15 January 2008

Why RAIN IS BEAUTIFUL in Namibia...

Well, dear reader, if your are living in the northern hemisphere you might find it just about impossible to mention the words "rain" and "beautiful" in one sentence let alone seeing it that way. For us here in Namibia, in Southern Africa, rain truly is beautiful, absolutely fantastic, and the ultimate treat on a hot summer's day!
You see, we hardly ever talk about "the weather". Why should we with an annual average of 360 days of sunshine and bright blue skies?! But what about the temperatures? you might ask. Who cares?! will be the classic answer of locals ... most of the country usually is very hot to boiling hot in summer, day and night (unless the rains did come), and pleasantly warm during the day in winter but chilly at night, with very brief periods of moderate climate in between summer and winter. And THAT just about covers OUR weather description requirements.

The local viewpoint however changes completely, if there are clouds in the summer sky. Then Namibians become very talkative. The bigger and darker those clouds grow in the course of a day, the more the whispering about "Might rain be on its way?" turns into clearly voiced rain predictions. Mind you, those statements still carry an invisible question mark at the end, as we all know only too well how quickly those clouds can be gone again. It almost seems though as if Namibians believe in the psychic powers of a collective "rain talk" and no-one should be surprised to hear two locals greet each other with "Did you get rain already (better still: as well)?".

There is indeed reason for such hype about rain because Namibia gets so little of it AND because it has got no natural fresh water sources on its surface at all. The few rivers on our borders, - one each shared with South Africa, Angola, Botswana and Zambia -, all originate from outside Namibia and benefit us to only a small extent. Apart from the people living in the remote areas along those rivers, the vast majority of the population depends entirely on rain to provide water fit for human consumption but also for maintaining livestock and wildlife. In order to make it through the long dry season that commonly lasts from April to November there have to be sufficient rain falls in summer in the right places to fill man-made dams and to keep water tables underground at levels suitable for pumping water.

With the climate of all but the coastal and far north-eastern areas being determined by the Namib, the Kalahari, and central highlands in between these deserts it is predominantly arid to semi-arid. This means in layman's terms that the amount of moisture evaporating due to high temperatures and direct exposure to the sun is mostly greater than the amount of moisture replenished from rain falls. Visitors unused to such arid conditions usually feel their effects within a few hours of arrival, with blocked nasal passages and cracking lip skins being the first tell-tale signs. Dismissing the friendly reminders of tour guides and other local contacts to keep drinking as much water each day as one can possibly stomach, 2 liters at least, will result in drowsiness if not hospitalisation due to dehydration.
We locals suffer from such effects too in spite of being accustomed to the prevailing climate conditions to a certain degree and we too have to ensure regular intake of water as well as to spend a small fortune on moisturising body lotions, if we do not want to land up looking like old leather bags at age 40. Our greatest worries by far though at each beginning of summer
are whether there will be enough water again for everything alive to make it through the following year and whether we can maintain the required level of economic productivity, if the rains fail to come. Under Namibian conditions, getting rain directly determines the amount of water available for consumption and therefore ultimately becomes a matter of survival that affects everyone personally.
So that's the downside of having "good" weather almost all the time!

However, with the first rain in the air, - when the wind carries the first sniff of moisture from distant parts of Namibia to you, after months and months of drought -, you know that the promises of the summer clouds came true, at least for someone far away. Instantly, hope rises a notch or two for imminent relief from heat and worries. When you see springbok pronking with the excitement of anticipation; when the fresh shoots and flower buds on your garden plants seem to hold back their final development just a tiny bit longer; when tortoises start searching for higher sleeping spots; and when you yourself and the people around you feel more irritable than usual ... then you know that the precious water is on its way.
Once the clouds above your head become so dense, dark, heavy and threatening that they discharge their load with a mighty jolt of lightning and a roaring thunder, just about everything changes in an instant - from
the mood of all living creatures to the road conditions. Nothing smells better for us locals than the earth that received the first drops of rain. Nothing is better than watching a curtain of rain move towards you and feeling the first rain drops pinch your skin. Nothing sounds better than the rain pounding your house roof and drowning out all other noise. Nothing makes us feel more alive and happy than that very first rain each year that confirms that there will indeed be a future for us, for Namibia!

