seven in one: africa

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IMG_2123Africa. What an amazing continent. From the moment the airplane doors open it is a unique experience. In East Africa the experience manifests itself as you get your first sensation of the humid air with the faint smell of a brush fire in the distance. In North Africa it is the sense that you have just landed in a just discovered archaeological site from centuries ago enveloped in the warm welcome of the incredible people of the region. In West Africa it is the joy of music and dance and the unique Afro-Caribbean cultural connection. The next experience in my Africa narrative led me south to a vast land of deserts containing thousands of large game animals – Namibia.

Namibia is a country in southern Africa whose western border is the Atlantic Ocean. It shares land borders with Zambia and Angola to the north, Botswana to the east and South Africa to the south and east. It gained independence from South Africa in 1990 following the Namibian War of Independence. This is shockingly recent. Its capital and largest city is Windhoek [approximate population: 330,000] and travelers to the country will land at Windhoek airport.

IMG_1428The lands of Namibia were inhabited since early times by the San, Damara, and Namaqua peoples, and since the fourteenth century by immigrating Bantu. Most of the territory became a German Imperial protectorate in 1884 and remained a German colony until the end of World War I. In 1920, the League of Nations mandated the country to South Africa [a mandate was essentially a colony], which imposed its laws and, from 1948, unfortunately its apartheid policy. The port of Walvis Bay and the offshore Penguin Islands had been annexed by the Cape Colony under the British crown by 1878 and had become an integral part of the new Union of South Africa at its creation in 1910.

Uprisings and demands by African leaders led the UN to assume direct responsibility over the territory. It recognized the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) as the official representative of the Namibian people in 1973. Namibia, however, remained under South African administration during this time as South-West Africa. Following internal violence, South Africa installed an interim administration in Namibia in 1985. Namibia obtained full independence from South Africa in 1990, with the exception of Walvis Bay and the Penguin Islands, which remained under South African control until 1994.

IMG_1453Namibia has a population of 2.1 million people and a stable multi-party parliamentary democracy. Agriculture, herding, tourism and the mining industry, including mining for gem diamonds, uranium, gold, silver, and base metals, form the basis of Namibia’s economy. Given the presence of the arid Namib Desert, it is one of the least densely populated countries in the world, second only to Mongolia. It is an important tourist destination for the region and desirable for a first foray into African travel as Namibia enjoys high political, economic and social stability.

Tourism is a major contributor to Namibia’s GDP [14.5%], creating tens of thousands of jobs directly or indirectly and servicing over a million tourists per year. The tourism industry employs almost 20% of the country’s population.

Ecotourism is a huge draw in Namibia. There are many lodges and reserves to accommodate eco-tourists. Unfortunately, sport hunting is also a large, and growing component of the Namibian economy. In addition, extreme sports such as sandboarding, skydiving and 4x4ing have become popular, and many cities have companies that provide tours.

IMG_1528Top tourist attractions in the country include the Okaukuejo watering hole [billabong for my Aussie readers] at Etosha National Park for elephant and game viewing, the incredible sand dunes of the Namib desert, particularly Sossusvlei, the coastal towns of Swakopmund [with its good coffee shop] and Walvis Bay, the Kolmanskop Ghost Town, the rock carvings of Twyfelfontein, and many more.

If you have ever contemplated a trip to Africa, I encourage you to take a look at the various websites dedicated to Namibia tourism through the internet machine and, if you don’t mind a quite long flight [at least twelve hours from London], then go for it! Be warned, though, if you rent a car [as I did during my time there], they drive on the left side of the road, which we all know is not the RIGHT side.

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On to continent seven: Australia!

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