MAIL TO: Kaye Thompson,
St.Rose Health Center,
Monday, April 5, 2010
It was good timing to get out of Lesotho, away from a variety of dramas, disappointments and frustrations. Basically, I was overdue for a vacation. So another “elder” of the PCVs (Barb) and I signed ourselves up for a 10 day camping safari through Namibia. Until coming to Lesotho, I had thought of Namibia as one big sand dune with nothing but beetles and lizards surviving there. But it is a big beautiful country (twice the size of California- population 1.8 million) with a diverse landscape including towering red sand dunes, grey craggy mountains, desolate ocean beaches of the South Atlantic and grasslands feeding cheetahs, lions and elephants. It was home to the San Bushmen with numerous sites of rock paintings and engravings. Throughout the1700and 1800’s the Dutch, British and Germans claimed various parts of the area but the Germans finally won the claim and called it German Southwest Africa. Fast forward to recent history when after WW I, the territory was taken from German control and passed to South Africa.. In 1948, apartheid was imposed upon the peoples of Namibia, and the tribal people were forced into townships. Throughout the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s wars of resistance were being fought against the ruling apartheid government, but not until 1990 was the Republic of Namibia established.
With such recent conflict and apartheid influence, there is a feeling of distance and economic separation between the blacks and whites, unlike what I experience in apartheid-free Lesotho. The German influence is very strong throughout the country with German street names, German bakeries, and German architecture. Because of being in the tourist-bubble-mobile, I didn’t have the opportunity to talk with any of the local people, outside of our guides. But it is clear that the wounds of the apartheid policies continue to impact the economic well-being of the population. Mining, fishing and tourism are the primary industries of the country with 15% of the land designated as national park.
The first three days of the trip involved a roundtrip drive south from Windhoek to the Sossusvlei valley where the monumental red dunes are found. They are truly spectacular! We took a few hikes into and amongst the sand mountains, playing, sliding and rolling down the hillsides. The group of 13 included 8 nationalities – German, English, S.Korean, Russian, Finish, Namibian, Israeli and of course the Obama-T-shirt-wearing Americans.
The next leg of the trip was 7 days driving north towards Etosha National Park, the Skeleton Coast and Swakopmund. During this trip we visited Bushmen rock drawings over 3000 years old, visited a unique and primitive Himba tribe, saw a seal colony of over 200,000 seals, and enjoyed the marvelous wild life of Etosha to include rhinoceros, giraffe, lions, zebras, elephants, and Oryx. Sightings of these gorgeous beings are always breathtaking. We also visited an animal rehabilitation center called Africat where we were able to get up close and personal with some cheetahs and a leopard. (I still feel guilty about the leopard coat my mother wore throughout most of my childhood!)
We had a few equipment malfunctions along the way to include leaky tents (discovered after an all night rainstorm) and a partially hobbled vehicle, which limped towards home the last couple of days. My hiking sandals were also a casualty after I left them outside the tent one night – turning them into a tasty treat for the local camp jackals that cruised through regularly.
The final highlight was a 2 hour small aircraft flight over the countryside, reviewing by air much of the territory that I had covered by land. It was a beautiful ending to a unique and fascinating country.
Since returning from Cameroon in Dec. 2011, I have been living in San Diego with my dog, brother and sis-in-law. Still hunting for more international work. But enjoying continuing travel to Cambodia and Korea.