Serenity in Swakopmund

Wednesday 01/11/17: Rolling, rolling, rolling! I take the crack of dawn shuttle from wearisome Windhoek and head to Swakopmund on the coast. We got back from the desert safari yesterday and despite having the best dinner I’ve had yet in Africa (and tremendous company in the shape of Michelle, Michael and Audrey to whom I really didn’t want to say goodbye), I just wasn’t feeling Windhoek. I sleep for a lot of the 4 hour trip but when I awaken, the guy next to me starts chatting. He’s on his way to see his wife who gave birth yesterday to their second child. He’s really sweet and his excitement is contagious. This is going to be a good day! 

We arrive in Swakopmund and I find a backpackers. The friendly but nutty receptionist helps me book paragliding and quad-biking for tomorrow. Today, I intend to just relax and wander around the town. Swakopmund was briefly a German colony and it feels like we could be somewhere outside Berlin. The architecture is beautiful with lots of cafes, sweeping beaches and palm trees galore. 

I wander along the wide streets, feeling super chilled out and end up booking into a township tour that catches my eye. I do love organised fun! My guide, Nande, picks me up and the two of us wander around his neighbourhood. 

The Mondesa township was designed as a suburb designated for black occupation during the apartheid. Nande explains that the township these days isn’t just for poor people. 

Parts of the town are indeed temporary shacks, their occupants on the waiting list for either a plot of land or for social housing but lots of richer people live here too. They may have “made it” but the sense of community is more important than a fancy neighbourhood. Mondesa is a vibrant community filled with lots of people. Around 50,000 of Swakopmund’s 70,000 population calls the township home. 

There are three main tribes here; the Himba, recognisable by the red ochre that the women apply to their hair and bodies; the Herero, who are famous for their victorian style of dress; and the Damara who are known for their unusual Khoekhoe language peppered with clicks, clucks and complicated tongue movements. The people are generally hardworking. Nande explains that if you can’t get a job here, you must find something that you can make or sell. 

Nande greets everyone he passes. This place feels really alive. He takes me around some of the stalls and explains the different wares then we drive over to a woman’s cooperative shop where I’m taught how to pronounce a few words in Khoekhoe. I just can’t get my tongue to form the clicks and clucks needed and as the lady explains that one sound means green and the tiniest tonal variation means to kill, I think I’m safer sticking to English.

We head to Nande’s own street and it’s like being with a local celebrity. He says that everyone is proud of him for starting this new business and whether related or not through blood, everyone on the street is his family. He puts 25% of his profits back into the community. We chat to his neighbours and visit the street’s daycare centre. Snotty-nosed kids wipe their faces on me but their mischievous smiles and cuddles are a delight. 

We talk to a teenage girl in Himba formal dress who’s excitedly making plans for Friday’s school prom. Nande offers to drive her but is rebuffed – she’s looking for something with tinted windows. 

In Nande’s own house, his brother cooks us some local delicacies. I manage a couple of worms until Nande explains that they’re caterpillars and I struggle to keep it together. Baby butterflies! Thankfully Nande isn’t offended and just laughs at my misery. We’re saved by his friends popping in and interrupting my social gafe. They’re all in a local award-winning choir and they sing a few songs to their audience of two. It’s amazing! I feel a bit overcome and have to hastily wipe tears away. What an amazing tour! I’m on a total high as I leave Nande and wander down the market for the last of the day’s sales. 

I have a cocktail in a bar with a charming 80-year old German lady before walking along to a restaurant on the seafront to watch another perfect African sunset. As I’m walking back, the cocktail-loving Octogeranian comes rocketing surprisingly fast along the sand and heads straight for me – I’d paid for her wine without her knowing and she wanted to thank me with an interesting piece of coral she’d found. The sky is a luscious pink and I walk back to my hostel feeling completely contented and happy with the world. It’s been a very beautiful day.

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