When my friend Kevin, suggested a trip to Namibia, I immediately said yes. What could be more fun than a road trip in a foreign country with good company? We met for breakfast armed with some information on the country and set about planning a 10 day trip to the most arid country south of the Sahara. With over 800 000 square kilometers of land surface and a population of about 1.83 million, Namibia is one of the most sparsely populated countries in Africa.

We chose to spend ten days driving through the Southern part of Namibia, starting in Windhoek and driving South to the Fish River Canyon, on to Luderitz, past Sossusvlei and finishing in Swakopmund before flying back to Jozi from Windhoek. We had carefully crafted our trip so that we could take in the Special Therapy party in Joburg on Thursday before flying to Windhoek on the Good Friday holiday. Needless to say, we were two very weary (though still glamorous) travelers on the afternoon flight to Windhoek.

The first indication that we were in a very different place from home was the fact that Windhoek has a road named after Robert Mugabe, a personal friend of the current president; Hifikepunye Pohamba. Homosexuality is still against the law in Namibia and we were told by locals that they have a law, passed by the previous president, Sam Nujoma, which entitles the police to rip off any earrings worn by men!

Addressing students at the University of Namibia in Windhoek, a fired-up President Nujoma declared in March 2001: “The Republic of Namibia does not allow homosexuality, lesbianism here. Police are ordered to arrest you, and deport you and imprison you too.” We were reminded how fortunate we are in South Africa.

Being the type of gay friends without the proverbial “benefits” we had requested twin beds throughout the trip, but this was something we needed to confirm every time we checked in. We were informed by the owner of our Windhoek guesthouse that we had been booked into a room with a queen bed. The owner was very disarming as she explained that bookings for “Mr and Mr” in Windhoek’s “progressive” society usually suggested that a double bed was required. How very progressive and surprising!

We had planned to visit Joe’s Beerhouse that evening – apparently, it’s a must do when visiting Windhoek – but a much-needed siesta turned out to be us for the night. We only woke again on Saturday much refreshed and rejuvenated, although slightly sheepish at having slept through our first night away from home. After a leisurely breakfast, we set about accomplishing all required city sight-seeing, which we managed to achieve in just a few hours.

Overlooking the small business district is the landmark Christuskirche, the Altes Feste (old fort) the oldest building in Windhoek, the Reiter Denkmal (Equestrian statue) and the historic Tintenpalast (Ink Palace); the seat of Namibia’s Parliament. We were quite shocked to read on the plaque that The Reiter Denkmal commemorates the German soldiers and civilians who died while protecting German Colonial rule against the “natives” during the tribal rebellions between 1904 and 1908. Not quite so progressive.

We drove past the Kudu statue on Independence Avenue and had a good giggle when we read in the official tourist guide book that “no-one seems quite certain why the statue was erected”. Finding Windhoek less than inspiring, we headed off Southwards towards Mariental where we would spend a night at a lodge in the Kalahari dessert – famed for its red sand.

On the way to Mariental we stopped at the Hardap Dam – Namibia’s largest – a vast pool of water in an otherwise arid landscape. We were struck by the 70’s architecture of the Dam resort which reminded us of South Africa during those years of Apartheid; also a vivid reminder that Namibia was administered by South Africa from 1917 to 1990 before its independence. We checked into the Kalahari Anib Lodge in Eastern Namibia and, after cooling off in the swimming pool, went on an evening game drive, the only two South Africans among a group of tourists from around the globe. We were treated to game viewing of Oryx Springbok and Zebra and ended off with sundowners on the red Kalahari sand.

On Sunday we headed off for the Fish River Canyon, stopping on the way near Keetmanshoop to view the Kokerboom/Quivertree Forrest and Giant’s Playground (Dolerite rock formations which have been eroded into weird shapes like giant building blocks). We reached the Fish River Canyon – the world’s fourth largest – in the early afternoon. The vista was spectacular, and there are several viewing sites along the Northern Fringes of the canyon.

The one drawback is the searing heat, with temperatures reaching the 40’s. We were warned not to descend into the Canyon without a guide and plenty of water as temperatures are even higher at the base. After taking the obligatory tourist snaps we agreed to head back to the comfort of the air-conditioned hire car and press on to our next rest stop. The Cañon Lodge is an oasis in the dessert and after the obligatory cool down in the pool and a Tafel Lager, (okay, several), we were feeling much better. We had driven over 700km in two days to see the canyon, which seemed bizarrely disproportionate to the amount of time we had spent admiring it; but it was just too hot to stay any longer.

On Monday we headed off to Luderitz, which is altogether unremarkable. I had eagerly anticipated dining on fresh Luderitz oysters but was terribly disappointed. Although Luderitz has invested in a brand new tourist waterfront development, the restaurants were very disappointing and will not be remembered for their culinary offerings. Ostensibly a fishing village we could not even find a decent seafood restaurant.

What was worth the detour was the Kolmanskop ghost town where we spent several hours on Tuesday morning. The tour guide was very informative, filling the tour with anecdotes from the past. The town was founded in 1908 when diamonds were discovered, literally lying on the sand. When the reserves began to deplete, and when larger deposits were found to the South near Oranjemund after World War I, the people moved on. The shifting sand has sand-blasted paint off buildings which are slowly being reclaimed by the desert.

For me, the highlight of the trip was the last few days in Swakopmund, billed as the country’s holiday resort. There is a huge variety of activities on offer, ranging from guided walks amongst the dunes to angling and board sailing. Having only two days in Swakop, we could only fit in three activities. We did an afternoon of sand-boarding where you toboggan down the dunes, reaching speeds of up to 80km an hour: An adrenaline high and a great calf work-out on the slog back up the dunes!

I had no idea that sand could find its way into so many nooks and crannies. On Saturday morning we took a catamaran tour from Walvis Bay to a Seal colony at Pelican point. The day started out very cold but by midday we were stripping down to our shirtsleeves and slathering on the sun-screen. They fed fish to pelicans and gulls from the boat, seals joined us on board and we were treated to surfacing dolphins. On the way back into harbour we exchanged stories with the other tourists over oysters and bubbly.

That afternoon we went quad-biking in the dunes. What a rush! It is impossible to describe the exhilaration experienced while driving up sand dunes over three stories high and turning the bike to race with the sand as it avalanches down. The night life in Swakop is nothing special, though

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