Difference between revisions of "Namibia"
Revision as of 12:53, 12 October 2007
Namibia  is located in Southern Africa, bordering South Africa, Botswana, Angola, Zambia and the Atlantic Ocean. Formerly a colony of Germany, Namibia was administered by South Africa under a League of Nations mandate after WWI, and annexed as a province of South Africa after WWII. The South-West African People's Organization (SWAPO) launched a guerrilla war for independence in 1966, but did not gain independence until 1990.
Namibia boasts remarkable natural attractions such as the Namib desert, the Fish River Canyon, Etosha National Park and the Kalahari desert. Its people speak nine different languages, including some of the Khoisan languages which include the 'clicks' that present an enigma to most native English-speakers. Namibia produces some of the world's highest quality diamonds.
Inhabited from the dawn of time by the San, also known as the "Bushmen", invaded by the Bantu, colonized by the Germans (who called it "South West Africa") and taken over by South Africa after WW1, Namibia is in many ways quite similar to South Africa. Since it was ruled under the apartheid system, Namibia also has many of the problems resulting from that system.
It is important to be aware that race is a common part of Namibian discourse. That is to say, Namibians will refer to the race of others more frequently than travellers from places where race is typically not an issue, would expect. Because of apartheid, race is an issue in many spheres of life, so it comes up a lot. In spite of this, the various races do get along well in Namibia, and it is fairly uncommon to find racial tensions flaring. Apartheid was never implemented as strictly in Namibia as in South Africa, so racial tensions are generally lower.
Namibia is similar to South Africa, and if you're used to travelling in one country, travelling in the other country is quite easy. There are some subtle differences. For example, in South Africa a non-white person may choose to speak English rather than Afrikaans (as a political choice) whereas among Namibia's mixed-race population (who call themselves 'colored' in Namibia and South Africa) Afrikaans is a proud part of their culture. And many people still speak German. Overlooking these differences isn't going to cause offense, but they're handy to know.
Hosea Kutako International Airport, located 45 minutes east of Windhoek, is the main entry point for air traffic. Air Namibia  operates flights from Frankfurt, London, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Victoria Falls and Maun to the international airport. Flights between the smaller Eros Airport and Cape Town are also available. South African Airways  and no-frills Kulula.com  operate flights from South Africa, too.
The B1 is the main highway entering Namibia from South Africa. The Trans-Kalahari (which becomes B2 in Namibia) gives access from Botswana in the east. The B8, which crosses through the Caprivi Strip gives access from Zambia, Zimbabwe, and the northernmost points in Botswana.
The most convenient international bus service into Namibia runs from Cape Town and Victoria Falls. There is also service from Johannesburg. See Intercape Mainliner for schedules and fares. Using a combination of buses, hitchhiking and kombis you can also get to Namibia from anywhere in Botswana.
TransNamib operates regular overnight trains from Upington in South Africa to Windhoek. Namibian passenger rail coaches offer airplane-style seating, air-conditioning, video entertainment and vending machines for refreshments.
Despite the vast distances in Namibia, most people get around by land, and not air.
Namibia's roads are very good, with primary routes paved, and secondary routes of well-graded gravel. An all-wheel drive vehicle is not necessary except on tertiary roads and the Skeleton Coast. Driving at night is very dangerous because there is a lot of wildlife on the roads. Traffic drives on the left.
It is quite easy to get around using combies (shared or long-distance taxis). Just ask around to find out where the taxi rank is (sometimes there are several taxi ranks, each one with departures to different areas of the country). Drivers are not in the habit of overcharging foreigners.
TransNamib operates air-conditioned buses (and trains) to destinations all over Namibia via their StarLine service. Thrifty Car Rental offers 24 hour car rental service for a scenic drive through Namibia, call +264 61 220 738.
Namibians often estimate the time to drive between places according to their experience driving quickly on dirt (untarred) roads. Add a third and you will arrive alive with kidneys intact!
The national railway company of Namibia, TransNamib, operates trains (and buses) to destinations all over Namibia and also into South Africa via their StarLine passenger service. Some routes available are
Passengers are not accommodated on dedicated trains in Namibia, apart from the luxury Desert Express tourist train (see below). The StarLine scheduled service described above conveys passengers via special coaches hooked on the back of freight trains. These passenger coaches offer comfortable airline-style seating with air-conditioning and (sometimes) video entertainment. Vending machines provide refreshments on long journeys.
For StarLine reservations :
For Desert Express reservations :
English is the official language and is widely spoken. However the majority of older Namibians (those educated before independence) only speak English as a third language, and therefore the standard is fairly poor.
Afrikaans (closely related to Dutch) is spoken by many . German is also spoken by a large number of people of German descent, though they tend to be mostly in Windhoek, Swakopmund and various farms scattered through the country. There is a comparatively large number of eleven 'recognised' languages in Namibia, as well as others that have too few speakers to be officially recognised
Namibia is a country with great national parks where you can see some of the finest African flora and fauna and you can see some mammals that have adapted to the extreme heat. In the northern part of the Kunene region you can see the rare desert elephants.
