It only makes sense that my first visitor to Namibia was my Mother. From the moment I accepted my invitation to serve in the Peace Corps, my Mom has looked forward to having her own experience here and sharing in a new country that I have come to call my current home. I felt such a rush of emotions as the days drew nearer to her arrival – Would she enjoy a taste of the more rural life that I experience daily? Would I lose it over taking hot showers for a week while we traveled to nice hostels and B&Bs? Would the people in my community treat her with the respect that she deserves? I was so excited to see her and show her around to the places that I had told her about, but simply could not be captured until you see them in person.
After our Midservice Conference and our first Namibian car accident in the capital city (we are fine, the taxi we were in was not), Andy and I hiked down to the airport to pick up my Mom. The adventure of hiking 34 kilometers outside of the main city turned out to be much more relaxing and peaceful than we thought it would be. As usual, we met an incredibly kind escort named Dean Martin (of all the names) who offered us a ride, as he was going in the same direction to pick up a few elderly hunters coming in from Germany. When we got to the airport and I picked up some wifi, we found out that my Mom had missed her flight in Johannesburg and was on standby for the next flight out an hour and a half later. We sat in the airport cafe and drank coffee while we waited, assessing and planning for the worst case scenario, which always seems to happen in Namibia. Mom certainly got a taste of that early on, as we were unable to pick up her luggage due to South African Airline’s *appalling* customer service. Her luggage was sent back to South Africa after arriving here, and she did not receive her suitcase until two days later when we were camping at Erindi.
Mom was able to get on the next flight out, and we waited patiently after picking up the rental car for her. I wrote a handmade Welcome sign for her once I realized everyone else, who were picking up hunters or tourists, had their visitor’s surnames on a piece of paper. A group of men were standing next to me, presumably taxi drivers looking for their next customers, began speaking to me in Afrikaans about a woman who they thought I was picking up. I quickly told them my favorite phrase in Afrikaans, “Ek praat Afrikaans nie” and we had a nice laugh, followed by a discussion of who I was waiting for. I explained to them that my Mother was coming, who I had not seen in 14 months, and that they would know which one she was by the first woman who started crying when she saw me. About 20 minutes later, almost the last one off the plane, Mom came out of the doors, fulfilling my prophecy to a round of smiles from the drivers on the other side of the rail.
Our first stop on the trip was through a B road (the grade of the road going from A, which is the highest standard, to D which is the lowest standard – think migraine-inducing, rock and gravel and dust filling the car in which you are riding), with the quality of the road impressing Mom very much. Shortly after her introduction to what we all wish Namibian roads could be like, she encountered the notorious D road that led us to the beautiful Erindi Private Game Reserve. We arrived after dark to our camp site, marveling at how cold it was and hoping that our sleeping bags and body heat would be enough to keep the freezing temperatures away. It was a slightly euphoric feeling to be camping with my mother again, as I have no memories of the earlier years when my family would go camping together quite often.
Mom dusting off the old camping skills and setting up the tent.
Our adorable campsite with a braai stand and picnic table.
The next morning was spent lounging, drinking coffee and Andy making one of his specialty breakfast concoctions. We signed up for a guided safari later in the afternoon and decided to take our own drive around the grounds in the late morning. Over the three hours that we drove through the beautifully serene Game Park, we saw almost every animal that my Mom was hoping to see. We were one of the only cars on the gravel road, which made it easier to spot the wildlife since we were in a small 2×4 car and driving much slower than the larger bakkies who kicked up infinite amounts of dust and scared the animals back into the safety of the wilderness, away from the roads.
Still my favorite animal in Namibia.
In the late afternoon, we joined up with a large South African family who are now mostly living in the United States. They were great to talk to and really made the safari that much more fun, especially since we left 45 minutes late and got a flat tire within the first 20 minutes. Again, we saw a lot of animals on our voyage and even got the opportunity to visit the mystical bourgeoisie lodge that we, as the proletarian campers, were not permitted to visit or dine at. It is where we saw the most animals on our safari, including wild dogs, a herd of giraffes, multiple elephants and a wild cat. Although it was nice to be able to sit back and fully pay attention to our surroundings, I think the three of us most enjoyed our self-drive. It is even more special to be able to stop when and where you would like to and guide your own experience.
Oh hey there, Hippo.
Wild dogs – the first I have seen in Namibia. We found them protecting their den of pups who they ushered in quickly for safety when our car pulled in.
Beautiful elephant. He was not disturbed by our car at all – he knew who held the power.
Another elephant against the backdrop of a setting sun and a chill in the wind.
I will never tire of seeing these guys.
