Trip Start Jan 15, 2009
26Trip End May 06, 2009
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Namibia is a probably a good picture of much of Africa.
In two respects it is a young country. First, the average age is the early 20s. One of the reasons for the low average age is that the rate of HIV infection is high - estimated between 15% and 20% of the population. The high rate of infection reduces the life expectancy to about 50 years. Second, the country achieved independence in only 1990 from South Africa. It was originally settled by Germany (hence the prevalence of German names for towns like Swapomund and Windhoek) then England then South Africa. It is the second least populated country in the world (after Mongolia). The entire population is about 2.5 million in the area of Texas and Oklahoma. It has some important natural resources - mostly diamonds and uranium. Whites make up about 6% of the population, but seem to be "in charge" of most of the important things in the country.
The ship docked at Walvis Bay, a small town but the largest port in Namibia. There's not much to the economy in Walvis Bay except for fishing and shipping. Namibia became independent in 1990, but South Africa was especially fond of Walvis Bay because of its excellent port, so refused to give it over to Namibia until 1994. On the first day we went took a bus to Swakopmund where we visited a gem "museum" (a privately owned souvenir shop thinly disguised as a collection of rare gems). George wanted to buy a handful of copper flakes but the museum did not accept debit cards for small purchase. I had not changed money into Namibian dollars by that time. Those of you who know George will know why he enjoyed the museum and why he wanted to buy some copper. Recently, he might have asked you something like "would you rather have a copper mine or a stone quarry?" or "would you rather have a diamond mine or 5 Ferraris?"
After the museum, we visited a rug weaving business. The employees were spinning, dyeing, and cutting wool, and weaving beautiful rugs on huge looms. It was a bit touristy, but the rugs were real and the employees seemed busy and diligent. Some customers had mailed photographs to the mill, and the weavers had created rugs to match the photograph. For this service, I thought there must be a huge market among divorced couples. A woman could send to the mill a picture of her ex-husband and a check for a few hundred dollars. A few months later she would have her rug, woven with his face right in the middle. She could wipe her muddy shoes on that rug every time she came into her house. That might be more gratifying than throwing darts at a photograph.
After the touristy bit we left the tour group and had late lunch at a restaurant. It was called "Brauhaus" - not too original for a German town. But we enjoyed the meal and it was cheap, thanks to the stronger US dollar. After lunch we wandered to an outdoor market to haggle with the locals and buy some souvenirs. As in China and Morocco, you can usually buy the things you want for about 25%-33% of the original asking price. One of the vendors was a woman from the Himba tribe. They are the tribe that uses ochre mud as intellect repellent and sun block. Beautiful but arresting too. See photos.
After the market we went to the public beach, had an ice cream, and talked to Luke & Melanie Jones (friends from the ship who happened to be there).
We had dinner at a restaurant called The Lighthouse. It was a great sunset and nice food. I had a Springbok filet and Ben had the tallest hamburger I have seen in my whole life. He ate the whole thing! We caught a cab back to the ship after dinner.
The next day, we went camping in the desert! It was a trip arranged by Semester at Sea and I was the trip leader. About 50 students were on the trip. The location was about 40km inland from Swakopmund. It was rocky and mountainous. The local provider had pitched about 30 tents (with cots) for us to sleep in. In the afternoon we hiked and explored the area. In the evening local band came to perform for us. The bad was great - drums, xylophones, and voices. Dinner was served under a huge tent. During dinner, the sky opened to a steady drizzle that lasted for about an hour. We Americans did not realize we were witnessing a historic event. The men who had set up the camp and the musicians seemed especially happy about that rain. The next day, I learned that the average annual rainfall in that part of the Namib Desert is 15mm! In that evening, the region got more rain than the annual average! To the south of our campsite, the river flooded the next day. Some park rangers drove down to the river to take photographs while it surged out of its banks. To us, it was a big muddy mess. To them, it was water they had never seen in their lives.
On the drive back from the campout, we stopped at Dune 7. I had not heard of this place, but it is famous in these parts. Dune 7 is a sand dune (like we have in Florida) except it is about 400 feet tall. Neither words nor photographs can adequately describe it. The kids and I climbed to the peak (George won) and it was incredible. We were SO high above the ground, but there was no danger. You can't fall off a sand dune! After camping and Dune 7 we were salty, sandy and dirtier than ever. Back to the ship for showering and sleeping.