Surprising Namibia, by Ted Cookson

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SURPRISING NAMIBIA
by Ted Cookson
Published in October 2010
Namibian musicians in Walvis Bay, 46-second video clip
Mascato Coastal Youth Choir in Walvis Bay, 246-second video clip
Birds in Luderitz, 35-second video clip
Luderitz cruise ship sail away, 50-second video clip


Visitors are often surprised not only by Namibia's huge size (823,616 square km or 318,000 square miles) but also by its arid beauty, the plentiful architectural remnants of its colonial past, and its friendly people.  Interestingly, although English is the country's official language and the medium of instruction, Afrikaans is still spoken by 95% of the population.  This reflects the fact that Namibia, with a population today of 1.8 million, only received its independence in 1990. 

Named after southwestern Africa's Namib desert, Namibia is a vast country with 1,280 km (794 miles) of mostly-desolate coastline and sand dunes extending inland for a minimum of 100 km (62 miles).  There is a bit more rain in the high central plateau which slopes down to the sandy Kalahari Desert in the northeast.  Windhoek, the capital, is in the center of the country while Walvis Bay, the main port, and Swakopmund, a seaside resort, lie opposite Windhoek on the central coast.  Luderitz is the country's southern seaport.  Etosha National Park is the best-known game reserve, lying in the far north not far from Angola.  Finally, no article on Namibia would be complete without mentioning the Fish River Canyon, the second-largest canyon in the world!

With a population of 250,000, Windhoek, the largest city, lies some 1,500 km (930 miles) north of Cape Town.  This is often the starting point of a holiday in Namibia since the country's major international airport is situated outside town.  Namibia's capital city is interesting primarily for its German colonial buildings.  On Kaiser Street, the main thoroughfare, there are a number of such structures.

Walvis Bay takes its name from the bay which it faces.  First sighted by the Portuguese discoverer Bartholemew Dias in 1487, the bay eventually became known as the Bay of the Whales; and, in fact, American whalers frequented the bay from 1784.  Although the Dutch claimed this area briefly in 1793, British occupation from 1795 onward proved to be more lasting.  In 1910 the enclave of Walvis Bay was annexed to the Union of South Africa.  Tourists arriving in Walvis Bay by cruise ship will immediately notice large mounds of salt in the port.  The salt works situated near Walvis Bay produce most of the salt required by South Africa's chemical industry.

Swakopmund, 35 km (22 miles) north of Walvis Bay, is Namibia's most popular holiday town.  Established as a port in the early 1990s by Germany, Swakopmund was meant to support the protectorate of German South-West Africa, which was declared in 1884.  Today in a walk around town one can view a fair number of German buildings more than a century old.  From Swakopmund a road leads to Windhoek in the interior.

Due to its isolated location, Luderitz, Namibia's southern port, is not likely to be visited by tourists unless they arrive by cruise ship.  On the other hand, a walking tour around Luderitz is worthwhile as the town is rich in Art Nouveau and Grand Imperial Style architecture.  Just west of Luderitz is Dias Point.  Bartholemew Dias sheltered in this bay in 1487 and 1488 both before and after his rounding of the Cape of Good Hope.  It is also possible to take a tour of Kolmanskop, the ghost diamond-mining town 10 km (6 miles) to the east.  Interestingly, even though surface mining operations ceased at Kolmanskop in 1950, one of the tour rules is that guests are not allowed to bend down to pick up anything off the ground!

Etosha National Park, one of Africa's best game parks, lies about 410 km (254 miles) north of Windhoek.  The 20,000 square km (7,722 square miles) of grasslands and bush country around the pan support large herds of buck and wildebeests as well as one of the largest cheetah populations in Africa.  The best time to visit Etosha is from June through October.  During the dry season the animals can be viewed easily as they congregate around the water holes.  From December to March is the heat of summer, with temperatures climbing up to the 38 C./100 F. range.

One of Africa's greatest natural wonders, the Fish River Canyon in southern Namibia is second in size only to the Grand Canyon in the U. S. state of Colorado.  The huge 160 km (100 mile)-long ravine is up to 27 km (17 miles) wide.  Although the depth varies, the maximum is nearly 550 metres (1,804 feet).  The Fish River is the longest waterway in Namibia's interior.  Although it floods during the Southern Hemisphere summer, typically during the remainder of the year the river course becomes a series of lakes.  Part of the canyon lies in the Al-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park while the remainder is in private hands.  Hiking opportunities abound here.  

In general the best time to visit Namibia is during the Southern Hemisphere winter season from April to September.  From May to September the days are mostly sunny with clear skies.  Afternoon temperatures range up to 25 C./77 F.  Nights during this period are cold, with temperatures often dipping below freezing.

October to April constitutes the Southern Hemisphere summer.  From October into December there are light rains in the northeast of the country.  More rain falls from December to March.  In contrast, the desert coast of Namibia receives little or no rain at all.  This phenomenon is due to the cold Benguela Current welling up from the subantarctic.  These cold waters also cause the frequent coastal fog when the cool ocean air mixes with the hot desert winds. 

The least expensive round trip airfare from Cairo to Windhoek, Namibia is approximately EGP 7,300 on South African Airways via Johannesburg.  This fare has no minimum stay and is valid for one year.  South African Airways' long-haul flights between Cairo and Johannesburg are operated by Egypt Air.


ABOUT TED COOKSON:  Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world!  He has also visited 314 of the 320 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit www.eptours.com and refer to World Travel Club).  A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi.  Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open 7 days a week 9 AM-5 PM) at:  Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301.  Fax 2359-1199.  E-mail:  ept@link.net.  Web site:  www.eptours.com
 

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