Don’t be fooled; Namibia really does have water. It is not this dried-up-raisin of a country that it pretends to be. That giant desert? Just for show. Check it out:
Lake Guinas. One of two, count ’em, TWO, natural lakes in Namibia. I was astounded to hear of their existence (and a bit perturbed that no one told me about them earlier), but lo and behold, there they were on the map, practically neighbors. As we were already in the region for a business excursion, it seemed sacrilegious not to visit. Besides, it was hot, and we wanted to swim. The time had come. The girl from the Great Lakes state, the fresh water capital of the US, was going to see the oasis of her adopted desert home.
In the car on the way to the first one, Lake Otjikoto, Jay and I became as excited as two little kids talking about how we could camp there for the night, cook our dinner over the fire on the beach, go swimming under the stars, etc, etc. It would be perfect. Pulling into the parking lot was already a relief; big trees hung down low as if to take pity on us weary travelers.
As Jay approached the park-rangerly-dressed lady, I got sidetracked by the snakes-in-the-jars. There, outside the gift shop, was a bench with five or six rather large snakes coiled up inside big glass bottles with some kind of yellow liquid preservative. I must apologize, however, for the lack of photograph. I was so excited to go swimming, I forgot I even owned a camera.
I then turned around and the ranger informed me that the dog had jumped out of the car. “He’ll be ok,” I said and waved my hand like “no big deal”.
“No”, she said, “no dogs allowed”.
I looked around at this big, green, shady (and empty) park and then at Jay, hoping he would tell me this was a joke.
“No camping or swimming either”, he said. I felt my heart implode. The lady informed us that a man had drowned in the lake in 1927 and no one has been allowed in since. Just to see the lake was N$25 a person.
So we respectfully declined, put our offensive dog back in the car and drove for the second lake, Guinas.
These two lakes are sinkholes, something like 110 meters deep, says a geophysicist friend of ours. Rumor has it that they are actually connected underground- when a colored dye was put in one it eventually surfaced in the other. What a trip that must be. They even have their own endemic fish species, the Otjikoto tilapia, listed, not surprisingly, as critically endangered.
After a few long dusty roads we arrived and found a big white sign that said “Welcome to Lake Guinas. No fishing, no swimming, no shooting.” So, it turns out, although Namibia has water, no one is allowed to use it for any sort of fun-inducing activity. You just look at it.
At this point we were too hot to bother with frivolous things such as rules and since this lake was on private property, there were no rangers to scold us. Besides, the sign was in Afrikaans and if asked, we decided, I would promptly reply in my best American accent that all I understood was the “Welcome to Lake Guinas” part. So in we went. At long last, relief from the heat. Floating around, I envied the birds cheeping from the cliff edges. How lucky they were to have this natural wonder as their home.
On our way out we brought with us a few of the many beverage bottles that littered the path down to the water. Apparently, the rarity of this landscape in Namibia was not enough reason for people not to trash it. We could only imagine how many had been chucked in and sunk forever. And wondered if this was the reason all fun had been banned.
Visiting the lakes made us curious what else Namibia was hiding underground. Once back home, we immediately began looking for cave entrances in the hills around our house. I am quite determined to find our own massive body of water so we can go swimming whenever we want. And the sign out front will read:
Welcome to Lake Scorpion.
Dogs and camping welcome.
Drowning and littering prohibited.
Violators will be fed to the tilapia.