Joining the Crowd

Trip Start Aug 26, 2008
Trip End Dec 14, 2008

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

And then there was Swakupmund...
So after the ridiculously long, hot, and stench ridden bus ride we arrived at Swakupmund just Brad, Karina, and me. This is where most of the SAS kids were staying so we decided to head into town and see what we could find. We were also going to try and meet up with some friends of ours who had rented a lodge on the beach just outside the city limits.
The first place we headed was a small restaurant called the 'Tug.'  It was a restaurant/bar that was a pier on the ocean. This was such a dramatic change of pace and scenery compared to the previous few days. We each ordered a beer and split an order of oysters on the half shell. The first time I had ever actually had them and it was a pretty solid experience. We walked out to the end of the pier to get some awesome pictures and see the city a little better. Swakupmund is a very odd city. It is strictly a German colonial city and nothing about it feels African. Every building is decorated elaborately and ornately with bright colors, sculptures, and/or other detailing. The official language in Namibia is English as I mentioned even though most people in the country don't speak it.  In Swakupmund everyone spoke English and there was an overwhelming white presence among this German-African city. One thing that was really cool about it is that it melted the desert into the coast and provided a little oasis completely isolated with two very unique environments.
After observing the city for a  few we decided to set off to the beach lodge to meet up with some of our friends and try to shower and drop our stuff before hanging out that night. As we were leaving town Karina gave Brad and I a riddle to occupy our time about a man and a restaurant and albatross. We still haven't figured that damn riddle out  yet, but it provided an easy way to kill time during our walk. We asked someone prior to leaving and they said it would be about a 30 minute walk along the beach. Well after about an hour of walking and no beach lodge in site we decided to start asking people. One of the ladies we past said she had never heard of it. Another said it was probably a good 45 minute walk still, but wasn't sure if she was thinking of the right lodge. So we had already hiked an hour, perhaps more, with another hour of walking in front of us with no certain destination in mind in a town we had only been in for a few hours. We were lost and it was starting to get dark so we decided to try to hail a cab. Well we were so far outside the city limits that we soon realized we weren't going to have any luck with that. So we decided to approach a bed and breakfast we had just passed and ask them for directions.
An older white gentleman answered the door and was familiar with the lodge, finally. He echoed the second woman's sentiment of a walk just shy of an hour, with a bit worse news. He said the area was so complicated we would never find it if we were walking and didn't know the area. Great. We asked the man if we could use the phone to call a cab and he said sure and invited us in. He told us to drop our bags for a moment and he would be back with the phone. After we were inside he offered to just drive us the rest of the way. We told him we could just call a cab no problem, but he insisted so we accepted. While he was getting his keys the lady who ran the B&B emerged and began talking to us about the city. She was an interesting lady with subtly hints of racial apartheid still peppering her speech with us. It was actually really unnerving listening to her talk about the racial divides in the area even though we knew them to be true. It was more her specific sentiments and not just her statements of fact. Just when things started to get really awkward the gentlemen appeared just in time and hurried us out the door. Karina was a little worried about getting in some random guy's car to have him drive us to a place we didn't know, but Brad and I assured her the guy was safe and he was. His name was Keith and he was a mechanical engineer. He moved to Swakupmund after meeting a guy in a bar in South Africa and developing a plan to establish a uranium mine in Namibia. That same mine is still in production, and currently supplies something like 90% of the United States uranium that is used in our nuclear devices. We talked a little more about what we were doing and what each of us were studying and before we knew it we arrived at the Beach Lodge. Keith offered to wait and make sure we were safe before we left and if for some reason we needed a ride back to the city he even offered to drive us back. We told him no, but he didn't accept our answer and waited outside on us anyway. Persistent guy that Keith.
We went in to check the books for our friends and realized we were in the right spot and that they had checked in earlier that day. When we inquired which room they were in the receptionist informed us that while they had checked in earlier that day that had already checked out. Confusing I know. They paid for a lodge on the beach, but didn't stay there for the night. This was no cheap accommodation either, but one of the girls is somewhat of a high roller so I guess she just paid for everything because she wanted to be closer to downtown and when they booked the lodge they didn't realize how far and isolated it was. It really was beautiful though. So as we piled back into Keith's jeep and headed back to town  we had come full circle and were back to square one. It was almost nine now and we still hadn't ate a real meal and had nowhere to stay.
