Luxury Lodges and two minute noodles

Botswana is not known to be a backpackers destination – it is where rich people go on exclusive safaris in places that can only be reached by helicopter, eating 5-course gourmet meals while watching the orange African sun set over the delta. And I guess this is all nice if you have the money – but I certainly do not travel that way. Still Botswana was on my way to Southafrica so I thought why not give it a try? Ultimately heading to Afrikaburn in the end of April I couldn’t enter Southafrica too early anyways or I’d run into visa troubles.

img_0364

Chobe river sunset on my first night in Bots

After months of doing workaway I was excited to be on the road again and to my surprise Botswana didn’t turn out to be much more expensive then Namibia (that is if you have a tent). Often the cheapest campsites belonged to high end lodges and made me feel like I snuck into some rich peoples club with my worn out shoes, dusty hat and stained T-shirt. Eating out or even just having a beer at these places, where a drink costs the equivalent of one night in the tent was out of the question, but fortunately I found other travelers to share two minute noodle and canned bean meals with in many places.

img_0436

A real treat: Mike frying some eggs and cheese on his gas stove

 

Two weeks went by quickly. In Chobe National Park I decided to go on my last big game drive, saw herds of impala, hippos, elephants and jackals and experienced the most incredible river sunsets. I Gweta I chilled underneath  the massive baobab trees at my favourite campsite Planet Baobab and met a bunch of amazing people to share beers with at their funky bar. In Maun the Old Bridge Backpackers kept me for days while I learned how to weave baskets, treated myself with a scenic flight and explored the Okavango Delta on a Mokoro (wooden boat). I even made it to the ancient San paintings hiking through the colourful Tsodilo Hills.

img_0416

Chobe National Park – so many Impala!

img_0481

One of the huge baobabs near Gweta

img_0541

Gliding through the delta was so peaceful

img_0600

A buffalo and two rhinos as depicted by the San

 

Getting around was easier than expected as the bus system worked like a charm and many tourists, like the group of German couples in 18 (!) massive rental campervans happily gave me a lift. Although I sometimes had to search a bit for people to join me on cheap boat tours and hiking trips I managed to see and do everything I wanted in the end.

img_0571

Nature walk on a delta island

 

Looking back at two weeks in Bots, as many locals call it lovingly, I had a great start of getting on the road again and met some fantastic travelers. But I have to admit that (as with Namibia) I didn’t get overly attached to the country. I felt like I was still moving in a tourist bubble that was difficult to get out of and none of the villages or cities seemed particularly interesting to me. This however should change soon as I headed into Zimbabwe next – but more about that in a future post…

img_0513

This was almost my end result of 3 hours of basket weaving

Advertisements

Quiet days

img_0260

View of the Floodplain with dark clouds approaching

Lately this blog has become quiet and so has my life. Helping at Mukolo Camp, a newly developing campsite in the Zambezi region, has been nice but uneventful. With a view of the Kawango floodplain we are visited daily by a variety of birds and sometimes even otters and crocodiles, but not a lot of people. For the first time in Namibia there are many trees and countless shades of green, but the temperatures have dropped and and most days now are rainy and grey.

img_0203

Unfortunately I don’t often get to use the swimming pool

My days are usually spent ironing linen, painting signs or (my favorite activity) working with wood to help build furniture for the self-catering cabins. Slowly, Henni is realizing that even as a woman I can be  trusted with tools and his wife Veronica is making sure we get fed well. Lately though the southafrican volunteer Travis and me have started to take turns preparing dinner every now and then which is nice for a change.

img_0216

One of my first jobs: writing on a Mukolo (wooden canoe)

The evenings end early and are filled with the constant noise of countless frogs. If we get lucky, the hippos even come to visit us and we can watch them from the terrace. But after dinner there is a habit of everyone taking up a book or their phone and this is starting to bore me. I am missing lively chats and new people, slowly realizing just how important having a social life is for me! I love nature and it has been lovely here, but I think it is getting time to move on. I need to be on the road again, hopefully meeting lots of people along the way. Luckily there is only a week left of my visa and time here until I cross the border to Botswana and I am already excited to see what new experiences this country will bring…

img_0231

One of the smaller but nonetheless beautiful animals here

img_0177

It wouldn’t be Namibia if there weren’t colorful sunsets

My year in books

I don’t read a lot nowadays. While I loved reading during my childhood and as a teen, I kind of stopped when we started analyzing literature in school and I was forced to read some books I would still classify as super boring. Funny how being told do do something you like can actually make you like it less.

