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News and Events

Welcome to Windhoek, Namibia

May 1, 2006

We arrived in the Namibian capital today around 5:30pm. After what seemed like a very long time at the car rental place, we drove about 1.25 hrs. to our nights stay at the Eningu Clayhouse Lodge. But first, a note about Namibia’s roads.

During our research we read things like, “be sure to take plenty of water and food in case you get stuck or have car problems,” and, “an extra can of petrol is a good idea to carry with you as the petrol stations are few and far between,” and, ”do not exceed 80 km/hr on gravel roads,” and, “watch out for Kudu at night because they are particularly attracted to lights and will charge your car.”

So reading these things in books and the travel guides from our travel agency is one thing; driving these roads, especially at night with no working mobile phone, with only 250ml of water and armed with only nail clippers and my sharp wit is another story. Oh, we also have no clear idea of where we’re going.

We leave the airport on one of Namibia’s main national roads, the B6. Immediately we became a little concerned that their major national road is little more than a shoulder-less one-lane paved road with no street lamps and very few signs. Our directions lead us to take the M51, a dirt road, for 64 km. The dirt road goes on for forever. At any time I expect to see a skull and crossbones sign that says, “You just left civilization.”

We are in the Wild West, or something akin to it. I saw a small impala on the road, several owls, an overturned stagecoach, some animal carcasses line the road, and I could have sworn that I also saw the remains of an old-style mob lynching. When we arrived at our Lodge I felt like I should order my drink in a dirty glass. It’s rural out here…

Namibia_dirt_road

Our first night we stayed at the Eningu Clayhouse. We arrived just in time for a late dinner of kudu steak and special truffles. The Clayhouse is on the edge of the Kalahari savannah (the Kalahari isn’t a true desert because they get too much rain. It’s classified as a savannah instead). The cottages were made from handmade bricks from clay collected locally.

clayhouse

May 2, 2006

Sossusvlei Lodge

Leaving the Clayhouse we have to pass through Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. It’s a normal small city, and we stock up on groceries and I get a SIM card for the mobile phone. Within 15 minutes of our 5+ hr journey from Windhoek to Sossusvlei, we run into a police roadblock. We’re not carrying contraband so we’re not worried, unless noisy kids are contraband…

He asks for our driver’ license and we have both our NC license and our International License, although both are in my backpack in the back of the car. I tell him that and he recognizes our accent, smiles and says, “God be with you in your travels.”

Now this gives me pause. What kind of country can you visit that the police say, “God be with you in your travels?” It’s almost a warning, a caution sign. I’d prefer him to say something like, “Have a great time!” or, “Have fun, be careful.” But he didn’t. He said, “God be with you.” Eerie, scary, prognostic tingly. What does he know that we don’t? Weren’t we already warned about the kudu and water and extra gas?...

This is a place that is NOT in the middle of Nowhere. Nowhere came here, saw what was around, and left for some other geographic destination.

The Sossusvlei Lodge is in the middle of the Namibia Desert, a cosmic void that takes 5+ hours from anywhere on the planet to get here. It’s desolate. There are warning signs about 100 kilometers from the lodge warning you that there is no gas or water for a long time. Unfortunately they don’t warn you that no normal human being should ever be out in this area, much less looking for gas or water. Myself, I’m looking for a Barca-lounger with satellite TV and a six-pack of beer. Unfortunately there are no signs to indicate that I am heading in the right direction for this.

Darren & Dominique

But it’s also beautiful here. The Namibia Desert catches the sun’s rays and the shadows on the sand dunes are an unbelievable contrast.

