4 minute read

Locked down in Paradise

If tourists are to return in July and August, it will be our lockdown blessings that will make them feel safe enough to discover Namibia’s amazing emptiness, that feeling that the centre of the universe is right here where we have been lucky enough to get stuck. We call it Luckdown Paradise.

Every morning, sipping cappuccino in our temporary home in Swakopmund, we count our Lockdown Blessings. Number One: we are in Namibia. Number Two: we are still in Namibia.

Today marks four-and-a-half months since we touched down in Windhoek for an eight-week stay.

Despite the years we lived here, and the dozen times we’ve been back, Namibia always seems new, even thirty years after independence. Yet, it is ever the extraordinary same. If we had been offered the chance to lock down anywhere in the world, we still would have chosen this place. There’s only one letter’s difference between lock and luck, you know.

Stage Zero (pre-virus) was the perfect vacation. Friends, farms, Etosha, Sandwich Harbour, animal sightings, grand late summer weather. Oysters, game steaks, more oysters, wine. With regret for the end of a perfect vacation we pack the car to leave for the airport. As we stand in the driveway saying goodbye to our friends in Swakop, the phone rings.

Piero hangs up, shakes his head, and announces that Italy has shut down due to the coronavirus. We will not be leaving Namibia. Uh, what? It takes some time to process this thought.

We drive to Windhoek for a farewell dinner with friends, which now is not going to be a goodbye. Weird, still processing. Other friends call us and offer a holiday apartment in Swakopmund. This is Lockdown Blessing Number Three: the wonderful hospitality of Namibians, both our dear friends and strangers.

Stage One (isolate at home) could have been far worse. Instead, we feel safe here. We are careful, washing our hands, stocking up on hand sanitiser gel. We walk to the grocery store or stroll on the beach, stop at the yellow school bus for Africa’s absolute best fried calamari and chips. We amble past inviting beachfront houses and apartments, closed hotels, shuttered restaurants. Masked joggers wave as they run past, keeping the prescribed distance. The park remains lush, with flocks of fat guinea hens and their babies, and plump cats looking for handouts. The waves crashing against the jetty stir my soul. I can’t remember the day of the week. Can anybody? Who cares? Our masks begin to morph into a fashion collection.

Stage Two begins with the opportunity to travel again within Namibia. The everalluring sirens – deserts, savannas and Cape Cross – call us. By now our flights have been cancelled four times and we have a new reservation for July 1, when international travel resumes. This is definitely Lockdown Blessing Number Four.

We hear that Etosha seems like the old days, when few cars and no tour busses meandered the dusty roads. We eagerly set out from the coast to rediscover Namibia’s centre, where the silver grasses stretch to the mountains and the roads unroll into the far distance. No masks required at waterholes, just cameras. Mother Nature smiled and on this trip we encountered cheetahs, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, and a whole passel of antelopes.

On the drive back to Swakopmund we marvel at the natural landscape for what is probably the ten-millionth time. The light. The infinite view. The shadows in the rocks. The wide open sky. We revel at being in a huge country with an entire population of just under that of the city of Rome. Three people per square kilometre is the optimum definition of social distancing.

We eagerly set out from the coast to rediscover Namibia’s centre, where the silver grasses stretch to the mountains and the roads unroll into the far distance.

Staying here, of course, reflects a health issue of primary importance to us and everyone else. To have a low number of coronavirus cases here is surely Lockdown Blessing Number Five andthe authorities are to be commended for their fortitude and ongoing hard work. If tourists are to return in July and August, it is this that will make them feel safe enough to discover Namibia’s amazing emptiness, that feeling that the centre of the universe is right here where we have been lucky enough to get stuck. We call it Luckdown Paradise.

Note: Piero arrived the day before independence in 1990 and spent six years as Ambassador of Italy; Sharri lived in Namibia from 1992-96 and has written for Travel News Namibia, the Flamingo, Luxury Travel Advisor, and Travel Africa. Her book, Culture Smart: Namibia, is part of a series published by Penguin (New York) and Kuperard (London). The couple now lives in Umbria, Italy, when they aren’t locked down in Namibia. The photo was taken by Joseph at Frans Indongo Lodge.

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