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Namibia – A Bountiful Harvest Awaits the Adventure Traveler
Namibia is a largely arid land of rugged beauty. The most vivid images are those of a haunting technicolor landscape of swirling orange dunes, shimmering mirages and treacherous dust devils. The apparent desert is deceptive and plant and animal life and even man has adapted to this environment. The country is designed almost exclusively with the active and adventure seeker in mind. Timeless deserts, thornbush savannah, desolate wind-ravaged coastlines, majestic canyons, and sun-baked salt pans are the gift that awaits the traveler.
Namibia’s main draw is the Etosha National Park, rated as one of Africa’s best game reserves. The birding experience in the country is truly superior. On a Namibian safari, the range of activities you can indulge in in the unsurpassed physical environment is truly breathtaking. Ballooning over the desert, skydiving over land and sea, paragliding, rafting and sand skiing along coastal dunes are good activities to start with. More fun games to choose from include abseiling – the most spectacular of rock sports, coastal and freshwater fishing, desert camel riding, scuba diving, 4×4 desert racing, hiking and mountain climbing.
Namibia has four distinct geographical regions. To the north is Etosha Pan, an excellent area for wildlife and heart of Etosha National Park. The slender Caprivi Strip is nestled between Zambia and Botswana and is a wet area of woodland blessed with a number of rivers. Along the coast is the Namib Desert, which at the age of 80 million years, is said to be the oldest desert in the world. At the coast, the icy cold Atlantic Ocean meets the blazing African desert, resulting in dense fogs. The well-watered central plateau runs north to south, and carries rugged mountains, magnificent canyons, rocky outcrops and vast plains.
Namibia, one and a half times larger than France, is very sparsely populated and has only 1.8 million souls. People are as unique as the land they live on. The most interesting are the San, otherwise known as Bushmen. These hardiest people have a very advanced knowledge of their environment. It is an amazing thing how well they are adapted to their difficult habitat. Just pause and think that these are the only people in the world who live without constant access to water. In the Kalahari Desert, one of their habitats, surface water is not to be found. Tubers, melons, and other water-bearing plants as well as underground drinking wells supply their water requirements.
In Namibia today, Bushmen number about 50,000. Historians estimate that they lived, mostly as hunters and gatherers, for at least 25,000 years in those parts of the world. Bushmen speak a strange click language and are very talented in the arts of storytelling, mimicry, and dance. The other people of Namibia who are indigenous to the continent are mostly of Bantu origin. It is assumed that they arrived from West Africa about 2400 years ago. The African groups include the Owambo, Kavango, Caprivians, Herero, Himba, Damara, Nama and Tswana.
The Africans aside, other groups comprise about 15% of the population and played an important role in the emergence of the modern nation. White Namibians number about 120,00 and are mostly of German and Afrikaner heritage. Germans arrived in significant numbers after 1884 when Bismarck declared the country a German Protectorate. Africans, white farmers of Dutch origin, moved north from their Cape settlements, especially after the Dutch Cape Colony was ceded to the British in 1806. This strongly independent people, whose ancestors lived in the Cape from 1652 resented British control.
Two other distinct groups complete the spectrum of the people of Namibia – Basters and Coloureds. Colored in Namibia and southern Africa refers to people of mixed racial heritage, black and white for example. They have a distinct identity and culture. This makes sense considering that Namibia was administered by South Africa after the First World War. Even in pre-Apartheid South Africa, racial classification was a fine art. The Afrikaans-speaking Basters, descended from Hottentot women and Dutch settlers from the Cape. Alienated by both white and black communities, they marched north, eventually founding their own town of Rehoboth, in 1871. Baster is actually derived from “bastard,” but it’s not derogatory, and the Basters are indeed proud of it.
The barren and inhospitable coasts of Namibia acted as a natural deterrent to the ambitions of European explorers. That was until 1884 when the German businessman Adolf Luderitz established a permanent settlement between the Namib Desert and the Atlantic coast which later took his name. Bismarck later declared the territory covered by Namibia a German colony and called it Südwestafrika or South West Africa. As German settlers moved into the interior, conflict was inevitable with the inheritors of the land.
The German occupation was a particularly unfortunate experience for the Herero. The Herero resented the harsh and racist rule of the German and the effect of the intervention on their lands on their livelihood and way of life. On the first day of the year 1904, the Herero, led by chief Samuel Maharero, rose suddenly and unexpectedly in arms against their colonial rulers. The Nama joined the rebellion and the authorities did not regain control even after six months of trying. More than 100 German settlers and soldiers died in the uprising. Historians now consider events that followed to constitute the first genocide of the twentieth century.
Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha was provided with a contingent of 14,000 soldiers and ordered to suppress the rebellion. The governor-general of the territory at the time was Rudolph Goering – the father of Herman Goering, Hitler’s right-hand man. Lothar von Trotha was a generation ahead of his time and his type of thinking was to become government policy under the Third Reich. He argued that the Herero must be destroyed as a people and he did not flinch at the murder of women or children. At the end of it all, 100,000 Nama and Herero were killed. The survivors were herded into concentration camps where unspeakable things happened. The Herero were very badly off and 80% of her people perished. The population of the Nama has decreased by 35-50%.
