Namibia only became a fully independent country in March 1990. Prior to this, it was a German colony from the late 19th century to around 1915 when it came under the rule of the South African government during the First World War. Today the country is a secular presidential democracy with a multi-party system, dominated by the South-West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) – a former liberation movement. English is the official language, while German and Afrikaans have been largely stigmatised due to their ‘colonial overtones’. There also exists an array of local languages.
There is a very low population density with the country being home to only around 2 million people. This can be compared to, say, the UK’s 66.5 million. Nonetheless, Namibia is still home to around 13 different ethnic groups. The largest, the Ovambo (or Ambo) makeup about 50% of the population and are made up themselves of even smaller groups. The majority of all groups and peoples are mostly engaged in agricultural practices and continue to live lives very detached from external influence. One example of this is the Himba, a nomadic people with a culture incredibly untouched. Interestingly, they rarely bath with water but instead apply red ochre to their skin and partake in a daily smoke bath in order to maintain good hygiene. They are famed as the ‘red people’ due to the staining of the red ochre and there is an incredible beauty in their intricate hairstyles, traditional jewellery and warm welcoming of strangers.
Given the small population and vast swathes of land, you can imagine that most ‘to do’ activities and sites are nature-based. However, the complex story of colonialism is also demonstrated through a number of museums. These are found in Lüderitz, Swakopmund and Windhoek, and are also places that demonstrate well-preserved and detailed colonial architecture. The former two lie on the west coast, while Windhoek is inland in the Central Plateau region. Aside from this, simply drinking in the sheer immensity and wild, dusty beauty of this country is perhaps the simplest and most useful tourist tip. And there are numerous places this can be done.
In the north of the Namib desert, you can find the spectacular Skeleton Coast, named for its array of whale and seal skeletons and famed for its shipwrecks caused by blinding fog. The bushmen refer to it as The Land God Made in Anger while it is said that the Portuguese refer to it as The Gates of Hell. This area is close to the Dolphin Conservation Volunteer project in Walvis Bay.
Towards the south of the Namib desert, and located close to the Namib-Naukluft National Park is Sossusvlei. Somewhere you might recognise given that it holds some of the country’s most photographed dunes. Despite this, the reason the area is so notable is that it is actually a flat plane that can be filled with water pushed from the Tsauchab River. When this happens, it attracts a remarkable array of animals and birds. Just nearby, hemmed in by a tall dune called ‘Big Daddy’, is Deadvlei. This is an area characterised by the skeletons left behind of a long gone forest, unable to decompose because of the complete lack of moisture in the air. A place that has not seen water for hundreds of years; it is an incredibly exceptional site. Whether from the shades of Sesriem Canyon or from the heights of a light aircraft, this region is unmissable. Luckily, many of the projects take place in and around this area!