After our two nights at Erindi, our next stop was to drive north to Otjiwarongo so that we could drop Andy off on his return trip home and Mom and I could continue on our journey. We got to showcase the absolutely absurd “public transportation” system of Namibia and she got a taste of what she has worried the most about during our time in service. It is relatively harmless and more of a stressor and annoyance than anything, which I think she was relieved to see. Once we dropped Andy off, we moved along to the town of Outjo where she got to meet another volunteer near me and have a nice lunch at the brand new bakery in the downtown area. Before she got too used to these big towns with variety and a heaping tablespoon of development, we picked up supplies to show Mom her first Namibian braai once we got back to Khorixas. It was aptly and appropriately the 4th of July, so we decided to mix our small amount of patriotism we could muster in the wake of so much violence with the peaceful tradition of Namibia to share food and wine. Mom got to meet the people who I call my close friends here, as well as the other two volunteers who I share this town with, and experience the environment of sitting around a fire and sharing stories late into the night.
The next morning Mom and I packed up our bags and the car, and before heading out to our next destination, took a small tour of Khorixas in the light. She met a few of my colleagues at the Ministry of Youth and got a brief driving tour so she could see the smallness of the town before we began our long drive to our next destinations. More D roads, more heat coming through the windshield (I kept telling her, yes, this is Winter) and we arrived at Brandberg Mountain. This is one of the historical sites in Namibia where the famous White Lady is located – cave paintings that go back as far as 5,000 years and have been expertly preserved due to the rise in tourism and the placement of these particular paintings under a rock hanging. It was a pretty tough hour long hike, in the heat of the day, but Mom did an amazing job navigating through her increasing knee pain. Our guide, who spoke Damara as many of the tour guides in this area do, was very impressed with her as she described how many people in their 40s struggle with the hike up to the paintings. A quick recovery with a Cherry Coke for me and a Coke Light for Mom led us to push onward, as we still had a few hours of driving on both a C and D road to get to Swakopmund.
Although it was a long drive and we reached our destination after sundown (again), I was extremely excited to show my Mom around Swakopmund. It is a largely Germanic town that has still retained much of the culture even after Apartheid ended, giving way to a stark contrast compared to the majority of the landscape of Namibia. There are also some incredible restaurants, coffee and tea, as well as clothing and memorabilia shops. We got into town as the sun was setting and as I realized that we were coming in from a completely different way than I normally do when I am hiking from town to town – in other words, I was completely lost. We asked around at a few shops in order to gain some sense of direction and finally found an incredibly nice Afrikaaner man who not only drove us to his house to pick up his wifi hotspot, but drove us to the location of our Bed and Breakfast. This was not the first act of unsolicited kindness that we had experienced during Mom’s visit, nor the last. If there is one rule of thumb for the population of Namibia, it is that most people are willing to go above and beyond in order to help you out, even if you are a complete stranger.
We arrived inside of the gates, tired and hungry, just wanting to put our bags down and head out to a nice seafood dinner. Much to our dismay, the reservation that I had made at Skeleton Beach Backpackers was nowhere to be found in the record books, and they were now completely booked for the evening. After some quick calling around on the part of the owner, she spoke directly to me and informed us that she had booked us a room at the Luxury Hotel next door to the B&B for the same price that we would have paid. I am not used to such quick and professional customer service on the part of businesses here, and was shocked and impressed at their ability to solve a situation so easily and appropriately. If you are ever looking for a place to stay while you are in Swakopmund, I would highly recommend both of these places for your accommodation needs. With a quick review from the man at the front desk, we dropped our luggage and made our way to the Strand Hotel, a luxury hotel right on the ocean front with 5 different styles of restaurants to choose from. Our dinner at the seafood restaurant served nigiri sushi (so fresh), incredibly well-cooked salmon, the absolute best calamari and prawn tom yum soup. Mom and I were very impressed with the atmosphere, service and food quality. We left full and satisfied and had the best night’s sleep we had experienced in a long time in our upgraded luxury suite.
The next morning was spent wandering through town so that Mom could do some shopping for souvenirs to take back home, finalized by a visit to Slowtown Coffee and the tea shop, a must have in anyone’s visit to Swakopmund. After another leisurely morning, we started our drive down to Sossusvlei, the area of Namibia that I was most looking forward to visiting. It has such a picturesque quality to it and seems like a completely different planet, and the drive down was even more fascinating. We took paths through the Namib-Naukluft Part, traversing gravel roads and going in between mountains where we had no radio or cell phone service. Every new path was an adventure, and sometimes I questioned whether or not I would be able to drive with a stick shift on the wrong side of the road without hurdling us off of the side of a non-railed mountain. Thankfully, we prevailed and enjoyed the scenery of one of the most beautiful drives I have taken in Namibia. As we drove further, it became increasingly more remote and increasingly beautiful. Just as the sun began to set, we checked into one of the most gorgeous lodges I have ever seen. Nestled just 4 kilometers outside of Sesriem, where the Sossusvlei park is located, we enjoyed a glass of wine and a dry martini as the sun set over the vast expanse of mountains.
24 chalets are set up in a half moon shape, with an expanse of desert enveloping the center of the lodging. The lights are incredibly minimal, even the optional ones that light up the outside of the area, so it makes for optimal star gazing. Mom was perpetually astonished by the lack of light pollution and how clearly you could see the stars in Namibia. This was definitely the brightest night, so it was natural to choose this evening to blow bubbles (one of Mom’s traditions and something that always reminds me of her) after dinner.
