African shoestrings – Namibia Day Fifty four – Windhoek

Strangely enough the train actually got into Windhoek at 6.15 am, on time!
We had managed to sleep a little despite the noise and the fact that my seat leaned to one side and changed on its own accord from recline to upright once in a while.
That’s the thing about Africa the colonialists had put in all this infrastructure and then pulled out leaving the Africans to maintain it. With few exceptions, Africans are not big on maintenance, so the little jobs are just left until it actually it becomes bigger & then bigger again and a full-scale breakdown occurs.

We had managed to book a room in the Cardboard Box; a backpackers hostel a couple of kilometres walk from the station. Now it was time to test out these backpacks. With the big ones on our back and the daypacks on our front and feeling like a couple of packhorses, we trudged in the general direction of our destination.
There were several times in the course of our travels that I wondered what we were doing. And this was one!

Here we were walking along early in the morning in a strange town with our wardrobes on our back, through who knows what kind of district and being continual ‘honked’ by eager taxi drivers to stay with people younger than our own kids.

We could be in our comfortable home having breakfast on the patio, or better still asleep in our four star hotel provided for us by Abercrombie & Kent or another equally famous and expensive Tour Company.

The Cardboard box was open but its ‘reception’ was closed when we got there.
We dropped our packs and slumped into the usual overused ready to throw out couches and waited.

This turned out to be the friendliest hostel we had stayed in so far.
Owned by a couple of local white guys it was run by two girls, Irene & Louise. Irene was Irish and Louise was English and like most of the people who run these places they came here travelling and ended up staying a while.
The hostel also had a their own travel agent with plenty of info on tours, local attractions and adjoining countries like Botswana, which is where we were headed next. These guys turned out to be pretty handy in organising our next few weeks.

At home we had we had worked out how we were going to get as far as Windhoek by public transport but had drawn a blank from there to anywhere else in Namibia and then on to Botswana and Zimbabwe. It had become obvious to us that for us to see what we wanted to see in Namibia and then to go to Botswana we would have to either hire a car or join a tour or overlander.

We ended up doing both.

Regular backpacker tours run from Windhoek to the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park in Botswana and then drop you off in Livingstone, Zambia, which is right next to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. We didn’t book that right away as we hoped we could find a cheaper tour that maybe spent a bit more time in Botswana but we now knew it was there.

The next thing we did was get Cardboard Box to organise a cheap hire car and some camping gear whilst we trundled off into the city to organise the next 3 weeks in Namibia.

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The ruins of the ghost town of Kolmanskop in the Namib desert in southern Namibia, a few kilometres inland from the port town of Lüderitz

The ruins of the ghost town of Kolmanskop in the Namib desert in southern Namibia, a few kilometres inland from the port town of Lüderitz

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African shoestrings – Namibia Day Fifty three – Luderitz

Diamonds were discovered around Luderitz relatively late in 1908. The Orange River and some of the islands off the coast had yielded some good results from around 1866. A chance discovery by a railway worker sparked off a ‘diamond rush’ and the establishment of Kolmanskop.
In its heyday it supported a wealthy, mainly German, population of 300 with a hospital, school, bowling alley, theatre and casino. Its only problem had been water that had to be carted from Cape Town. In 1956 the mines were closed and workers were shifted to Oranjemund 200 kilometres south. The town was abandoned and since then has battled to stay afloat in a sea of sand.

Some of these old buildings had been partly swallowed by the sand dunes, whilst others still stood proudly above the sand.
Wondering around, a black and white picture formed in my mind of well dressed people going about their business, men tipping their hats to the ladies, horse drawn carriages or model T fords honking as they passed by friends, butchers, bakers and barbers.

This image was only partly reinforced by our return later that morning to do the guided tour. What was also reinforced was why the sand had been so successful in claiming some of the town. The wind was painful! Millions of tiny particles of sand stung any bare skin and got into our eyes, ears, and anywhere else there was an opening. The picture I now had was of windblown deserted streets as the town’s residents all stayed inside waiting for these almost daily mini sandstorms to ease.

The journey back to Keetmanshoop on the bus would have been fairly uneventful had we not spotted the worlds only desert horses, some distance from the highway. These horses somehow survive in this harsh environment without aid except for their only source of water, a man made water hole, installed especially for them. They are feral and what’s even weirder is that nobody knows for sure where they came from originally. There are plenty of theories of shipwrecked, or abandoned German cavalry horses.
I liked the theory that they were once stud horses from the stock of a Baron who lived in a castle nearby. The thought of a European aristocrat living in this harsh environment and pretending that he was still in lush green Bavaria or wherever is just so typical of European colonisation.

The bus arrived in Keetmanshoop one hour late, which by African time is actually the equivalent of two hours early! Fortunately that really didn’t impact on us as we still had a two hour plus wait for the overnight train to Windhoek. The train itself left an hour late thanks to a bureaucratic conductor insisting that he checked all tickets at snail like speed as passengers boarded. Had one of his colleagues not intervened and presumably told him in Bantu that he was a stupid prick and to go and do something more useful like tie himself to the rail tracks in front, we would probably still be waiting to board the train.

We had traveled by train in Africa some 4 years before so we sort of knew what to expect. What we had not experienced on these other journeys but had been told about was the videos. A small TV screen sits above the doorway adjoining the next carriage and blasts out the latest movie at decibel level that makes most rock concerts seem quiet. It wouldn’t have been quite so bad if the movie had been half-decent! This was California Man known as Encino Man in Australia and some other parts of the world. It was absolute crap!

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The ruins of the ghost town of Kolmanskop in the Namib desert in southern Namibia, a few kilometres inland from the port town of Lüderitz

The ruins of the ghost town of Kolmanskop in the Namib desert in southern Namibia, a few kilometres inland from the port town of Lüderitz