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Windhoek: Arrival and Katatura Bike Tour
Our flight to Namibia took almost 40 hours, from San Francisco to the capital city of Windhoek, with layover stops in London and Johannesburg, South Africa.
Genevieve and Sebastian on the overnight flight to London:
(The pillow pets in their laps came in handy for naps on the planes and in airports.)
In London’s airport, we enjoyed a pick-me-up of cappuccinos and hot chocolate:
Descending into the smog around the Johannesburg airport:
Arrival in Windhoek, Namibia:
Waiting for us at the airport was Isak, who would be driving us to our inn and later delivering our rental vehicle :
Isak helped us find a cheap mobile phone before depositing us at our B&B, Londiningi. Here is Ben at the entrance:
The inn was in a residential area and, like most homes on this street, had an electric fence on top of the surrounding wall—not because this was in a “bad” neighborhood, but to provide a form of protection “just in case.”
Apartheid (racial segregation) has only been abolished in Namibia since 1991, and the division between “haves” and “have nots” was still pretty extreme. We would see this division on our bike tour the next day, and on our drive throughout the country over the next three weeks.
During our 2 nights in Windhoek, Londiningi provided the perfect place to rest and to explore a bit of the city. The inn is owned by a wonderful husband and wife team—Alexander from Namibia and Nathalie from France—who continue to work hard to create comfortable rooms and fantastic meals for their guests.
The inn grounds:
There was even a swimming pool, although June is winter in Namibia--too cold to take a dip:
Ben and I shared adjoining rooms with the kids. Here is the entrance to our room:
Dinner that night provided us with our first taste of oryx steak (a type of antelope), very tasty! Eating animals to which we are not accustomed raised questions about our food choices and beliefs, and why we eat certain animals and not others. There were no easy answers.
Genevieve and Sebastian at dinner:
The next morning, Isak drove us to the Katutura area of Windhoek for a bicycle tour. The name “Katutura” means “the place where we do not want to live.” It was named by the black residents who were forced to move there by white Namibians and South African occupiers who imposed the law of segregation beginning in the late 1950’s. Although Namibia gained independence from South Africa in 1990, the city is still divided racially. The economy is still controlled for the most part by white people, and we learned that there are places downtown where even today black people are not allowed to use the bathroom. On the flip side, and perhaps for good reason, white people are generally not welcome in Katutura.
A Katutura resident named Anna Mafwila recently opened a business offering visitors a bicycle tour of the Katutura area in order to promote understanding, diffuse fears, and bridge the gap between cultures.
Anna, with Genevieve and Sebastian:
Anna was very forthright, welcoming, and open when we met her. We were disappointed to learn that she would not be our guide that day; instead, we would have Erik, who was born in Finland and later moved to the Katutura area in 1991.
While Erik was very knowledgeable, he was fairly reserved and not as enthusiastic as Anna.
The bikes were all adult-sized, but Sebastian managed fine. Here he is testing out his bike before we headed off:
To reach the central Katutura township, we first had to pedal down a long dirt road from the starting point.
Our 4 ½ mile route took us through residential and business areas, including local markets. Eric stopped often to point out interesting features, talk about the history of a place, and allow us to take photos.
The first stop was in the Greenwell Matongo area of Katutura, which had a community water spigot:
Many of the nearby homes were built of metal sheets and lacked running water. Eric explained that after the country’s 1990 independence from South Africa, people flocked to Windhoek to live, leading to an abundance of makeshift housing. Over 2/3 of the people in Windhoek live in Katutura. The unemployment rate is about 52%, and the average monthly income is only around $75 U.S. (800 Namibian Dollars).
Prior to 1990, under South African apartheid control, there were no schools for black people in Namibia; after 1990, schools were available, but parents had to pay for tuition, books, uniforms, and other fees. The high unemployment and low income rates made (and still make) it extremely difficult for families to pay for their children’s education, which creates a continuing cycle of unemployment and poverty. In 2013, for the first time, the government made primary school free; so at least younger children now can receive an education. Upper grades, however, still cost money.
High unemployment has led many people to start their own businesses, such as this barbershop:
Our next stop was on the corner of Eveline Street, which Eric described as “the most popular street” where something was always happening, especially at night. The street had a lot of “shabeens” (bars or small pubs), such as this one below:
We also saw a number of make-shift car washes, taxi cab waiting areas, and fruit vendors.
Continuing onward, we stopped to take in a sweeping view of homes—a mix of corrugated metal, brick, and some stucco:
Across the street:
There was a new apartment building under construction, although the stairs did not look too sturdy yet with their lack of support:
Sebastian, in front of a row of small businesses:
We then pedaled into the older area of Katutura, where the houses were generally make of brick because corrugated metal homes were not allowed before the 1990 independence.
We got off our bikes to stroll through the Soweto Market, established in the mid-1990’s:
The businesses here were a mix of small kitchens, tailors, barbers and other places, with video games and pool tables in the middle.
