August 31, 2010

Trip to Etosha

The Polytechnic of Namibia had their mid-semester Spring Break last week. It was the first break we’ve had since we arrived and our first real chance to travel out of Windhoek. In anticipation of traveling throughout Namibia, we bought a car to use while we are here and made plans for a four day escape to Etosha National Park in northern Namibia, about 529 km from Windhoek.

Our car is a Toyota Corolla Altis which is about the same size as a big Camry. Because we drive much smaller cars at home, this one is taking some getting used to, not to mention that having the steering wheel on the right requires an adjustment unto itself. The professor is getting the hang of driving on the left but the last ingrained habit we still need to modify is signaling to turn. Since all the controls are on the opposite sides of where you expect them, the turn signal is on the right, and the windshield wiper control is on the left. Therefore we are still notifying oncoming drivers of our intent to turn with not only the appropriate turn signal but also windshield wipers waving back and forth at them. We’re going to be hopeless when we get home!

Tuesday, we got off to our traditional crack of noon start. We were a little concerned because we didn’t know what the roads would be like. However, roads were great and the baboons, wart hogs, and occasional oryx running across the road didn’t impede us much. We were able to reach our lodge by sundown which is around 5:50 PM these days. Windhoek had developed a pronounced dust/smog? problem the week before our trip

so we were really anxious to get out into the countryside and some fresh air.

Apparently you have to go farther than we did for fresh air. This is pretty much what it looked like all the way to Etosha.

There is a pronounced haze in the sky and given that we were frequently in the middle of nowhere traveling from Windhoek to Etosha, we couldn’t figure out where it came from. We took a break in Otjiwarongo and had a quick bite at the deli inside the Spar. Spar is an upscale Dutch grocery chain with sites in Windhoek and other larger cities in Namibia. They had a great hot buffet, salad bar, and sandwich selections – anything you could want. We could have been in a Whole Foods.

We opted for a quick lunch and a couple of bottles of Eish 2 O – ‘eish’ being the African sound of a H.

Then it was back on the road up through Outjo and onto Etosha Safari Camp, 9 km south of the Anderson Gate to Etosha.

Etosha Safari Camp is a one of the Gondwana Collection of Lodges in Namibia. The Gondwana Collection was the brainchild of a collaborative group of individuals, some Namibian, some European. They had seen the reactions of tourists to Grand Canyon and thought they could generate the same interest in Namibia’s Fish River Canyon which was also carved by a large river and which has rock layers back to some several million years old. The lodge they built at Fish River was so successful, they acquired additional lands and built lodges in other interesting Namibian locales.

The Gondwana Collection is a unique lodge operation in Namibia. If you are Namibian or have a work permit in Namibia (as we do!), you qualify for a Gondwana Card (essentially a frequent flier card) for which you pay a one time fee of $100 N (currently about $13.70 USD) and which entitles you for your lifetime, to a 50% discount at all their lodges plus a 25% discount on all dinners and activities. If you are a citizen of another SADC country, you can also get a lifetime Gondwana Card and a little smaller, but still significant, 40% discount. No one else does this in Namibia and lodges are very expensive here so this is one sweet deal.

We checked in at reception, helped ourselves to the always available coffee and tea, and sat by the pool contemplating how there could be such a beautiful set-up smack in the middle of Namibian bush.

After 5 hours driving through dreary colored landscape, it was truly like discovering a desert oasis.

The beautifully carved key fob for our room was only the beginning of surprises.

Guests are housed in free-standing cabins (called chalets here). When we opened the door, here’s what we saw.

What a beautifully restful room, complete with an intricately beaded hartebeest head.

Then we turned to look at the bathroom and saw our shower.

We wanted to take it home with us right then! What a great way to relax after a dusty day in Etosha, or any day for that matter. I could definitely make that thing work in my house.

It was almost time for dinner, so we unpacked our gear and headed to the dining area on the patio. Since this is dry season and there is NO – yes, that’s correct, 100% NO chance of rain; all the tables were arranged outside. An outdoor evening of great food, candlelight,

and entertainment

made for sweet dreams of Etosha the next day.

August 22, 2010


When it looks like this in Albuquerque….with dust suspended in the air all day, it’s a highly reliable indicator that spring is on the way. There was so much dust in the air this morning, you could look directly at the sun as it broke the horizon.

Winter (statistically mild by Albuquerque standards) seems to be on the way out of Windhoek and temperatures are warming.

Back when it was really winter on July 11 – the night of the World Cup Finals – a cold front came barreling north to Namibia from Antarctica. This is how we fended off the cold wind that roared down the breezeway to (actually through) our front door.

Although stuffing the door frame with newspaper kept most of the gale outside the door, because the flat isn’t heated and none of the windows seal, it was a cool, cool, night. Our flat came with an electric radiator but the darn thing is so underpowered that you can only feel the warmth ¼ inch away from it. While it made us feel better to have it on; the red lights are cheerful and looked warming,

it did little to warm the place. Most winter days were warm but the nights were decidedly cool.

