I started writing this post back in our Game Reserve near Windhoek but are now back in Germany finishing it off. So what happened over this last week or so since we started and had to cut short our Safari/Camper tour through Namibia. Boy, it has been a week – I can tell you that.
My last blog finished when we arrived at our Klein Aus Vista campsite and I had a chat with an old mate living in Windhoek. Things were getting real in Namibia and the president announced a partial lockdown of the country starting 1-2 days from now. Details were very thin to say the best but the regions with the two largest cities (Windhoek and Swakopmund) would go in to lockdown. Lockdown in Namibia seems to be very similar to what I have heard from Germany and New Zealand – physical distancing, only essential services and stay at home as much as you can. Additionally here it would prevent you from travelling from and into these provinces. We were further South from these regions, so the question was “What to do next?”.
We had bought quite a few supplies, so we could be self-sufficient whilst camping for 1 or maybe 2 weeks max. Do we continue with our tour and go around these two provinces further North? Or do we head straight there to be “in civilisation” with a steady supply of goods and plenty of options for accommodation? One thing was becoming clear, the lockdown would start only in these provinces but will be all across Namibia in a matter of days or weeks (turned out it was about a couple of weeks later).
A couple of other developments happened at this point as well. One, South Africa went from bad to worse and the number of cases exploded as in so many other countries around the world. Namibia and SA are connected very closely, pretty much all supplies for Namibia come from SA. As a result, South Africa shut down all international travel over night and went into a drastic lockdown. This meant that our last remaining option to fly out and potentially even make it back to New Zealand was gone. Options were running out. The other thing was that it became very clear that our gap year would come to an end/pause. The situation not just in SA but Europe, US and across the world was just getting worse and worse and more details and projections became available.
So the decision was pretty easy in the end – head back to Windhoek and see how things are developing. We also heard about the repatriation flights organised by the German government, bringing stranded citizens across the globe back to Germany. Would that be an option for us? Anyway, early start next morning, saying good bye to our resident camp Kudus and off for a long drive (at least all on tar seal) towards Windhoek. During the day some more details of the lockdown started to emerge. We had two days (turned out to be 4) to be back in Windhoek and we considered staying near Mariental again. When we got there though around midday, it was fully booked and only a pretty expensive other option had a campsite available.
Decision was made to go all the way back to Windhoek and we started to look at campsite options there. We downloaded and printed a list of all campsites which came in handy and made a top 3 list. After calling them, we decided to head to the Daan Viljoen Game Reserve campsite. Now that turned out to be a lucky pick! We arrived late in the afternoon and the staff were just amazing. Just keep in mind, shit really started to hit the fan here at this point. People started to realise the impact of the lockdown, tourists were getting out as soon as they could and Namibia already had been in a few years of recession. Put on top that Namibia depends on tourism as its biggest earner, things starting to look bleak here.
There were 8 campsites in total, plus a lodge, plus quite a number of chalets – so this is a large complex with restaurant and best of all, a large pool. There were only a couple of other campsites occupied so we picked our one. Each campsite had its own toilet, shower, water, power and of course BBQ/fire place again. We picked one with a nice view into the reserve and settled in after our long 8h drive that day. Turned out that our campsite neighbours are all Germans as well, and all waiting to be flown out. Actually all campsites filled up with fellow Germans over the next day or two, all in the same boat.
To get on the list for the German repatriation flights you had to register on a website and you then get contacted by the embassy if and when you will be flown out. In short, we registered and started to talk to family back home about options. We just started to get a bad feeling about this situation and how long it would take to get back to normal. Who knows really but from what I read, this whole Corona lockdown won’t be over in a few weeks. I rather think this will be here until the end of the year. So quick flash back, when we headed to Namibia from South Africa (which turned out was our last chance to fly back to either Germany or New Zealand on our own terms, if at all), Namibia just had very few cases and looked like a good place to sit out a few weeks of travel restrictions. Well, that didn’t work out did it…
Germany is one of the Corona epicentres which was one of the key reasons not to get there earlier, but things seem to be under control. The death rate is significantly lower than in other countries, largely due to the shear amount of testing in Germany, but still. Germany actually takes on intensive care patients from Spain and Italy due to the good health care system and intensive care capacity. Actually a pretty good feeling knowing that your government bails you out if things turn serious. Not a lot of countries do that and I am sure we all read plenty of stories of people being completely stranded across the world for the foreseeable future… Not a situation I wanted to be in with my family. I think overall 200,000 Germans got flown back from all over the world. 150,000 were flown back within the first two weeks of Europe lockdown from the typical holiday destination like Spain, Northern Africa etc. and then we were part of the remaining 50,000 spread out all over the world.
