|Namibia is in South West Africa, just North of the
Republic of South Africa. It is a vast country, about 5 times the size of the
United Kingdom, but with the population of the diocese of Southwark in London.
Parts of the country owe their culture to Germany, but the British and South
African influences are stronger. There are extremes of climate, from searing
deserts to the humid sea coast.
The dunes and the coastal plains of the Namib form the World's oldest desert, some 80 million years of age. The dunes are famed for an extraordinary variety of insects and beetles. All are well adapted to the desert habitat
The most famous is the sex mad "toktokkies" who spend their entire lives pursuing members of the opposite sex.
|The coast is extremely dry. There is
between 15mm and 100mm rain a year. Temperatures can rise to 52C but the coast
itself remains foggy and cold. The landscapes include mountainous red dunes
rising to 400 metres, interior plains of flat topped, steep sided mountains,
and the bare scorched sands of the Skeleton Coast.
The Namib Naukluft is divided into the central desert region, and the mountainous Naukluft, with its zebra and spectacular scenery. Ballooning at Sossusvlei enables passengers to enjoy the interior of the great dunefield, and watching the animals below.
Ballooning is very expensive because it takes up to 4 large bottles of gas to keep afloat for an hour or so in such high ambient temperatures, hence we took off at dawn as the sun touched the balloon envelope.
|Namibia has a wide
variety of bird species found nowhere else. Harbours and coastal wildfowl
reserves shelter white pelicans, flamingo, grebes, heron, cormorants, duck and
several hundred species of wetland birds.
One of the camps we visited was 140km from the nearest town and accessible only by 4WD vehicles. Water had to be brought in by tanker and refrigeration and lighting equipment was powered by the sun.
Kaokoland is a vast area west of Etosha. Few people live there, but we were lucky to find groups of nomad Himba women, moving across the area in search of grazing. Etosha is better known as a National Park of arid bushvelt and savannah 200km wide, surrounding a dry calcrete pan or shallow lake.
|In our terms there is poverty, of
course but not imposed as in South Africa's past. We did not find any
"homelands" or settlements and the minority white population seemed to be at
peace with itself and people in general. There is not much tourism, but the
German culture attracts mid Europeans to what is a dusty and forbidding terrain
which has a beauty all its own. Much accommodation is in tented camps or on the
edges of the National Parks, but there are also a number of luxury lodges
catering for the wealthy, as well as those coming from South Africa for a few
The cans on the left were collected for recycling by school children, whose task was to amass as many as possible, string them together, and carry them like giant snakes in a parade.
|Okonjima, once a cattle
ranch is now home to the "Africat" foundation. It lies in the Omboroko
mountains, part of the Waterberg plateau. Cheetah and leopard are recovered
from farmers after threatening livestock, or after injury which prevents them
hunting. The camp provides an unparalleled opportunity to observe these
beautiful creatures, which visit the enclosures for food whilst recovering
their strength, or being trained not to attack farm livestock.
This animal was observed at sunset coming from the bush to eat baited meat. It could be given electric shocks if it approached the wrong food, and after a few mistakes quickly learned not to attack livestock and thereby put its life in danger from the farmer's gun.
|Africa is big open spaces, wonderful
smells and an environment very different from anything in Europe. Perhaps that
very difference is what has attracted the British over very many years to the
arid deserts, the wildlife and the scenery. Many parts of Africa are now
threatened by tourism, especially in Kenya, or by constraints on wealth
creation and some ill advised conservation.
Namibia and Zimbabwe are two of my favourite places, mainly because they offer the Africa experience which is more real, and does not depend on joining a caravan of land rovers in parkland on metalled roads, more akin to a safari park than a glimpse of the real habitat.