At about 4PM on any given day, Windhoek begins to cool as surely as if someone threw a switch. In the winter, you want to be sure all the windows are closed as securely as possible by 4PM, because with sundown shortly after 5PM, there is a long stretch of cold temperatures in the flat until sun rise. Winter days were always sunny so it warmed up nicely throughout the day. The professor would leave for his office each morning in his light winter jacket, shed it completely by noon, but have to put it back on again for the walk home around 5PM or so. It’s funny though, bougainvilleas have been in bloom throughout the winter here. It rarely dips below freezing so I guess that’s okay for these tropical beauties.

Now that spring is closing in, the days are getting much warmer and the nights not so cool. I seem to have the same allergic reaction to Namibian spring as I do to New Mexican spring with sneezing, laryngitis, and a cough. But it didn’t stop me from finding a garden center today to look at plants and dream of spring.

This is one big garden center, complete with a cafĂ© under tall trees. It went on and on with giant displays of drought resistant plants, some tender annual flowers and a very large sign that read, “Big delivery of fresh plants due Monday, August 23, 2010 at 8AM”. That’s as good an indicator of spring as you’d ever want.

August 19, 2010

The Rock Shandy Experiment

Ever since we arrived, people have told us we really ought to try a Rock Shandy. Apparently Rock Shandys are the most popular drink in Namibia. So we experimented for a while to see if we would like them.

There’s good reason for their popularity. They are amazingly refreshing.

Various recipes show them to be either a concoction of:
Lemonade, soda water, lemon and Angostura bitters,
Sprite, soda water, lemon and Angostura bitters or,
Tonic water, lemonade, lemon and Angostura bitters

And they are always served with the bitters layered on the top. They are not sweet but not too bitter either. And they just hit the spot on a hot day.

We’ve tried them all sorts of ways: in tall glasses,


short glasses,


with carrot cake,

 and this one in a sawed off wine bottle!

Though now that the days are getting warmer in Windhoek, sometimes a soft drink just doesn’t hit the spot so the professor opts for the next most popular drink in Namibia.

August 01, 2010

Good ideas and other interesting stuff…..

I have finally found a place to recycle plastic. At least now I can do my bit for the Namibian environment. Though on closer analysis, this is truly an exercise in delusional thinking since my rather meager plastic bottle and pop can accumulations don’t have a chance of offsetting the CO2 from the unleaded fuel powering the round trip taxi ride I have to take to drop them off.

I have been seeing some good ideas lately, however.

The Pick N Pay grocery store we walk to daily (yes, daily) is busy all the time. We’re pretty much in the center of the city so it’s one of the main sources of groceries for those of us who live here and for folks heading home from the city. Lots of things are packaged to be light to carry. If you have to carry all your purchases any distance (as in our half mile trek uphill to our flat) let me tell you, you appreciate things being as light as they can be. Our dishwashing liquid was running low, so instead of buying yet another difficult to recycle bottle, I was able to purchase just what I needed – a refill!

I’ve also seen refills for fabric softener, clothes washing detergent, household cleaners, dishwasher detergent, plastic wrap, and aluminum foil. All of them are sized to be easy to carry and cost less than the original packaged product. There is a giant economic chasm here between the folks who have money and jobs and the 50% of the working age population that do not have a job and only limited money. It seems some grocery items are purposely packaged in small sizes so that they are easy to carry long distances and because of their size, are perhaps, somewhat more affordable.

We haven’t experienced that much difference in the price of grocery items between home and Windhoek. The prices seem much the same after you convert to dollars and once you get used to the price tags – the N$ 10.99 quart of milk to go atop your N$27.99 package of cereal, for instance. Those are approximately $1.49 and $3.78 respectively in USD. The N$1000 grocery totals at check-out can still make our heads swim though. We have to mentally convert to USD all the time. The $149,000 price tags on used Toyotas really made us gasp until we realized that’s about $20,400 USD.

Here’s another good idea that we could use at home.

This degradable egg packaging protects the eggs much better than the non-degradable Styrofoam cartons at home. You cannot open the package at the store to check for broken eggs, but I haven’t found a broken one yet – ones covered with small feathers – yes, but not broken ones.

Another interesting item of note – there is darn little high fructose corn syrup in evidence here. Soft drinks, cereals, fruit drinks, candies, and marshmallows (all part of our taste tests thus far) are all sweetened with sugar. In general, portion sizes are smaller and not much is very sweet. These cookies are not as sweet as American vanilla wafers.

These gum drops taste more of fruit flavors than of sugar.

Marshmallows – those are a bit of a toss up with US brands – but overall, still not as sweet.

We are seeing far fewer overweight individuals here as compared to home. Most are a very healthy slim body size. Most remarkably, I never see a single overweight college student at Polytechnic. The professor has seen only a very small number of overweight students. It certainly gives one pause for thought in comparison to students at home.
When I do take taxis, I usually hail one just outside the main gate to Polytech. Last week though, I needed to be at an event some distance from the university and then needed to be picked up again afterwards. I called a taxi driver who had seemed very kind to us on a previous trip and who had given me his phone number. He had my cell phone number from the call I placed to him and here is the message he sent when he arrived to pick me up:

And when he came back to get me later:

Can’t beat that. This is just an example of the tremendous kindness we have experienced from everyone we have met thus far.

Here’s another good thing that happens every day. Most days are cloudless and the sunsets look like this.

But on the rare occasion there have been clouds, they look like this:

Can’t beat that either.