Wed, 30 Jul 2008 09:19:32 +0000

Livingstone to Windhoek Index Windhoek to Jo'burg

As promised, we pulled into Windhoek a bit after five in the morning. I'd slept pretty much the whole night, so despite a sore neck, I was rested enough to tackle the big issue for today: finding somewhere to sleep. The American sitting behind me was in the same boat, so we agreed to share a taxi to "Cardboard Box Backpackers", an apparently fairly good hostel.

We turned up at their gate at about six in the morning, and waited in their reception until they officially opened at seven. After a while we were joined by a Dutch couple from the bus who had also ended up there. This made me nervous, since we were now hoping for a grand total of four free beds. I hoped we wouldn't have to fight it out if there were less than that. In the end this wasn't an issue: after a while the receptionist asked us if we had reservations, which of course we didn't, and she told us they were fully booked. Bugger. Man, I really don't learn do I? Book in advance. Always book in advance.

However, and rather kindly, the receptionist said she'd phone around to find places for us - although only after eight, when the other hostels' receptions opened.

During this wait, it turned out that the American had had his laptop stolen on the bus. A Macbook Pro. Yikes! And his phone as well. I'm taken back to when I lost my backpack. It's a catastrophe, but as a sympathetic ear, there's not really much I can provide in terms of reaction. Basically, it's gone, and that sucks. There's nothing more to say. I now appreciate why none of the other backpackers have seemed all that sympathetic when I've brought it up.

I made use of the wait to borrow the Lonely Planet off the Dutch couple, and figure out how I'm going to get to Botswana. Short answer: I can't. That is, there are buses, but they only run once or twice a week. The border between Namibia and Botswana turns out to be extremely poorly served. You can easily travel between South Africa and any of Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe or Mozambique. But travelling between any of those directly is a pain. So I decided that I would have a look at flying straight to Johannesburg instead, and make that a base of operations to explore the other countries. That would make things a lot simpler all round.

Eventually, at eight, she phoned Backpacker Unite, and there were places for all four of us. Hooray! Booking in advance? Waste of time! We all hauled on our backpacks and trooped off around the corner. Nice to have landed on my feet.

After settling in, the American and I joined forced to head into town. We both needed power adapters for the wacky African power points they have here, and needed some food, so there was enough commonality of purpose to stick together. It quickly goes from freezing cold to hot and dry here, but in the early morning it's a beautiful walk.

We split up when we got to the first mobile phone shop, my companion needing a mobile phone to replace the one stolen on the bus. I found a power adapter at a cheap Target-like store called PEP, so that went well. Then I happened to pass a travel agent, and popped in to see how much a flight to Johannesburg would cost. It turned out that there was a flight tomorrow for just USD 260 or so. So I booked that. That makes me very happy.

I had some lunch, a remarkable baguette piled with smoked salmon and little rosettes of cream cheese. Looks great, but completely impractical to eat. And with that done and everything booked, I felt ready to do some touristing.

Windhoek doesn't offer a lot of potential for touristing, but there is a museum, so I had a look at that. Actually the museum is in two bits. The first, in a nondescript brick building, does the natural history and ethnography. There were some interesting things to learn, such as the measures they take to "reduce conflict" between cheetahs and farmers. They have special breeds of guard dog that bond with sheep. And even guard donkeys! The ethnography exhibits focused on particular ethnic groups within Namibia. I was fascinated by the specialisation: one tribe specialised in blacksmithing, for example, trading the goods with neighbouring tribes for food. I know that the first thing the Europeans did when they colonised Africa was break down these relationships, setting the tribes against each other. And that's where we get the current conflicts in places like Congo and Kenya. Nice to be reminded that it wasn't always like that.

The second part of the museum is in the "Alte Fest", some kind of vaguely fortified colonial-era building.

This part focuses on Namibian history. Unfortunately it never explains anything about Namibian history, just diving straight into artefacts and detailed context-less history. I knew that Nambia was a German colony for a while, and therefore must have been British after the first World War. But I didn't know much beyond that. I gather from the exhibits that it was under South African occupation for a long time, and then the UN stepped in somehow and organised an election in 1994. Or something: things seem to have dragged on for a decade before a true independent democratic government arrived, but the exhibits never explained what went wrong. Presumably the scars are still too fresh, but it left me very frustrated.

Oddly, both museums appeared to be free, except that there is a "voluntary donation". Which I'm happy to pay. But on the wall of the Alte Fest there was a notice specifically instructing me to not pay any fee or tip. I'd already paid 20 Namibian dollars at the first museum, but presumably that was just the guard's own breaking of the rules. Did I do the wrong thing? I was hopelessly confused. The guard at the Alte Fest seemed very keen for me to give a tip, but given the useless nature of the museum, and the sign telling me not to, I really didn't feel this was appropriate. So this left me in the position of sneaking around the entrance hoping for an opportunity to walk away without him noticing. He had the instincts of a hawk though, and eventually I had to brazenly walk away without paying. A very weird experience.

My outstanding task was to make a booking for a place to stay in Johannesburg. My flight arrives at six o'clock at night, and there's no way I'm wandering around Johannesburg in the dark trying to find a place to sleep. Of course, communication turned out to be just as hard in Nambia as in Zambia. It seems that in order to use the payphones I need a special card, which I can't get at the hostel. There's no way to make international phone calls from the hostel. So I had to go back into town to find an Internet cafe that would let me make international calls. Except that I simply couldn't find one that was open. It's incredible: the whole of Windhoek seems to shut down at five, including the Internet cafes. What kind of Internet cafe isn't full of smoking, drunken teenagers playing Counterstrike at two in the morning? I wandered around for ages trying to find something, but had to give up. I'll have to book tomorrow.

Instead, I looked for somewhere to eat. The restaurants here are remarkable for their German character, most of the signs and menus being in German first and English second. I went to one place that looked good, but it seemed awfully posh, and as I was waiting to be seated I lost my nerve. Instead I went to a more pub-looking place nearby.

They turned out to have an interesting "game" menu, and so I ordered a mixed plate of game meats with sp#tzle. I certainly hadn't expected to eat sp#tzle on this trip. The meats were oryx, ostrich, and springbok. Interesting. The oryx was a little tough, but the ostrich was incredibly tender, almost like liver, and the springbok was pretty good too. I had a couple of beers with it, and then finished things off with a glass of gl#hwein. Rather dry gl#hwein, not my favourite kind. But a fun experience in Africa.

And then the walk back. I'd asked at reception if it was safe to walk around Windhoek at night, and told firmly "no". So, against every instinct, I'd given my bag into reception to put in the safe, and only taken enough cash to pay for a meal. I was glad of this on the walk back, in the dark and passing all those forbidding looking electric fences. If you get mugged here, no-one will hear you scream (at least, they won't admit it). My bag was still there that when I got back, which was nice. So I'm adjusting to the dramatically increased danger of being mugged. I'll need this in Johannesburg.

Livingstone to Windhoek Index Windhoek to Jo'burg