Tag Archives: Namibia

Leaving Africa

We leave Africa today and probably won’t be back for a long time.  😦

So many great things happened here in the two years we lived in Namibia, and the 8 countries we visited. So many firsts:
In Zambia, we swam at the top of Vic falls.
In Namibia, we climbed the oldest dunes in the world.
In all countries, we saw countless animals in the wild.
In Malawi, we swam in the bluest, clearest fresh water lake and jumped into a natural swimming pool at the end of our Mulanje hike.
In Tanzania, we climbed our highest mountain ever and the tallest freestanding mountain in the world.
In South Africa, we “swam” with sharks.

But most of all:
In Namibia, we learned about a new culture, way of life and tried our best to adapt to it.
In Namibia, I learned to cope and grieve for my Dad’s passing.
In Namibia I was challenged daily as an educator and got a real glimpse into life as a learner and teacher in Rundu.

But best of all, in Namibia, we made some of our best American and Namibian friends.

There was a lot of hard stuff too that I haven’t forgotten.

I think back to my 2013 self, the Lisa who was hesitant to click YES and officially join Peace Corps because her assignment was in Africa. I was afraid of all I’d read, seen and heard.

I’m glad I said Yes and saw things for myself. If I had said no, none of these great things would have happened, all the great people I now get to call friends and family would just be strangers.

So during our last few hours here, my reflection is serving as a reminder to push myself always, in small ways and big. The rewards have far outweighed my fears.

Goodbye Africa. Thanks for all the gifts you gave me. I’m really gonna miss you. Hope to see you soon.

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Namibia’s Quiver Tree Forest

quiver tree forest

As we prepared to leave Namibia after two years of service as Peace Corps Volunteers and then as tourists for two weeks, one of our final stops was the Quiver Tree Forest near Keetmanshoop in south-central Namibia. This interesting desert landscape contains thousands of quiver trees, a distinctive species of aloe. The lodge and campground also provide a home for a few cheetahs that would have otherwise been killed for attacking livestock. Nearby the Quiver Tree Forest is an area called Giant’s Playground for all of the larger boulders that are stacked upon each other.

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A good example of a mature quiver tree. A short walking trail through the trees is located next to the campground.

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One of the rescue cheetahs waiting to be fed.

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Lisa being the brave one and petting a cheetah at mealtime. She is a crazy cat lady and couldn’t resist. I offered to be the photographer.

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One of the larger male cheetahs enjoying a dinner of raw rodent.

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Bokmakierie

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Acacia pied barbet

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Rosy-faced lovebird

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Giant’s playground

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The quiver tree forest at sunset. After we watched the sun go down we had our final braai in Namibia.

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Images of Lüderitz

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Lisa overlooking the town. We climbed up a rocky hill and had great views of the sunset.

In July, we spent four days in the Namibian coastal town of Lüderitz, an interesting mix of old colonial German architecture and a more modern port that is used mostly for mining transportation. One of the highlights was a boat tour to a nearby island where a colony of African penguins is now recovering from past guano-mining and human encroachment. It is a good success story for conservation efforts in Namibia. In the early 1900’s the penguins were nearly wiped out during extraction of their nutrient-rich guano which was shipped off for use as fertilizer. Unfortunately, this layer of guano on the cold and wind-swept island had acted as a safe place for the penguins to burrow and lay their eggs. Once the several meters of guano were removed, the population of penguins crashed. Recent conservation efforts have improved the penguin numbers to several thousand.

Other highlights included a drive along the coast to Diaz Point, one of the windiest places I have ever been! The seascape is craggy, with exposed rocks and some short sandy beaches. Flamingos and other waterbirds make their home along this stretch of coast, including the rare African Black Oystercatcher.

While in Lüderitz, we enjoyed the company of fellow Peace Corps Namibia Volunteer Janet who lives in town. She showed us around and joined us for the boat tour. Thanks, Janet!

We stayed at Element Riders Backpackers, a cozy and friendly place on a historic street in the middle of town. We also took a tour of Kolmanskop which we covered in a previous post.

 

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Our drive to Lüderitz was spectacular, with the landscape of mountains, sand dunes and windswept plains. Wild horses roam just east of town.

 

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African black oystercatcher

 

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African penguin

 

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Cape gannet

 

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The coast near Diaz Point

 

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Flamingos near an abandoned ship in a bay just southwest of Lüderitz.

 

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Colonial German architecture in the very hilly town of Lüderitz.

 

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The still-active lighthouse at Diaz Point.

 

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Looking through the fog at the colony of African penguins.

 

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Reflections on Service – My Peace Corps Elevator Speech

We are more than a month into our five month Close of Service trip, it’s hard to believe! As time always does, particularly on vacation, it is absolutely flying right now.

I haven’t still quite come to terms with the fact that our Peace Corps service is over. I think in part because we are still in Africa, it feels as if we will return to Namibia after this holiday is over. Things are different in all African countries, but some customs and mannerisms are common throughout the southern part of this continent that have made us still feel comfortable this last month.