After lots of technical issues registering for a start, not knowing if it worked or not without any confirmation, we thought we were finally on the list and the wait started. Rumours started to fly around on social media and within our small stranded German tourist community on the campsite. We got to know a few of them better over the next week and overall it was a nice group looking out for each other. The biggest questions we all had were: Will everyone be on a flight or will some actually not make the cut for the flights? Which flight will we be on and what will our destination in Germany be? The first question was probably the most stressing one, no one was sure if everyone would be flown back or how the list would be prioritised.
Everything was organised by the German Embassy in Windhoek and I started to get in contact and a very nice lady helped me out over the coming days. For a start, she confirmed that our registration was successful and at least our names are on the list. Still no confirmation though if we would make one of the flights. Next information was that there would be 4 flights overall. A quick Google search later, that meant that about 1200 people would be flown out, but the rumoured number of stranded Germans in Namibia stood at about 2000-2800 – so that wouldn’t work out. A stressful time really with so much uncertainty.
Would we be on one of the flights, prioritised as a family with young children above other fellow stranded people? Whilst all of that happened, I have to say that we were in a pretty good spot. We could use the pool, walk around the reserve, go on 4×4 drives and have a dinner in the restaurant. Could have been worse really, and being in contact with Gesa stranded in Argentina and a few stranded German friends back home in NZ – we can’t complain at all. Quite the opposite as news of hostile behaviours and financial rip offs of tourists started to appear. In New Zealand 12,000 Germans are stuck as the NZ government stopped the repatriation flights due to Corona safety concerns. I get this for people who have to travel/fly to Auckland or Christchurch but thousands of people are stuck in small hotel rooms straight at the airport?! Surely it is in the best interest of everyone to get them home as soon as possible. Anyway, I hope this situation is sorted soon (quick update, flights have been approved to start on Saturday – that’s good news!). Gesa actually is on a flight back from Buenos Aires today, and she even sits in Business Class!
Back to our first week of lockdown in Namibia. Our typical day looked like that. Early start when the sun got up, breakfast on our deck overlooking the park, getting things ready and heading over to the pool for most of the day, having a walk later in the afternoon when it started to get a bit cooler, fire or BBQ in the evening with dinner. Mix this with being visited by ostriches and warthogs at our campsite, Kudu walking past and seeing giraffe, wilder beast, zebra, oryx, baboon, elands, springboks, … on our walks or drives – it could have been worse.
But still, we all knew that this was temporary and we tried to make the most of it while it lasted. Things got very real when the boss of the place pulled all staff together and pretty much laid out the lay of the land to them. We unfortunately lazily hung out around the end of the pool under the restaurant where he pulled everyone together, and we heard the whole lot. Once us as the last tourists would be gone, he would shut down operations for at least three months. Most of the 80 staff would lose their jobs, and there is not a lot of social help available in Namibia. About 200,000 people are directly or indirectly employed in tourism (his numbers, not sure if true), with a total population of 2.6m people. Most of these jobs will go or be on hold. Sobering moment. The Namibian government is apparently working on a support package but I don’t think there is a lot of room to play with. So from that day the place was operated by skeleton staff which was fine by us, and I have to say the professionalism and level of service towards us didn’t drop one bit. Very impressive in that situation with a lot of staff having difficult conversations and decision with their families.
So there we were all waiting for the first of us being notified to be on a flight to Germany. The first ones were a couple from Munich, at least progress! At that point we knew that the four flights would go to Frankfurt and Munich, so still a fair bit off home from us. The poor guy actually had a seizure or similar in the middle of the night before they checked out to head to town and then the airport, maybe due to the stress. Great to see the group coming together again to help out in that quite serious situation, very close to getting an ambulance. We heard that they made it safely back home, so all good fortunately.
