A Daring Move

Trip Start Aug 26, 2008
1
7
26
Trip End Dec 14, 2008


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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Preface: I tried uploading pictures earlier this morning but the internet café in Walvis Bay was broken so pictures will have to wait until South Africa... Sorry.

So the ship is just now leaving our port in Walvis Bay, Namibia. I have to say that this was the port I was the least excited for on the entire trip, but it turned out to be better than Brazil. While staying in a hostel in the capital I was talking with a girl from Israel. She said that something is only fun if it is beautiful, adventurous, or done with people you love. Brazil was beautiful and my time in Walvis Bay could be described as nothing short of adventurous.
I did not have a pre-planned trip with Semester at Sea for this port so I was thinking about what I wanted to do at dinner prior to departing. I decided I wanted to sneak out of the country and head into Zambia and Zimbabwe to visit Victoria Falls and do some extreme sports there and camp. I pitched the idea to four guys I'm friends with on the ship who are also adventurous. Part of our agreement with SAS is that we're not allowed to leave the country so I was hoping that these guys would be bold enough to bend that rule. Turns out they were. One of them had a prior commitment so he couldn't go, but the other three were sold immediately. So it was the four of us, James, Evan, Riley, and me. We spend two days trying to book flights from the capital city of Namibia, Windhoek to Vic Falls in Zambia. We were having trouble with communications arranging the flight so we decided it would be best just to get to Windhoek and talk to a travel agency or airline in person.
The night before as we were discussing our plans for the trip four more people who I was friends with heard about our adventure and decided to join up. Add Karina, Brad, Christine, and Dani and we were eight; five guys and three girls. The morning after being lectured by the US consulate officials we all met up outside the ship to head into town and exchange money. Turns out one more wanted to head to the falls, a guy name Matt who was on my Iguacu trip joined us to make nine. We found a bank and I pulled out enough money for the bus ride and a few extra just in case. We decided to have a drink while we waited on our bus. We were actually waiting for the chief of police to call us back. Walvis Bay is so small the US consulate agents gave us the chief of police's personal number and he was arranging a bus transport for us. After the bank we all headed to this building with gambling and a bar for a pre-departure drink. Inside I met a local named Dennis who was pretty drunk but showed me his ID and told me he was a pharmacist. Namibia is a very odd African country in that the official language is English even though only a small proportion of the population can speak or read it. Most of the local speak Afrikaans. Dennis spoke decent English so we chatted a little while about growing up in Namibia and the local people and culture and he introduced me to a few more of his friends. Dennis must have liked me because he paid for a few more beers for me and soon our pre departure stop turned into a small party with the nine of us SAS kids and five or six locals. It was a good introduction and everyone was great to us. One of the locals who had been hanging around tried to steal money out of Christine's bag while she wasn't looking so Dennis had him kicked out. Good guy that Dennis.
We were bored with waiting for the police chief to call us back so I asked Dennis how we should go about getting to Windhoek. He gave us the name of a mini-bus company that would run us all the way there for a road trip time of 6 hours. He also gave us a few tips on how to deal with the company and about traveling in Windhoek. Like I said, good guy. So we said goodbye to our first Namibian friends and headed for the bus terminal. When we got there I realized that terminal wasn't the right word. It was a small parking lot outside of downtown with a few benches and a row of small white vehicles the size of a VW bus. There were already three SAS kids waiting at the bus stop. The way these work are they transport 16 people and don't leave until they are full. So my nine joined their 3 and decided to pay for the additional spaces in order to leave right away and also to avoid random people hopping on our crammed bus with us. The ride cost 100 Namibian dollars, which is roughly the equivalent of 11 US dollars. So a six hour bus ride cost each of us only $11. Evan and James bought a bottle of rum and a liter of beer for everyone for the drive. T.I.A. We set off making way too many bathroom stops due to the large amount of intoxicated people on the bus. I was coordinating all of the transportation and everything else, so I stayed soberish but decided to nap to kill some time. After quite a while we arrived in Windhoek safe and sound. Although there was one crazy guy at a gas station stop as soon as we got there who kept pointing at us through the window and yelling in Afrikaans. He became a joke for our group because no one else in Namibia acted like him while on our stay.