Dominique_desert

May 3, 2006

This place is pretty cool, and we’re staying in a desert tent:

desert_tent
Dominique_reading

And they have the most unbelievable dinners on the planet, featuring African game meat. Each night they have a buffet that you can sample African game grilled over authentic Namibian braii:

meat
more_meat

Having been born and raised on US-produced beef, chicken and pork, these African meats are quite the exotic treat. In order to give you an idea of the meat situation in Africa, it might be useful for me to compare/contrast the qualities of African game meat to US beef. So for your gastronomic pleasure, I give you the Rousseau US/African "Meat Comparison Charts" (Copywrite Pending):

  Meat Comments
1 Beef Filet Mignon This is the king of soft meats. It would melt in your mouth if your mouth were capable of melting flesh without the aid of teeth.
2 Springbok Springbok was thinly sliced, which is not the greatest cut in testing the tenderness of cuts. But it was very tender—almost to the point of singing sweet nothings to my gastro-intestinal track.
3 Ostrich I ate ostrich several times; the most tender was marinated ostrich (no surprise). For being so lean, it was surprisingly tender.
4 Zebra Middle-range in tenderness. No other comments.
5 Kudu The first time I tried Kudu it was tasty buy tough; the second time was tasty and tender. Thus the middle-range ranking.
6 Oryx Middle-range in tenderness. No other comments.
7 Hartebeest Tough meat. If you look at a hartebeest face-on, you’ll understand what I’m saying.
8 Crocodile This is a great mix between red and white meat. You only eat the tail, and much of it is bone. The bones on the tail are cross-shaped which means that you have to do a lot of cutting to get very little meat.

Flavor, ranked in order of most flavorful too least flavorful:

  Meat Comments
1 New York Strip Steak Can anything hold the smoky flavor of natural charcoal better?
2 Springbok Again, we see Springbok in the #2 position…
3 Ostrich Ostrich holds flavor well. We had braaied ostrich, marinated ostrich, and pan-fried ostrich. Ostrich is a solid meat.
4 Kudu Flavorful meat. More flavor than tender.
5 Crocodile Good flavor; good mix between red and white meat.
6 Oryx Normal meat
7 Hartebeest Normal meat
8 Zebra Normal meat

So, on the Rousseau Scale of Total Meat Pleasure (Copywrite Pending):

Tenderness Filet Mignon
Flavor NY Strip Steak
Total Winner, flavor AND tenderness Springbok. A surprise? A great mix of both flavor and tenderness; the Tom Hanks of meat, if you will.

Not only is this place a heaven for the gastronomic system, we also had a great time with the sand dunes.

sand-dunes

Sand Dunes Video

Note: if you can not see the video, download QuickTime and view the movie with it.

quicktime logo (4K)

Dominique & Annette Sand Dune Video

dom_quad-bike

There’s a lot of sand here in the Namibia Desert. It was quite dry and sandy. In fact, that’s the definition of desert: (paraphrased from Webster’s Dictionary): “Desert: dez-ert; A lot of sand. A place of very little rain. A very dry place usually designated with a lot of sand. A place where you’d like to bring a lot of water and some buckets and shovel with which to make sand castles because there is nothing else to do. A place that Omar Sharif made a lot of movies that featured a lot of sand in the form of dunes. Camels like it here. If DRY was a person, DRY would live here.”

A bit of hyperbole here? I think not…

From here, we traveled to Swapokmund, about 5 hours away. EVERYTHING in Namibia is about 5 hours away, on dirt roads, with nothing in between. The dirt roads are empty, devoid of any and all life. There is nothing between cities except 5 hours of dirt road. Nothing. Here is an example of how much Nothing there is on the 5-hour journey from Sossusvlei to Swapokmund:

Take a vacuum (which is void of any matter)

Double it

Multiply the result by minus infinity

Now add one

There’s so much nothing there that a black hole nearly formed during our travels. That’s how much nothing there is along these Namibian roads.

May 4, 2006

May 5,6,7, 2006

Swapokmund, Namibia

Swapokmund is a German town. Established and settled by the Germans after the world wars, you see signs for Brauhaus, Bierhaus, and delis and serve brotchen and Auslese wine. We washed clothes, visited a National Seal Colony, and saw some pretty cool architecture. Much German is spoken here, and we got used to hearing, “Acht” all the time. So we kinda picked it up for ourselves.

This is an incredible home to breeding seals. The breeding colony of seals is the main attraction and we indulged ourselves with a self-guided drive.