The currency is the Namibian Dollar (NAD) which is pegged 1:1 to the South African Rand (ZAR). Either can be used in Namibia; change will usually be given in Namibian Dollars. Bank Windhoek in downtown Windhoek (and probably other branches throughout the country) will change NAD to ZAR without any charge or paperwork hassles. Since any bank or currency exchange outside Namibia (including in South Africa) will charge a service fee or change at a highly unfavorable rate (NAD may only trade at 7:10 when changed into Rand in South Africa), it is advisable to make use of the Bank Windhoek service before leaving the country. It is also advisable to carry proof (for example ATM receipts) that money you are taking out of the country is money that you brought into the country in the first place, just in case.
Automated teller machines are available in Windhoek and Swakopmund. It is best to use only teller machines that are inside a mall or other building. Always be careful to make sure no one is watching you enter your PIN, and be vigilant about typical scams (e.g. machines that seem to eat your card and won't give it back after you enter the PIN).
Prices in shops are fixed, but prices in open markets or from street vendors are open to barter.
Vegetarians need not apply. Namibians have a very high intake of meat. It is possible to be a vegetarian in Namibia, however, as there are some Peace Corps workers who live there for two years and remain vegetarian throughout.
Namibia's nightclubs are always happening and always open late (pretty much until the last person leaves). They are mostly located in bigger cities: Windhoek, Swakopmund and Oshakati. There are not many bars, though there is very good beer, and there are a lot of shebeens. The flagship beer of Namibia is Windhoek Lager , an easy-drinking filtered beer, not dissimilar to many German brews.
It is extremely difficult for foreigners to get work permits in Namibia. With 40% unemployment, the government is not enthusiastic about letting people in who would take jobs from Namibians. It is possible to get a work permit to volunteer, though this requires going through the same drawn out process as the normal work permit.
Namibia is a peaceful country and is not involved in any wars. With the end of the Angolan civil war in May 2002, the violence that spilled over into north-eastern Namibia is no longer an issue.
Namibia has relatively high crime rate. See the warning for ATMs above, in the Buy section. For men it is not prudent to walk or ride taxis alone in Windhoek or Oshakati after midnight. For women, it is not prudent after 9pm. Pickpockets can be a problem. All these warnings should be taken in context, because the threat is not as serious as it might sound. If you are alert and take some common sense precautions then you will have no problems.
Travellers should have no problem visiting the townships, though it's advisable not to visit the townships alone unless you're familiar with the area. If you have been travelling in Southern Africa for a few months, you probably know what you're doing.
Namibia has a serious problem with driving under the influence of alcohol. The problem is aggravated because most people don't consider it a problem. When driving/walking on weekend evenings, be extra alert.
The HIV infection rate in Namibia is about 25%. Do not have unprotected sex!
Namibia's medical system is modern and capable of attending to whatever needs you may have. Staff are well trained and so HIV transmission in hospitals is not an issue. This applies to government and private hospitals alike, though line-ups are often shorter at private hospitals, and there have been cases of incorrect diagnosis in government hospitals.
The northern part of Namibia is in a malaria-risk zone, so consult a doctor before leaving, and take appropriate malaria precautions when travelling in these areas.
Namibia's water supply is usually safe to drink, except where labelled otherwise. Campsites next to rivers often get their water directly from the river, so do not drink it!
Having said all this, make sure you consult a physician specializing in health issues of Southern Africa, as well as things like the Centre for Disease Control web page. Make sure you satisfy yourself of the safety of anything you're getting into.
Namibians are very proud of their country. It is a well developed country (albeit still a developing nation) with all the modern amenities and technologies. Don't show up wearing khaki shorts and a safari hat; people will laugh. In fact, Namibians refer to this kind of tourist as The Khakis in a derogative manner. And if you ask where the 'real' Africa is (i.e. the Africa of Tarzan), Namibians may very well be offended.
It is customary when greeting someone to ask them how they're doing. It's a simple exchange where each person asks "How are you?" (or the local version "Howzit?") and responds with a correspondingly short answer, and then proceed with whatever your business is about. It's a good idea to do this at tourist info booths, in markets, when getting into taxis, even in shops in Windhoek (though it's normally not done in some of the bigger stores in the malls).
Namibia's country code is 264. Each city or region has a two-digit area code. When calling long distance within Namibia, prefix the area code with a '0'. Mobile phones are very common and run on the GSM network, using the same frequency as Europe and the rest of Africa. There are Internet cafes in Windhoek, Swakopmund and Opuwo, and hostels often have access as well.
MTC is the Namibian cell phone network. SIM cards can be purchased at MTC stores as well as many other cell phone shops. All mobile phones have the area code 81, regardless of where you are in the country.
MTC's service palette and coverage area is expanding rapidly, with more advanced technologies like GPRS gradually gaining a foot-hold.
MTC has introduced 3G, and one can for example subscribe to a 24 month contract easily for N$ 299,00 per month and receive 500 MB free download volume and the 3G USB or laptop device. Coverage is excellent with almost all base stations everywhere having the technology.
Cell One - Namibia's second cell phone provider started their services in Windhoek during March 2007 - they plan to expand to eventually cover Namibia.
Cell One is now available throughout the country and rapidly expanding. The network uses the 085 prefix. No data services are on offer as yet. The current special was buying a starter set for around N$ 19,00 and receiving N$ 14,00 in pre-loaded airtime. If MTC gives you grief, do not hesitate to try Cell One, as the new staffs are highly motivated.