I bought a lonely planet guidebook that served as our sole source of information for our trek and we decided to stay at a hostel that night and try and book a plane the following morning which was Saturday. We headed to a hostel called cardboard box but my nine were turned away because they were full. The three we met at the bus stop had previously booked rooms there so we dropped them off and went driving around to find a hostel with rooms. We found one whose name I can't remember which cost us 100 Namibian dollars for the night. Most of us hadn't eaten since the morning and were really hungry so we headed to a mini mart close by to stock up on food for the night and the next day. I don't usually eat food in gas stations in America, but I was hungry and it was the only real, hot food that was available in Windhoek at that time of night. So I got a disgusting sausage and some "chips" (American fries) that were saturated in grease and rolled in a brown paper bag. I was sure that this meal would make me regret eating it one way or another. We headed back to our hostel to set up for the night and play some cards and have a few beers. Six of us shared a dorm while three others roomed with some random people in another dorm. There were a few people outside drinking already and we quickly made friends with the three of them. I think all three of them were German, but I'm not sure. We were playing a drinking game called 'kings' for a few until our new friends decided to go to bed. Soon a few other people showed up. The girl from Israel, a German girl, and a cool dude with dreads who I never found out where he was from. They had all met traveling and decided to stay together to do a few things and were now cruising around Africa for a few months. They were great people to talk to and gave us a lot of information and sort of the 'inside scoop.' The Israeli girl also gave me the quote I used to open this, which is something I think I'll keep with me for awhile. It was pretty late already so we decided to call it a night because we needed to get up early to get to Vic Falls. Riley and Matt decided they didn't want to take the risk anymore so they walked downtown to find a bar for the rest of the night.
We woke up early to a local woman cooking everyone in the hostel breakfast. It was a solid breakfast although I forgot how much I hated instant coffee. After a quick breakfast we talked with a few of our friends we made the night before and set off to get our trip squared away. Riley and Matt decided to part with our group and do their own thing since they didn't want to go to Vic Falls. Now the group is down to 7. The cardboard box runs a travel agency out of the hostel so we decided to head there first to see if they could help. After about an hour of phone calls and deliberation we decided not to go on the trip. There were no flights available and we couldn't even charter a plane within a few days. The only way to get there was a 30 hour bus ride there and back which severely cut into our travel time. Besides the girls were really worried about breaking the rules now that we were in the fourth quarter and we all decided we could make the capital a fun place to be. So we booked a day safari for later that day and headed to the mall for lunch, get money, and do a little shopping. Before we left we met two Americans (Adam and Ben) who were working in northern Namibia for micro-lenders as volunteers. They were recent grads from the University of Georgia and gave us the tip about the mall. So the group headed out on the street to hail a cab and while 4 of them got into the cab me, Karina, and Evan headed back to the hostel because we forgot to lock our door. After we got our room locked we headed back out to where the first group got a taxi. In a minute one stopped and I hopped in to negotiate price. As I'm negotiating the price Evan and Karina are beginning to get into the cab while the car behind us keeps honking because the cabby stopped in the street. The cab driver freaks out and speeds off while Evan and Karina fall out of the car back into the curb area. I thought I was getting kidnapped by this taxi but it didn't matter because he hit a car right away. A police car even. I'm not kidding. The car that was honking behind him evidently was a cop and that's why he freaked out, but the cop was trying to pull around and the cabby wasn't paying attention and plowed into the back end of the cop car. Another cop pulled up behind the cab and boxed the taxi in. The cop who got hit got out of the car and started yelling at our cabby in English. I freaked out because I had no idea what my involvement would be in this situation so I got out and took off running with Karina and Evan following behind me. Neither of the police seemed to care and we hopped in another taxi once we were safely out of distance and headed to the mall.
We ate at this amazing sushi restaurant and chatted to kill some time. Most everyone in the group didn't know each other. I know each of them, but pieced them together through general interest so we took this time to get to know each other over sushi and wine. I picked up another bottle of wine at the local market and we headed back to the hostel for our safari. The cabby on the way back was cool as hell. He was chatting me up and I asked him what kind of music he listened to. He said he loved the American rapper Lil Wayne and he had the cd, so we put it on. The ten minute cab ride home me and this Namibian cab driver were rapping to Lil Wayne. I truly believe music is the universal language, it was awesome. Waiting for our safari pick-up I met three new guys named Lucas, Russ, and Elliot. They were Australians who had traveled all over and were now taking over a year off to travel throughout Africa and the Middle East. In fact they had just come from Cape Town which is where we are currently headed so they were full of useful information.