Still being in contact with the friendly lady at the embassy, she ensured me (I think they started to get on top of the logistical challenge after a few days) that every stranded German tourist would be flown back – no one registered would be left behind. That was great news and you should have seen the relieved look on all of our faces once I shared the news. So the remaining question really was, which flight? At that point, two planes were gone, two more to go (one to FRA and one to MUN). Notifications came 24h before the flight at best and we still had to return our camper as well.
Up to that point we had 30 degrees every day, cooler at night so we could sleep – again not too bad really. But then it started to rain, for us the first time we had our camper set up for sleeping whilst raining. And it turns out, it is not waterproof whatsoever! Once the main tent is up, water drips in at both sides and into the bed of the kids. I said I like the camper a lot, and I do, but this does not work and would have made it useless for us going further North where it rains a lot more. I guess we were lucky we couldn’t go in the end…
So the kids had to sleep in the cabin that night, our bit was dry up top but the forecast was for another day of rain. And then we got the email, the anticipated and long awaited email that we are on flight 3 to Frankfurt – yay! I booked an apartment in town for the night and organised that we could give back the car that day, and they would give us a ride to the airport the next morning. All started to fall into place and after a bit of forth and back if flight 3 or 4, in the end we got confirmed for flight 3 leaving Windhoek on 31.3.
Our fellow camper still haven’t heard anything but now I know that they are underway today. They had to put on a few extra flights to get everyone out, but again they didn’t leave anybody behind.
We had an early start to the airport at 4.30am for our 9am flight and it all worked out well. We got seats in Premium Economy, all watched about 4 movies and landed in Frankfurt 10h later. Quite a different feeling on board with lots of cheering and a lot of relieved faces around, I think we will keep our boarding passes of that flight! And don’t think the flight is free by the way. We didn’t have to pay anything as of yet but will get an invoice for a normal economy ticket at some point.
When we arrived in Frankfurt we had to wait at least for 30 minutes before anybody could exit the plane, and then only 40 at a time with 5 minute wait between groups to avoid queues. As we were Premium Economy we were in the second group but then our last bag was literally the last bag coming out about 40 minutes later. Only then we could head to the rental car company and get our car to drive another 6h back to my mum’s place through the night. With temperatures at or below freezing levels (but at least dry), conditions weren’t perfect but at least the kids fell asleep immediately and we got a nice, safe car for the drive. A couple of cokes and my first red bull without any vodka for a long time later, we arrived early morning where it all began – my home village of Schenefeld in beautiful Schleswig-Holstein.
Mum lives in the top flat of our three story property and luckily the bottom flat got free a few months ago, and mum used it largely as storage. Well turns out that we need it now. And mum did a fantastic job getting it as ready as possible with beds for all of us set up. And we needed a bed after that very long day. Now we can slowly make the flat our own and see how things pan out over the next few weeks and months.
So here we go, no job, no home and staying with mum in my mid-40s with my family – living the dream! Where to from here after our 2 weeks of self isolation – I don’t know. Our plan was of course to travel through Europe and then Asia to head back to New Zealand by the end of this year. At this stage I am pretty sure that none of that is going to happen. Europe is off the cards and international air travel will be massively restricted for some time, how long no one knows… Job, I think we will start to see the economic impact and massive job losses very soon. So is there any chance of finding a job in Germany for Jennifer and I? Again, I don’t know. Maybe we can continue our travel and focus on Germany only if the restrictions are lifted?
Looking at the positives, we are healthy and have a safe place to stay. We are not burning any money for accommodation, have plenty of toilet paper (not sure where Oma got that from) and there is plenty to do and help out around here for some time to keep us busy. Our gap year trip is on hold at best and over worst case. We hope we can continue and finish the trip at some stage to return to NZ, but this is it for now. The kids are writing their Namibia posts and that’s it I guess.
Thanks for all the messages to check in with us over the last week or so! Stay safe, healthy and be kind people. I have seen this crisis bring out the best in people.