While travelling however I pick up a book every now and then and in the past few moths I read a few books that made me reconsider dopping the habit of reading. It is also interesting how I came across some of them, so I decided that I would briefly introduce you to everything I have read this year in cronological order.

reise-durch

Reise durch einen einsamen Kontinent [Journey across a lonely continent] Andreas Altmann (2007)

How we met: It was gifted to me by my colleagues as a goodbye present

In one sectence: Journalist Altman travels through lesser visited areas of Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and Chile, meeting different people while making observations on their lives and culture.

What I thought of it: The book is an easy read. At its best it’s interesting and anyone who has been in Southamerica will come across familiar observations. Someone selling an overpriced all-curing tea on a bus, weird religious quirks, the constant backround noise of honking and reggaeton. The book strings together everyday situations and interesting encounters. But at times Altman goes a step further than just observing – he knows what the people are really thinking, he has an explanation for everything and sees what is really wrong with these coutries. Just like him people should read more books and realize that religion is a delusion. And why the hell are they sleeping or watching a movie on a 12 hour bus ride when the landscapes are so pretty? Stupid Southamericans! I don’t know if Altman would be just a judgy about Germans sleeping on trains, but he frankly comes across as a huge dick in some chapters (see also this german amazon review which is on point).

In short: Meh with a side of eurocentrism.

Should you read it: No. You could be reading something more entertaining and less smug.

on-the-road-die-urfassung

On the roadJack Kerouac (1957)

How we met: Another gift, this time by my former flatmate Georg who claimed it was one of the best books he’d ever read. And he reads a lot!

In one sentence: Kerouac recalls several years on the road with his crazy friend Neil Cassady, crossing the coutry no less than four times and even crossing into Mexico with their group of friends, aquaintences, wives and lovers.

What I thought of it: I loved this book! I know everyone and their mum has probably read the book already, but it completely changed my perception of the fifties, travelling and youth culture in general. Although it doesn’t have a storyline in a classical sense it is like a rush and I always wanted to know what happens next. The language is amazing – bold and honest as if a friend was telling you a story, but still very poetic. Knowing that all these characters really existed and the legends surrounding the making of this book certainly add to its appeal, too. I can see how this book influenced a whole generation.

In short: Amazing, wild and rebellious!

Should you read it: Hell yes! I think even I will read it again and I have never read a book twice in my life!

v_for_vendettax

V wie Vendetta [V for Vendetta] – Alan Moore & David Lloyd (1982)

How we met: I found it at Nowhere in the Dustybrary (a kind of book exchange) shortly after flicking through a friends comic books which made me very curious about graphic story telling.

In one sentence: In a totalitarian facist Great Britain anarchic terrorist V tries to defy the system.

What I thought of it: This comic has so many amazing facets I don’t even know where to start. First of all the story and dialogue are really well written, with unexpected turns and interesting charcters. But then the drawings reflect the mood and characters perfectly as well. I especially loved how surreal and artistic the whole thing felt at times while still keeping up the very real scenario of an opressive dictatorship. My expectations of the comic were far exceeded and most importantly it really made me think about freedom, morals and civic responsibility in a new way (much more so that ‘The Strager’). Finally it made me realize how much I’d been missing out on since my childhood. Comics are awesome (hint if anyone is already thinking about my next birthday present 😉 )! I guess I had alway thought about comics as a form of light entertainment and I have to admit that I was super wrong about this.

In short: Clever and thoughtprovoking.

Should you read it: Defnitely! This comic sucks you in, manages to surprise and make you think.

the-stranger

The Stranger – Albert Camus (1942)

How we met: Another Nowhere Dustybrary find. I have to admit that I mainly chose it because of its pretty cover and because I thought the first sentences were odd.

In one sentence: Shortly after the death of his mother, an ordinary man gets drawn into a senseless murder on an Algerian beach.

What I thought of it: This book is a little weird in how simple and unemotional it is. This of course reflects the character of its first person narrator and is a large part of its message, but it takes a while to figure out what this message could possibly be. In fact the book  left me puzzled in a way and even now I am not shure if ‘I got it’. What I really loved though was that it is very engaging. It’s a quick read in easy language, which proves that philosophy does not need super long overly complicated sentences that require years at uni to even try to understand them. That said I had to google after I read the book to understand more about it – but it did make me very curious and I guess if I read it again (which I probably won’t) I would now probably see a lot of aspects that I failed to notice the first time.

In short: Simple, yet philisophical.

