August Holiday to Windhoek & Swakopmund
4 September 2003
Our two-week break between the second and third
trimesters is almost finished. We
went to Windhoek for four nights and then over to Swakopmund for two nights.
The stay in Windhoek was ostensibly to facilitate our mid-service medical
exam. But we also took the
opportunity to explore the city and do touristy kinds of activities since we
were stuck there anyway. As always our little trips are a veritable fount of stories
to send back to the denizens of the first world, so…
Tuesday morning we wake up early, eat breakfast; grab
our bags and head out to the road. Yep,
to the road we went, and after a 15-minute walk we were there.
I guess it would be the Namibian equivalent of going to the bus station.
We didn’t expect fate to make us wait too long for our ride, after all
this is the Main Road, the sole north-south artery in the country, the
thoroughfare through the heartland of a sovereign nation twice the size of
California. 50 cars and 1.5 hours
later our transport arrived: a small pickup truck (aka a “bakkie”) stopped
to give us a ride. We bid adieu to
the three kids who had nothing better to do than sit and stare at us from 15
feet away and then we were off.
Zac sat in front with the driver, a certain man named
Fisher whose ethnicity was as difficult to ascertain as his source of
employment, while Sera sat in the back and alternated between dozing and
reading. At Tsumeb, Fisher picked
up his boss, and Zac moved into the back with Sera.
We stopped in Otavi for petrol and a pee, then again later in Otjiwarongo
where Sera made the first of our holiday purchases: a half-canister of Pringles
Salt-N-Vinegar chips for N$10. Ah
the South, where you can have luxuries abundant if only we weren’t on a
volunteer budget. Those chips cost
about 0.7% of one of our monthly salaries.
While in Otjiwarongo we received a voice message on
our cell phone from our Meme from training.
She had apparently stopped out our school on her way back north from
Windhoek, and also wanted to invite us to a wedding on Sept 6. We panicked. We
have only been to two Namibian weddings before, and they were tolerable enough
but something we definitely didn’t want to repeat.
Most people go to weddings to visit with people they haven’t seen for a
while and eat good food—two things that don’t apply to us with weddings
here. The food is best avoided and
we just cause a spectacle with the people.
We climbed back in the bakkie and plotted how to get out of the wedding.
We arrived in Windhoek at 3pm, a mere 6 hours after
our departure time. Our driver
kindly dropped us off at the door to our hostel and only charged us N$100, half
the price of normal bus fare. The
hostel was called Trampers’ Haven and was “Christian themed” according to
our guidebook. Because we
apparently started calling too late for our reservations, we couldn’t get into
the normal places that the Peace Corps has accounts with, so it was the only
place available. Even then, we
didn’t get a double room for ourselves, but were being accommodated in one of
the dorm rooms, which our hostess assured we would have to ourselves.
The place had beautiful wood floors and bunks, brightly painted walls
(ours were purple), high ceilings and large windows.
There was a bathroom connected to the dorm with one toilet and two
showers with transparent yellow shower curtains.
There was a small communal kitchen with a fridge, range, and best of
all—a microwave! When we were
checking in, the hostel was mostly deserted and the only thing “Christian”
about the place was the fish symbol on the sign.
Although we have been in Windhoek two times prior to
this, this was our first real chance to walk around and explore.
So we headed out, armed with our tourist map. There are a lot of white
people in Windhoek and even a few other nationalities like Chinese and
Portuguese. As far as I can tell,
the city is still pretty segregated (from the apartheid era)—with the white
people living in nice large houses in Windhoek proper, and most of the black
people living in Katutura, a “suburb” of Windhoek, where the small houses
are made of sandy cement blocks and bunched close together.
Most of the business owners in the city seem to be white people, while
blacks are employed as the workers. However,
I think the government is mostly black as well as a large portion of the
So we wandered around and found the Peace Corps
office and medical office, as well as the place where most of the other
volunteers (who made reservations early) were staying, and a grocery store in a
mall. The city was pretty deserted
and most things were closed because it was a holiday, Heroes Day. Since it’s still winter here, it gets dark around 6pm, and
we didn’t want to be wandering around in the dark lost, so we bought some cans
of tomato soup and tramped back to the haven.
As we came into the courtyard, the hostess nervously
greeted us and informed us that 14 Italians had unexpectedly come to the hostel
and since the other dorm room only accommodates 10 people, four of them were now
in our room. We received the news
gracefully and went in to see for ourselves.
Sure enough, there were Italians and backpacks strewn everywhere.
We had a nice conversation with one of the Italians conveniently named
Sara. While we were visiting, the
hostess came by, probably to make sure we weren’t having any territorial
disputes, randomly flicked the lights on and off and left again.
We were beginning to realize she was a bit nutty.
