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Windhoek's Christuskirche, the (only) landmark

We had both had a good night’s sleep and apart from, my eyes which still felt tired, I felt pretty much back to normal. Breakfast was a tasty spread with no noodles, rice of roti in sight. Rather than missing those flavours that had become so normal to us we both relished ham, cheese and tasty (i.e. solid for Stef) bread. It was a very Dutch/German breakfast and it made a welcome change.

What had surprised us when we arrived yesterday was Marita saying that as it was the weekend everything would be closed. We are so used to a 24x7 lifestyle at home, and it is one we have experienced pretty much everywhere we have travelled to on this trip that it still takes us by surprise to find places closed at the weekend. In a way though it is nice to have an enforced down day. We used the morning to just firm up our ideas for what we want to see in Namibia and how we want to travel around. There is little in the way of public transport so you either need to hire a car or join a tour group. The latter doesn’t really appeal to either of us so, depending on cost, we look set to hire a 4x4 camper truck.

At around noon we decided to go and amble around the centre of Windhoek to get our bearings a little and to se what was there. Marita had laughingly told us yesterday that about three hours was more than enough time to see the sigh and she was right! The hotel is a little way out of town, about a twenty minute walk to the centre. Most of the places we had looked at to stay in Windhoek were a similar distance out and there seem to be only one hotel, The Kalahari Sands, in the centre of town.

Marita had told us yesterday that if we were in the centre of town at night we should get a taxi back rather than walking. It made me feel slightly uneasy because it creates an impression of insecurity. In daylight the walk in seemed fine although I suspect our route didn’t take us through the nicest parts of town. We headed down Independence Avenue and past a large church with a very active community. There was a steady flow of people coming in and out an they just seemed to come and go as they pleased which made me think there was no structured “service” like there is in Catholic churches. Sure enough as we passed by again on our way back to the hotel the congregation was still in full swing.

As Marita had predicated the centre of town was all shut up except for a couple of shops geared to tourists. We saw a few foreign tourists wandering about but not many. One thing most had in common was their age, they were definitely all retired people on holiday. The centre of Windhoek is very small with the usual collection of shops and banks, although it was difficult to really get a sense of them as they were shut.

We stopped for lunch at a place with a balcony looking down and over the street and whiled away some time as we people watched. It was a strange mix and contrast of people walking by. Even though we have only been here a few hours we were both have a feeling that a dual society still exists here with a large cultural divide between the indigenous black people and the descendents of the white European settlers. The settlers seem to own everything and the indigenous people provide the workforce. Here the clientele were also predominantly white and the common courtesies of “please” and “thank you” and making eye contact with the staff did not seem to form part of daily life. Their kids were running amok while the parents just sat munching on chunks of steak and swigging beer. The white people we saw out on the street also had an almost arrogant swagger about them. It was as if they felt entitled to all the world had to offer and were quietly letting everyone know they were going to enjoy it.

We strolled along by the state house, current home of the President, getting shooed to the other side of the street by the security guards inside. At the top of the road the view is dominated by the Christus Kirche, a small church with an odd mix of styles in its construction and décor. Perched on top of a hill it offers fine views down and across Windhoek which really reveal how small this capital city is. Nestled in a valley you can see the outer extremes of the city to your left, right and in front of you. It is really no more than a smallish UK town.

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German architecture in Windhoek

We wandered back to our hotel and as we sat cooling on our balcony a few drops of rain started to fall, followed within minutes by a torrential downpour. Had we been ten minutes later getting back we would have been totally drenched. Apparently they have had a lot more rain this year than normal in fact more than they have had for the last 30 years. We’ve been told that the landscape is unusually green and lush and that we will see Namibia in a very different light to how most people get to see it.

In the evening we made our way to the Maerua Mall about ten minutes walk the other way from the town centre. It looks pretty new ad work is still going on to fit out many of the shops. It had an eerie feeling to it being so quiet. We had gone there to see what was on at the local cinema and, even though we have already seen the film, we bought tickets for the Constant Gardener. The cinema had just four screens and the one we were in was tiny, probably seating only about 100 people.

After the film we stopped off at Mike’s Kitchen for a beer before heading back to the hotel. This was a big diner style eatery that would have been equally at home in Canada. Large lumps of meat seemed to be the highlight of the menu as with the place we had stopped at at lunchtime. It was strange to see a group of Chinese people inside tucking into big steaks with a knife and fork rather than slurping away at their noodles with chopsticks.

Our walk back to the hotel was a bit of a quick march. Even though Marita had said this stretch was safe to walk at night we didn’t hand around. Signs on the roadside declared how Windhoek wanted its residents and guests to feel safe and it gave contact numbers for you to call if that wasn’t the case. The very fact that the sign was there made me feel uneasy. AS we reached a junction two men outside the Nampharm building started to talk to us. I think they were security guards but I wasn’t sure and couldn’t work out whether they were friend or foe. I also couldn’t understand what they were saying although Stef exchanged a few words with them as we carried on walking by. Within minutes we were back behind the security gates of the hotel and were soon tucked up in bed.