Should you read it: Yes, I think so. Though I was not blown away and a lot of its deeper meaning was probably lost on me, it was very interesting and it’s a quick and easy read.

engel-kif-und-neue-lander

Engel, Kif und neue Länder [Desolation Angels]– Jack Kerouac (1971)

How we met: While sorting books for a free community shop at my workaway in Portugal I came across this and as I am obsessed with Kerouac now I had to read it.

In one sentence: Although Kerouac has now decided to lead a quiet life dedicated to writing he is dragged into new adventures by his friends and ends up having a revelation on Morphium which makes him move across the country with his mum.

What I thought of it: This is kind of the aftermath of ‘On the road’ and to be honest it is not as good. It reveals more about Kerouacs relationship with William S. Burroughs and even more so his mum. I personally missed Neal and the rush of events that makes on the road so amazing, but it is interesting to get to know more about Kerouacs doubts, fears and indecisiveness – being torn between different worlds.

In short: On the road, part two.

Should you read it: Maybe. To me ‘On the road’ is far better in a lot of aspects, but if you loved ‘On the road’ you will also like this book.

11255372z

Herr Lehmann – Seven Regener (2003)

How we met: While visiting my friend Sarah I was looking for a new book to read and found this one in her collection.

In one sentence: Mr Lehman, who is almost 30 and works in a bar in Kreuzberg in Westberlin, is unambitious and hates change but a number of people and incidents might force him to leave his comfort zone.

What I thought of it: Again, I am probably the last German to read this book and I haven’t even seen the movie although it was hyped. And to be honest not too much happens in both this book and Herr Lehmanns life – but you can’t help but like him and his group of friends. Everyone has probably met someone who is a bit like the hero of this book and can relate to him on some level. He is comfortable in his own routines, loves his parents but prefers not to be visited by them too often, is almost 30 but without goals and ambitions and likes to spend his free time drinking beer. If he could he’d avoid to ever leave Kreuzberg for anything. So this book is really about him and his thoughts and in the process of reading it Herr Lehmann becomes like a friend to the reader.

In short: A book like drinking a beer with an old friend.

Should you read it: Yes. Especially if you like beer and bar conversations.

Things I learned at summercamp

My last two weeks have been filled with many laughs and loud screaming, sugary-sweet drinks, sponge fights in the pool and arguments at bed time. Assisting with two summer holiday camps at Amani Development Centre near Windhoek has been a fulltime (workaway) job, but a rewarding one. I taught Dannika how to swim, discovered Petris talent for Macrame, distracted Nena and Enyo more than once when they were homesick and got a lot of smiles, hugs and compliments from the children. And while the first week was a relatively easy start with just eight children and five volunteers to keep them busy and watch over them – taking care of 30 children has been chaotic and challenging to say the least. Planning activities, pulling splinters out of tiny hand and feet, keeping track of everyone during walks in the nature, dealing with poo-stained sleeping bags and becoming a team with the other volunteers I learned a thing or two about children, Namibia and myself:

img_1134

Braai (bbq) with the Amani workers, family, neighbours and kids

  • It’s sad yet funny how religious Namibian children are. “EVERYONE believes in god!” – “No. I don’t.”, shocking looks all around me. The shock was on my side though when I found out even the 14 year old children didn’t “believe” in evolution. And even the pope endorses evolution nowadays. I also learned that rainbows are gods way of showing us he will not flood the world again – when I had always believed it was gods way of showing us he’s queer. Luckily I was not the only one amused by this and all of us volunteers had to hold back our laughter when a 6-year-old proclaimed in a serious voice: “Let’s pray, like we used to do”
img_0569

Getting ready for the brick-bridge challenge

  • Children are a lot of work. Of course I knew this but I am not sure I realized the full extent of it. How my grandma didn’t go insane with seven children in her home I will probably never know. I really like children and gladly they seem to like me too, but I was still happy when they went back to their parents.
img_0651a

Every day we shared a big watermelon – and Pitie would not rest until the last bite was gone

  • Childrens abilities to learn languages are insane. Remember when I described how Namibia was as German as socks in sandals? Last week I met about 20 Namibian-German children with cliché names like Walter, Hagen, Kevin, Nena and Alexander and to my surprise their first language really was German. And while it was funny to hear so much German, there were also about 10 other children with either Afrikaans or English as their mother tongue. How do you communicate with so many languages? The answer is in whatever of these three languages you want to communicate, because most of the children speak at least two (if not all three) of these languages. Just a few of the small ones who were still in Kindergarden struggled, but there were six year olds flawlessly switching back and forth between the three languages. Wow.
img_0106

