It was a cool, sunny morning in Windhoek with birds nattering in the trees around us. We are in the Hilltop Guesthouse overlooking the city, which is low rise and surprisingly green. The air is clear and blue and we’ve just had a glorious breakfast in the terrace. It’s a lovely spot and today is for exploring the city before setting off into the wilds tomorrow.
We are back on that same deck updating our various electronica with reports of what turned out to be a busy and really rather good day. Windhoek is clean and easy going. The cars don’t belch smoke, the roads are in good repair, the shops are spic and span and its all very civilised.
We walked down the hill into the city centre and stopped first at the giant museum dedicated to how Namibia came into being. It turned 25 this year after a century of colonial abuse followed by years of violent revolt.
The museum is an unabashed celebrant of the “glorious struggle” against the truly appalling treatment meted out by first the German colonial power and later the South Africans. There were gruesome photos depicting the virtual enslavement and mass extermination of the native Herero and Nama people by the Germans. Then more uplifting images of the first stirrings of revolt and SWAPOs rise to power. They are still in power and doing a reasonable job by many accounts.
The giant modern museum does rather dominate the city centre and in its shadow is one of the oldest buildings of the Colonial era; the 19th century fort built by the Germans.
Its rather a nice old thing that the Namibians clearly don’t really know what to do with. It was a barracks for both the Germans and the South Africans, and after independence it became a museum. Now it is shuttered and locked with a few of the rooms used as offices.
Inside its walls is a giant triumphalist sculpture of a German officer on a horse which used to stand outside where it lorded it over the city. The government would like to get rid of it altogether given that it represents the brutal repression of Namibia’s native people. But white Namibians of German descent claim it is part of their minority ethnic heritage…
Next to the Craft Centre – and specifically its rather good cafe where we had our first “Rock Shandies”; lemonade, soda water and Angostura Bitters. Very refreshing.
Windhoek is not what you would call a destination city but we found plenty more to entertain us. There was a terrific display of meteorites (yes I really said that) from the largest shower ever discovered, which sprinkled an area of more than 300k by 100k with great lumps of iron.
And if THAT wasn’t enough there was also a glorious railway station built in 1912 and barely changed since. We walked up the stairs to find a locked gate barring us from the museum, but when we walked back out a ruddy German face hailed us from an upstairs window and the docent beckoned us back in. It was quite the treasure trove. One room devoted to ancient typewriters, another to telephone exchanges of the plug-in and wind the handle variety.
Then there were photos of the very earliest narrow-gauge service to Swakopmond 300k and three days away (but better than the five weeks it took by ox-xcart). It was a proper time capsule of a place and the enthusiastic curator was so anxious to make sure that we enjoyed it all. We did. Outside were all sorts of ancient trains gently fading in the fierce sunshine.
We walked back up the hill to the guesthouse with the sun in our eyes. Tom and P hurled themselves into the freezing pool while I bravely stayed behind on the terrace to watch. As I write the sun has just plummeted behind the hills in the West and its got noticeably cooler. It will be dark in about ten minutes and the birds have started nattering again.There is an orange glow across the horizon and the first star has appeared.
Tomorrow we hit the road.