Most folks you tell that you are visiting Namibia will never have heard of it. For quick reference, it is just north of South Africa on the Atlantic ocean. The official language is English, though it is rare that you will meet a native who speaks it as their mother tongue.
Namibia has just over two million people in a land twice the size of California. The government, only twenty-some years old, follows the worldwide tradition of being slow, self-serving, and too big. Try not to upset the immigration officers. Only a rare few know how to smile and none of them like their job. Except for the power it bestows upon them which they exercise at random.
The country enjoys a great wealth of natural resources yet many citizens suffer in poverty. There are castles and shacks and not much land separates the two. So folks here get thrifty; rather than throw away old clothes, they fix them, wear them with the holes, or use them to strain the flies from the milk. But, no matter how little money one has, or how far from town they live, they have a cell phone.
Some women are bare-breasted. Some carry belongings on their head. Some men do as well. Most don’t mind photographs, but ask first.
A stranger making eye contact and smiling at you from 20 feet down the sidewalk is going to try to sell you something. Watch for the accelerated walk in your direction. Pickpockets are waiting for your carelessness.
Christianity is the major religion and Christmas brings depictions of snowmen and pine trees on store windows and street lampposts although Namibia has neither.
It does have Coca-Cola though, down to the smallest outpost in the tiniest town. A few kinds of beer can be found, but if you like it dark, you are going to be thirsty. And the water is just fine, leave those bottles on the supermarket shelves.
If you don’t eat meat, you’re in the wrong country. The only American fast food restaurant is KFC, which is strange, considering most Namibian farms raise cattle. But venture away from the western foods. Try the alien-looking termite mushrooms sold on the side of the road during the rainy season.
There are four seasons according to the locals. To a foreigner from a temperate climate they may be hard to pick out. Summer means clouds, rain and grass, if you are lucky. Fall: a little less rain. Winter: clear skies, wind and dirt. Spring: a few more clouds.
Even if winter brings cold nights, at some point during the day you will want your shorts. The summer sunsets and thunderstorms are not to be missed. On clear nights, look up. There are more stars than most of us have ever seen and the shooting kind are not uncommon.
Most rivers disappear in the dry season and still have beauty and recreation to offer, but no bridges. This requires some full-speed river crossings after a good rain. Regardless, a mammoth 4×4 vehicle and safari gear head to toe is not necessary.
The road will be tarred if you follow the beaten path, otherwise, it’s all dirt. Your car will be manual and you’ll drive on the right side of it on the left side of the road, if you do it correctly.
Namibian crossing signs depict warthog, elephant, and other African creatures. Pay attention to them; a collision with a kudu can take out a semi.
Fill up your gas tank whenever possible. Everything in Namibia is far away from everything else and either hiking or hitchhiking when you run out of gas can be lethal or close to it. And they sell good food at gas stations. They actually make it there, by hand, in front of you. Also, gas is called petrol.
It is legal to ride in the back of a pick up, or any, truck. Hold on to your hat.
If you go to the beach, get there early to avoid crowds. The water will be cold no matter what time of the day or year it is. Stay until dark to see the phosphorescence. If you sleep there on the sand, pack up camp before business hours in the morning. While it was once legal, it’s now a ticket. But the highest mountain, Brandberg, has no entry fee. Yet. Anyone can climb it if they are brave enough. If you do climb, avoid any rocks with toilet paper trailing out from underneath.
Wildlife is everywhere except in the places where it has been eaten out of existence. Much of it can, but is not waiting to, kill you. Respect and common sense will go a long way, be it in the desert, the sea, or the bush.
The country is full of great adventures and great tragedies. So, the most important Namibia traveling tip: wear a hat, good shoes, and drink a lot of water. In other words, be prepared for either one.
Did I forget something? Anything else you want to know? Leave me a comment and I’ll add it.