We refuel at the gas station, the car has a high consumption and diesel costs around €1.40/lt.
The Sossusvlei is an expanse of over 300 kilometers long and 140 kilometers wide consisting of endless sand dunes. Loosely translated from the Nama language it means “place where there is nothing”. The highest sand dunes in the world, with a height of up to 400 meters, make up an imposing and otherworldly landscape. Sossusvlei was formed about 5 million years ago when this unique landscape of sand dunes, clay soils and few trees was created in this desert. Despite the harsh desert conditions in the area, there is a variety of plants and animals that have adapted to survive.
After entering the national park there are 96 kms of paved road that crosses the area surrounded with amazing sand dunes. A few solitary animal entities stand out in this inhospitable landscape. Some ostriches and some oryx! Excitedly we drive on the dirt, off-road track following the animals that are running bored. During the trip we will meet lot’s of animals that we will cease to be that impressed. The dunes have a numerical name, according to their kilometer location. We leave the car and climb into one of them. Having been in many deserts, the feeling is familiar. But when I raise my eyes from the golden sand and look at the vast, insurmountable landscape around me, I am dazzled by this wonder that doesn’t exist anywhere else on earth.
Somewhere in the utter desert, a small gas station pops up reminding a western movie, with a metal water-pumping windmill, cacti and some rusty antique cars half-buried in the sand. Surprisingly, there is a restaurant and in fact it has quite a variety of food. We stop for beer and delicious apple pie. A few kilometers further down there is a cheetah protection center that we bypass. During the trip we will discover several similar private centers that claim to be conservation farms, which organize expensive tours at a certain time of the day. I hope to see this animal in conditions of complete freedom.
The Atlantic Coast Road is an absolute wilderness, mostly without dunes but in a lifeless environment reminiscent of NASA images of Mars. Although not a single sprout is growing, some dik-dik are running scared on the side of the road. Strangely too, there is a wire fence along a large part of the route and we wonder why it exists in this barren land. It is not related to the so-called “red line” that we will encounter further north, it probably defines private lands and restricts the movement of animals. Of course, there is no mobile phone signal during the route and vehicles that could help in case of need rarely pass by.
Approaching the sea and the harbour town of Walvis Bay, the route instead of becoming more welcoming, takes on an even wilder form. The landscape is surrounded by dunes of off-white sand that a sandstorm sweeps away, covering parts of the road. In the background there are signs of civilization, large storage and shipping facilities can be seen. Suddenly on the right hand we see a small lake full of flamingos. But on our left appears an entire wetland, a complex of lakes with tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of flamingos and other bird species.
Together with the lagoon and salt flats located on the southern outskirts of the city, they form the most important coastal wetlands in southern Africa. Over 150,000 migratory birds spend the summer months in Walvis Bay. Out of the more than 150 species, some migrate from Europe and Siberia covering a distance of up to 14,000 kms each year. We wander off-road around the lakes and try to get closer to the countless flamingos on foot. A flurry of flutterings wings paint the sky with pink touches as the flocks flee scared. This spectacle, combined with the water element between sand dunes, is incredible. I could say that this spot enchants me even more than Sossusvlei and of course there are no tourists here.
Swakopmund, in addition to being hard to pronounce, is Namibia’s 4th most populous city, a beach resort with beautiful German-influenced colonial architecture.
We arrive in the evening and choose to spend the night in a hostel with 10-bed dormitories, the only accommodation with a reasonable price, to celebrate Christmas Eve in “civilized” conditions. Due to the holiday and the late hour, there aren’t many restaurants open, but the one we find exceeded all expectations. Menu includes snails, beef, oysters, lobsters at €12 each, prawns and… oryx, for which I will relax my ecologic sensibility and enjoy its delicious meat. All this accompanied by a superb South African wine.
The Skeleton coast
The deserted road by the ocean is devoid of settlements and there is little human presence, sporadically in spots that offer pole fishing. Some vehicles even carry the long rods, vertically in special positions on the front bumper. The Skeleton Coast is of course famous for its shipwrecks and stories of sailors walking the desert in search of food and water. The name comes from the bones of whale and seal hunting, which were scattered on the shores, but some of the skeletons were human.
Coastal fog and shifting shallow waters result in many ships running aground and wrecking. The coast is littered with many shipwrecks, many of them disintegrated by the sea and weather and without signposts it’s not easy to locate them in this vast expanse. Zelda is one of the newer wrecks (2007), relatively intact and easy to spot.
The Portuguese seafarer and explorer Diogo Cão arrived at Cape Cross in 1486 and erected a cross as a symbol of his country’s sovereignty.
At Cape Cross there is a protected area, a sanctuary for one of the largest seal colonies in the world. Up to 200,000 seals congregate at Cape Cross during the November and December breeding season.In mid-October the males come ashore and engage in dramatic breast-fighting displays with chest. A male can have 7 to 60 females in his harem. After a gestation period of eight months, females give birth to a cub weighing 4-6 kg. Newborns are nursed soon after birth, and a sound-smell bond is established that is essential for mothers to find their young among tens of thousands of others. The first months of life are critical for newborns due to predators such as jackals, hyenas and lions.
We meet the first giraffe casually grazing on the side of the road. She doesn’t pay much attention to us, only when we start to approach her on foot she lazily moves away. We meet more giraffes until we reach Palmwag. The surrounding area is aid to be rich in free-ranging wildlife, including leopards, lions, cheetahs, zebras, giraffes, springbock antelopes and kudu, desert elephants. It also has the largest population of black rhinos in Africa.