Painting stones with the children for the Amani walk of fame

  • Namibian parents have a very different perception of what is dangerous or appropriate for children. When we took down the swings before the childrens arrival because they were “too dangerous” I thought Namibian parents must be over-protective, but then Ben took the children for a ride on the back of his pickup truck and with no seatbelts or even seats and I think my mum would have classified this as more dangerous than a swing. Food and drinks were also something that surprised me, because first thing in the morning the children were each given a cup of coffe. Yes, real coffe, followed up by sweet drinks which probably contained more sugar per glass that a bar of chocolate. No wonder these children had so much energy. What a lot of these (white as milk) children didn’t have though was a hat or suncream, which in Namibia at this time of the year guarantees sunburn. And finally the Namibian parenting style seemed to me a bit like it might have been 50 years ago in Germany: rather strict and not very focussed on feelings, emotions and explanations (e.g. why is something forbidden).
img_1287

Getting silly with the French volunteers and some of the kids

  • I might be older than I thought. Lately a lot of things have made me realize that even though according to some I have the face of a 22-year-old and am travelling in a way that is mostly popular with 18-year-old highschool graduates I am in a very different phase and mindset. When caring for the children I couldn’t help but think I was old enough to be the mom of many of those little people and I did not dare to take my eyes off the pool when the small ones were swimming because I was concerned someone might drown (some had just learned how to swim). And while us volunteers got along great, some conversations made me feel even older. When the others (18, 20 and 21) were talking about school memories, mine seemed ancient and it even turned out some of my best friends were the age of their parents. Now, I still don’t think I’m old and I am certainly not complaining, but I am getting more close to 30 than to 20 by both age and mentality. I am glad I can still get along great with people aged 18 but I might have to start dealing with the fact that I am kind of an adult now.
img_0120

Every evening we enjoyed beautiful sunsets like this

If you would like to read some more about our time at the camp, Joscha also wrote a blogpost from his perspective. Also many thanks to Bastien for letting me use some of his pictures  (picture 1, 2, 3 and 5).

Things I hate about Workaway

A lot has been written about the amazing possibilities and upsides of workaway: you get to see the world almost without spending any money, can learn a lot of new skills, share your knowledge and meet the locals and their culture. But there are a lot of things about workaway that most travellers, blogs and of course workaway itself fail to mention. After I left my last workaway host early following a very mixed experience I decided to write about exactly these downsides. The things I hate about workaway. After five hosts in four countries I might not be the most experienced workawayer, but I think I have seen enough to speak my mind about a few things.

IMG_6627

A lovely workaway place in Bolivia where I had lots of fun – but did’t find the community I was looking for

Firstly the profiles rarely draw an accurate picture of the place, people and work that await you. I was told I would work and live in a hostel with a restaurant when really neither my accommodation nor work were in that hostel. An eco-community turned out to only have one member and the eco farm I was expecting was neither eco, nor a real farm. A lot of these inaccuracies came down to outdated profiles and of course it is always difficult to describe a place you are attached to, but it is annoying to find out that something you particularly liked about a profile is not true. For example I picked one of my hosts because I was looking to experience communal living. In another occasion I was hoping to learn more about sustainable farming in Namibia and ended up with hosts that not only worked in a lodge, not a farm, but thought it was fine to pour old paint into the nature where noone could see it.

IMG_5393

Playing soccer in front of the restaurant (not hostel) where I volunteered in Peru

Not seldom the basic premises of workaway are violated, sometimes without any mention on the profile or in the e-mails before arrival. So free food and board for 25h of volunteering per week is not always guaranteed with workaway. Two of my hosts told me beforehand that they could not provide food and as both of them were beautiful non-profit community projects I was fine with that – but when my last hosts told me upon arrival  that they really expected me to work a 50h week and had many rules they didn’t mention in several e-mails we exchanged beforehand I was very disappointed to say the least. I would have liked to know this before my arrival to make a decision if it was ok for me. In the end it was not the work or the amount of hours that made me leave, but the aggressive communication and stressful environment, but it lead to an unfortunate first impression.

img_0001

Painting a roof in the hot sun at my first Namibian workaway

It is especially important to know the details of each workaway agreement, because spontaneously leaving is not always easy. Depending on many circumstances you might be very dependent on your host. If your host lives very rural you might rely on them to get to the next village, bus stop, or even road. In a country like Namibia many farmers  own thousands of hectares of land far away from main roads – so hitchhiking is not an option everywhere. In cheap countries with lots of hosts it might be easy to come up with a plan B and I am lucky to travel with enough savings so I can leave everywhere if I feel I am being  mistreated – but I have met at least a handful of travellers who could’t afford to leave before they found a new host and this is not a situation I wish upon anyone.