Sara told us about the two-week tour they’d done through Namibia and
all that they had seen. We mused
over the irony that in two weeks she saw more than we have in 10 months.
We grumbled about the Peace Corps leave policy and lack of money for
travel. We learned that in Italy,
from the first year at a job, a person gets 27 vacation days per year.
You all are living in the wrong country and we’re definitely
volunteering with the wrong organization. Grumble,
The next day, we went to the medical office at 8am to
receive our schedule. The
highlights of the medical were a TB test, blood work, a dentist appointment,
physical exam, and best of all—we got to poop in a cup for three days in a row
and carry it to the lab in the mall. Good
times. The dentist appointment was
actually the most enjoyable because the fluoride treatment tasted like apple pie
filling and the dentist sanded some cement off my front teeth that was a vestige
of my braces, ten years ago.
Medical only wasted about a day, so the rest of the time
was ours. We did some shopping,
hung out with our friends who were also there for medical, and generally spent a
lot of money and time. We saw two
movies and ate a lot of pizza and other “fast food.”
After two nights at the purple-walled Haven, we
switched to a place called Puccini Guest House, where we had our own room that
appeared to have been the trial set for Trading Spaces—as the walls were
several hues of marigold, or mustard, or whatever euphemism they use for
horribly-ugly-yellow. There was a
shower and toilet literally in the room, with only a circular curtain around the
shower and a little partition in front of the toilet that didn’t go quite far
On Thursday afternoon we found out about a workshop
that Schoolnet was hosting. Schoolnet
is an organization that refurbishes computers and donates them to schools in
addition to hooking them up with internet.
They have donated 3 computers to our school.
So early Friday morning we met with another volunteer, Seth, and took a
taxi out to the Katutura Community Art Center, where Schoolnet has a workshop in
the basement. We had a nice little
session and at the end somehow got them to donate 20 computers to our school.
Friday night, ten of us went out to this very nice
Portuguese restaurant to celebrate the birthdays of Anand and Seth.
To my infinite delight, the table was laden with bread and olives.
Before I even ordered, my plate was covered in breadcrumbs and olive
pits. Everything on the menu was expensive and kind of weird, so I just ordered
a Greek salad. It too came with
olives. At the end of the meal, I
had consumed a total of 32 olives and only had a slight stomachache. The restaurant also had a live band, which played some Frank
Sinatra songs. For the ten of us,
the whole meal cost about N$750—about US$100.
Sounds like a good price for a fancy meal, but for us it was a small
After the restaurant, we went down the street to
Joe’s beerhouse, an interesting outdoor restaurant/bar that had way too many
themes going on. Everything was
African hut style, with thatched roofs over the tables and stick fences, but
then there were street signs, license plates and fake memorabilia nailed
everywhere. Bar stools were wooden
toilet seats with a pail attached for you to deposit your peanut shells and
other trash, then there was a toilet tank attached to one of the trees. The bar itself was very beer-mug oriented.
I’m not sure what they were going for but whatever it was they overdid
it. Since it was about 11pm, it was
quite cold and because I have no sense of fashion, I was huddled up in my hooded
sweatshirt entertaining myself by drawing up a critique of the décor.
A lot of people started leaving, particularly some good-looking ladies
who were being hit on by drunk older men. Since
I was sitting a little apart from everyone, one of these drunk older men decided
to talk to me. His witty come-on line was something to the effect of me being a
monk (because of the hood—so clever this one) and Gregorian chant, and some
other stuff. I decided to play
along for a while, to entertain my friends who were getting quite a kick out of
it. But I was really quite sleepy
and not fit to match this sharp-witted fellow (or not inebriated enough) so I
gradually tapered off the conversation by taking a vow of silence.
Saturday morning we met with Jacque and Anand and
took a bus out to Swakopmund—the German coastal resort.
During the 3 hour ride, I watched the landscape change from tall green
trees and yellow grasses to sand and shrubs as we passed through the Namib
Desert. As we neared the coast, the
air became decidedly damp and cold. The
sky was overcast. Swakopmund is
known for its fogs, which are caused by cold moist onshore winds meeting with
the dry heat of the desert. The
moisture from the fog supports the “complex ecosystem” of the Namib dunes.
The taxi bus thing dropped us off at our hostel (more
like a bed-and-breakfast)—a place called the Alternative Space.
It’s a small hostel built and run by an architect (Frenus) and his wife
(Sybil). The rooms were large and
sparsely furnished, but with ample art (mostly nudes and black and white
photography done by a friend of theirs named Mitchenson) on the white cement
walls. It was like sleeping in an
We met Jacque and Anand at a little café for lunch,
where I had cheesecake and Zac had quiche and then we split a chocolate chip
muffin with cream for dessert. We
can’t get stuff like this in the north. Our
holidays are as much about food now as about seeing new things.
