Join us in the never-ending saga of There to Here ... This week we visit Namibia, cross the Atlantic with a stop at St. Helena Island and then venture on to French Guiana. We think you'll enjoy the ride ... and you won't even get seasick!Read More
With lots of hugs, kisses and mutual thank yous, we bade farewell to Doris at Windhoek's tiny, compact Hosea Kutako International Airport . Saying goodbye to new “old” friends is always a bit sad. Chances are we'll never see her again though we'll surely keep in touch. The airport is about 40km (24 miles) outside of the city and there were several unexpected pleasures en route … starting with wart hogs and baboons crossing the highway.
On the way to the airport, I had noticed a sign for Taxidermy/Souvenirs with a “stack” of sculptured animals advertising the shop reminding me of the Bremen Town Musicians. We stopped to take a photo on the way back and drove around the shop grounds, which were pretty bizarre, but the shop was unfortunately closed.
Around the same time as the city of Windhoek was founded, Windhoek's three castles, Heinitzburg, Sanderburg and Schwerinsburg were built by Wilhelm Sander. Originally built as private residences, the castles still stand today … one is a hotel, one is a private residence and one, Schwerinsburg, sits proudly on a hill overlooking the city and is the residence of the Italian ambassador to Namibia. Nice digs, Ambassador!
It didn't take long to get back to the city and once we left the main highway, the paved road abruptly ended and we were back to gravel roads again.
The road was hot and dusty, but never boring. We saw troops of baboons walking along side. A steenbok darted out in front of us and a pair of kudu jumped effortlessly over a cattle fence when we startled them.
A grey lourie patiently posed in a tree long enough for me to snap his picture.
An unfortunate Hartman Mountain Zebra found its end near a dry river crossing. Its bones were mostly picked clean, but enough remained of its hide to identify it.
We were heading to the Namib Naukluft National Park to the east. Windhoek sits on the Khomas Hockland plateau and the only short route to the west coast is via a mountain pass. There are three well-known, frequently used passes and since we got a rather late start, we decided on the shortest route, the Spreetshoogte Pass, which also happens to be the steepest pass. Our route would take us 230 km (140 miles) over gravel roads, over the pass to a tiny dot on the map known as Solitaire. We figured on 5-6 hours since we were limited to traveling between 50-60 km/hour (30-40/mph) on steep, rough roads. A goshawk stood sentry on top of a road sign pointing to the pass and he gave us the eye as we passed. We wondered if he knew something that we didn't.
As it turned out, maneuvering the pass was a piece of cake. We were anticipating Colorado 4x4 roads and, in actuality, though some parts of the road were rough, in general they were in good condition. The steepest parts had been paved. The view from the top was outstanding.
The descent was more thrilling than the ascent with switch-backed hairpin turns and more hills and dips than a roller coaster.
On the other side of the pass, the gravel road continued, and we neared our destination. We watched the sun begin to dip behind the horizon, grazing gemsboks silhouetted on the hillside. It was a very fine day to be on the road in Africa.
We reached Windhoek, Namibia's capital city in late afternoon. Windhoek, German for “wind corner”, is located in the center of the country. It's Namibia's largest city, but a pretty small city with a population of ~325,000 people. Our accommodation for the night was the Pension Cori (that's penz-ee-ohn, not pen-shun) , a funky kind of place, all painted in bright purple with two slobbering, but friendly bulldogs roaming the grounds. The place was clean and comfortable enough, but a bit over-the-top in its décor. Doris and Ian had stayed here several times since it was close to the city center and had easy access to the airport road.
We left the car and walked the back streets to a city mall, Windhall Center, a typical mall found most anywhere … retail stores galore and lots of glitz. We were most interested in what was outside the mall. In the middle of a plaza there was a display of the Gibeon meteorites. The largest known meteor shower to hit Earth was discovered near Gibeon, Namibia and documented in 1838 by explorer, J. E. Alexander ... although the locals were known to have been hammering pieces of it into implements for generations. Several chunks of the meteor are mounted on pedestals in the middle of the plaza. Based on a few empty pedestals, we assume some of them developed feet.
Since we arrived so late in the day, we had only a short time to explore before the dark settled in. We had a quick dinner and headed back to the pension. Doris' flight wasn't leaving until after noon, so we returned to the downtown area for a couple of hours in the morning. Around the meteor display, several local vendors had set up shop with all sorts of souvenirs to tempt passing tourists. I did not, could not, resist. We bought earrings and elephant hair bracelets and necklaces, bargaining amicably for the best price. My favorite vendor was Jane. Her Ovambo name means “happy” in English, but I'll be darned if I can remember it, though I asked her to repeat it three or four times. She was a happy woman and her Ovambo name suited her. I bought several pairs of earrings and she graciously posed for a photo.
I also saw a Herero woman dressed in all her finery including the big, traditional Herero hat. I asked politely if I could take her picture. She really looked beautiful and I told her so. The first thing out of her mouth was “How much you pay me?” “Er … I wasn't planning to pay you anything. I just thought you looked beautiful.” Her answer was a patent and rather vehement “NO!” Question asked … question answered. In actuality, I would have been happy to give her a few dollars, but the mood was broken. So... the best I got for Herero traditional dress was this mannequin in front of a souvenir shop.
We passed a Bushman art store and noticed a sign for a Bushman's museum. No time unfortunately, although we enjoyed the sidewalk sculpture.
According to Wiki, “present-day Windhoek was founded in 1890, when Curt Von François, fixed the foundation stone of the fort, which is now known as the Alte Feste (Old Fortress).” There are several relics of the old architecture mixed with the city's new highrises.
On the way back to the hotel, we happened to spot mousebirds that were feasting on a garbage heap in a vacant lot. That certainly didn't stop me from photographing them.
Lo and behold, out of the grass scampered a striped mouse … to accompany the mousebirds, I guess.
Enough sightseeing. We headed back to the pension, packed up the Jeep and set out for the airport. The only regret we have is that we didn't plan a whole other day to explore the city. Another time, perhaps?