IMG_8206

I found my host in the Bolivian Amazon by just asking around – and a boat was the only way to reach the amazing jungle camp

Of course some people will argue that you can avoid bad experiences simply by reading the feedback other travellers have left, but the truth is that workaways feedback system is very flawed. It has been written about before, but I am not sure most people realise that in the rare case that feedback has been left, it could have been left by anyone. There are no reminders or double-blind system in place and even worse, negative feedback won’t be posted by workaway. Yes you have read right – if you have an experience you’d like to tell future volunteers about don’t select the negative smiley because it will be posted without your written feedback. Not only does this system actively withhold important information from other workawayers, it also makes every host look good.

img_0102

Painting stones at a childrens summercamp – my second Namibian workaway

So will I stop using workaway and advise others to do the same? Definitely not! A lot of hosts are amazing and there is a reason travellers rave about this page, but there are a few measures I will be taking from now on, even if I am looking for a host last minute and I would advise others to do the same. Firstly and most importantly ask many questions before your arrival (even if the profile seems to answer them) and also get across what is important to you! If there is feedback which raises questions there is sometimes the possibility to contact former volunteers who left that feedback and I think it’s great chance to get more information. It also helps to get information on the exact location of your host and the surroundings like nearby hostels and alternative hosts, just in case. And lastly I would personally never do workaway without the funds to at least pay for transport and a few nights of cheap accommodation. I really don’t want to scare anyone away from volunteering or travelling and think it is great to arrive everywhere with a an open heart and mind,  but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared…

Just in case anyone was wondering: I have never used helpx or other similar sites and this is the only reason this post focusses on workaway. I have no clue is the other pages work better, worse or the same and therefore they are not mentioned. 

Workaway at Amani

img_0088

Watching the sunset with the other volunteers on a hill near the lodge

Although I’ve already talked about some of the quirks and surprises Namibia offers, most of you probably have no clue where I am and what I’m doing at the moment. After leaving my first Workaway host early (something I’ll probably write about more later) I am now at the Amani Development Center near Windhoek helping with two summer camps for children. I have to admit that while the camp is fun the 30 children are keeping us quite busy, but if you’d like to see and read more of Amani and our time here check out Joschas blog.

Four things that surprised me about Namibia

It’s been over a month since I have landed in Windhoek, the modern capital of this dusty country and so many things have happened since then that I barely know where to start. I went on an insane road trip with my family, spent some lovely days couchsurfing in the capital, lived through a turbulent week at my fist workaway host and moved on to another place where I now help to keep the kids of a summer holiday camp busy. I could tell you a lot about the adventures with my family, my workaway trouble or the fun we are having at the camp, but I think I’ll save that for later.

Because when I came to Namibia I didn’t know too much about the country and though I read up a bit about its nature and climate, history and current state my image of the country was very blurry and there were many thing that turned out to be different than expected. So here are four of the things that surprised me quite a bit:

How sparsely it is populated

dsc04516

No car coming anyways…

img_9559

The vastness of Namibia is impressive

Have you ever wanted to put your name on a map? Fancy founding a village all by yourself? Move to Namibia to make your dream come true! Although I knew before that Namibia only had 2.3 million inhabitance I really didn’t realize what that meant for a country this size. From travelling in South America I am already used to bus rides of many hours without seeing any trace of human life, but in Nalibia this was taken to a whole other level. Driving with my parents we would look on the tourist map (scale 1:2 000 000) thinking the next village would be of a decent size – why else would its name be printed bold and underlined? Furthermore is was marked to have a gas station and shops. Well. Turns out a gas station (with a tiny shop inside) is pretty much what makes a village in Namibia.

dsc05250

Village shop in Damaraland

Add a lodge or a house for the workers and there you have your village. Maybe the closest farms and lodges officially belong to this village, but in reality they are probably quite far away. Just to give you an idea, my first workaway host owned 17 000 hectare land – and this is normal outside of cities and villages. In Peru and Bolivia you will find small shops and markets that sell you almost anything in the middle of nowhere, but in Namibia a lot of people have to drive more than 100km to do their weekly grocery shopping – on roads that only allow you to drive about 50km per hour. So yes – Namibia is about as vast and unpopulated as it gets.

