Namibia with Exoticca

By Judy Pfaffenberger
This item appears on page 24 of the July 2020 issue.
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Lady Gaga and Judy in Walvis Bay. Photo by Pat Lewinski.
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Lady Gaga and Judy in Walvis Bay. Photo by Pat Lewinski.

Several years ago, a friend who had been a missionary in Namibia for many years said it was a wonderful place. I also read that it had spectacular scenery, which is always a draw for me. 

Most tours there were running $4,000-$6,000, which is over my usual budget, but when I saw a Namibia trip on my weekly Travelzoo email for $2,100 from New York City with a company called Exoticca (Barcelona, Spain; phone, in the US, 888/488-0592, exoticca.travel), I called my friend Pat Lewinski and we jumped on the Nov. 6-19, 2019, tour.

We paid an additional $200 each for air from Detroit, Michigan, to New York, where we spent an evening with Pat’s son who lives in Manhattan. From New York, our flights on British Air were very good, heading to London, England, then Johannesburg, South Africa, and Windhoek, Namibia.

Exoticca is based in Spain, with offices in England. We were the only Americans among Brits in our group of 20. I had never heard of the company, so I had checked TripAdvisor and found mostly good reviews, although none were for the Namibia trip. Pat and I were concerned about this budget trip, but both of us felt that it went beyond our expectations. 

The accommodations were not luxury, but all were quite adequate, even the night we spent in a tent (with a bathroom en suite). 

Among meats served at Joe’s Beerhouse in Windhoek, Namibia, are zebra, kudu, oryx and springbok. Photo by Judy Pfaffenberger

Breakfast and dinner were included every day. Two dinners were at top restaurants, where we each had a budget of $21. The other dinners were buffets in the hotels. Every buffet offered beet salad as one of the many choices. The meats that were served included zebra, kudu, oryx and steenbok sausage.

On the way to Etosha National Park, we visited a Himba village. The chief had three wives and 17 children. Himba women are basically topless except for extensive jewelry, their skin and hair covered with a paste made of red ochre. 

The Herero women were quite different, wearing long dresses patterned after those of German missionaries’ wives a century ago, though much more colorful, with distinctive hats.

Namibia was under the control of different countries at various times, including Britain, Germany and South Africa. English is the official language, but Afrikaans and the indigenous Oshiwambo are more common; other languages are spoken as well, including German. Germany seems to have had the most influence on the Herero population.

In the national park, we saw many animals: giraffes, oryx, kudus, gnus, lions, rhinos, a lonely cheetah and tons of elephants. For an extra $148 we could tour in open safari vehicles, which Pat chose to do, since this was her first safari. (I had been on two safaris, so cheapo me stayed on the bus with four others. We saw everything those in the safari SUVs did but in air-conditioned comfort.)

Himba village women. Photo by Judy Pfaffenberger

Only the main highways connecting cities were paved, as were a few roads in the parks, so we were usually graced with what our driver/guide Gideon called an “African massage.” 

We had chosen to travel in November in order to avoid the rainy season, which normally begins in December. All of the “rivers” we crossed and the large lake in Etosha were dry. However, there were spring-fed water holes in the park and also man-made ones that were maintained by the park for the animals.

Most of the terrain was desert-like, with low mountains usually in view. The more spectacular scenery came on the last half of the tour. The massive sand dunes of the Skeleton Coast meet the sea near the city of Swakopmund. An optional $110 4x4 dune ride took us first along the coast, with the tide coming in, then to the top of 450-foot dunes. It was both beautiful and great fun.

An optional boat ride on Walvis Bay for $51 was well worth it. We saw seals, dolphins, whales and many flamingos and pelicans. A light lunch of fresh seafood, including oysters harvested that morning, was a real treat. One highlight was sailing with a tame pelican, Lady Gaga, who had been raised by our captain’s wife in their swimming pool. 

Our last scenic adventures were to the massive red sand dunes in Sossusvlei and then Sesriem Canyon. We journeyed there at 6 a.m. to beat the 100-degree heat. There were about 40 dunes, and anyone who wished to do so could climb “Big Daddy” (1,066 feet). With my unreliable ankles and knees, I chose to sit under a tree, enjoy the breeze and watch the others. I did walk up a 4-foot-high “Lil Baby” dune for a picture.

For this “bucket list” trip, I paid a total of $2,800, which included everything except souvenirs.

JUDY PFAFFENBERGER
Toledo, OH