Windhoek (29 May 2014)
We bid goodbye to the folks at the Namib Desert Lodge and started our drive back to Windhoek. The group had bonded quite a bit in the last ten days but on this last ride together we were a little subdued and did not speak much.
It became clearer after a while that we had left the desert as the scenery became greener. The past few days had become almost like a mirage. As we got nearer and nearer to Windhoek however I felt closer and closer to reality. Those languid days of wandering about in the Namibian wilderness were quite over.
As we did on our first full day together as a group, we had a picnic lunch at a rest stop along the road. That felt like the last fun thing we would do together. To mark that occasion I agreed to be part of the group photo some of them were taking.
The Canadian couple, Ar and J, and Dl were catching their flights out of Namibia that same day. The rest of us would stay a night in the city before flying home the next day. The Belgian family stayed at the same hotel we had all stayed at on our first night. The Canadian sisters and I were booked at another hotel which was in the city centre.
I have always hated goodbyes but at least I got the sisters’ company for another afternoon. It was quite fortuitous that the same people I had made friends with first were also the last people I would bid farewell to.
It took us a while to finally get checked in. The hotel looked like a five-star one and the room I had was new, clean and spacious. The view from my room was also quite exceptional. The service of the concierge however deserved at most a star if at all.
The city was eerily quiet that day although it was a Thursday. The hotel was situated above a shopping centre and even that was quiet with all the shops closed. The streets, although we were in the city centre, were empty. It looked like another public holiday. What a bad time to be in the city.
Without people wandering about on the streets however allowed me to notice how tidy the city was. I have to say that all the urban centres that I had visited or passed through in Namibia had been quite well-maintained. Even Swakopmund, surrounded by desert on three sides, was practically gleaming. This is in stark contrast to Lima which is also surrounded by desert on three sides. The filthiest places in Namibia were I suspect probably those frequented mainly by tourists.
Our hotel was conveniently near the quaint looking Christ Church and Parliament Gardens.
The Lutheran Christ Church was the only landmark in the whole country that I knew I had to visit before I even got there. The church exterior was pretty but the interior was relatively plainer. It looked like quite a new church but was completed in 1910.
The only place where we found some human activity was the Parliament Gardens. This is a small garden located between the Tintenpalast, which houses both chambers of Namibia’s Parliament, and Christ Church. The Canadian sisters and I decided to do as Rome says and sat around under a shady bougainvillaea trellis for a bit.
I just had to get a picture of this man, Hosea Kutako, mainly because the international airport in Windhoek uses his name. I do not recognise many Namibian names but this is one of two that I actually do. Kutako was one of the persons who had led the country to independence. He is considered a national hero today.
The other name I can recognise is Sam Nujoma. This is a name quite hard to miss while in the country since there is a Sam Nujoma something just about everywhere. Nujoma was also a founding father of the country and served as Namibia’s first president upon its independence.
As much as I enjoyed the peace and quiet that day the lack of activity in the city became unnerving after a while. We attempted to find a place to have some coffee but not one cafe was open. We almost went into a KFC outlet because it was the only thing open as far as we could tell. It seems like Namibians do not hang out in town on public holidays. That is, unless it is school I suppose since we actually found some kids hanging out at one. The school building was quite eye-catching though.
At the same time however, I was a little envious that the Namibians seemed to get to enjoy so many public holidays. We had encountered one in Swakopmund (and it was a ghost town that day) and barely a week later there was another.
The sisters attempted to visit the crafts market but we were too late for it. It had closed for the day. We decided to head back to the hotel to hang out instead. We then spent a really lazy afternoon at the hotel chatting.
I said my goodbyes to the Canadian sisters after dinner. I really hate goodbyes, especially since this time it really meant the end of the tour.
My journey home started dark and early. Sadly I never got to see the area between the city and the airport. Both times I travelled on that long road it was pitch dark. The only difference that morning was that temperatures had dropped below 10°c. The driver seemed amused at one point after noticing that it was 3°c outside according to the car dashboard.
Checks before exiting the country were quite stringent. The stringent checks however seemed to be limited to travellers who looked Chinese. A man who sounded Taiwanese to me suffered the same fate as I did. The guy on duty went through my carry on bag really thoroughly. He even went through my envelope of cash and that made me quite nervous.
The incident reminded me of what P had shared with me about PRCs in the country. One day he showed me a newspaper report about three PRCs who had been convicted in a Namibian court for attempting to export some rhinoceros horns. Needless to say this was illegal. The three man appealed against the jail sentence and complained about the hardship that they would face in a Namibian prison. The appeal court was not impressed.
The report further mentioned that there had in fact been some complaints of PRCs coming to Namibia, chartering planes and scanning the region from the air for rhinoceroses. They seemed quite desperate for horns.
I do not think that the Namibians like the PRCs very much. P also told me that, unlike businessmen from other countries, the PRCs came to exploit the local economy and invested nothing into it. The PRCs did not even put their money in local banks but instead kept all their cash at home. Every local knew that and so the PRCs were perfect targets for crime.
I did not feel good being targeted for stricter checks but with the context in mind it did not seem like I could blame the Namibians entirely. Furthermore foreigners are seldom able to tell the difference between PRCs and Chinese Singaporeans. The biggest blame should be borne by those PRCs who had created all the issues in the first place.
I had a wonderful time in Namibia. I knew before I went that it would be an experience of a lifetime. However I did not expect to see so much beauty there. Namibia was a good end to a wonderful year of travelling. I now miss the country and the fun times I had enjoyed with the group of people I travelled with. Luckily I had the foresight to take home with me a tonne of pictures and some items from Namibia to remind me of those days.
The end of my African adventure however marked the restart of reality for me. Looking back over the last few months, it had been hard winding myself up again to settle back into life as an employed person with responsibilities after a year of freedom. But I would not have given that year up for anything in the world.