We drove the 4 kilometers to the extra fancy Sossusvlei Lodge for dinner, and we were not disappointed. The location was beautiful – a patio under the stars with an array of foods that I have not seen in at least 16 months, ranging from raw salmon with cucumber dill sauce for an appetizer, fresh baked vegetable quiche, breads straight from the oven and whole papayas (or pawpaws as they are called here). Moving on from the appetizer table, there were 4 different flat top grills, each manned by a personal chef who worked their magic on pieces of marinated meats. We tried gemsbock, zebra, oryx and kudu, as well as hake fish with fresh squeezed lemon on top. Everything was incredible and cooked perfectly, and we even got to relive a special memory of my grandmother by sneaking a few rolls and pieces of fruit into our bags so that we had breakfast the next morning. We giggled like children as we tried to be as sneaky as possible in the midst of the masses of wealthy tourists – discretion was out of the question.
The next morning we attempted to wake up before the sun rose so that we could make it for a sunrise hike up the Big Daddy sand dune, but our alarms felt the need to let us sleep an extra hour. We may have missed the sunrise hike, but we made it into the park in pretty good time anyway, seeing a herd of oryx on the road as we drove, silently apologizing for their meat being so tasty the previous evening. No 2×4 vehicles are permitted past the entrance to the Big Daddy dune, so we climbed aboard one of the shuttles ferrying people across the deep sand from the parking lot to the site. Mom stayed behind to climb up the dune slowly while I went ahead, knowing that it would take at least an hour to climb the entire thing. It was definitely not an easy task as the higher you climbed, the thinner the air became and the harder the sand blew into your face. I met a group of people from Luxembourg on my way who became my hiking companions, taking photos of our progress and sharing my experiences from living in Namibia for the last year. Finally reaching the top was well worth the struggle of climbing in the heat, as it was one of the most beautiful views I have seen, overlooking Deadvlei and the sea of rust colored dunes.
The drive from Sossusvlei up to Solitaire, a deserted dust bowl town with the main attraction of a famous bakery and cafe, was even more scenic than the drive down. After a slice of apple pie, which proved to be quite worth the stop and seemingly endless line, we were on the road back to Windhoek. Winding roads into the mountains led to some of the sharpest overlooks I have ever driven on, especially on gravel and in a stick shift. Mom and I were on the edge of our seats half the time, as the inclines got steeper and the rails thinned out until they were non-existent. Baboons, kudu and oryx populated the deserted roads, making our trip that much more exciting and photo-worthy. We were sad to leave the expanse of desert melting into mountains, but had never been more excited to see a B-road once we made it to Rehoboth, about an hour away from our final destination.
Although we couldn’t believe that our trip was over already, we enjoyed our last night in the city at one of my favorite splurge spots in the city, eating sushi and having a glass of wine while we overlooked the lights of Windhoek which seemed to stretch on forever. It was the perfect place to look at some of the photos from our travels and enjoy ourselves before Mom’s flight the next day. We checked into a quaint bed and breakfast in the city, right near the center of everything. It was perfectly taken care of and we slept incredibly well after the busy week we had.
As is usually true for Namibia’s warm welcome to strangers, the manager of the B&B knocked on our door shortly after a delicious and comfortable breakfast to tell us that we had acquired a flat tire overnight. We laughed and shrugged our shoulders, both wondering how it hadn’t happened sooner during the week’s lengthy travels on seemingly infinite D-roads with rocks the size of your head and feeling thankful that we were safe and able to have someone come change the tire on our last morning. After a successful tire change operation, Mom and I headed off to the airport to drop off the car and get her checked in for her flight back to the U.S. It was an emotional moment, knowing that it would be another year before I could hug my Mom again, but I felt so thankful that I was able to spend a week with her here in the country that no longer feels as foreign to me as it once did. Sending her off safely and happily, loaded down with memories and pictures from our many stops on our trip, provided thoughts of one of the best weeks I have spent in Namibia.
Unfortunately, Mom missed a connection flight on the way back and it ended up taking her two days to make it home instead of the one day it should have. Despite all of the changes in plans and adjustments we had to make, Mom and I had an amazing time together, enjoying the country’s diversity and uniqueness to anywhere else in the world. I am so thankful that I had the chance to make these memories with her and take a break from what this world and life has become during my Peace Corps service. It gave me a chance to see all of the ways that I have grown and changed during the last year of my life and recognize that all of the struggles have been worth something in the end – or, more aptly, worth something during the eye of the storm. The week with Mom also reinvigorated my love for traveling, especially in normal circumstances where I am actually driving my own car and in control of my departure and arrival times. Reminders of who I was before I came to Namibia, as well as the way I have adapted in order to continue on, meshed together to give me a better picture of who I am today and the things that mean the most to me. Mom, thank you so much for coming to visit and experience some of the best that Namibia has to offer. You mean the world to me and I am thankful that I was able to spend such quality time with you. This wasn’t the first time that you have to travel across the world with me and certainly won’t be the last. I love you!