We’ve met many travelers over the course of this month and they have many great stories to tell. Some are traveling for several months or indefinitely. It has been interesting to hear their observations of the different countries we have visited. However, it has driven home the fact for me that the Peace Corps experience, or living overseas is genuinely unique. Had I been just a traveler in Namibia, even for an extended period of time, my perception of the local people would have been different. It reminded me of just how much you get to know a place in two years, but also how much we still don’t know or understand about our host country once we leave.

It can be easy to make snap judgements when visiting a place for a short time. First impressions can be lasting ones. After living in Namibia for 2 years, I think about this now as we have only been traveling in Botswana and Malawi, not living here and part of the community. I realize my impressions on vacation here are probably very starry-eyed. It’s hard to get the full picture. 

Some travelers make the effort to get to know local people, but most are not invested in a community for an extended period of time like a Peace Corps volunteer. An afternoon hiking with a local person or a day at the beach playing soccer with village kids can give some perspective, but doesn’t give the same depth as working with the same people day in and day out for two years. While there is so much value in just traveling, you get a deeper experience staying somewhere for a long tome. I found great value in the deep connections that we made over a long period of time in Namibia. While Peace Corps service was at times difficult and frustrating, the other side is that some of the work was incredibly rewarding. Engaging with people and learning about a place like we did is something that I will carry with me forever.

At dinner the other night, a fellow traveler asked us to give our elevator speech about our Peace Corps experience. While questions like that are difficult to field (How DO you sum up two years of your life, in just 10 seconds?), it was a good one to be asked because I know once we get home, not everyone will want to listen to me talk about my Peace Corps experience for hours at a time. Most people want short sound bites and not lengthy explanations.

My gut reaction, the speak-to-think extrovert that I am, was to say, “It was really really hard but I’m really glad I did it.” But that doesn’t give much of an idea about my experience. Josh’s answer was more thoughtful on the fly, “You will be more impacted by the experience than the impact that you will make.” And I agree with that absolutely. As a Peace Corps volunteer you get the unique opportunity to really see what life is like instead of just a short glimpse. You don’t just hear about the loss of host country’s loved ones, you attend the funerals of those family members. You don’t just learn about how people observe holiday in their country, you go home with them and are a guest to see their customs up close. You don’t just hear about people’s love stories, you are in their weddings or attend them. You leave truly getting a rich experience, an idea of the bigger picture. The good and the bad.

It’s hard not to sound cliché, but right now I think my answer would be, “You’ll never see the world the same way again. It gives you a whole new perspective.” Gaining that perspective at times was a painful process, but during our travels this last month I have missed my Namibian friends, learners and colleagues very much. I think of them and their lives and all the challenges that they face on a daily basis. I’m so glad that their friendship has changed my world view, and that I get to call them friends and not just acquaintances.

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The ghost town of Kolmanskop

Just outside of the coastal town of Lüderitz in Namibia, one of the more interesting sights is the old German mining town of Kolmanskop which was abandoned in the 1950’s and is gradually being overtaken by the Namib Desert. It is a fun place to photograph with the sand, fading colors and colonial German architecture. We arrived at the time of a tour which was a great way to learn about the history of diamond mining in the region. Some images of our visit are below.

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kolmanskop houses

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Return to Sossusvlei

We have a previous blog post about the amazing beauty of Sossusvlei, a region in the Namib Desert of Namibia, but we returned as part of our Close of Service trip with a rental car and a wide-angle lens so that we could enjoy the remote scenery for a couple of more days before we departing Namibia. Sossusvlei is truly one of the must-see destinations of Namibia and even though it is popular with tourists, it is still like visiting a underused U.S. national park on a slow day. There are some tourists, but you can easily get away from the crowds, climb your own dune and relax.

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This zebra was posing for us on the six hour drive between Walvis Bay and Sossusvlei

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The summit of Big Daddy, one of the largest dunes in the Sossusvlei area, was our goal for the hike during our second day at the dunes.

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The view from the summit of Big Daddy. Looking in the opposite direction displays views of Deadvlei, named for the blackened trees that dot the surface of the flat clay pan trapped in between the shifting dunes.

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After a long descent down the sheer side of Big Daddy, we arrived in the large pan of Deadvlei.

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The other end of Deadvlei has the famous trees that have been the scene for many photos promoting the scenery of Namibia.

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As part of our “flat daughter” series, our Peace Corps daughter, Mary Grace, joined us for our walk through Deadvlei.

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This oryx, missing one horn maybe as the result of a fight with another male, looked even more like a unicorn in the surreal desert landscape.

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We hiked up the less popular Dune 40 on the day that we left to catch the sunrise, but we started a trend and many other people followed us to the top. The dunes look very red in the light of a sunrise or sunset.

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The sun starting to appear on the horizon as we ascended Dune 40.

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The dunes make for interesting angles and these small grasses seemed to tolerate the extreme conditions.

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Swakopmund lagoon birding

Just south of Tiger Reef Restaurant in Swakopmund, Namibia is a very shallow lagoon with a very diverse mix of birds. I identified 13 different species  on the very cold and windy morning that I was there, many of which were new to me.

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Blacksmith lapwing

Black-winged stilt

Black-winged stilt

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Cape teal

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Common moorhen

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Common ringed plover

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Greater flamingo

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Grey heron

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Hartlaub’s gull

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Lesser flamingo

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Pied avocet

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Three-banded plover

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White-breasted cormorant

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White-fronted plover

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