Monday, May 5, 2014

Slightly Bored in Windhoek

"Windhoek could be any little city in the States, Oregon, for instance (well, I don't know Oregon, but this is how I imagine it)."

That's Daniel from Spain summing up the place where I kicked off my birthday week yesterday. Take away the hills surrounding the valley in which Windhoek's city center lies and all the evidence of Namibia's past as a German colony (signs that say Platz, street names that end in strasse and buildings that are pointy on top), and you probably could be somewhere in Oregon. There are tons of German tourists here in Windhoek, but I meet tons of German tourists pretty much everywhere I go, so I imagine Oregon wouldn't be much different.

As for the locals, they're probably my favorite part of what I've seen of Windhoek over the last 24 hours. I could spend all afternoon standing on a crowded sidewalk downtown watching the interesting faces of passersby, and the weather (clear skies, warm in the sun, comfortable in the shade) is perfect for outdoor people watching. As in Cape Town, the populace here appears to be diverse, attractive and stylish, strikingly and surprisingly so. I have to admit, I was expecting far less cosmopolitan things from a population of only some 250,000.

The people here are also incredibly laid-back and friendly, regardless of their age. (I haven't seen so many adorable children in one place since I was in Cambodia nearly three years ago.) "Are you playing a game? Can I play?" the sweetest little boy with two missing front teeth asked as he crawled beside me on the bench on which I was typing notes into my mobile phone.

"Where's your mom?" I asked him, surprised that anyone would let such a precious little tyke out of their sight.

"She's right over there," he said, pointing to the female security guard at the store several meters away. She smiled at us as if it was the most normal thing in the world for her kid to be warming up to a perfect stranger. I chalked it up as less bad parenting than a sign of the Namibian disposition.

The nourishment has been palatable, but aside from the chicken and potatoes and veggies that I had for lunch yesterday in a German beer garden, it hasn't been particularly remarkable. One week from now, I'll remember the kind staff at Sardinia, the congenial German owner (Or was he just the manager?) who kept coming over to check on me, how exhausted I was when dinner was over at 7.38pm ("Wait, isn't it midnight?" I asked myself after checking the time) and even the house white wine better than I'll remember the rigatoni al forno I ordered there for my main course.

The city might suffer a similar fate, being so perfectly pleasant yet fairly forgettable. It's telling that my favorite part of today has been finishing this blog post while lounging in a hammock by the pool of the Maison Ambre Guest House (up the hill, to the left, in the top photo above), surrounded by the low hum of nature and being feasted on by blood thirsty mosquitoes. Booking accommodations 1.5 kilometers from the city center might have been the smartest thing I did in preparation for this trip.

Like Bangkok and Lima, Windhoek is a capital that seems to be regarded by visitors mostly as a launching pad to the country's more picturesque locales, but unlike Bangkok and Lima (two of my favorite cities on their respective continents), Windhoek is unlikely to distract me from the grand prizes of this particular holiday: Swakopmund on the coast (where I'm headed tomorrow) and Sossusvlei, gateway to the Namib desert (where I will be spending my birthday on Wednesday).

I'll be back, but only long enough to fly out on Saturday afternoon.
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