How many animals you can see

img_9686

A small antelope watching us in Etosha

Naturally I expected to see some game – it’s Namibia after all, but I totally underestimated the amount of animals you see on a regular basis here. Just driving along any road you may spot oryx, springbock, zebras, giraffes, monkeys and many other mamals. One evening when we were having dinner a desert fox walked up and watched us for a long time – probably hoping to get some of our grilled meat. Another day I had to learn the hard way not to leave my shoes outside when a wild cat bit my trekking sandals in two while I was sleeping. It definitely adds a whole new aspect to camping (exciting and slightly scary) to know that wild animals might walk past your tent at night! And in the national parks wildlife reaches a whole different level: we spotted elephants, rhinos, buffalos, lions and even a cheetah with her baby. In Etosha there are so many animals that after a few days you almost start looking at herds of zebra with the same indifference as cows. If there is one thing the guidebooks are right about it’s that this country is incredible to spot wildlife!

img_9827

Two of about a million zebras we saw on our way through Namibia

img_9641

Sometimes small animals are just as impressive as big ones

img_9809

We were lucky enough to spot the lion king in Etosha

img_9932

These two Elephants were taking their time at the Okaukuejo water hole

How much land is fenced off

One of my favorite things to do when travelling is to explore cities, villages and especially nature by foot. Taking short walks or watching the sunset on top of a hill you just climbed. On long bus journeys in south America I often felt the urge to stop on the way and go explore and I was looking forward to do exactly that with our rental car. What I didn’t take into account were all the fences! Of course this partly has to do with people trying to keep animals and wild game on their land, but having a fence on both sides of the road definitely takes a bit of fun out of a road trip. From what I have seen so far it seems like most of the land is privately owned or managed as a national park. Of course once you’re on private land you don’t notice all the fences because single people own insane amounts of land, but when you drive from one place to another fences are omnipresent – hindering spontaneous explorations, picturesque lunchbreaks and good pictures of nearby game. So even though Namibia has hardly any inhabitance and a lot of incredible nature it is difficult to explore by yourself or get off the beaten path.

dsc04747

Look at these beautiful mountains and the lovely fence in the front

How popular cycling is

In one of the driest countries in the world, where temperatures over 40 degrees are an almost daily occurrence, distances between villages are long and natural shade is basically non existent there is one thing I didn’t expect to see often: bicycles. Surprisingly though cycling is  super popular in Namibia. During the time with my family I counted five people travelling on their bikes – about the same amount I saw in 5 months in Southamerica. There were also countless locals cycling in full gear on dusty roads in the middle of nowhere. Cycling definitely is more of a sport than a means of transport here – but a popular one. A few days ago my Workaway host Ben took the summer camp children, other volunteers and me to see thousands of cyclists pass by on the two day FNB Desert Dash from Windhoek to Swakopmund. Crazy!

img_0082

Some of the crazy cyclists – don’t be fooled by the clouds, it was a super hot day!

 

One Namibian Apfelstrudel please!

I noticed the first signs right when we landed in Namibia. After picking up our fancy 4×4 camper, which would end up causing us quite some trouble, we headed straight to our accomodation. With a written description and map it was easy to find – and a lot of streetnames immediately sounded familiar. Amongst others we drove past Burgstrasse and Bergstrasse  until we reached our destination. Pension Moni was located in the Feldstrasse.

img_9987

View from my couchsurfers flat in Schützenstrasse, Windhoek

One of our first missions was to get groceries for our big road trip, so we headed to the Spar supermarket. And to spare you a lenghty description of what it looked like – it could have well been any Spar in Germany. Wholegrain bread, Harribo sweets and pickled ghurkins filled the shelves. Of course there were products we’d never heard of, like Biltong – a dry meat snack popular with Namibians, but on the whole this could have been any supermarket in Germany. I wondered if this was caused by the masses of German tourists demanding to buy their favourite German beer and Bratwurst while on holidays, but I soon realised it was not. Some of the cheapest, most standard products were imported from Germany and to our shock the cheapest butter was produced in Oldenburg, a mere 100km from my hometown Osnabrück.

img_9992

If you ignore the palmtree this picture could have well been taken in Germany

Of course Namibia was a German colony from 1884 to 1915, so I expected some traces like colonial buildings, but I certainly didn’t expect our black guide at the very first game drive to be called Gert. Nor did I expect to find Apfelstrudel and Bratwurst (exactly wrtitten in this way) on nearly every menu. A lot of Namibians speak German surprisingly well and to my horror I had to discover that Namibia surpasses Germany by far when it comes to rules. And they love to put them on huge signs too, which can be found anywhere.

dsc04863

A colonial German castle in the desert

In Swakopmund, which is famous for being extra German, it was forbidden to swim, walk dogs, inlineskate, cycle, listen to music, light fires, drink alcohol, smoke a water pipe or have a bootparty (whatever that may be) by the beach. At least loitering, which seems to be forbidden everywhere from malls to public places and supermarket car parks was not on the list. So I guess silently chilling at the beach is fine in Namibias most popular beach town.

