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A guide to Windhoek

I spent more time in the Namibian capital than I’d have preferred or recommend but that at least allows me to give a decent guide to the place. I landed in Windhoek airport, which is a whole 45km from the actual city, pretty late so didn’t get first look around until the following day. At which point my first task was to find out what there was to do.

The city itself is like many others. Shopping malls, restaurants, museums, government buildings and the like. It’s not very big or exciting. It’s essentially the African equivalent of Auckland, which is definitely not my favourite part of New Zealand.

I’d booked a week long tour to see the best of Namibia but that still left me a few days to explore Windhoek itself. Unfortunately the highlights are pretty minimal. The Parliament Gardens are nice as is the local craft market. But that’s essentially it. There is a meteorite display but it’s not really worth much time.

Parliament Gardens in Windhoek, Namibia
Parliament Gardens, one of the few highlights of Windhoek

Instead I decided to leave the centre and organised a visit to a local wildlife reserve called Daan Viljoen. I met my guide Kefas and we drove to the game park some 25km away. This was my first taste of seeing African wildlife up close. We stopped on the road into the park as three giraffes casually strolled past us. At some point over the next couple of months this would become a “normal” experience.

As we completed our hike around the park I learnt about Kefas, his life and the country. He was originally from a town in the south close to Lüderitz (more German influence), which was the first diamond town in Namibia. Among other things we discussed football. English football being very popular in Africa in general. It turns out we even read the same football magazine as children. Every country might have its differences, but some things are always the same.

Giraffe walking across a road
Just a giraffe casually passing by

On the day I was scheduled to leave for my week tour I found out the plan had changed (for the second time in two days). This wasn’t a big deal for me but as way of compensation the company had agreed to throw in a tour of the local township; Katutura.

Obviously most people know that these places exist, but to actually see it is something else. How people struggle day to day to get through their lives. I met up with Kefas again and he drove me and another tourist out towards the township. There was a group of young men hanging around a set of traffic lights close to the city. They walk there every day in the heat, hoping that someone gives them a job. If not, they walk back to their families and try again the day after. I met a lot of people who were not from Windhoek originally, mainly taxi drivers, and moved there for work opportunities.

In Katutura itself there was everything you’d expect a town or city to have. Shops, schools, churches, clinics, bars. There were a lot of bars. And hairdressers for some reason. Most of these places and the houses were shacks, assembled together with whatever materials the locals could find. Usually corrugated metal, held together by large rocks. I actually saw a car jacked up using two rocks balanced on top of each other. You use the tools you have I guess. We also visited Penduka craft market (which translates to “get up”) and the local food market where we tried typical foods such as the tasty kapana meat and the not so tasty mopane worm.

Katutura township on the outskirts of Windhoek
The Katutura township

One of our last stops was a local woman’s house where she explained many different cultural aspects of her tribe. Namibia is made up of many tribes with the majority of the population belonging to the Ovambo people. Each tribe with its own traditions and history. The men belonging to the woman’s tribe were able to marry as many women as they wished. The only catch was that his most recent wife was the one who had to ask any prospective new wife if she would marry him. The man with the most wives had a staggering 11. That’s almost a different one each month!

I’d recommend visiting Windhoek if only to get your bearings and organise some transportation. Other than that try not to spend too much time there. Namibia has so much more to offer.

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