Recently, actress and pop-philanthropy icon Angelina Jolie
lighted on the shores of southwestern Africa with darling Brad Pitt
in tow. Expecting their first biological child, the Brangelina acting duo decided that Namibia, a place Jolie has called “the cradle of human kind” would make the ideal childbirth setting. Geographically averse Americans probably couldn’t point to Namibia on a map, but that’s poised to change: the almost unprecedented media attention Namibia is receiving due to the Pitt-Jolie baby affair is bound to jumpstart its fledgling tourist industry. Whether or not you’re a fan of Angelina Jolie, you have to give her some credit for “discovering” this exotic yet strangely familiar location.
Background on Namibia
Various European explorers flirted with this part of the African coast during the 1400s and 1500s, never going too far inland because of the foreboding desert that immediately met them. But by the 1800s, most of modern-day Namibia was under German control, though the British possessed part of the territory as well (notably Walvis Bay). After WWI, “South West Africa” fell under South African influence until, after much pressure from the UN, Namibia was finally granted independence in 1990. The official language is English, though a mix of African languages, Afrikaans, and German regularly supercedes it.
The Namib desert and its flame-coloured dunes butt up against the Atlantic coast, while the Kalahari desert covers most of eastern Namibia. Savanna plains and craggy mountains complement the arid desolation. These contrasts anchor the country’s potent, largely unspoiled beauty.
Fishing and tourism are certainly part of the Namibian economy, but minerals truly abound here, with the extraction of uranium and diamonds both making world top ten lists. These natural resources, when considered in relation to the relatively small and sparse population, afford Namibia a more comfortable, developed standard of living – at least compared to its African peers. The country has its problems, including high rates of HIV infection, but overall, it’s one of the more welcoming sub-Saharan African countries for Americans.
What is there to see and doÃ?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½in Namibia?
Let’s start with Windhoek, the largest city. Pronounced with a German sensibility (VIHNND-hook), this surprisingly clean capital lies in a valley with mountains to the north and south. German architecture is prominent here, with small-scale, colonially inspired buildings mixing well with newer styles. You’ll find plenty of German shops as well as the corresponding restaurants and beer (a little odd, but it makes total sense). Windhoek also boasts some worthwhile museums.
Angelina Jolie has actually stationed herself in a resort town on the Atlantic coast, Swakopmund. Popular as a domestic getaway from Windhoek, Swakopmund retains a quieter feel. The focus is on nature and relaxation against a backdrop of contrasts – light blue skies, orange dunes, deep blue waters, and green grass (on all the well-maintained property).
Near Swakopmund is the former British outpost of Walvis Bay, famous for birdwatching in its lagoons. Calling itself the outdoor adventure capital of Namibia, Walvis Bay is the place to pursue watersports, sandsurfing, and aggressive quad biking.
Walvis Bay (along with Windhoek) is also one of the points of origin for the many safari tours.
Companies run a variety of Jeep rental operations and guided visits to attractions like Etosha National Park, a preserve that is celebrating its 100-year anniversary as a protected area for wildlife. Zebras, lions, elephants, giraffesÃ¢Â?Â¦you name the savannah-style animal, and they’ve probably got it.
Luderitz is another worthwhile colonial vestige. A quaint community of 20,000 oriented around fishing, the name “Luderitz” sounds like a resort in the Swiss Alps, and the place looks like a cross between a coastal Maine town and a Nevada desert outpost – unlike anything you’ve probably seen.
I’d be remiss if I did not mention Fish River Canyon, one of the world’s dramatic but little known geological formations, as well as the Orange River that forms the border with South Africa. Camping and scenic 4×4 drives are especially popular down there.
These are just a few of the front-page attractions Namibia has to offer. For a country of merely 2 million inhabitants, many of whom descended from the Bushmen (San) of antiquity, Namibia mixes opposites – old and new, lush and dry, developed and raw – with a comfortable vitality. It’s understandable, even if thespian, that millionaires Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt wanted to have their baby here.