Being in Namibia

I spent many years traveling to Namibia on projects and came to really enjoy the country. It is beautiful. It is a land of contrasts with scenery that leaves one open-mouthed in wonder.

When I changed companies 5 or so years ago I stopped coming to Namibia, and I’ve missed it. Now I’m back for a short holiday. I wondered if it was going to feel different, as so often things do when one tries to recreate a feeling or experience. And I can honestly say that it feels just as good as it did 5 years ago. This country grounds me.

It takes 2 hours by plane to arrive in Windhoek. Half-way through the flight things become very turbulent as the plane encounters fluctuations created by the rising of the hot desert air which creates thermal bubbles.

Coming into Windhoek’s airport – the Hosea Kutako International Airport – for the first time can be very alarming. Especially if you’re a tourist from Europe or America. Because there is just deserted scrubland and steppes, it looks like the plane is about to land in the middle of nowhere. I have, on many occasions, witnessed the alarmed looks on tourists’ faces as the plane comes in to land, thinking that the pilot is making an emergency landing! After the turbulence of the descent, they can be excused for thinking that :-)! Relief floods their faces when they see that the plane is actually landing on tar and not on sand.

The airport is about 45 kms east of Windhoek and the drive in to the city is starkly beautiful. Immediately striking for me are the colours of the land. The gradations of colour in the mountains  – greys to browns to violet and then to pink as it meets the azure of the clear sky – grounds me immediately, making me feel close to nature. In fact, wherever one is in Namibia, one is close to nature.

Road from Hosea Kutako airport to Windhoek
Road from Hosea Kutako airport to Windhoek

After spending Wednesday visiting all my old Windhoek haunts (and a shopping trip to Maerua Mall) I started the drive to Swakop on Thursday morning. I could’ve flown directly to Walvis Bay but deliberately chose to come the long way. From Windhoek to Swakopmund is a 4 hour drive, and one of my favourite road trips of all time. I have done it 5 times, most of them on my own. One can drive for 20 kms without meeting another car. It is a time for thinking and reflection. I drove most of the way listening Linkin Park’s Living Things playing rather loudly, lost in my thoughts.

Trans-Kalahari B2 to Swakopmund - outside Usakos
Trans-Kalahari B2 to Swakopmund – outside Usakos

I will always remember the first time I drove to Swakop in 2005. It was in a Toyota Condor, a huge vehicle for one person but that’s all Avis had. I remember nervously looking at the petrol gauge every 10 minutes or so because it moved very fast DOWN towards EMPTY. I left Windhoek at noon on a Friday and wanted to get in before sunset. I was naturally nervous about running out of petrol in the middle of nowhere so I played it safe and topped up at each of the only 2 small towns on the way – Usakos and Karibib. If I ran out of petrol I’d be spending the night in the car. I made it in just as the sun was setting and it was spectacular. Some of my best sunset photos have been taken in Swakopmund.

This time I am visiting a dear friend who lives there. Today, it is windy and cool outside, the sky is clear. Yesterday evening we went for a walk to the beach and back. This morning we’ve been for coffee and shopping for the braai tonight. Despite having been warned, I came totally unprepared for the chill. My friend says that winters are warm in Swakopmund and springs are cold.

Swakopmund sunset - Main Beach and The Mole
Swakopmund sunset – Main Beach and The Mole

It’s good to be back. It will not be the last time. In fact, I may even move here one day :-)! Now, where’s that property section of the paper…




He adopted us just before the millenium. On a Sunday winter’s evening he appeared from the bushes at the edge of the garden, miawing, famished. My husband opened a tin of tuna and while he fed we assessed him. He was a Siamese, capuccino coloured. He looked well cared for, his coat not too shabby, but he looked as though he’d been roughing it for a bit. We wondered if he belonged to neighbours. We asked our front neighbour who seems to know most happenings up and down the street. He didn’t know to whom this beautiful creature belonged.

That night he slept under the bushes from whence he sprang. The next day he was around again. He stayed in our dog-free garden for a few days. We realised he didn’t have a home so we invited him into the house. Like all cats worth their salt, he played hard to get and made it into the house the next day. We estimated that he was just over a year old when he found us.

We noticed that his upper lip had been injured but had healed and as a result one of his incissors protruded. Someone told us that this is sometimes a congenital defect of Siamese and we wondered if he’d been deliberately dumped for not being perfect.