The bull seals start arriving during October to demarcate their territory and defend it aggressively. The pregnant cow seals arrive later and give birth to a single pup within 1-2 days. About seven days later, they come on heat again (Acht!) and mate with the nearest bull (those hussies…). Then they return to the sea to feed for a few days, leaving the pups to fend for themselves. At this time the pups are very vulnerable to black-backed jackal, hyenas and the negative influence of American Fox TV. When the cow seals return from the sea, they locate their pup by a combination of scent and call and they then suckle them for a few days. They then return to the sea to feed for a few days. This cycle continues until the pups are weaned at 8 to 10 months old. Acht!

We arrived at the seal colony with the warning from our travel agent:

“Please note: Several thousand breeding seals are naturally going to create a fair amount of smell (Acht!). If your sense of smell is particularly delicate, the Cape Cross Seal colony may not be for you!”

What they should have said is this:

“ACHT! Think of the worst smell you have experienced and put a number to it. Multiply that by 10, then square that result, then add a googol (1 with 100 zeros behind it, sometimes called a duotrigintillion). This number will be a good approximation of about half of what the smell will be like”

seal_colony

Stinky Seals Video

So besides being a German village (Acht!) and having really cool architecture (they have really cool architecture here), we really didn’t do much except relax and spend time on the beach.

May 7,8,9,10, 2006

Rustig Toko Lodge, Kaokoveld area, Damaraland region. I think that you have to name just about everything here with 3+ syllables.

This is a wonderful lodge in the middle of Damaraland, uh…, Kaokoveld, uh… it’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Acht. But it was extremely comfortable and gave us great food.

The most interesting thing we did during our three-day stay here was a morning visit to the Himba people. These are the real deal live in a mud hut; wipe yourself with a leaf people.

himba_people

The Himba People

Himba Village Video (7 min.)

Video notes:

The young woman that’s shaking the gourd is making the rancid butterfat. They drink this and also use it to create the red paste (see below)

There is a part of the video where you see a bunch of kids stomping around in mud. This is actually a bunch of kids stomping around in mud and cow dung. Mixed with water, they create a clay that they spread onto their huts. The smell is quite interesting…

The Caucasian lady in the video assists the Himba in adapting to 21st century living. Her father owns the land on which the Himba live, and her brother is a linguist that lives with this Himba tribe on a full time basis.

So when you think of Africa, you think of people that live in mud huts, wear loincloths, and wipe themselves with leaves. We met these people. No indoor plumbing, no cable TV. No TV at all, no electricity, no running water. No soap, no formal schooling, no utensils. No chairs either, much to my booty’s chagrin.

We spent the morning with these wonderful people. As soon as we entered their village they raised their arms to the kids in an attempt to hold them. With no form of birth control, you have to know that they love children…

The Himba are famous for coating their skin with a red-ochre and rancid butterfat mixture that protects them from the harsh sun and acts as a bug repellant. This cream gives their bodies a very reddish glow, which is a Himba trait of beauty, as is their intricate hairstyles.

himba_girl

The Himba are herdsmen, breeding mainly cattle and goats while leading a semi-nomadic life. They migrate with their herds to the different waterholes from season to season. The Himba children have “chores” according to their ages—the very young must watch over the livestock; the older females must help with the maintenance of food and shelter; the teenage males seem to want to be teenage males, as the ones we saw were all wearing modern Western clothing (aka. baggy pants/shorts with shirts that would fit Paul Bunyan).

For the Himba, clothes, hair and jewelry hold a special meaning and form an important part of their tradition and culture. Even newborn babies are adorned with pearl necklaces while older children are given bracelets crafted from copper and decorated with shells. They are differentiated by the style of jewelry they wear—triangle shapes designate the females; non-triangles are the males.

himba_woman

Having no running water they clean themselves by making a small smoking pot, wrapping a long cloth around their shoulders, and they sit on top of the smoking pot for 5-45 minutes. Talk about someone blowing smoke up your butt…

The Himba live in dome-shaped huts made from a shell of wood that’s covered with a clay made from palm leaves, mud and cattle dung. We were fortunate to see the mud and cattle dung mixture being made (see video above) and the smell was exactly what you’d expect it to be when you’re stomping through several hundred pounds of poop.

himba_house

The kids were so friendly with Dominique and Annette. They played ball with them, showed them around the huts, and held their hands as they were walking around.

annette_boyfriend
dom_with_friends

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