img_20161119_1316261

Just a few rules for the pool…

I have to admit that there are also other cultural influences and that the German street and village names such as Warmquelle are getting changed step by step, but it is still no wonder German tourists love Namibia so much. Because where else can you get a “taste of Africa”, as the brochures like to put it, without having to leave your comfort zone or parting with German chocolate. And although it is a little weird for me to constantly be surrounded by Germanness, there is defnitely an upside to the whole thing: good German bread!

dsc05251

Not everything is German: Manchester United bar in a tiny village we were passing through

My Southamerica trip in numbers

I have a confession to make: I kind of like statistics. Not to the extend that I spend my free time calculating structural equation models for fun, but looking at numbers and visualising them in pretty charts is weirdly satisfying to me. Of course I know that most things can’t be measured in numbers and that is great – but I still thought it would be interesting to show what my time in Peru and Bolivia looks like in numbers and facts. So where and how did I spend my time? What story do the numbers tell?

First of all I would like to show you where I’ve been on an interactive map. All places I spent a night at (excluding hikes) have been marked and you can also see when I went from A to B:

As I have mentioned before the initial plan was to spend most of my time in Peru – that didn’t work out so well. Out of my five months (or 154 days) 85 days were spent in Bolivia and only 69 in Peru. Bolivia is amazing though and I don’t regret a single day I spent there. Ok maybe I do, the three days spent in Santa Cruz to extend my visa were pretty annoying and I lost my credit card not once but twice (!) in the exact same cash machine there, but that is another story.

lander

Figure 1: Where did I spend my time?

I also had some favourite places I spent a lot of time at. Here are my top three cities and villages measured by the time I spent there (I only included days if I spent the night in said place). Unsurprisingly I have written blogposts about three of the four places so I didn’t get stuck there by accident…

  1. La Paz (Bolivia), 14 days
  2. Samaipata (Bolivia), 13 days
  3. Pisac (Peru) & Cuzco (Peru), 11 days

Now you know where I spent my time. But what did I do with it? How did I spend my days?  I didn’t actually volunteer or couchsurf all that much as you can see – but my days hiking (including dayhikes) almost add up to a full month which I think is pretty impressive.

aktivitaten

Figure 2: How did I spend my time?

 I also thought quite a lot about if I should bring a sleeping bag and tent and ended up only bringing the sleeping bag. I used it quite a lot (couchsurfing, hiking, workaway…) and next time I’ll defnitely be bringing my tent too!

schlafsack

Figure 3: Where did I sleep?

Lastly I would like to take a look at the people I met. I had a lot of brief encounters that were amazing. People I connected with a lot although we might have only spent a day or two together. But some people I ended up spending quite a lot of time with and that was great! Who were the people I spent most time with (in absolute days and percentage of my trip spent with them)? Last but not least, let me introduce you to:

img_7984

Melina at the train graveyard

  1. Melina – 32 days, 20.8%: I met Melina in Samaipata and we instantly bonded over having the same hiking guidebook. She tured out to be the most caring person, a great Macrame teacher and (like me) a bit of a planner. We ended up travelling together for 25 days filled with some of the most adventurous dayhikes and amazing guided tours through a salar, pampas and even the amazon djungle where we supported each other like a perfect team and had the most amazing personal conversations. At the end of my trip we met up again in Samaipata for a week and it was like meeting up with an old friend again. She also wrote a guestpost about our greatest challenge together and I am shure we will meet again as soon as we are both back in Germany.
  2. Marie – 25 days, 16.2%: I met Marie while volunteering near Samaipata. She lit up the days with her beautiful guitar music, made my infamous braid and was the start of a more hippe travelling style for me. Though my time in and around Samaipata involved many more wonderfull people, she was the person who intoduced me to the ‘hostal jardin’ and an everchanging group of amazing people that became like a temporal family. Samaipata was probably my favourite place on this trip and Marie was a big part of that.
  3. Camille, Daniel (& Thomas) – 22 days, 14.3%: I had already gone on a lot of dayhikes with Melina, but this international group of solo travellers took it to a whole other level. And even though Thomas left earlier the list would not be complete without him. The four of us hiked around Cuzco on the Salkantay and Ausangate treks and while doing so planned the amazing meals we would cook together when getting back (I kid you not). On our way to Machu Picchu Thomas (from Italy) and Daniel (from Germany) came up with the idea of making Rouladen (a typical german roast) with spinach dumplings and red cabbage. We spent about 5 hours in the hostel kitchen and Camille (from Canada) topped the meal off with a great salad. Let’s just say that we shared some of the best meals of my journey and I even convinced Daniel and Camille to stay in Cuzco a bit longer to go to the most insane pilgimage that is Quyllurit’i together. I didn’t think staying together with a group of people for that long would work well bit it did and it was great!
img_6604

