After anchoring in Walvis Bay, we took our dinghy ashore, loaded with wet, salty laundry from the massive wave that landed in our cockpit. Stefano from the World ARC was there to greet us, as the organization is planning to add this as a scheduled stop for next year’s tour. Almost half the fleet from this year’s WARC stopped in Namibia this year and Stefano came to scope it out. This made our lives easier as he helped us figure out Customs and Immigration, where to buy sim cards, etc.
The main feature of Namibia is the desert.
After taking care of the basics like clearing in and getting cash and sims for our phones so we could have internet, we visited the tourist office. The lady at the counter told us, “Walvis Bay is more of a commercial port than a tourist center so there’s not much here.”
Thankfully, Gemma had previously visited Namibia and was able to guide us (and the tourism lady) to signing us up for the Living Desert Tour. The tourism lady was quite helpful although I think she might need a bit more training on not underselling her community!
I was a little pessimistic about the tour – Gemma swore it was going to be wonderful but the location was a 30-minute drive which meant we had to get up at 6:30 am, not an easy task after a long passage. Then it was going to be 5 hours driving around the desert, looking at insects and other small creatures. I wasn’t optimistic that the kids would maintain their enthusiasm. Once again, I was proved wrong. Poor Cobin had an awful drippy cold and even he was engaged throughout the trip.
There were three vehicles with a guide in each. Our drive was a lovely lady named Bianca who grew up in Windhoek but now lives in Swakopmund, which holds a reputation as more of a tourist destination than Walvis Bay (although the bar has not been set high by the Walvis Bay folks). Chantal was the main guide of the day. While she showed us a creature or plant or tiny track in the sand, the other two guides roamed the desert, looking for other things to show us. While I was originally dismayed to be in a larger group, especially one which required Chantal to switch back and forth from German to English, it turned out to be a positive. If we had been on our own, our guide would have left us standing by ourselves for long periods of time while she combed the desert to find things to show us. As it was, we had a constant show of creatures and interesting things to look at.
The originator of the Living Desert Tour, a man named Tommy, came up with the “Little Five” to compete with the “Big Five” that people typically try to see on big game safaris in Africa. We were seeking the Palmato gecko, the Ferrari lizard, the sidewinder, the chameleon, and something else. We saw the gecko and the lizard and replaced the sidewinder with a horned adder but unfortunately missed out on the chameleon and whatever the other thing was.
We did get to see Chantal release two baby geckos that she had taken home as eggs when she dug them up in her search for an adult gecko to show a tour group. She couldn’t put them back in the disturbed nest so she kept them until they hatched, then brought them out on our tour to release them. They are adorable little things and it was fun to see them resume their lives in the desert.
After our tour, I went on a run along the inner harbor where giant white pelicans and flamingos roam about. It’s a lovely seaside community and we’ve found that Namibia has quite a different feel to South Africa. While it used to be part of South Africa, it has many unique features. The desert creates lots of physical separation between communities and the diamonds mined here presumably create a great deal of wealth. The towns and surrounding areas are very clean and, rather than rows and rows of cardboard and tin shacks like we saw in Cape Town, the outskirts of Walvis Bay are filled with neat lines of matching houses. Bianca told us that the government built all the houses (presumably for many of the black Africans that were forced out of the white areas during apartheid) and they are allowing the residents to buy them with favorable loan rates.
The communities are very clean and, according to various people we asked, largely safe and crime free. Many people have new cars and there is an air of prosperity and an evidence of a large middle class. Bianca told us that because of Namibia’s relatively small population, the government is managing to meet most people’s needs. In the thirty years since apartheid ended, she thinks they have made good strides in building schools for all children and learning how to transition to democracy from what was essentially chief-led tribal dictatorships.
We spent most of the day today on boat projects and school. Joe climbed the mast several times to replace the sheaves that he discovered were jostling about in the mast, creating enough space to trap the main halyard. He constructed several versions of a replacement but, sadly, key pieces kept dropping down the mast or into the sea. Boat work is challenging enough when you’re not hanging 40+ feet in the air, swaying as you attempt to do intricate work.
After the boat work we drove up to Swakopmund to see the movie Doolittle which we all enjoyed. On our last day in Walvis Bay, Joe and Gemma finished up the halyard project. Joe put new sheaves in and constructed a metal spacing piece to replace one that fell down the mast. The kids and I went to the mall to top up our provisioning. I have heard that St. Helena is like many other islands we’ve visited in that their fresh produce will be limited. If our timing is right and we are there when the supply boat or plane lands, we’ll have everything we need. If not, we will have to make do with whatever we bring from Africa. Since we have another long passage after St. Helena, I am stocking up and crossing my fingers that some of the fresh foods will last until Brazil.
We paid our bill at the yacht club (which had amazingly good food), managed to track down the Customs and Immigration folks on a Saturday so we could clear out of the country, returned the rental car and pulled up our anchor. Namibia is a lovely country and I’m thrilled that we were able to spend a few days there.