Keith dropped us off at one of the hostels intown and while he wanted to wait we somehow managed to talk him out of it. I offered to give him gas money, especially since he had spent almost an hour driving us around, but he refused. We all assumed he was just happy to get away from the creepy lady at the B&B who was making us nervous earlier. That was a running joke for the rest of our stay. The first hostel we went to was already booked up for the night. SAS had literally rented this entire town out for the last two days. Namibia has a population of around 1.5 million for the entire country, they weren't prepared for 700 + students to descend on a little tourist town. I'm surprised they didn't run out of food and beer. The second hostel we went to was also booked so we decided to try finding a hotel hoping that we might have a better shot at a slightly more expensive accommodation. We were in luck. The old German military hospital had been converted into a Pablo Escobar style compound that was our hotel for the night. It was a refreshing sense of comfort after the last two days of strenuous travel and nights at the hostel. The rooms were huge and it was only a little more than what we had paid each night prior so we quickly checked in and went to find a restaurant hoping there was one still open. Swakupmund closes earlier, especially on Sunday, but we managed to find an authentic German restaurant attached to a swanky hotel. There was another table of SAS kids in there and they said the food was good so we sat down exhausted already for our first real meal of the day. We each got something different and tried everyone food and drinks. All of it was amazing. I had some sort of chicken schnitzel with a German wheat beer. I thoroughly enjoyed that meal.
After we paid we walked outside only to run into one of our friends who were supposed to be staying at the Beach lodge earlier. After a quick minute of catching up she brought us to a bar where the rest of our crew was hanging out. It was fun surprising all of them because they didn't expect us back from our Vic Falls trip until the very last day. While we were passing around hugs and catching up a few more SAS kids showed up and then something really odd happened. The owner of the bar locked us inside. LITERALLY. There were bars on the window and no backdoors that we could get to, and for some reason he locked the main entrance and just went to the back for a few. Everyone started freaking out, and I'm not going to lie it was really weird but I figured that there was some explanation. But there was nothing I could do about it at that moment so I sat down and had a beer with our crew for the first time since we hit Namibia. After about twenty minutes the owner came back and unlocked the door with no explanation whatsoever. We all hurried out of that bar and as far as I know no SAS students went back there. Turns out that had happened at a few other places over the city. I think it was related to a few people not paying their bills or something like that. Everyone else was going out to the bars that night but Brad, Karina, and I were exhausted from the two previous days and hadn't showered in a few days either so we opted to just head back to the hotel, shower, and get a good nights rest. Best decision of the trip probably.
We hadn't seen much of the town because we got in so late so we woke up relatively early to meet up with our crew so they could show us around. We met them at some café and we split up into guys and girls. The girls went shopping and us guys went to the bookstore to get my own copy of the much anticipated Shantaram and we made a few stop at travel agencies. Brad and I were trying to book a camping trip overnight in the desert for that night. After three different agencies said no we decided to give up on that idea and decided to go four-wheeling in the desert later in the day. We also booked a trip for skydiving the following morning. After we met back up with the girls around noon we decided to head to the beach for a wine and cheese lunch before four-wheeling. It was a blast and the source of a bunch of random pictures. Also, while we were getting the wine and cheese in the local supermarket I saw someone I recognized walking through the store... It was Lucas. Our Aussie friend from Windhoek. I coulnd't believe it. They decided they wanted to go skydiving before heading out and Swakupmund was the only place that did it, so they ended up there only a day after we had split from them. We introduced him to our crew and made plans to meet up later in the night and proceeded to our wine lunch.
