Where On Earth (Week 8): The Dunes Outside Swakopmund, Namibia

We had a number of guesses for this week’s Where on Earth? Jake guessed the right country, but Buddha was more specific with his answer — the coastal sand dunes in Namibia — so the big gold coin goes to him. Snapped by gakout, this image reminds me of one of my worst mornings — and one of my best days. After about a year of service in the Peace Corps in Zambia, my friend Jesse, and I decided we needed a break, so we arranged a trip to Namibia. From where I was stationed, the 4-day trip to Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, required I ride:

  • 1 bicycle
  • 2 pick-up trucks
  • 3 taxis
  • 2 mini-buses
  • 3 full-sized buses
  • 1 dugout canoe (to cross the border between Zambia and Namibia)

It was quite a journey.

Shortly after arriving in Windhoek, we arranged for a trip through northern Namibia. We wanted to see the giant red sand dunes of Sossusvlei. The next day, we headed to Swakopmund, Namibia’s second largest city — and perhaps the weirdest place on earth. Here, at the end of a long, dusty, desert drive, is a coastal town that looks like Hansel and Gretel might stroll up at any moment.

With its rich Bavarian architecture, signs for strudels and sausages, and road names all ending in -Straße, it felt like we had left Africa and headed for Germany. In any event, we signed up to go sandboarding the following day. Excited about no longer being in Zambia; thrilled at the prospect of being in a clean, unusual place; and eager to get sandy the next morning, we began drinking.

And we drank.

And we kept drinking.

You can see where this is headed.

I drank Tafels and Windhoek lagers. I did shots of imported Gilbey’s gin. Ordinarily, I don’t drink that much, but I was delighted to be able to drink cold, draught beer. The beers I was used to in Zambia were always warm and in filthy bottles.

So I drank some more.

The next morning I was so hung over, I thought I wouldn’t be able to participate in the sandboarding; I could barely roll out of bed. Fortunately, Jesse made me go. On the bus ride to the dunes, no one would sit beside me, because I was ashen white, and I had to stop the bus several times to, um, to puke. I was disgusted with myself. Everyone else on the bus was disgusted with myself, too. Jesse thought it was hilarious.

When we got to the dunes, I looked at how high we’d have to trudge, and I refused to go. “Just go once. If it takes all morning, then you don’t have to go back,” Jesse encouraged. I agreed. Amazingly, lumbering up the dunes was just what I needed: the fresh air, the clear skies, and the anticipation of zooming down the hills made me perk up immediately. I was cured!

For the next few hours, we raced up the hills and flew back down. We were told we could reach speeds up to 35 miles per hour on the waxed plywood boards on which we rode. Laying on my stomach, with my nose 6 inches from the sand that was rushing past, it felt like 350 miles per hour. Quite honestly, sandboarding in Namibia is one of the most fun thing I’ve ever done.

Plus, at the end of the day, they fed us lunch. I hadn’t had a ham sandwich in almost year. I was in heaven.

Believe it or not, I think I felt like having a beer to celebrate.