The ride to the safari was just outside of the capital city so it was pretty short. On the way there we happened to stumble upon two wild giraffes. It was amazing; two of the girls didn't even believe they were real because they were standing so still. We got out to snap a few shots with them and headed back onto our journey. The lodge we departed from for the game drives was an old beautiful German style large house with a bar overlooking the dessert area that was made out of sticks. It was out in the middle of nowhere and only one other home, which was built into the mountains, could be seen at all. It was picturesque. Before we started our first game drive we went to visit a baby cheetah that had an accident and was missing a leg. It was a very sad sight, but the safari people were at least taking care of him. The first part of the game drive was probably my favorite and also provided the coolest pictures. They baited a leopard by placing a few hunks of raw meet in a curved tree and we sat and waited. After awhile a white tail appeared in the brush and quickly walked out and climbed the tree. We were probably twenty feet away from this the entire time. It. Was. Awesome. It was so vivid the pictures came out great. The safari guides threw the leopard some more meat so it would eat on the ground in front of us, but the leopard would just grab it and carry it into the brush so we couldn't really see him most of the time. Still an awesome first sight. The pictures do most of the talking for the safari so I'll speed through the rest. We went and saw the cheetahs next. This part of the safari was more like a reserve so the animals were encaged in super large fenced off areas of the desert. We watched the cheetahs follow the front jeep to a clearing where they waited to be fed. I was actually pretty bummed about this, but it was still pretty awesome watching them play and eat. They jumped up frequently to catch meat being tossed to them and damn can they jump. We didn't get to see them run which was disappointing. Maybe in Cape Town. After the cheetahs we went back to the lodge to prepare for the second drive.
The first drive was done in an enclosed jeep style truck; the second was a lot better. We sat on the roof of this specially designed truck and headed out into the wild bush to see what we could stumble upon. We saw a ton of local animals, kudu, oryx, springbok, dik dik, wildebeest, wild bore, a ton of other names I can't remember and the highlight was seeing a bunch of monkeys scale one of the mountains. We couldn't even see them at first but we heard their screeching so we told our guide to stop. After watching for awhile Karina noticed that the mountain to our left was moving all over. There were dozens and dozens scaling their way to the top. We were far enough away the pictures didn't come out well but the site was pretty amazing nevertheless. This drive took a few hours and traversed a ton of desert space. We ended by driving by a waterhole at sunset. It looked like a movie. Great experience.
The drive back was quick but it let us get a good 20 minute powernap because we were planning on going out to a club that night with Aussies. We decided to grab dinner on the way back and we ate at this awesome tourist trap in Windhoek called Joe's Brewhouse. It was a bar/restaurant famous for its game meat. All seven of us got to relax for a few and the guys ordered some interesting food. It was even more ironic because some of the animals I just saw on the safari I had for dinner. Ha. I had zebra, kudu, springbok, oryx, ostrich, alligator, chicken, and one more meat I don't think we ever figured out. Everything was amazing except the alligator. Everyone agreed that alligator was the worse, but at least we tried it. After dinner we crammed all seven of us into a cab to head back to the hostel.
I grabbed the bottle of wine I bought, A Stellenbosch Pinotage (South African specialty) to share with our Aussie friends while everyone got ready. Lucas was a construction manager who had done the most traveling. I got to know Russ because Lucas was making fun of Russ for having red hair and I took to his defense. Turns out Russ had just graduated law school and was planning on applying for a job in international law with the ICC. Not only was he a fellow oppressed ginger, he had the same aspirations as me. Awesome guy and we hit it off right away. Elliot just finished school too and studied environmental management/conservation but doesn't have a job yet. All three of them chatted with each person who joined our group after getting ready learning where they were from and what they were studying, all the usual particulars. It was about this time that Evan realized that he had left his backpack in the trunk of the cab which included all his money, credit cards, passport, camera, and some clothes. Everyone was worried. Evan headed back to the restaurant with James to see if they could have the restaurant recall the cab (they ordered it the first time) so that he could get a hold of the cabby and get his stuff back. The rest of us waited at the bar.