After lunch we headed to the ATV'ing in the desert. I totally underestimated how much fun I would have doing this. I, my roommate, and Brad were the only people out of a group of like 20 to get manual ATV's. Supposedly they were faster and that turned out to be absolutely true. We split up into two groups, a beginners and experience riders group. Although I haven't ridden a four wheeler in many years and I certainly haven't done anything adventurous on them I didn't want to be stuck in the beginner group so I ended up in the advanced group alongside brad and jesse (who both ride in Colorado) and Jenny (The only girl in the group even though she had no experience). We were flying up and down sand dunes using them as half pipes. It was freaking amazing. It seemed like the desert would never end once we got out far enough to where we couldn't see town. Our guide was insanely talented to. His name was Paul and he would ramp up a dune on his back two wheels and then get to the top and switch to riding the top of the dune on the front and back left wheels. It was nuts. None of us were bold enough to even pretend to try anything like that. Soon into the ride Brad took a turn to sharp and went flying off the ATV. No injuries so we continued. Shortly after that Jenny was ramping up a large dune with me right behind her and she lost control and rolled her ATV. I flipped out cause I though it rolled over her, but luckily she managed to avoid getting hit. She had scraped her leg up a little and gotten some gas on her pants but she was fine. So we continued. We were ramping down the largest dune in the area to meet up with our group at the bottom when Jesse bit it. I went right in front of Jesse and the dune was so steep I went way farther out into the desert than I was supposed to because I didn't want to turn I was going to fast. Jesse didn't want to go out as far as I did so he decided to try and cut his ATV sharply once he got to the bottom. Bad idea. He LAUNCHED off his ATV and hit his hip hard while his ATV kept careening from the speed out into the desert. So with a busted hip and a limp he had to chase down his speeding ATV in the desert. I didn't stop laughing for probably twenty minutes. We took a few photos and then headed back toward the shop. On our way back we ended up riding a dune that gave us a great view of the ocean and the desert and it was one of the most unique views I've ever seen. Not only was the ATV'ing awesome because it was an adventure but it provided us with one of the best shots of Namibia I had seen ironically.
After four-wheeling most of the crew headed back to Walvis Bay since they had been there for a few days already and wanted to relax for a night. Brad, Karina, and I set off to find a place to stay for the night since we didn't want to spend money on a hotel like we did the night before. Walking down the street to a hostel on the outskirts of town we ran into Ben and Adam (the two American's we met in Windhoek) I couldn't believe it. We had now run into the two groups of people we hung out with in Windhoek even though we were over six hours away. They said that Evan had managed to get his passport taken care of in just over an hour and were somewhere in Swakupmund. They were planning to meet at a hostel at 8 that night even though that hostel was booked. We parted ways and planned on meeting up with all of them later. We checked into our hostel and decided to take a quick nap before dinner. We hadn't ate since breakfast and we weren't that hungry yet, but most of the restaurants closed early so we made plans to leave about an hour and a half. Before the nap I decided to check up on our skydiving plans and let them know where the shuttle could pick us up the next morning. Good thing I did because they had canceled our reservations. Supposedly the morning was supposed to be very overcast which would push back our jump time until something like 2 PM and we had to be on the ship three hours later. We wouldn't have made it so we had to cancel. So I went back to the room to take a nap. Shortly after I had falled asleep I heard more people coming into our dorm. To my ironic surprise it was Adam and Ben. No where else was open so they randomly ended up not only in our hostel, but also in our dorm. Too much irony. They had just bumped into Christine and Dani (The two girls we road back to Swakupmund with but decided to head to the ship for the previous night). Turns out they had a hotel room not far from there with a few other girls from the ship and were having a party.
Adam and Ben were just dropping their stuff and heading over there so I decided to join them. We were supposed to meet Evan and James in just over an hour and then we were all going to go get dinner. So we split from Karina and Brad and headed to the hotel party. We got there and found out that we could climb out their window onto the roof of the main lobby where there was a picnic table. So we grabbed a few beers and went outside to hang out. It was a really awkward window so you had to climb on the bed and sort of lunge out the window and hope to land on your feet on the gravel roof. Getting in was even trickier. You had to scale up part of the wall and then just sort of fall in onto the bed. After one round of everyone going in and out for refills, Adam, Ben, and I decided to go leave to meet up with Evan and James at the booked hostel. Ben went through first and I was clumsily following after him. I lost my balance on the window sill and sort of made a dive onto the bed breaking the bed on my landing and sliding headfirst into the dresser. It had to be a hilarious site because there were two people in the room beside Ben that were basically falling down laughing. It was pretty funny. It was a wooden bed and the screws had just come loose and been pulled out of the frame. An easy fix if we had a drill, but we didn't so we just flipped the bed on its side and took off.