Pedro teaching Marie how to make bread from scratch

img_8602

Daniel, Camille & Thomas (front to back) on our way to Machu Picchu

Back to Hippywood

Why am I doing this to myself? Digging a hole into the solid dust, suncream stings my eyes and sweat is running down my body, mixing with the dirt into an uneven fake-tan. Even insane amounts of babywhipes and camping-showers can only offer the illusion of being clean for about five minutes. The heat is intense and unless there is a dusty breeze, sleeping past 9am is not even an option outside of tents and domes. I am tired, dirty, sweaty and at times even emotionally strained and still – I keep coming back. Why?

Most people who know me well will have realised by now just how important Nowhere and the burner community have become to me in what feels much longer than two years. In fact the first week of july is one of the most anticipated of my year and as with most fun things, over the time I tend to remember the great moments and ups much more than the inevitable downs. Our brains are amazing and mine conveniently lets me underestimate year and year again just how hot Spain gets in summer. Of course every year is different and I don’t just mean the weather! Looking back at my three Nowheres there seem to be underlying themes for me that change each year.

My first year was about adventures and the exploration of new things. I talked to so many interesting people, pushed my own boundaries and learned about things I hardly knew existed before. I was drawn into the crazy world of burns and wandered around the playa in amazement. What stuck with me the most was the feeling of total freedom and unlimited acceptance of who I was without any judgement. But I also know that I felt detached at times, especially at night, like a bystander. Though I felt accepted, I did not feel like a part of the community at all times. Not because anyone treated me bad, but because I was overwhelmed and everything and everyone was new to me. Being part of a 150 people barrio also didn’t help with this. But still my first year was amazing and a new world opened up to me. If I had to summ up what I took away from that year I’d say freedom and the courage to explore new things without fear.

The second year was very different. I didn’t go to many new workshops and felt like I’d melt at incredible 53 degrees, but I found my family. Being part of Sssh! from the built made me connect with people in a way I never have before in such a short amount of time. Total strangers became good friends in mere days and we formed an amazing group. Though my connection was different with each and every person of my new Sssh! family, we clicked together as one (and I don’t mean in a touch & play way 😉 ). I spent a lot of time in the barrio or wandering around at night with this group of incredible people and it felt like we’d been friends for years. I did explore new worlds on friday, but really this year for me was more about friendships than anything else. As a whole this might have been my best year so far, and it is not surprising because human connections are probably the most important to me or else I would not have become a psychologist.

This year is still a bit difficult to figure out for me. It felt like coming home. I had amazing times, but also the occasional “is that it?” moment and time went by far too quickly to spend time with everyone I would have liked to spend time with. I loved helping with an art piece for the first time ever, introduced a friend to the world of burns and even stayed for strike. I reconnected with people who are important to me and got to know great new burners. I tried some new things, but also felt like everything was familiar to me. Expectations were high because I had come back from Peru mostly for this – and it was worth it! I might still need time to decompress for a bit until I can look back at this year more clearly. But one thing I definitely realised this time was how much people see me and remind me of things about myself I fail to acknowledge sometimes. Compliments and observations even of people who have only just met me can go very deep and mostly hit the right spot. I also allow myself to be very honest and actually tell people how much I appreciate them – something I sometimes forget to do in the default world. I think this also helps me to be more honest with myself and my feelings. I cried a lot this year (mostly tears of joy), saw other people overwhelmed by emotions and it felt good, honest and right. Holding each other and not trying to hide our feelings. So maybe this year was about honest appreciations and real emotions. Or maybe about coming home and really being myself which makes people see me as who I am. Maybe both.

The one thing I know is that I feel loved, accepted and free in this community and that makes me come back again and again. There will always be moments when I feel sad or exhausted, be it at a burn or elsewhere. But now when I speak of Nowhere I say “we” instead it “it” or (worse) “they”. Yes, in retrospect I idealise the hard work, pain and stress that can come with a burn and maybe Nowhere is losing a bit of its wow-effect as it becomes more familiar to me. But I think I need this. We need this! And how could I miss out on the chance to see so many people I love in a utopian place we are creating for ourselves?

[Never heared about Nowhere? Check out the official homepage or this video if you are lazy to get a first impression of what I am talking about.]