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While at first glance a seemingly arid wasteland of wind-lashed dunes, there is more to Namibia than most people realise. The country is alive with vibrant people and a diverse population of animals that call this desert country their home. Add to that the beautiful scenery that sometimes makes one feel as if one were on another planet and a range of activities
Namibia is the second most sparsely populated country in the world with only Mongolia being less populated. Covering 825 418 km² in the south western part of the African continent, the country is only home to 2.09 million people! That means that there are only about 2.5 people per square kilometre! Despite this relatively small population, they are made up of a diverse group of people from various backgrounds.
The majority of the people of Namibia are of Ovambo, Bantu or Khoisan descent. About 6% are Caucasian of either Portuguese, Dutch, German, British or French descent. The rest are of mixed race that came about because of the intermingling of these various peoples.
One of the the results of this mixed heritage is that the official language is English. Up until 1990, the official language of the country was Afrikaans and German. When independence was declared, the government did not want to show preference for any one language or cultural group, and chose English as a 'neutral' language. This does not prevent many signs in the country from being written in four or more languages – depending on what part of the country you are in. Although English is the official language, Afrikaans, German and Oshiwambo are recognised and regional languages.
The majority of Namibia is made up of desert or semi-desert areas. The country can generally be divided into five 'main' geographic regions. The central plateau is where the majority of the populace live and where the capital, Windhoek, can be found. This area also contains the most arable land in the country and is where most of the agricultural endeavours take place.
The Namib desert is probably the most famous location in the country and also where it gets its name. Stretching along the 1 000 kilometres of coastline, the desert occupies an area of almost 80 900 km² of wind-blasted dunes and arid gravel. It is one of the oldest deserts in the world and is home to some unique plant species. The interaction of the hot desert air and ocean currents can lead to dense fogs in which many a sailor has lost their way to run aground on the infamous Skeleton Coast.
The Great Escarpment is an important topographical element of Namibia. It quickly rises to 2 000 metres and the temperature rises as one heads inland form the Atlantic. While the area is rocky with poor soil quality, it is nonetheless more verdant than the desert. As the wind is forced over the escarpment, rain clouds are formed allowing a greater amount of precipitation to descend on the area. This combination of increased rainfall and changing topography allows the formation of little micro environments that are home to many different organisms that are endemic to the area. The vegetation becomes a little more differentiated as well with shrubs and grasses giving way to trees.
In the north eastern part of the country, the area is generally known as the bushveld. Not to be confused with an area of the same name in South Africa, it nevertheless shares certain qualities with its counterpart. The area is mostly flat with loose, sandy soil. While the soil does prohibit the retention of water, the area receives more rain than the rest of the country. That combined with the cooler temperatures allows a wider variety of vegetation to flourish in the area.
Another well-known area of Namibia is the Kalahari desert. The Kalahari stretches across the countries of South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. While technically a desert, it does not conform to the traditional idea of a desert. The area has diverse vegetation and has a measurable annual rainfall. It is also home to quite a wide diversity of wildlife that have adapted to survive in this desolate, yet lush environment.
As can be expected from a desert country, Namibia's average temperature is usually above 30° Celsius and can easily reach 40° or more in the summer. What rainfall that does fall over parts of the country usually occurs during the summer months from November to February. Days are very hot with afternoon thunderstorms. The winter months are cooler during the day, but the nights tend be very cold. Namibia is a land of extremes – extreme weather and extreme beauty.
Much of Namibia's economy is traditionally based on mining and manufacturing. In recent years, however, it has become a prime destination for eco-tourism. The country has quite a few game lodges and safari camps but other attractions like sand boarding and 4x4 adventure trips are also attracting more visitors.
At first glance, Namibia may seem to be a desolate place with very little to offer. But, like the diamonds that hide beneath its surface, Namibia is a hidden treasure that has more to offer than meets the eye.