A bridal shop:
As we walked by some girls eating, they called out for me to take their photo:
I asked if we could do a group photo, and they said, “Yes, yes!”
When I peeked into a laundry room, this woman paused from her work and let me snap a photo:
Eric walked on and stayed his distance during my interactions with the people in the market; it could have been that he was giving us space to have our own personal exchanges, but the vibe that we got was that he was a bit embarrassed about leading us around.
At an outdoor stall, we stopped to enjoy the local “fat cake”—balls of fried dough with a touch of sweetness:
Sebastian noted that the cakes “looked like weird brown apples but turned out to be bread.”
Genevieve, ready to leave the market:
The homes in the next section of Katutura were more solidly built than the corrugated metal houses on the outskirts:
Some of the stucco walls of the houses had bullet holes left over from the fighting that occurred prior to the 1990 independence:
Eric explained that the bullet holes evidence the bloody history of the country. The South African occupiers did not allow more than 20 people to congregate at a time. The police would often start spraying bullets with no warning.
The independence gained in 1990 marked the end of the South African occupation of Namibia, and also the Cuban occupation of Angola (the country to the north). Eric said that the during the occupation, South Africa was faced with resistance from Namibians who wanted freedom, as well as pressure from the Cuban government who kept pushing back South African forces from the border, and pressure from the South African people who did not want to continue fighting a war.
Eric pointed out the local medical clinic, which once contained a holding cell in which police would keep people for monitoring:
Continuing our ride:
A local preschool / daycare:
Our next stop was the Oshetu Market, which holds the biggest meat market in Katutura:
The market was once a beer hall, segregated by gender. Now, 7 or 8 cows are killed each morning and sold here. The entrance had a small row of fresh cows heads:
One whole side was devoted to grills, where men would sell sizzling strips of beef. As we walked into the market, a griller named Martin asked me to take his photo:
We ventured deeper into the market and found some lovely shoes made with springbok fur:
There was an abundance of dried food, including these dried greens and flat fish:
Dried mopane worms (which Eric said needed to be cooked before eating):
One woman was selling large cups of the Namibian drink called oshikundu, made from millet flour, sorghum flour, and sugar, all mixed together and fermented for a day. Eric purchased a cup for us for less than twenty U.S. cents. We watched as the seller dipped a communal cup into the large open bucket of drink.
Before offering us the cup, Eric took a healthy chug-a-lug:
Ben was next:
Sebastian also took a turn:
Believe me, lots of thoughts were swirling through my mind regarding sanitation (Do they ever wash that cup?), germs (We’re exchanging saliva here!), and illness (That open bucket probably contains fly droppings as well as bacteria that we haven’t encountered before). But I was also thinking of the importance of stretching one’s comfort zone, trying new things, and participating in the local culture. Sebastian handed the cup to me, and I took modest sip. The drink was sweet. It was not yummy enough for me to want to tip the cup back a second time. However, I had tried it. Enough said.
We finished our loop through the market back at the meat tables:
The last tasting was some of the freshly cooked beef from one of the grills. You take your meat and dip it into the salt and spices spread out into a cardboard box—yum!
The meat was very tender and flavorful!
Our guide Eric was not very talkative (either to us or the vendors) throughout the market experience. Again, we got the sense that he was either embarrassed to be leading us around, or he just did not want to be doing this.
After leaving the market, we continued onward to our last stop—the King’s Daughter’s Bicycle Shop:
The shop was created to help with the unemployment in the area; workers repair and sell broken bicycles, which are used locally for transportation not sport. A man named Napan was in the process of putting a wheel on a bike:
I am sure that there was more that we could have learned about the shop, but Eric was a man of few words here. After taking some photos, and then standing around awkwardly, we said our goodbyes and returned to our own bikes.
On the road again:
As we cycled through the last stretch of busy street, some kids were getting out of school, and they would run beside us wanting a wave or a high five, which we were happy to give. Eric, however, yelled at the kids and tried to scare them away.
A school in the distance:
Despite the lack of ease that we sensed from our guide, we really enjoyed our ride through Katutura, and we felt that we had received a good introduction to the area.
Isak picked us up from the tour in the vehicle that we would be driving throughout Namibia, starting tomorrow—a 4x4 pickup truck, with double rooftop tents:
The back contained a minifridge, sleeping bags, cooking utensils, a propane tank, and other essentials that we would need while camping. Isak took a moment to show us how to pop out the tents on top and to buckle everything back down.
On the way out of Katutura, Isak drove us by his home in the Greenwell area—he sleeps in the dark orange home below:
His wife and children live in another town north of Windhoek. He is on the road a lot, picking up and delivering rental vehicles, and he stops by to see them whenever he can. He said that his dream is to start a business packaging meat.
Back at our hotel, Isak handed the keys over to Ben:
We would be leaving Windhoek early tomorrow morning, driving north to Etosha National Park. The purple line below shows our route over the next 3 weeks.
Let the adventure continue!
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Etosha National Park, Day 1 >>