The Himba (or OvaHimba) is a tribal group of about 50,000 people living in northern Namibia, in the Kunene region (formerly Kaokoland) and the homonymous river, as well as on its opposite side, in southern Angola. The Himba are a semi-nomadic people in that they have small settlements and crop fields, but if necessary they move depending on rainfall and water availability. They are considered the last nomadic people of Namibia.
They are mainly livestock breeders and less farmers whose main diet is milk, sour milk, corn porridge, eggs, herbs and honey. They receive little financial assistance and pensions from the government.
Women do the heaviest work, such as carrying water, firewood, tending crops, cooking, and making handicrafts and clothes. They also take care of milking the animals and raising the children. The men are engaged in animal husbandry and are often found in pastures far from the settlement. They are also responsible for relations with other village chiefs.
Members of a large family usually live in a small village, a circular settlement of huts. The Himba people have their own language, customs and traditional beliefs. They believe in one God, Mukuru, who is the creator of the universe and all living things. They also believe in a number of ancestral spirits and have a strong tradition of worshiping the dead.
The Himba and especially the women follow a special clothing tradition. They go around topless, wearing a leather skirt and usually barefoot or with leather sandals. Characteristically, they cover the skin and hair with a mixture of fat and ocher pigment that protects against the sun and insect bites. The skin and solid strands of hair acquire a special texture and reddish hue, these are considered beauty decorating elements.
Young children also have a distinctive bun, boys have one braid towards the back of the head, while girls have two braids directed towards the front.
The Himba are polygamous, men usually have two wives, and youth marriages are arranged by family. Girls are married as young as 10, although child marriage is not legal in Namibia.
In recent years, the Himba have faced challenges such as land loss, displacement and cultural assimilation. However, they are still a resilient community and strive to preserve their culture, customs and traditions.
The Himba usually live in remote places, but they are not isolated from the culture of the urban centers with which they coexist. Especially in the capital of Kunene province, Opuwo, they travel to buy food in supermarkets and to access health care.
After another route through the dust and arid landscape, we face a dreamy oasis with palm trees. The Kunene River forms a natural border between Angola and Namibia, is approximately 1,100 km long and is an important source of irrigation for the region. It hosts species of fish and crocodiles.
There are 2-3 campsites near the Epupa waterfall and we choose the first one, using the charm of travel buddy A to get the receptionist girl to give us a campsite in front of the river. There are also a few modern bungalows for those who have booked long ago and have a high budget. Facilities at the campsite include toilets, showers and a delightful swimming pool. The restaurant needs to be pre ordered for dinner and only if there is availability, but has cold beers. The campsite is located directly above the waterfall, allowing easy access and spectacular views.
At this point there is also a local market for Himba handicrafts and their presence in the area gives the opportunity to interact with them. At a local store we stock up on some more food for us and for the villages we want to visit, as well as some “Windhoek” beer cans. Some teenage Himba girls have consumed a lot of alcohol and insist on being treated beer.
Etosha National Park
Etosha National Park is a National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary in northern Namibia, one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. The park is home to a wide variety of animals, including elephants, lions, cheetahs, rhinos, giraffes, hyenas, jackals and many species of antelopes and birds.
At the center of the park is the Etosha Pan, a huge, shallow salt flat that covers about 25% of the total area. During the rainy season it fills with water and becomes a refuge for thousands of migratory birds such as flamingos, pelicans and storks.
The park, which consists of savannah grasslands to low forests, has several waterholes that attract animals that come to drink water or cool off by entering the water.</p >
The park has four camps, Okaukuejo, Halali, Namutoni and Onkoshi. Each of these has accommodation options, from campsites to luxury apartments. Campgrounds are located near the park’s waterholes, allowing visitors to enjoy 24-hour spectacular views of the wildlife that congregate there.
The first day of the safari, after we enter Etosha’s eastern gate, unfolds with several animal encounters, including giraffes, impala, zebras and sprinkbock antelopes, which will soon they are routine meetings. We get out of the car and like small children we chase them on foot, which is of course forbidden. The most impressive animal is the first black rhino we encounter and we approach it by car driving off-road, which is also prohibited. From another close contact of mine (on foot) in Zambia, I’m aware that these animals have poor vision but a very good sense of smell. If the wind is not in the direction of the animal and you are not wearing light-colored clothes, it does not notice you. Of course we’re in a massive white car and the rhino raises its front leg… rather alarming reaction.
Arriving at Windhoek we find an excellent resort, a whole village of self-contained cottages which, for €40 a day including breakfast, allows us to enjoy two days of rest, the New Year’s celebrations in the city and partial exemption from the dust until the return flight.
Windhoek, although small, is the largest city and capital of Namibia, built in the center of the country. It is a modern city and political, economic and cultural center founded in the late 19th century by German settlers. It has a rich history and cultural heritage and the German colonial influence on the architecture is evident.
The city has many restaurants, cafes and bars, as well as a lively nightlife. A signature restaurant is Joe’s Beerhouse. Its particular aesthetics and the countless objects of decoration are an experience in themselves, if we exclude the hunting “trophies” that adorn the wooden walls of the many outdoor and indoor spaces. Definitely not a place for vegetarians and the meat-eating menu includes zebra, kudu, oryx, springbock and crocodile options.
The Brewers Market is a very lively club in Windhoek, in a multi-level industrial space with loud music and dancing, ideal for the beginning of the new year. I have visited other nightclubs in African cities, but I rank this one as one of the best.
The Christuskirche Lutheran Church is a landmark of the city and directly opposite is the modern independence museum building, and the statue of Sam Nujoma, anti-apartheid activist and politician who served as the first President of Namibia, from 1990 to 2005.
The trip to this amazing African country ends, leaving a question mark. There is never enough time to explore a place, but given the major points of interest we have covered and the enormous distances that require effort and expense, would there be any reason to explore more?