Monday, February 6, 2012

sunbathing in Swakopmund

There are more comfortable ways to travel to the Namibian coast than in the back of a combie van, but this is the cheapest way, and so most of the locals do it.

When I pull up to the service station next to Rhino Park hospital, there are dozens of white combie vans and a hectic blur of people and vehicles moving in every direction. I feek almost as though I am at an airport. Various men are barking at me, asking me where I want to go. Thank God among the chaos I’ve got W, who pushes through the crowd, marches us up to the right stand, finds out which van is heading for Swakopmund, and the next thing we know, our bags have been thrown on the trailer in the back and we’re being crammed into the van with some fourteen other people. There is no air conditioning, of course, but the van is equipped with a tape player so the driver plays kwaito and house music the whole trip, giving me the odd sensation of being in a Windhoek club rather than being packt like sardines in a crushd tin box in a rickety van in the middle of a hot and empty desert. There is a small toddler sitting behind me and she is fascinated with my Asian hair. She plays with it for the entire four hours. By the end of the trip, I’m convinced I could make a killing selling Asian ponytails as kids’ toys.


By the time we arrive in Swakopmund and I am relishing the wonderful feeling of being able to stretch my legs, it’s dark and my friend Daan meets up with us. He’s a pilot for a tourism company in Swakopmund. As he greets us, he tells us that one of his pilot colleagues had just flown in from Windhoek on an empty plane, and that he’d meant to arrange for us to get a lift in. I’m still only now getting the feeling back in my limbs after being squashed in the van for hours. I think about how we could have sat in the plane with my legs sprawled all over the seats, maybe with a glass of whiskey, and a beautiful view of the Namib desert. For an hour. I decide to spend the rest of the weekend nagging at Daan to find us a ride back.

Swakopmund is Namibia’s favourite resort town on the Namibian coastline. During the holidays, the entire population of Windhoek empties out as every single Namibian in the city, maybe the whole country, drives across the country and pitches a tent on the beaches of Swakopmund to party through the new year. It’s chaos. Everybody loves the coast. You know who else loves the Namibian coast? Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. They loved it so much that Angelina had a baby here.

We didn’t run into Brangelina this time around, but we did grab dinner at Napolitana’s where I had oryx meatballs and W had a seafood pasta platter which made her so happy I thought she would slipinto a food coma right there. Not surprisingly, seafood on the coast is pretty good.

After dinner, we checked out the bar next door where I was told karaoke was going on. It was not. Well, some sort of strange activity was might have somewhat resembled karaoke was being performed, but only if you were a sadistic tone-deaf anarchist. The host would put on whatever song suited his whim, after which the microphone would be passed throughout the crowd and various drunk young people would scream into it. If I wasn’t so full of Graca wine and oryx meat, I would have even called it an insult to my kind, who invented it. Luckily, I had my Graca so I too just sang along at the top of my own lungs, to “Hakuna Matata”, which always sounds fitting to be sung in Africa, to “Paint it Black”, which takes on a different meaning when song in a bar in Africa full of white Afrikaners, and to “Gimme Hope, Jo’Anna”, a totally awesome anti-apartheid reggae song, possibly the political song ever written, which also sounded pretty interesting when sung by a bar in Africa full of white Afrikaners. While in the throes of anarchist karaoke, Daan stepped on my foot and broke my sandal.

We met up with some of Daan’s pilot friends and headed for a night club down the street called Gruniz, where a giant propeller sat in front of the deejay booth. One of the pilots folded up his ten dollar bill into a paper airplane and threw it through the air to the bouncer collecting admission. Once again I thought about how I could have flown here on an empty plane.

Gruniz had much more of a mixed crowd. It wasn’t a bad place, but it seemed like the deejays were purposely trying to avoid having people dance on the floor. It was obvious that the crowd was itching to dance and looking for any chance to do it, like storm clouds gathering ready to rain, but the deejays kept pumping this awful European dance stuff, which Europeans love, but acts like an antidote to dancing for Africa and pretty much everywhere else, mainly because the rest of the world doesn’t like to dance using only our hands. Once in a while the deejays would have a momentary lapse of judgment and play a great Top 40s hit and everyone would rush on to the dance floor like thirsty desert plants enjoying a brief rainfall, but then the song would be over and the deejays would go back to the same undanceable ootz ootz ootz beat. It was a curious commercial tactic.

obligatory camera poses in the club

Eventually W and I gave up trying to dance and headed home. On our way back to Daan’s place, the following conversation took place via text message with Daan, who had left early:

Daan: “When u guys get back, can you put that adapter powerplug thing on the kitchen sink when you get back? Without it m day at the airport tomorrow will be mighty boring.”

Me: “We are on our way home now. But its in our room.”

Daan: “Really, but u guys can party as long as u want. And ur room is locked, still havent figured out how u did that.”

This is how we find ourselves at midnight trying to break into our own room. I have no idea how this happened.

The next morning, the sun was shining bright and Daan was gone, having left for work at the airport early. We headed for his fridge and found beer and oranges for breakfast, which I think could be considered a balanced meal.

After “breakfast”, we went on a walk through the town of Swakopmund, which is one of the loveliest towns I’ve ever been in, probably because of my love of palm trees, oceans, and mountains (or in this case, sand dunes).

palm trees all over downtown

sand dunes at the end of town

the ocean at the end of town

lover's lane, along the beach

the old church


W's old school

Swakopmund also seems to have an odd sense of humour

this is a harpoon gun that has been painted bright pretty colours and hoisted up at a children's playground, pointed at the children.

the municipal traffic department.

kaiser wilhelm chalets? really?

We stopped by the Woermann Brock, the first one to open up in the country, and bought sandwiches to bring to the beach for a nice little sandy picnic.

the original Woermann Brock grocery store

the pier

The beach was, of course, absolutely gorgeous, especially when I thought about how my friends back home were wading through snow in minus thirty degree weather. We carefully scouted out the perfect spot - we decided not to go for the picnic benches because they smelled like pee, and instead opted to sit in the sand. As we ate our sandy sandwiches, we watched German families play with their naked babies in the water, as boats zipped around and surfers tried their luck with the waves. I watched in amusement as a black family stood at the water’s edge, bundled up in full winter jackets and wool caps.

“Why aren’t they swimming?” I asked W.

“That is swimming for black people,” she replied. “We black people don’t swim.”

Apparently black people don’t suntan either, according to W. To be fair, neither do Asians – Korean ajumas love to cover themselves up from head to toe to hide from the horrifying sun – and yet here we were, W and I, defying our ethnic traditions and hanging out on the beach in our bikinis like stars off a Laguna Beach TV set. Or something. I haven’t actually been to California in decades, but I imagine this to be like Namibia’s version of California.


running into the water

gratuitous bikini shots

seriously, i could so be on the front page of a news tabloid with this paparazzi picture, with a headline something like "GLORIA GUNS SURPASSES EVERYONE IN AWESOMENESS, ONCE AGAIN." take that, Angelina.

After the beach, we stopped by the Tiger Reef Beach Bar, because really you can’t have too much beach in one day. This was an open air bar right on the beach. If we had anything remotely close to this in Ottawa, I swear I could spend all day here, doing nothing, and feeling perfectly happy.

enjoying my savanna cider

And that was all I really wanted to see of Swakopmund, since I’m not much of a tourist and had no interest in quad biking or sky diving or certainly not bungee jumping. So we found a taxi and headed for Walvis Bay, passing the magnificent sand dunes of Long Beach and picking up a fisherman along the way. He had just caught two big fish that morning.

finding a ride

so many sand dunes