After a bottle of wine and a few beers Evan returned with no luck. He was taking things surprisingly well and so we headed to a local African club that was supposed to be crazy fun. They were right. The club was amazing. Although I was shocked at how much American hip-hop they played, they also played a great deal of local Namibian hip-hop too. Brad, Karina, and I were taught one of the local dances by a few of the girls there. Brad was the talk of the night. Turns out one of the girls he was talking to earlier in the night was a 'professional' and wouldn't leave him alone for most of the night. It was hilarious. She had a business card she gave him that said she was a special liaison to the president of Namibia. Turns out she only had one card too because after she realized Brad wasn't going to 'have dinner with her in a castle' as she put it, she asked for the card back. Too bad it would have made a funny souvenir. We did get quite a few awkward pictures of him with her, so the blackmail will remain for years to come.
The club closed at 4 AM and we headed back to the cardboard box for the night. We hung outside by the pool in the bar for probably another hour hanging with the Aussies and drinking a little more. They were really awesome guys and had a ton of great insight because they were so well traveled, especially in Africa. That night they introduced me and Brad to a book called 'Shantaram.' They were raving about this book. It's about an Australian convicted robber who was addicted to heroin and thrown in prison, but he broke out and fled to India. The story is about his life in India and all t he crazy things that he was involved in there and all the good he was able to do there as well. They said that it would challenge every preconceived notion we had, especially about India. Brad and I bought the book a few days later and although I've only read a couple of pages, it was worth the hype. If you have time, check out the book I guarantee it will become a hit in the states soon because it is everywhere else.
The next morning was rough because we had to be out of the hostel by 10 and we had been up partying until 5 or so. Nevertheless we crawled out of bed packed our bags and said goodbye to our Aussie and American friends we met at the cardboard box. The group split into two with Evan and James staying behind to take care of his passport the next day at the Embassy. So the other five of us grabbed some snacks for the road and headed to the 'bus stop' again to take another VW mini bus back to Swakupmund which is where almost all of the other Semester at Sea kids were staying. The ride back was one of the most bittersweet things I've ever been through. These busses can probably seat 11 comfortably including one person sitting shotgun. This time instead of buying the extra seats the five of us crammed into the bus with other locals. Christine and Dani sat in the very back with two other locals while Brad, Karina, and I squeezed into our own smaller seat. The worst part was the heat/smell. Of course there was no AC but the two people who were sitting by the windows kept them almost entirely closed so that there was no airflow in the back. The next six hours were spent sweating with strangers who were not the most friendly. But it did give me a chance to chat with Karina and Brad for most of the time. I knew them probably the best prior to the trip but got to know them really well on the way back. Both of them are amazing people. Brad is from Missouri but goes to Colorado University, which is the same school as my roommate on the ship, and Karina is from California and goes to school in Santa Barbara. Brad actually has a girlfriend who goes to Butler and is in a sorority there. I've actually met her and Brad has been to a formal dance at Butler. The world keeps getting smaller.
Christine and Dani complained the entire ride back and kept making me ask the locals to open the windows for us. I was so embarrassed. It was hot, we were all hot, but they weren't going to do anything about it and there was no use complaining. I was happy to hear that Dani and Christine were staying on the bus all the way to Walvis Bay and going back to the ship for the night. They are cool girls and they were fun to hang out with, but after six hours of them complaining I needed some space. Karina was a trooper. She never mentioned anything and tried to calm the other two girls down. I was impressed. While the trip was long and hot and not the most pleasant smell it was still a rewarding experience. For one I got to have a great convo with both Karina and Brad, but more importantly I got to talk with a few of the locals and we did our best to travel like they did even though we could have easily afforded not to. It was a rewarding experience in the end. So Brad, Karina, and myself were dropped off on the outskirts of Swakupmund and Christine and Dani continued to the ship. Now the group was three and we headed into the town still exhausted from the night before and with no plans and no where to stay.

Too be continued...
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Where I stayed
Cardboard Box

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