Before visiting, when I pictured Namibia, I thought of game parks, indigenous tribes, and uninhabited desert as far as the eye can see. You can find plenty of that, don’t get me wrong, but what I never expected was a photogenic, colonial town full of adventure activities and German culture. This was Swakopmund, the holiday and adventure epicenter of Namibia. The vibe was relaxed, and the town had plenty of things to do. There was a lovely beach and waterfront, the colonial architecture next to sand dunes created a unique feel, and the German cafes promised some good coffee, but I had my sites set on other activities. I was looking for something slightly more daring: skydiving and sandboarding.
Right after pulling into the lodge, before even checking in, we were informed that the skydiving company had openings for in roughly two hours. That gave us just enough time to check in, pay for skydiving, and take a quick shower to remove some dust from the day’s journey. Before we knew it, we were loaded up into a van and were speeding away to our next adventure.
I actually wasn’t nervous. I knew they did this every day, most of them several times a day without incident. So I placed my trust completely in their hands. Furthermore, I knew myself. I get scared in the moment, not before. Worry is a waste of time. Good thing, too, because there was a lot of waiting. There were two prop planes, and each plane could hold two divers with their jumpmasters. I ended up going towards the end, so I got to see at least half of my group come down. Everyone (with one exception) parachuted back to the ground breathless and grinning ear to ear. I was getting jealous and impatient.
Finally, it was my turn. My friendly jumpmaster took my hand and guided me to the plane. Up we went, and I was greeted with an incredible view of the surrounding desert. He tried to keep things lighthearted, which I suspected he was used to doing to alleviate nervousness. He saw me reading the sign with instructions for skydivers: hands on harness, lean head back, kick feet backwards. He interrupted my thoughts to give me another instruction: “Don’t mess this up now.” I laughed. Time to go came faster than I expected. He strapped me onto him, pulled my harness tight, and sidled up to the door of the plane. Before then, I was so focused on what I was supposed to do. However, once I was dangling over the edge of the plane like a rag doll, I completely forgot everything. Other than my self-preservation instincts screaming at me to turn back, I was completely blank. My body was telling me “there is absolutely no reason for you to be dangling this high above the ground.” I knew there was nothing I could do, so I didn’t panic and just let it happen. We dropped.
The air rushing past my ears was as loud as a train. I felt like I was moving too fast to breathe. After the initial shock, though, my shoulders relaxed, I exhaled, and I opened my senses. Freefalling left me feeling absolutely zen. No thoughts, no feelings, no internal clutter, just pure awareness. It was beautiful. The freefall lasted about 45 seconds, then, the parachute opened, and we jerked up. The wind slowed, the noise reduced, and suddenly there was so much room in my head for me to realize where I was and what I was doing. I screamed. For some reason the floating was more terrifying. Eventually, I ran out of breath from screaming. My jumpmaster teased me, and then gave me the reins and let me steer for a bit. About halfway down, we flew into a cloud and I let out another squeal. Flying through a cloud was another unusual experience. I knew it wouldn’t hurt me but I still had a fear of running into it. You can’t always talk yourself out of fears with logic. By the time I landed on the ground, I felt elated. I could not have imagined how amazing it felt.
After a sedate evening recovering from my adrenaline rush, I went to bed early. I would need the energy for the following day’s undertaking, sandboarding down a 100-meter six-sided dune. I had never been snowboarding, so I wasn’t sure how I would take to sandboarding. Honestly, the hardest part was trudging up the dune with my board. I’m not out of shape, but walking up a sand dune several times with a snowboard reminded me of my fitness deficiencies. After some quick instruction, I was the first of the beginners to go down the dune. It was really steep, but once I got moving, any apprehensiveness dissolved and I just enjoyed the descent. I also had the chance to try lie-down boarding, which has the added benefit of speed. You can get up 80 kph lying down. I didn’t quite get up to that speed. The highest any one of us got to was 61 kph, which was still pretty fast. What I paid for only gave me a few hours of sandboarding, which wasn’t enough to get good at it, but it was enough to make me want to do it again.
On my final day in Swakopund, I wanted to kayak with dolphins, but the kayaking company was having an off-day and the dolphins weren’t out anyway, so I took a cruise to see a nearby seal colony. Admittedly, it wasn’t nearly as exciting as skydiving or sandboarding, though it was still an enjoyable experience. I saw plenty of seals, got a chance to pet one, and learned about the country’s seal-culling controversy. Every year, about 80,000 baby seals are killed to control the population and protect the local fishing industry. Namibia is currently the only country in the southern hemisphere to engage in the practice, and the only country in the world that culls seals that are still nursing. I found it confusing that the skipper of the boat defended the practice and yet seemed to have such a close relationship with some of the local seals. He even had names for some of them. I will admit, though, that it’s hard to have a true understanding of local issues unless you have lived in that location.
That evening, I accompanied a friend to watch the sunset on the beach. The temperature dropped with the sun and left me shivering in my shorts and t-shirt. It was cold, but I couldn’t tear myself away. The sky was clear, the waves were crashing, and there was almost no one about. Namibia was quickly stealing my heart. You can have the adrenaline rush of adventure sports, the comforts of a modern town, and whenever you’re ready, you can retreat back to a quiet place and listen to nature happen without the constant buzz of modern life. It was perfect.