Exploring Namibia

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Namibia is a technicolor dreamscape, a land of swirling apricot dunes and shimmering white flats, mirages and dust devils, black-faced impala and crimson-breasted shrike. Its major game park, which centers on the Great Etosha Pan, offers an exceptional range and abundance of wildlife and a landscape that could not provide a more striking backdrop for it. The coastal region is one of the world's most captivating desert regions, and in the south lies a canyon second in magnificence only to the Grand Canyon itself.

Location, Geography, Climate

Namibia has four primary geographic regions, all of which are of great interest to the adventure traveller. In the north lies the Etosha Pan, an enormous alluvial basin that has long since lost the lake that it once held. Although water supplies are now limited for most of the year to the perimeter of the pan, the area remains sufficiently fertile to support great herds of antelope species (including gemsbok, impala, and springbok), zebra, and--most famously--elephants. Many other species of wildlife abound as well, and the Etosha Pan is now the center of one of the finest game parks on the African continent.

Along the Namibian coast lies the Namib Desert, a spectacularly barren, brilliant red sand landscape that is divided into the Skeleton Coast (in the north) and the Diamond Coast (in the south). There are a number of features of this coastal desert that make it quite unlike any spot on earth. First, and most famously, it is the richest source of diamonds on the planet, and Namibia is as a result the world's largest diamond producer. Second, the dry and hot Namibian shoreline is situated right at the point where the icy waters of the Atlantic hit the continent--Antarctic water meets African desert, and the result is often unbelievable fog. This highly mysterious coast is now the site of the 19,000 sq. mile (49,000 sq. km) Namib-Naukluft National Park, a

In the northeast, Namibian territory extends between Angola and Botswana along the slender corridor of the Caprivi Strip. Unlike most of the rest of Namibia, the Caprivi Strip is a wooded and fertile region, and it is crossed by a number of rivers. Two of these, the Zambezi and the Okavango, rank among the great rivers of Africa. The strip is also the site of several game parks, which while not offering such an abundance of wildife certainly provide spectacular scenery and relative solitude.

Namibia's center is occupied by a high escarpment plain. Windhoek, the capital and the only city of any size, is located smack dab in the middle of the country. In the northern part of the central plain is the Waterberg Plateau, a 150 sq. mi. (400 sq. km) shelf that rises 150 metres straight from the surrounding plain. The plateau is well-watered and lush, and is home to several rare and endangered species. At Namibia's southern tip is yet another geological wonder--the immense Fish River Canyon. Second only to the Grand Canyon in size, Fish River Canyon offers magnificent vistas and great--though strenuous--hiking.

Daytime heat, rather than rain, is the primary concern for most travellers to Namibia. While temperatures are generally comfortable year round, the warmest season is the period extending from November to March.

History & People

Namibia is populated by few people, but those few constitute an unusually diverse set of peoples and cultures. The country's predominant (85%) black population is composed of several different ethnic groups, including the San, the Khoi-Khoi, the Herero, and the Ovambo. The small European population is composed of Germans and Afrikaners, and there is also a significant Asian minority. The great majority of Namibia's 1.5 million people live in the north, where there the climate is less arid and generally more hospitable.

The history of habitation in Namibia begins with the San, who were living there at least two thousand years ago. As a nation, however, Namibia is relatively young, having gained its independence after prolonged struggles only in march of 1990. The country was largely spared the attentions of the European powers until the end of the nineteenth century, when it came under the control of Germany. In 1920 the territory was awarded by the League of Nations to South Africa, which resisted Namibian independence for decades as a result of the area's enormous mineral wealth. Although the UN voted to end South African control in 1966, widespread regional warfare prevented the establishment of an independent government for almost two decades.

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