Trip to Southern Namibia

Last weekend, CGE took us down south for a long weekend to learn about community-based natural resource management and tourism. We stayed at three different campsites for one night each. After driving about an hour out of Windhoek, the landscape changed dramatically. The lush, rolling hills were replaced by a dry, flat desert landscape. The first night, we stayed at a community run campsite that overlooked the very dried out Fish River and, in the distance, the Brukkaros Mountain. They had been given funding by the European Union in order to establish bathrooms and camping facilities. The community cooked us a delicious dinner of lamb, bread, and a variety of salads. We later found out that we were the first visitors to ever stay at their campground! It was quite an honor, and the whole experience was wonderful, with the exception of an infestation of “needle snakes,” who were the size of worms that had a very poisonous bite! The next day, the community leader took us to a nearby natural hot spring and a waterfall, which was quite a treat. If only the campsite had access to better marketing materials so that more tourists could know about this hidden gem!
The second night we stayed at another, more established community run site at the base of the Brukkaros mountain. We met with the community leader who was a school teacher and the former mayor to the nearby village. He arranged for us to climb the 1800 foot mountain with several dozen of his high school students. After a BBQ dinner, some stargazing and a night of sleeping snugly in our tents as a thunderstorm rained down on us, we arose at 6am to conquer the mountain. The trail was rough at times, and definitely involved some clambering over boulders, but after a few hours we all reached the summit. It was worth it. As far as the eye could see in all directions was flat desert landscape untarnished by human settlement. After being physically challenged by the trek up, seeing the stunning view for the first time was a simultaneously refreshing and invigorating experience.
The last campsite we staying at was run by a company that owns a chain of mid-scale lodges throughout the country. Most of the managerial staff there were South African expats. Because they are a well established business, have higher quality amenities (read: reliable tap water and toilet facilities), and can afford to market themselves, they receive about 24,000 tourists a year. The two community run sites we visited were lucky to get 50 people a year. It was a very real way of learning about the challenges and competition that fledgling community run tourist attractions must endure. It was a bit depressing because I greatly preferred the first two campgrounds, they had must more natural beauty and local charm, yet so many travelers do not even know they exist. A highlight of this visit was sampling coconut flavored marshmellows, and making a delish s’more with them!
We all returned to Windhoek on Sunday, a bit smellier, but very pleased to have gotten to experience such a different and distinct part of the country. This week, we finished up our internships and are preparing our final projects. I’m sad to say we only have 10 days left in this beautiful country.

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