What was supposed to be a quick meeting with Evan and James turned into a makeshift scavenger hunt. When we got to the hostel that was full they had left us a note letting us know that it was full and that they were actually staying in the same hotel that I had stayed in the previous night. We walked over there to see if we could find them there. They had left us another note saying that they had gone out for food and they would meet us at the bars later. There was no sign of Brad or Karina either. While we were making our way back to the girl's hotel party I decided to split off and go back to our hostel to meet up with Brad and Karina. I was super hungry and we had made dinner reservations so I wanted to find them. Well on my way back to the hostel I got lost and ended up wandering around long enough trying to find my way that the restaurant closed. I wasn't happy, but at least I finally found the hostel even though Brad and Karina weren't there. I decided to head to a bar called Rafters where I had heard the SAS kids were all hanging out. When I got there I found Evan and James and a few other people I knew. We quickly caught up and had a few drinks. After awhile the bar was getting pretty crowded and I was getting bored. None of the other I had been traveling with had showed up yet so I decided to head out and try to find a different bar. I was trying to walk out a back door and accidentally walked into a café next door. To my surprise the two girls I traveled with in Brazil (Laura-Flynn and Sarah) were in there with a few other SAS people I knew having a bottle of wine and listening to David Gray with the owner of the Café. Much more my style, so I sat down and hung out with them for awhile. They were playing kings with the lady that owned the café and if you know kings then you will know it was hilarious having the owner adhere to some of the rules the girls made up.
After a little while Evan randomly stumbled into the café as well looking for me. The aussies and the rest of the traveling crew had shown up, so I went out there to greet them and play a game of pool. After a little while the bar started to get pretty lame again, but Flynn and Sarah were heading back to the ship so I rounded up everyone and decided to go to a different bar. To me that bar was equally as lame so I called it a night even though many more people stayed out much later. I found Brad and Karina back in the hostel once I got back still up. We chatted for a bit and tried to make plans for tomorrow. Since our skydiving adventure had been canceled we decided just to do some shopping and head back to the ship early.
When we woke up I felt the full force of drinking on an empty stomach. I had one of the worst hangovers of my life and headed to a local bakery to remedy that. I gorged myself on quiche and croissants and coffee and headache medicine until I felt better. Then it was off to shop. My purchases are a surprise so I'll omit them here, but brad found an old German typewriter at an antique store he bought and has been raving about since. He keeps leaving people notes from his typewriter. It's hilarious. Karina bought some tribal flags and a few other odds and ends. After the quick shopping spree we decided to get back, but struggled to figure out what the best and most economical way was. We had heard stories of the cabs ripping students off by just stopping in the desert and raising the rates with the threat of forcing kids out of the car and the bus was a long hike away and would be another crowded mess. I suggested hitchhiking and with only a few minutes of reassurance to the group we walked off into the desert to catch a ride. It only took a few cars passing before a truck stopped. We hopped in to find a younger guy, not much older than myself, whose name was some Afrikaans name which I can't remember because I couldn't pronounce it.
On the way back he told us stories about growing up at the end of apartheid and how everything had changed. He was really congenial guy. He owned property in the desert and was developing it into a hunting resort. He drove us all the way up to the port where are ship was and again refused and compensation for gas. So we hitchhiked in the desert of Africa back to the ship and that should be where this leg of the story stops. I thought it would too, but as we were heading back into town for a few things the aussies pulled up in their truck with Christine, Dani, James, and Evan stuffed inside somehow. They had all carpooled from Swakupmund. The aussies were going to try and sneak onto the ship and stow away to India. I told them that it was a terrible idea, the people running security were way too smart and that they ran a super strict ship. James and Evan convinced them it was worth a shot. Well turns out they got caught and the ship's conduct officer tried to detain them to arrest them, but they got away. Evan and James are now classified as 'security risk' to the ship and given some mild punishment. The aussies kept joking that the most dangerous experience they had in Africa was trying to get onboard an American ship. Irony. We posed for a final picture and said our goodbyes, and we set sail for South Africa; all our crazy travels in Namibia conquered in just four days and looking forward to the six day port in South Africa.
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