After our repast, we waddled down to the ocean and breathed the salty
air, fresh and cold from Antarctica. We
admired the beach houses and picked out which ones we wanted to buy after we get
out of the Peace Corps (a luxurious mansion here would only cost about
US$200,000). Then we headed back into town and looked at all the shops
that were already closed or closing. We
did a lot of window shopping and planned what we wanted to do the next day.
We had dinner at a nice German restaurant where I had pork chops and
dumplings with gravy and some red cabbage stuff.
Zac had asparagus with potatoes, and salty slivers of game.
Apple strudel for dessert.
Swakopmund is even whiter than Windhoek and very
German. Again, there is the white
section and black section—although not officially, but that’s how it is.
Swakop is very touristy and most people go there for the December
holidays because the cool wind keeps it a comfortable temperature even in the
summer. There are informal markets
everywhere selling “African” things that aren’t really African in my
opinion, but they’re what a tourist thinks of Africa.
example, multitudes of carved giraffes and elephants, wooden masks,
colorful cloths—but the “real Africans” don’t use these things or
decorate their houses with them or anything—they just make them to sell to
tourists. Everything is expensive
because it’s geared towards tourists. But I think it’s a mutual relationship. The tourists want to come home with some carved African
elephant, and the vendors want to make money off of the gullible, so everyone
comes out a winner. Unfortunately,
we looked like tourists so we were often accosted by venders trying to sell us
these African artifacts at absurdly high prices.
It was funny to tell them we were volunteer teachers in the north and
they would say, “Ok, ok—you are not a tourist.
These are tourist prices. We
can negotiate.” And then they
would only take five dollars off the price.
It’s interesting for us, because we are hovering somewhere between
being a tourist and being a local. I
think we’d all like to be tourists, but we don’t get enough money for it so
we’re forced to be a local.
Sunday morning we started our day with an outdoor
shower under the palm trees. At the
Space, all the showers are outside, but cleverly hidden.
The water was nice and hot, so it was surprisingly refreshing.
At breakfast, we visited with a very friendly couple from Seattle.
They said the weather in Swakopmund wasn’t too much different from
Seattle. She worked at a community
college that had a partnership with Polytechnic of Namibia and came here to run
a workshop. Her partner flew over
as well, and they had since been traveling through the country in a rented 4x4
camping thing. As they watched me
“devour the fruit bowl” (I just had a banana, an apple and an orange) they
wondered if we got much fresh fruit up north.
After breakfast, we went over to Anand and Jacque’s
hostel to meet them, then headed to the museum.
It was mainly about the history of Swakopmund, but also included exhibits
on the cultural groups of Namibia, the Rössing uranium mine, minerals, animals,
scorpions, etc. It was interesting
to see photos of the Ovambos before they were influenced by western dress as
well as learn more about the other cultural groups.
After the museum, we walked to the Pick-n-Pay grocery
store where we ate pastries (that were actually fresh) and juice for lunch.
Then we walked out to the sand dunes.
The dunes are right on the coast, south of the town.
It’s like you’re walking through sand-covered streets and then
everything just ends and all you can see are burnt orange dunes.
So we just picked a large looking dune and walked up it.
It was surreal. I’ve never
been out west or in any desert environment before Namibia, so all this was
extremely interesting. I wanted to
sit there all day just looking, looking.
But alas, we came down.
We hung out on the beach for a while, then tried to go to a Chinese
restaurant, but it was closed, so we went for pizza instead.
After pizza, we saw a movie, The Hulk.
It reminded me of Anime. Then
back to our hostel.
Monday morning we got a ride to the grocery store
with Sybil. The morning air was
misty and the streets had puddles. It
was so delightfully dreary! (Remember, we haven’t seen a drop of rain for 5
months—only clear blue skies day in and day out).
I asked if it ever really rained in Swakopmund.
She said that it only misted a little when there was a heavy fog but that
about once a year it will actually rain. She
said one time it really rained but the water had nowhere to go (since
Swakopmund’s streets are all paved and the buildings are close together and
there’s no drainage system because it never rains) so the city flooded and
they had to declare a state of emergency—everybody’s garages and shops were
damaged, cars were floating everywhere…it was really awful.
After we got back from the store, Sybil called a taxi
for us, so we could go back up north. However,
there was confusion somewhere because instead of coming north, the taxi took us
back to Windhoek. So we had to get
another taxi from there to the north and endure another 6 hours in a taxi.
The whole thing cost us a total of N$330.
We ran out of money. We were
actually 35 cents short. But, we
eventually got home safely—and that’s the important part.
Love always, Sera and Zac
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