In the heart of downtown Windhoek, two streets intersect at a large roundabout that houses an old Lutheran church. It’s an otherwise normal, nondescript arrangement, save for one small detail. Now, I’ve seen some goofy and funny street names in my day, but this pairing has to rank as one of the quirkiest; Fidel Castro Street and Robert Mugabe Avenue, named respectively after Cuba and Zimbabwe’s iconic dictators. Apparently, Namibia’s first president had befriended the two during the country’s struggle for independence. An interesting tidbit, I thought.
Some other fun facts about Namibia:
- Behind Mongolia, it is the world’s least densely populated country.
- A third of the population speaks German.
- Mining accounts for 25% of the economy. Currently, it’s the world’s fifth largest producer of uranium.
- The Namib Desert is the oldest desert in the world.
- The Namib Desert is home to the highest sand dunes in the world.
- Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, the daughter of Brad and Angelina, was born in Namibia.
Disclaimer: the learning of interesting and awesome things is good for your health.
Vegetarians beware; Namibia is a nation of meat eaters. One place in particular, Joe’s Beer House, is notably light on the vegetables. A large, quasi-outdoor expanse just outside of Windhoek’s city center, Joe’s Beer House is the place to go if you’re looking to expand your culinary repertoire. Check out the menu!
I opted for the Bushman Sosatie, a “variety of ostrich, crocodile (when available), zebra, kudu and chicken meat, served with corn fritters, sour cream and salad.” Each meat had it’s own unique flavor. The chicken tasted like chicken, of course. The zebra was light and flavorful, the ostrich rich and beefy. The prices were surprisingly reasonable, the beer cool, the atmosphere inviting, just the kind of place I feel good about recommending to a fellow traveler. I must say, though, that I went almost an entire week without meat after that meal. It’s an overwhelming experience. Be prepared.
Always in the mood to escape city life and thrust myself into Mother Nature’s open arms, I traveled five hours outside of Windhoek to go sandboarding. From Rhino Park in Windhoek, I paid about $15 to ride in a fifteen-passenger van. It was nice, not as crowded as I had anticipated. Cruising down the B2 highway, we passed Karibib and stopped in Usakos, where I bought three samosas, a coke, some juice, a Nestle bar and some chocolate covered raisins. I like to travel in style, folks.
As we entered the desert, the landscape became more distinct; distant and undulating hills, sun-bleached shrubbery, the occasional craggy outcropping. Termite mounds, reaching up from the cracks like long, skinny fingers, sporadically spaced out amongst the brush. It was ragged, dusty, seemingly endless, Namibia’s own sandy heart of darkness.
The van stopped again in Arandis, a small town adjacent to a much larger uranium mine. The driver, who had been towing some luggage behind the van, stopped to unload some items; two tires, a mattress, an HP printer, and three very large, industrial-size bags of clothing.
We arrived in Swakopmund just as the sun was setting. Due to the location of the shoreline–where the Atlantic’s cold water reaches Africa–there’s often a thick fog that covers the road, but that evening it was clear and temperate. I checked into the Desert Sky Lodge and ran down to the beach.
It was a Sunday night and the city was quiet. I found a German pub, had some beer and fish and walked back to the guest house. The next morning, I was picked up at 9:30a by Alter Action, a Swakopmund-based adventure company. I hopped in a van with a guy from Portland, Oregon and was soon joined with a group of overland travelers from the U.K. and Australia. Fifteen minutes later and we were on site, at the base of the dunes.
Instead of traditional sandboarding (standing up on a waxed snowboard), I opted to lie down on a flexible wooden sheet. I was told I’d go faster, be able to ride longer dunes and, since I’m not too comfortable on a snowboard, I’d have more fun! It was fun indeed; on the steepest run, I reached a speed of 74km/hr (46mph). This is what it looks like.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of morning. That afternoon, I found another passenger van that drove me back to Windhoek. I arrived just after dinner and went back to work the next morning.
The summer of 2008 was the last time I paid for a haircut. I was in Istanbul, traveling with my brother and some friends, and a guy named Mustafa worked his magic. I looked all slick and European. I miss that haircut. Since then, I’ve had this routine of letting my hair grow long, buzzing it, letting it grow long again, buzzing it, etc. Back in Windhoek, in an unseen dash of spontaneity, I walked into a German hairdresser and got myself a haircut. The barber did a much better job than I’ve been doing the last couple of years. Maybe it’s time to stop buzzing my head.
Have any of you gotten your hair cut on the road? Any interesting or funny experiences? After reading my friend Earl’s tribute to underarm shaving, I wonder how many more wacky stories I might be able to round up. Care to share?