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Thursday 9 Feb 2012
Windhoek, Namibia

"Apartheid was a good thing... for Namibia"

Politically incorrect title I know, but this was said to me by a black taxi driver in Windhoek... anyway I'll discuss that later...

Checked out from my hostel in Hermanus this morning. When I was paying for my stay the staff member on duty (still drunk from the previous night's Braii festivities) kept getting the total figure wrong, but I was too damned honest and kept on correcting him to put it higher...
I had a mad quick drive back to Cape Town to catch my morning flight to Namibia so didn't have much time to stop and smell the flowers along the way... nor did I have much time to stop when a family of baboon suddenly crossed my path while going at 120 kph. I managed to swerve out of the way, but I'd say the car behind was presented with a big angry red baboon ass on their windscreen!

Got to the airport and returned the rental car to the Aqua Car Hire reps. Turned out I had done an additional 300km over the 150km daily free mileage allowance so they reckoned that was another 45 euro, but considering I had reached the most southerly point of the continent it was worth it! Mental note: next time get unlimited kilometres.

A few hours later I arrived at Windhoek airport (pronounced "Vind-hook"), flying over a fairly green and sparse landscape. I assumed this was because the airport was far out of town, which it was, but I was quick to find out that sparseness was something that carried through most of Namibia, including it's cities (if they can be called such).

On arrival I casually proceeded to the Avis desk to rent a car. Nothing! Budget? Nada... and so on. As luck would have it the end of the mining conference in Cape Town was today and coincided with a mass exodus to surrounding tourist destinations... like Namibia. Sheiz! (that and the fact that local whites like to rent cars to drive to their distant farms to save on mileage on their own cars...according to a Hertz car rep). Like Cape Town, a car rental was crucial to my itinerary around Namibia. And this time I wasn't going to settle for a rusting heap like the one I got in SA as, apart from the main road that traverses the center of the country, most roads in Namibia are gravel.

Nothing for it, but to head into Windhoek and try my luck in some of the local car rental offices there. I hopped in a taxi with a black guy called Richard who started to regail me with tales of "the good old days under apartheid". I kid you not. After World War 2, German-West Africa (as Namibia was known) came under South African rule and all that entailed, including the later introduction of apartheid in the 50s. Richard said that despite the hardships, the government at the time provided him with free education and many hospitals were built during this time, "So a white man might hit me for no reason on the street, at least I would receive free education". I was gobsmacked. Since independence, according to Richard, not a single new hospital or new pavement has been built/maintained. All wealth taken by few corrupt individuals. In fact later in the trip I would meet a lot of (mostly white) people that tended to corroborate Richard's story saying that many blacks felt they had a better life during occupation. Indeed Namibia's 95% literacy rate stems from South African rule.

Of course Richard also offered to rent his taxi to me for the time I was in the country (and I very nearly took him up on it), so he may not have been a completely balanced individual!

As we drove into Windhoek, I got a sense of what Richard was talking about: the capital city didn't seem to be a capital city at all but more like a small town. Overgrown weeds dominated the roadside. There was no discernable "CBD" save for one large Hilton hotel, most buildings were 1 storey affairs laid out in a haphazard fashion.
As we pulled into a suburb sidestreet where my guesthouse was situated I asked Richard where the city centre was. "You're in it".

Having checked myself into the guesthouse (I literally had to check myself in as the only person there was a maid who didn't know where the owners were!), I ran off to see if I could score a car. It was pretty essential I got a car asap as I only had 9 days in Namibia and there was lots to see. It started raining while I wandered the weed-strewn streets of downtown Windhoek (a first for me on this trip and in fact the only place that rained on my whole trip) so I wasn't enjoying the place very much at all. I was limited in how much time I had to search for a car as everything in Windhoek closes at around 6pm... again giving the place a small-town feel rather than capital city.

I ducked into a tourist agency about 5 mins before they shut down. Got chatting to a girl inside there called Johanna who promised that she would spend the evening ringing around various car rental agencies to see if anything was available (she had a vested interest as I would learn the next day!)

So it was all left up to Johanna.... now to play the waiting game...

Luxury meal Namibia style
Luxury meal Namibia style

Still raining I ducked into the first restaurant I came across, in my backpacker rags, which turned out to be one of the poshest restaurants in town called "Nice". Whoops. Still, they were very accomodating and I dined excellently while downing glasses of South African wine. I could overhear at the next table a group of local politicians treating several journalists to a luscious feast. I imagine this was representative of the corruption Richard had spoken about earlier, and here it was playing out right in front of me.

One thing I noticed about Windhoek was that there were very few whites about (almost the complete opposite to the Cape), but I would later find that the opposite was the case for some of the smaller towns in the country. I imagine this mirrors the situation in South Africa where Johannesburg would be predominantly black, whereas Cape Town had a large white population.

Evidently the restaurant was considered way out of the budget of most locals, but the total cost for my meal was only the equivalent of 25 euro! I left exceedingly stuffed.

 

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Sithern Efrika

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    Luxury meal Namibia style