Windhoek, the capital of 165,000 people is the only real city in the country. For those traveling to more remote areas, this is where you solve practical issues. The positive aspects of the German period can be seen in the charming style of older buildings in the city. Places of interest in the city include the State Museum, State Archives, and the Namibia Craft Center. The Dan Viljoen Game Park is located 24 km west of Windhoek on the gentle hills of Khoma Hochland. In this resort you will find ostriches, baboons, zebras and more than 200 species of birds. The Waterburg Plateau Park, located 230 km from Windhoek, is popular with weekenders. This extensive mountain wilderness is home to cheetah, leopard, kudu, giraffe and white rhinoceros.
Etosha National Park is what brings wildlife lovers to Namibia. The park is comparable in size and diversity of species with the best in Africa. Etosha’s unusual terrain holds savanna grassland, dense scrub and woodland. But it is the Etosha Pan, a depression that sometimes holds water and covers 5,000 square km, that is the heart of the park. The perennial springs around the pan attract many birds and terrestrial animals in the dry winter months. The effect of this background is magical and some of the best nature photos have been taken here.
There are 144 mammal species in the park and elephants are particularly abundant. Some other interesting fauna here include giraffe, leopard, cheetah, jackal, blue wildebeest, gembok and black rhinoceros. The birding is excellent at Etosha and over 300 bird species have been recorded. You’ll get the best value by spending at least three days here. There are excellent accommodation facilities at the three rest camps of Namutoni, Halali and Okaukuejo. The best time to see animals is between May and September, when water draws them in large numbers to the edge of the pan. Etosha is 400 km north of Windhoek by road.
The Fish River Canyon is unrivaled in Africa and only the Grand Canyon in the United States in size. The Canyon runs 160 km and reaches a width of 27 km and a depth of 550 m. But size alone does not explain the canyon’s appeal. You experience incredible views at various points along the rim. Adventure lovers don’t just come for the views. Hiking through the canyon is the ultimate endurance adventure for hikers. There is an established 90 km hiking trail that will take you 4-5 days to cover.
The trail ends at the Ai-Ais hot spring resort, where you can relax. You are allowed to walk between early May and the end of September. The trek is quite strenuous and needless to say you need to be physically fit. The authorities disbelieve most people’s ability to undertake the hike and will actually insist on seeing a medical certificate of fitness before allowing you to start. Fish River Canyon is 580 km south of Windhoek.
The Skeleton Coast was the graveyard of sailors and whalers and deserves that morbid name. The problem is the dense fogs. And woe to the survivor of a shipwreck who awaits rest on land! Ahead is the Namib Desert, one of the driest and most inhospitable places. Adventure travelers love to trek along the coast as they enjoy the extreme beauty of the area. In the south at Cape Cross, you find a seal colony bearing tens of thousands of seals. The Skeleton Coast Park covers 16,400 sq. km and starts 355 km northwest of Windhoek.
The Portuguese explorer Diego Cao reached this part of the world in 1486. He is probably one of the people whose experiences discouraged Europeans from venturing ashore until the arrival of the Germans 400 years later. Further south is the Namib-Naukluft National Park, a vast wilderness covering 50,000 sq. The landscape is very diverse and covers mountainous outcrops, majestic sand dunes and deep cut gorges. For truly spectacular dunes, the Sossusvlei area is second to none. Here you have dunes rising up to 300 m! The orange giants stretch to the horizon and the area has an unreal, unforgettable atmosphere.
In the northeast of the country, the well-watered Kavango region and Caprivi Strip offer unspoiled wilderness suitable for wild game viewing and camping. The area also promises a feast for bird lovers. Game reserves in the area include: Kaudom, Caprivi, Mahango, Mudumu and Mamili. Poachers did great damage to wildlife during the years of the civil war in neighboring Angola. Animal numbers, however, are growing rapidly. Some of the wildlife in the region include leopard, elephant, buffalo, cheetah, lion and various antelope species. The Caprivi Reserve falls in an area of swamps and floodplains. Here you have a chance to participate in fishing, hiking, safaris and river trips in traditional mokoro boats.
In Namibia you can enjoy up to 300 days of sunshine. The coast is temperate and thermometers run between 5C-25C. Inland, daytime temperatures range from 20C-34C, but can rise to 40C in the north and south of the country. Winter nights can be quite cold and frost occurs over large parts of the country. The rains inland fall in summer (November-April) and are heaviest in the Caprivi region. Rain does not affect travel much, but beware of flash floods in the vicinity of river currents. The best time to travel is during the dry months from March to October, when it is easier to see animals at waterholes. It is best to avoid the Namib Desert and Etosha between December and March when it can become unbearably hot.
You can get by wearing light cottons and linens in summer. During winter nights and mornings, you need heavier cottons, warmer wraps and sweaters. Comfortable walking shoes are essential as the ground gets very hot. Some useful items to pack include: camera, binoculars, sunglasses, sun hats, sunscreen and mosquito repellent. Be prepared for dusty conditions and carry your clothing, equipment and supplies in dustproof bags. Don’t be tempted to buy things made of ivory. You may not be allowed to take them through customs at home. And it’s also good that you don’t encourage the trade of ivory products that keep poachers busy.
Copyright © Africa Point
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