Friday, April 5, 2013

Swakop-- aka "Is this still Africa?"

Because Namibia is a very religious country, Good Friday and Easter Monday are official holidays, which for us meant no school! We decided this would be a perfect time to visit Swakopmund, a cute little city on the coast. We had heard it can be a bit of a money pit, so by giving ourselves three days there, we would limit the amount of money we could spend. We met up after school on Thursday in Ondangwa and after a bit of confusion, managed to get a combi that would take us all the way to Swakop that night. It was supposed to leave at 3:30, and given an 8 hour drive, we figured we'd be in around midnight. A little late, but at least we would have all of Friday to spend in Swakop and not on the road. Well as with most things here, things did not go exactly as planned. We didn't leave Ondangwa until about 6:30, and with all the pit stops we made along the way, we didn't get in until about four in the morning. Yup. You did that math right, nine and a half hours in a combi. Woof. The seats were about 3/4 as wide as a normal seat should be which made for a very tight squeeze. Add to this the Oshiwambo hip hop that was playing at ear splitting volume the whole ride, and what you have is pretty akin to torture. Oh well- all part of the adventure. We made it to Swakop at 4 AM and someone said, "well at least we made it here!" We shushed her, saying that we weren't done yet, we still had to find two taxis to take us to the hostel, and at 4 in the morning, Swakop wasn't exactly bustling. We managed to find two taxis to take us pretty quickly, but moments after pulling out of the petrol station, our drivers announced that although they had just told us they knew where the hostel was, they in fact didn't. We had an address, but knowing nothing about the city, we were all pretty lost. After an eventful cab ride which almost included a roadside baby delivery, we made it to the Skeleton Coast Backpakers. The woman there was extremely sweet and met us at the door despite the fact that we woke her up in the middle of the night. We were let into our room where we climbed into our beds and snuggled under the down comforters. Yes, in Swakop, it was actually cold enough for a comforter. My New England heart was happy!
Wait, is this Maine?
State house
We awoke the next morning after only 5 hours of sleep excited to explore the new city. After a nice breakfast, we headed out to walk around and enjoy the gorgeous weather. Swakopmund is a small city on the coast where the German influence is still very strong.
The architecture is a fascinating juxtaposition of modern, geometric homes, and old Bavarian style architecture. The coastline is pretty rocky, and very reminiscent of the Maine coastline I am so accustomed to, but then the streets are lined with cement brick pathways and palm trees that looks much more like what I would expect to see in Venice Beach. Our eyes were constantly beholding new sights and I greatly enjoyed all the juxtapositions. We could hardly believe that this surreal little town was located in the same country as our homes in the north. There were some times when I would have to stop and consciously remind myself that I was still in Africa and had not Apparated to a seaside European village., it's Germany!
Looking down the pier
We walked along the beach to the center of town and enjoyed the smell of the ocean air-- I had forgotten how much I missed that smell. It was amazing to put my feet in the water and know that it was the same body of water that I swim in back home, except this time, instead of knowing that the Spanish shore lay far over the horizon, it was the Brazilian shore that was on the other side.

Could have come from Maine
After getting our beach fix, we made our way to the Swakopmund Museum, which had lots of cool artifacts showcasing the history of the city. Once again, the German influence was extremely evident. Most of the exhibits featured the history of the German colonists, and any mention of the "native peoples" were in separate exhibits. We checked out the gift shop and purchased a few postcards to send back home (I even managed to find one single postcard of Ovamboland-- two palm trees next to an oshana. We got a kick out of this, so I of course bought it.) We left the museum and after a bit more exploring, found a cute little cafe to eat lunch in where I had a Hawaiian Quesadilla. Mmmm, Mexican, how I've missed you. Downtown Swakop was exactly like a little German village complete with shops and cafes (even a Starbucks impostor) but at the end of the street, you could see out to the sand dunes in the desert beyond.
You're not fooling us, fake Starbucks!

We walked to the end of long pier to get a clearer view of the sand dunes and go into full tourist mode and take more pictures. We were stopped by a bunch of random people who wanted to take their picture with us. We almost expect this in Oshakati where we are pretty much the only white people, but it was a surprise to get it here too where not only are there a lot of white Afrikaners, but a lot of tourists too.
Dunes from the pier.
After stopping in a restaurant to make dinner reservations, we headed back to the hostel and grabbed a blanket and some speakers to go lay out on the beach for a while. It was the perfect temperature in the sun and none of us wanted to get up, but we had a reservation to make.

Oh wait, no, it's Venice Beach.
We got a little dressed up and headed to dinner, where I had the largest plate of BBQ ribs I have ever seen (I needed quite a bit of help to finish it!) and then we did a little bar hopping. I think the strangest part of the whole evening was the sheer amount of white people we were surrounded by. We're used to being the only white people around in the north, but here, we were back in the majority again. It was nice going out in the city, and we met up with a few of the other volunteers from the Kunene Region that we hadn't seen since our Epupa trip. We headed back around midnight to once again snuggle in our beds and get a good night's sleep before our early morning harbor cruise the next morning!

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