data Bisbocci Abroad: The Journey to Windhoek

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Journey to Windhoek

           After nine months of waiting for my year overseas to begin, I have arrived safely in Windhoek and set foot onto African soil.

          The past few days have been a whirlwind of preparations--trips to REI, the pharmacy and bookstores in anticipation for my departure. The timing of these preparations rendered the departure even more stressful due to the fact that I left two days after Christmas. Thus, I ended up spending the 26th in a packing frenzy and left Eugene on the 27th with a mixture of excitement, anticipation and apprehension. 
            Though not nearly as stressful as my voyage to Europe this past summer, the journey from Eugene, Oregon to Windhoek, Namibia tested my patience to say the least. I left Oregon at 7:30pm on the 27th after a quick visit to Portland and flew to Seattle en route to New York. In Seattle, I was able to meet with Dan for a few hours at the airport, where he brought me delicious Thai food and an assortment of gifts to bring to my students. It was a perfect way to say goodbye to Dan.
            After a three hour layover in Seattle, I hopped on a red-eye flight from Seattle to New York. It was the same flight I had taken this past June and it spearheaded a voyage that would be nearly as grueling and long as my nightmarish journey to Italy last summer. Fortunately, this time I would not be flying standby.

           My flight arrived in New York at 7am, though my group would not fly to Namibia until the next morning at 10:40. Due to the fact that volunteers were flying in from all over the country,  WorldTeach set us up with a hotel near the airport for the night of the 28th, so I had a day to explore America's largest city.
           Many people are surprised when they hear that I have traveled the world but, until my recent visit, I had never been to New York. I had always wanted to see the city, but had never been given the opportunity. Thus, despite my exhaustion from lack of sleep the night before, I dropped off my bag at my hotel and took the train into Manhattan.
            In Manhattan, I met up with my friend John, who traveled with me throughout JordanOman,  the UAE and Syria during my semester in the Middle East. He recently returned from Africa, where he traveled overland from Kenya to South Africa. It was wonderful hearing his travel suggestions.
         John and I ate at a Middle Eastern restaurant for lunch and spent the day walking around Manhattan. We visited the tourist hub of Times Square and walked around Ground Zero. The day left much of New York to be explored at a later date, but it gave me a taste of  Manhattan's atmosphere and vertical architecture.

            At around 5pm, I made my way back for the hotel, where I would meet the rest of my group for the pre-departure meeting. We talked for a bit and grabbed a bite to eat before I collapsed in what would be my last night in a comfortable American bed.
      The next day, our group of seven volunteers boarded a direct flight from New York to Johannesburg. It is one of the longest direct flights in the world and lasted nearly sixteen hours. The  journey was quite grueling considering I was in the very middle seat and kept one of my bags at my feet since I did not have the space to put one of my carry-ons in the overhead compartment. I kept reminding myself that this was just a preview of the long rides in crammed buses that I will likely become quite familiar with during my year in Namibia.

           Our layover in Johannesburg lasted seven hours. Needless to say, I was pretty exhausted during the last leg of my journey, but I managed to stay awake as we descended upon the Windhoek airport.
            One glance at the Windhoek airport was all the proof I needed that Namibia is a desolate place. Though it serves Namibia's capital, the Windhoek airport is literally in the middle of nowhere. Looking out of the airplane windows, I saw an endless, flat expanse on one side and desert with distant mountains on the other. There were no houses in sight and very few roads intersecting the harsh terrain.

        The manicured, pretty streets of Windhoek are certainly not what I was picturing before arriving in-country. Many houses are painted in bright colors and quite reminiscent of the architecture in Germany. The front yards of residences are beautifully manicured and streets are as clean as those in Northern Europe.
Backpackers Unite Hostel, Windhoek
           It was not what I expected my first impression of Africa to be, but the reality of life in Windhoek is very different from what I expect to find up North in Ondangwa.

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