Of course, if the rainy season turns out to be a really good one, if we get regular rain falls between November and March that truly satisfy the needs, there are a number of side effects to work around. The usual story of life - nothing really good comes without a price tag of sorts ... we all know about that, don't we? It's nothing one couldn't adapt to and learn to live with but nevertheless
one cannot afford to ignore such side effects.
Since the summer season in Namibia also holds some of the most incredible travel experiences for tourists, we will cover both in our Namibia Tourism On-line Guide www.namibia-unlimited.com in greater detail.
If you'd like to whet your appetite, here are a few pointers:
You'll get to see blooming deserts and the picture-perfect contrasts of orange-coloured sand dunes covered in fresh grass growth of the most intense green imaginable against a backdrop of a lilac-tinted sunset sky - in return for having to travel in a 4x4 vehicle instead of a sedan in order to make it to the best spots on our gravel roads. You'll get to see a myriad of off-spring of game species in wildlife reserves, if not them giving birth - but it might take a bit longer to find the animals because the rain made them less dependent from pumped water supplies, i.e. you should plan your trip around the motto "less is more". You might get to experience the awesome transformation of Namibia's appearance when rain makes bone-dry sandy beds of ephemeral water courses turn into wild rivers ... for about an hour or so - but you'll need to be prepared, time-wise and in terms of provisions, to "sit out" the flood on your way to your overnight stop. If you are a keen birder or into insects, there is no better time to visit Namibia than our summer months to observe the exotic African species in great numbers and varieties.

The list goes on and on, and what is fascinating to visitors because it is different from their every-day experiences also fascinates us locals, again and again, not only because Namibia looks even more stunning after each summer downpour than it already does during the dry season but especially because we cannot and do not take the availability of water for granted.

That is why rain is absolutely beautiful in Namibia - and why I decided, after the recent good rain falls and with more on their way, to give honouring this summer's heavenly gift preference over the intended topic for a second article.
We here in Namibia sincerely hope that visitors to the country will join us in the celebrations and take home a growing awareness of the precarious balance in nature that ultimately decides about life and death. Sustainability, in every aspect of life including sustainable tourism activities, can only become reality, if people around the globe recognise the importance and urgency for taking actions towards maintaining that balance which has become frighteningly unstable due to man-made changes to the earth's climate.
In Namibia, one can still see and feel the forces of nature at work everywhere, and nature's inherent powers of rejuvenating itself and all the lifeforms on this planet even under challenging conditions, if given a chance. It is however the collective responsibility of humans to stop depriving nature of that chance.
The future does not start tomorrow, it starts now!

Until next time, take care.

09 January 2008

Namibia - here we go!

Welcome - finally! Willkommen - endlich!

Not one to quickly climb onto new trains rushing down Internet and technology highways, it took me a rather long time to start my own blog. I've READ countless by now while wading through the daily refills of my Inbox but never ever commented on one - so far. For me blogs are (should be) part of an ongoing learning experience and although my reading covers a wide spectrum of topics it still is selective. Quality definitely takes preference over quantity, not to forget about the usual time constraints, and I guess a natural resistance to anything man-made that could be overwhelming has to take third place.

The above also almost summarises the reasons for this blog and how I intend to grow it.
Yes, we will be talking about NAMIBIA only, a fascinatingly beautiful country in south-western Africa, about the UNLIMITED opportunities it provides as a travel destination, your experiences and my experiences with Namibia, your and my questions & comments, etc., etc. - hence the blog name "Namibia Unlimited".

When you post comments, please remember that I want to create a learning experience for everyone interested in Namibia. Let's stick to just that, shall we?!

I'm not going to sell you anything Namibian - I prefer you making up your own picture of the country through the articles to follow,
through contributions of others, and eventually perhaps even through personal experiences. Apart from describing "my" Namibia, I will try to capture the characteristics, the moods, the feeling-aspects of this country, of which it has got plenty.

If you'd like to know what Namibia has got to offer to visitors and in terms of tourist services, you'll find all the hard-core stuff on my Namibia Tourism On-line Guide - which, by the way, is currently developed into the most comprehensive INFORMATION ONLY tourism portal on Namibia. If you'd like to book anything you saw there, you'll have to contact the service provider directly.
And in case you are a tourism trade partner to Namibian service suppliers, you might want to check out the section named "Namibia's Special Selection" - you'll find working tools there just for you, like you've never seen them before.

So much for introductions. I'll soon be in touch again with the background story of what got me here in the first place.

For German speaking readers:
P.S.: Beitr├Ąge in Deutsch sind ebenfalls herzlich willkommen!