Initially he didn’t like being touched, stroked or held. Very strange for a cat. We gave him space, and food. A dry and warm place to kip. Slowly I began to win him over and before long he was allowing me to hold him in my arms. I had to hold him in a very specific way otherwise he got antsy and would bite before jumping to the floor. He didn’t stand being held for long. He was fiercely independent. He had his own personality.

We named him Capuccino because we were going mad for Gino Ginelli’s Cappuccino ice-cream at the time, and he also was cappuccino coloured. He amazed us with his communication skills! He “spoke” with us. We talked to him and he responded. And vice versa. We research Siamese cats and found that they are great communicators.

He was great company. When my husband left for work I normally lingered in bed for a bit longer. Every day, without fail, he snuggled into me as I lay on my side. He was with me as I left for work. He was waiting for me when I arrived home. This behaviour surprised me – I thought that only dogs did that.

When we went out at night and came back late, he was waiting for us, patiently and disapproving. We were cutting into his sleep time. Sometimes he decided to go out himself, visiting his girlfriends or the local MacRodent. As we drove up to the house, we’d see him running up the road and sneak into through the wall to stand at the gate as we pulled up, as though he’d been there all the time, waiting…this time it was us who were disapproving of his night-time escapades. Who was looking after the house while we were out?

We got house sitters when we went away, not to look after the house – which is insured. We got them to look after Capuccino because he was our baby. He was irreplaceable and definitely uninsured.

When I spent a lot of time traveling to Namibia for work he kept my husband company. On 2 occasions my husband had to rush Capuccino to the vet on account of his protection activities. One or 2 cats tried to appropriate our garden, much to Capuccino’s displeasure, and a fight ensued. Sometimes Capuccino came off second best but we always congratulated and thanked him for his efforts and he preened and rubbed himself on our legs in pleasure.

He was a heat junkie – like all cats, he sat with his nose right up against the heater. He was with us wherever we were. In the kitchen as we cooked he hustled us for morsels of the food we were preparing. As I soaked in the bath he came to sit close by and kept me company. In the garden he darted around chasing birds and generally getting underfoot as my husband mowed the lawn.

He was an adrenalin junkie. He gave us a few heart stopping moments where cars were concerned. He liked to streak in front of the car, from one side to the other as we drove up to the garage. One day, my husband accidentally hit him with the car as he pulled one of these stunts. Hubby was mortified, guilty and furious with Cappuccino all at the same time. Needless to say Cappuccino got a good scolding! Come to think of it, he got a good scolding very often. Luckily it was not a serious injury. Off to the vet, he got his leg shaved and stitched. He looked very sheepish for a while – I know he knew what he’d done!

He scared the living daylights out of all vets we took him to. He hated vets – the moment he smelt the disinfectant the fur at the back of his neck stood on end. So we kept him in the car until the vet could see him. He was such a strong cat, all muscle, and we had to hold him down quite firmly for the vet to take a look at him. We were astounded and afterwards amused by the timid words of a vet who said, “You’ll have to hold him down I don’t want to come close until you do.” What do they teach at vet school?

He never climbed the curtains – it was always the other cats who, unwittingly climbed in through open windows, only to find Cappuccino waiting in ambush on the other side. The intruders, looking for a way out, destroyed our curtains!

Towards the end of 2007 Cappuccino fell ill. Like most cats I know of, he developed kidney problems. We treated him in the way we thought was the only alternative at the time – we took him to the vet! He improved with the meds but in December of that year he was no longer responding to them. He looked listless and just slept the whole day. He didn’t eat and got thinner. He improved after a drip at the vet but this lasted just a few hours. We took him to a vet specialist who seemed to think that Capuccino could be saved. (…) What happened next is too painful to write about. The only regret I have is that we didn’t bring him home to die – instead he died alone, in a cage, in a smelly vet hospital, surrounded by the sounds of other animals which must’ve sounded scary to him. Even though we visited him every day, he needed to be at home with us. As they say, hindsight is 20/20 vision.

Shortly before Xmas of that year we buried him at the top of our garden, under the bushes from whence he originally sprang to adopt us, and where he liked to hide and survey the property for other 4-legged intruders. We’ve told garden service that his little grave is not to be touched and he he still looks after our home like he did when he was alive.

Cappuccino…he may have been imperfect for some heartless breeder, but he was perfect for us and we miss him dearly.