As we rode the clear glass elevator to the rooftop of the Hilton hotel in Windhoek to watch the sunset, I kept reminding myself we were in Africa. The elevator opened onto a narrow 40 ft long swimming pool with sparkling clear blue water,decked out with lounge chairs and umbrellas. The café bar was behind the pool, with tables looking out onto a city panorama. Most of the people in the bar were white, the servers and bartender were colored. This was Namibia.
Colonized by Germany in the late 1800’s and lost to South Africa after WWI, Namibia gained independence in 1990. But the Germans and South Africans, who remained through wars and independence, still owned 90% of the land and ran the economy even though there was a black elected government.
Whenever I meet foreigners, tourists or Namibians, I eventually bring up the subject of the blacks still being second class citizens in their own country. I get no sympathy from the native-born Germans or Afrikaans. The government recently passed a land reform law asking the white Namibians to sell some of their land back to the government. Of course the white farmers have been stalling for time, and the government has been dragging their feet; who knows if there is cash being passed between the two sides.
But remembering another African country that destroyed itself during the land reform process, this government does not want to create chaos like Mugabe in Zimbabwe. So with a bit of a background on where I have been the last 4 weeks, I want to share my experiences and impressions of this strange, beautiful land.
When I arrived here the first week of April, besides being thrilled with the modern world I found, I had a bit of a dilemma. Always having been a solo traveler and unless I wanted to rent a car and drive endless hours alone in the desert, I was going to have to take a tour. With a little bit of luck, and perseverance I found a 7 day safari with only 2 people. Like the majority of tourists who come here, they were German.
One was a nineteen year old working as an au-pair in Windhoek and the other a thirty one year old who was some kind of head hunter; both loved to eat and take pictures of sleeping lions. Our driver-guide, about thirty years old, spoke English pretty well and having studied tourism at a private institute, regardless of what was said, was always on his best behavior. His assistant and our cook, age 42, made delicious meals, having cooked in restaurants for seven years. His life had been hard, coming from a poor family, not finishing school, fathering two kids with two different women and living in one of the townships outside of Windhoek. He seemed at a loss on how to change his life.
We, including me, camped out the first three nights. Utilizing the two dollar rechargeable torch I bought in Fundong, my silk sleeping bag insert and my REI inflatable pillow, I managed to survive three days sleeping in a tent. I had a terrible hacking cough and two stiches over my eyebrow so by the fourth night, I was ready for my upgrade to a bed at the first of three five star lodges.
There was always a white proprietor, either German, English or South African and a black staff. The rooms were immaculate, the sheets, pillows, and towels were white and fluffy, and the shower was as hot as I wanted it. From the soft spoken staff, black or colored, I often felt as if they were waiting for me to dismiss them.
Palmwag Lodge was set in a dramatic location surrounded by reddish colored mountains in Damaraland, north central Namibia, named after the indigenous Damara people. The room had everything I described above plus an outdoor pool. With the speed of a 10 year old, I changed and dashed over to the pool and jumped in. I noticed that the three Caucasian individuals sitting around the pool did not glance up from their books, even when I exited the pool and walked in front of their chairs. Entering the patio for dinner, I again felt as if I was invisible. And of course every guest was white and the black waiters’s behavior reminded me of the deep South before the Civil War.
Since most of the farmers here raise cattle, there is an abundance of meat especially wild game.. Vegans or vegetarians need not be afraid of starving but don’t look at the menu. How would you like to eat an ostrich, a zebra or a kudu, oryx or springbok after you have been watching them romping in the wild? It seems I was the only one who felt this way.