On the Road, Part Two: Swakopmund –> Windhoek

On the second half of the Namibian tour, we drove from Swakopmund to Windhoek (the capital of Namibia), stopping on the way to visit a Himba village and for two days at Etosha national park.

We spent two nights and one very nice, relaxing day in Swakopmund. I walked around the city and on the beach with Uli, Marion, Christian, and Diana; we went out for dinner as a group; and Diana and I got a taste of Namibian nightlife at a local bar with Nyika and Ivan. In case you’re wondering, Namibian nightlife for us involved several $3 glasses of wine, a few hours of watching soccer (or, more accurately, watching other people watching soccer), and one humiliating attempt to play a game of pool. Hand-eye coordination has never been one of my strengths.

In Swakopmund, we also acquired two new travelers — Mark and Ebony, an Australian couple on their honeymoon. I initially assumed that they would keep to themselves to maximize the romance factor, but as it turned out they had already spent a week in Dubai and Cape Town before the tour and were going on another safari and then to Thailand for two weeks after the tour, so they were happy to share this part of their honeymoon with the rest of us. They were a great addition to the group — very social, lots of fun to hang out with, and excellent at washing dishes. Drying too.

After leaving Swakopmund, we spent an afternoon visiting a Himba village, which was interesting but which I found to be a little bit uncomfortable, kind of like the township tour. The difference here was that we weren’t there just to see poverty — we were there to learn about the Himba culture, which I think is an important distinction. I talked about this with my friend Juliet yesterday, and she said her view is that the same rules generally apply here as at home — i.e., you don’t take a tour (or photos) of a homeless shelter or the projects to gape at the people who live there, but it’s fine to take a tour of an Amish community and learn about their customs. It’s not a perfect analogy, because the Amish people live the way that they do by choice, and it’s not clear whether the same is true of the Himba people, but I still felt much more comfortable with the Himba tour than the township tour.

This woman is showing us how she uses steam to clean herself. Himba women are not allowed to use water to clean themselves after they hit puberty — they only use steam and they also rub themselves with various creams and lotions made from plants. They didn’t smell bad, so the steaming system must be more effective than it sounds.

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One of the women explained to us how she does their hair, but honestly I didn’t really understand it. My best guess is that it involves a lot of mud. I suspect that these days it may also involve hair extensions.

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After seeing the Himbas and spending the night in a very charming hotel nearby, we drove to Etosha national park, where we spent the next few days. The park itself was beautiful, and we saw lots of animals:

You have to look closely, but there’s a lioness hiding under this tree

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A jackal walking through the wildflowers

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Oryx and Wildebeests relaxing with the ducks at a water hole

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Ostriches

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Zebras and Giraffes — two of my favorites!

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This may look like a rock, but actually it’s a grazing Rhino. We also saw a Rhino closer-up at one of the water holes at night, which was exciting because I had never seen one before. Rhinos are very endangered, largely because they are being illegally hunted at an alarming rate. After a rhino is killed, its horn is cut off and usually smuggled to Asia, where it is worth more than its weight in gold (or diamonds, or cocaine).

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Among the less majestic animals that we saw were a group of honey badgers, which were scavenging in our garbage cans after dinner, when I unfortunately did not have my camera handy. I tried to explain that the honey badger has recently become famous in the U.S., but I don’t think anyone really appreciated it.

For our last night in Etosha, we had a nice orange sunset.

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On our way out of the park, we visited and walked on the Etosha salt pan.

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Some people will do anything for the best view:

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After leaving Etosha, we drove to Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city. It’s a pretty small city, but very clean and modern, with a beautiful public park and tropical flowers everywhere. Yes, more flowers. I’m sorry.

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Sadly, Philip and Svetlana flew home from Windhoek, so we had to say goodbye to them.

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I was also supposed to leave the tour in Windhoek, since the remainder of the tour went to Botswana and Victoria Falls, places that I’ve been to before. But I was having such a good time and had such good memories of those places that I decided to stay until the end. Both places, particularly the Okavango Delta in Botswana, were just as amazing — if not more — the second time around, so it was definitely the right decision. Also, I had appointed myself as Mark and Ebony’s unofficial honeymoon photographer, so it would have been wrong to abandon them.

I think that my blog posts are getting longer than people’s attention spans (including my own), so will wait until later or tomorrow to post about Botswana and Vic Falls. In the meantime, I’m off to track down my backpack, which did not quite make it to Nairobi with me yesterday morning. This rainbow just appeared, so I’m taking that as a good sign for my baggage-retrieval prospects.

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