OUT OF AFRICA

THE LAID-BACK CHARM OF WIND­HOEK

Virtuozity - - FRONT PAGE -

The his­tory of Namibia is at odds with its sleepy de­meanour and nowhere is this more ap­par­ent than its cap­i­tal, Wind­hoek. Sit­ting slap-bang in the cen­tre of the coun­try, the city of about 350,000 peo­ple ac­counts for a large per­cent­age of the 2.3 mil­lion-per­son Namib­ian pop­u­la­tion, mak­ing the coun­try the sec­ond-least pop­u­lous in the world (be­hind Mon­go­lia) and Wind­hoek the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal, busi­ness and tourism hub.

So with so few peo­ple over­all, sleepy is the name of the day with Namibia, and de­spite be­ing the cap­i­tal, Wind­hoek does lit­tle to dis­pel this. If you are look­ing for nightlife and a vi­brant, puls­ing city, this is not the place for you. If you like or­der, clean­li­ness (Wind­hoek has been voted the clean­est city in Africa on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions), and a laid back vibe, then you’ve come to the right place.

Its his­tory is en­twined with Namibia’s past. There were at­tempts to set­tle the site a num­ber of times, but it took the Ger­mans to es­tab­lish a per­ma­nent com­mu­nity at Wind­hoek in 1890. From there it grew un­til the Ger­mans were pushed out at the end of World War 1, re­placed by the South Africans, who claimed the area as South West Africa, bring­ing it into the Bri­tish Em­pire.

The fol­low­ing years are a sorry tale of war, a bat­tle for in­de­pen­dence and the usual eco­nomic mess that al­ways car­ries in its wake. But re­gard­less, Wind­hoek con­tin­ued to grow at a steady pace, and now free of its colo­nial shack­les, the city has pros­pered and grown un­der a sta­ble and or­gan­ised govern­ment. That’s not some­thing you write about an African coun­try very of­ten.

Many of the streets are named af­ter rev­o­lu­tion­ary he­roes, in­clud­ing many that have noth­ing to do with Namibia’s strug­gles. One favourite is Fidel Cas­tro Street, which runs close to the Namib­ian mu­seum, which was built by the North Kore­ans, in a 1970s Soviet style. Namib­ians clearly love an un­der­dog.

The city cen­tre is pretty low-rise, with the tallest build­ings only around 20 floors, and these num­ber very few. It does lack many of the big chain hotels,

but there are a few that serve up the stan­dard fare of a big city stay. There are also a num­ber of small, bou­tique-style hotels, which are a handy op­tion for trav­ellers, although these tend to be in the res­i­den­tial ar­eas and not near the city cen­tre.

There are, of course, a large num­ber of sa­fari lodge-style hotels out­side of Wind­hoek, to­wards the north of the coun­try, es­pe­cially around the Etosha Na­tional Park.

In the cen­tre of town, the two main hotels to choose from are the Hil­ton and the Kala­hari Sands Ho­tel and Casino, as well as the slightly away from the cen­tre Wind­hoek Coun­try Club Re­sort, which, in­ter­est­ingly, was orig­i­nally built as the host venue of the 1995 Miss Uni­verse pageant.

Busi­ness vis­i­tors tend to opt for one of the first two, with the Hil­ton be­ing the bet­ter choice, due to its newer fin­ish and bet­ter fa­cil­i­ties. The Kala­hari is pleas­ant enough, with very attentive staff, but it has no gym and a very ba­sic roof top pool for guests. It’s also built as part of a small shop­ping cen­tre and in­cludes a small casino in its lobby.

The two hotels vir­tu­ally face each other across the street, so ei­ther is well lo­cated for any­one on busi­ness.

Nearby places worth a visit are the Chris­tuskirche, due to the stun­ning gar­dens sur­round­ing the dom­i­nat­ing build­ing over­look­ing the city cen­tre. This is also a short stroll from the main par­lia­ment build­ing, which looks more like a plan­ta­tion house, than a seat of govern­ment. If the sun is out (which it of­ten is) this walk is worth it for the fresh air alone.

Away from the city cen­tre, the more tra­di­tional shanty towns of wood and cor­ru­gated tin start to make an ap­pear­ance, but even in these poorer ar­eas it’s some­how more friendly and wel­com­ing than in places such as South Africa. Crime is fairly low for Africa and the peo­ple are friendly and op­ti­mistic.

One thing to bear in mind is that the In­ter­net across Namibia is poor. Most hotels and guest­houses have a con­nec­tion, but it is des­per­ately slow. It’s strange as the rest of the coun­try’s in­fra­struc­ture, such as the roads, school­ing, and govern­ment, is far bet­ter than most other African na­tions.

So to sum up Wind­hoek, it’s quiet, clean and com­pact, mak­ing it easy to see in a day. At night there are some ba­sic nightspots that re­quire a laid back ap­proach to an evening out. If you want a jump­ing club this is not the place. But if a leisurely stroll around in the sun­shine on beau­ti­fully man­i­cured streets ap­peals then Wind­hoek is spot on.

Switch off the phone, can­cel your meet­ings and sit back in one of the city’s many street­front cof­fee shops and watch the world go by at a new, slower pace.

You are in Africa, af­ter all.

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