I never thought southern Africa would have such a strong American or European presence, but South Africa was definitely heavily European influenced, and the installment of English as the national language in all 4 of the countries I visited was also strange, but quite useful. However, Namibia was even more complicated, with their recent independence from South Africa still leaving a bunch of Afrikaans speakers, and their prior colonial ties to Germany allowing German to be even more common, yet English declared the official language. Deutsch, Flemish and German tourists benefited greatly in both South Africa and Namibia, often understanding bits of all three languages. The English or American presence was more noticeable in South Africa and Botswana, with a lot of ex-Peace Corps, researchers/scientists, and African-born British citizens working in tourism, government, or as doctors/vets.
I barely spent any time in Windhoek before making the 5 hr journey north to Etosha National Park, where Im staying. June and July are considered winter in Namibia, but according to my familiarity with Canadian and Icelandic winters, I can tell you its certainly more like summer time. Winter here really just means the days are a little shorter and the nights get cold. One night it did drop to 3 degrees Celsius, which I agree is cold, but the day highs are still 20 or 25+, and its been sunny every single day without a cloud in the sky. Sometimes its windy, which can either be a refreshing breeze or actually cool you, but damn is it dry here. Its also super flat and dusty so when a car drives along a road throughout the park, you can see the cloud of dust it kicks up from miles away. Ethosha Salt Pan is a dried out lake bed that is so dry it is one of the biggest sources of dust in Africa. Add a little bit of wind and you can try to imagine what the air is like here. EVEYRYTHING is covered in grayish dust, and my skin is so dry that the baby oil I smother on it after showering is completely absorbed within minutes. My hair is fried, but Ive got enough to spare so that’s ok, but the dust is no good for cameras, changing lenses, changing film, or typing outside. It kind of reminds me of burning man conditions, and when you look over the vast expanse of the salt pan, hundreds of wildebeest, zebra, springbok, oryx (antelope that look like Samurais), and the occasional jackal or lion trying to create havoc look like their having their own Burning Man festival, Wildlife themed. When they’re far away, they look like floating black dots in the mirage, and then I feel like Im experiencing some artistic, optical illusion they’ve planned perfectly.
My allergies aren’t bad here, since all the vegetation is totally dried up, but I maybe sneeze ten times per day on average with all the dust. It gets annoying, and everyone must think I have a persistent cold. But, the dry season is great for animal spotting, since all the herbivores and therefore carnivores start to concentrate around the few remaining water sources. Many water holes in Etosha National Park aren’t natural, for different reasons. Some water holes fill naturally during the wet season, but are only created because of the gravel pits dug by park management for creating roads. Some water holes are natural but pumped articially to keep the water levels high enough to drink out of, and this is probably because the resident population of Etosha National park takes water for itself. There are 3 main camps inside the park (which is a huge 22,000km2), and I am staying in Okaukuejo but there’s also Halali and Namutoni. All three are inhabited with permanent staff from the Ministry of Tourism and Environment, lodging facilities for tourists, and all the tourism staff from NWR, the para-statal Namibian Wildlife Resort organization that monopolizes all camping in the park. Other operators can only enter during the day and drive around with their tourists for a while and then must exit before sunset. For it to be partly privatized but still 51% owned by the government means there is a lot of corruption in the higher rankings, with ridiculous salaries paid out to a certain few funded by the exuberant prices tourists must pay for the monopolized industry. However, NWR still quotes annual losses, so the government ends up bailing them out, and thus tax dollars are actually being used to pay for national park management where elsewhere, and in more typical situations, national parks are supposed to be a source of revenue for both local people and the government. NWR staff are all local Namibians, which I support fully, but there is little job accountability since being fired is almost impossible and even though tourists pay between $100-$300US per night for indoor accomodation, the quality of service is poor. The indoor accommodation is perfectly clean and somewhat luxurious, but rooms are small and the landscaping around the camp is almost non-existent. The only green, relaxing part of the camp is around the pool, while the camp site is comprised of square plots side by side on a big, dusty gravel lot. The game drives that go three times a day are 3 hrs long, with sometimes unqualified tour guides, so you may be lucky and see something exciting, but you learn very little and the snack time offered half way through the drive seems like a way of prolonging the tour and making you feel like the $80US you’ve spent is well spent.
The staff all live here, in housing given to them which varies from a tent to a trailer, or an actual house to a tourist-hut meant for the $150US/night paying guest. Clearly the organization is a bit skewed, but the most horrifying thing is that NWR promotes themselves as a green resort, advertising their attempts to recycle at the recent centenary birthday of Etosha, and is meant to follow the rule that no trash can be dumped in the park; the reality is there are huge refuge dumps within the park gates, that burn trash right there, and another, unburnt pile of all the sorted recyclables sits separately, rusting away. They still manage to complain about jackals and ground squirrels getting into their trash and becoming a pest problem, but maybe if there wasn’t trash everywhere, those animals wouldn’t be snooping around so close to camp pestering tourists.