“If there is one piece of advice that Namibians would want to give travelers, aside from ‘don’t litter’, ‘save water’, ‘spend more money’ and ‘our beer is the best, so buy us another round’, it would be, ‘we know that you are driving a large, overpowered offroad vehicle, but for God’s sake be careful of the rivers’.”
According to Namibia’s marketing literature, Namibia is a great place to visit as it has more than 300 days of sunshine per year. The breathless excitement of the promise mystifies most Namibians who would much prefer 300 days of rain per year, with a few days off to get their washing dry, do the gardening and get any necessary renovations done.
However the truth is that, with the possible exceptions of 1974 and 2006, Namibians live in a sunny country and wish it would rain far more often or at least be cloudy, especially in the months of November, December and January when the hot sun and the bright blue skies parch everything and make even the smallest patch of shade very desirable real estate.
Namibians have two seasons for rain, both in summer.
The small rainy season lasts from about September to November. Small showers fall from time to time across most of the country, but never enough to soak the whole of Namibia.
Tradition has it that the big rainy season begins on the ‘Kaiser’s Birthday’, which was late in January, when he was still favour prior to World War 1. A more suitable celebrity with a birthday in January has yet to come along. This season is characterized by larger amounts of rain, lots of happy Namibians and long conversations about rain that take on the characteristics of sport fans discussing the performance of their favourite teams over the past few decades.
From a travel point of view, we are sure that any rainfall during a visit is a dreadful inconvenience to the traveler, but honestly couldn’t care less. Namibians know for a fact that rain is an inconvenience to travelers as they spend large amounts of time pulling them from deep mud or the middle of rivers.
If there is one piece of advice that Namibians would want to give travelers, aside from ‘don’t litter’, ‘save water’, ‘spend more money’ and ‘our beer is the best, so buy us another round’, it would be, ‘we know that you are driving a large, overpowered offroad vehicle, but for God’s sake be careful of the rivers’.
Namibia is not a country that is built for rain. Much of the infrastructure was built with the full expectation of it rarely raining. Many of the roads are made from gravel and there are far fewer bridges than there are rivers crossing roads. The main roads are tarred and the larger rivers are crossed by bridges but for the most part, bridges and tarred roads are no substitute for saving on unnecessary items the capital expenditure budget, good sense and caution.
During the rainy season, Namibians know that rivers will flow across roads, that some roads will was away in places, that there will be water on the road and that there will be patches of mud that take a lot of skill to navigate. All of this is accepted in a good-natured manner because although it is a small inconvenience, it also means that the sun is not shining and everything is cooler.
Travelers on the other hand, drive too fast, get stuck in the mud and behave like lemmings when it comes to rivers. In fact, every year produces a new crop of photos of funny photographs of expensive offroad vehicles in the middle of raging torrents. Pulling travelers from rivers after a photo opportunity seems to have become the pastime of choice for tour guides during the rainy season.
The most sensible advice is to drive slowly during the rainy season. This entails slowing down to a crawl when there are patches of mud in the road, and driving around them. It also involves coming to a dead stop when a river is crossing the road. Above all, don’t wade into the river to find out how deep it is. The rivers run very fast, and the murky river may conceal logs. As a point of interest, a number of people who ignore this advice die every year.
During the rainy season, it is very important to ask about the condition of the road. Ask the reception on departure if they know anything and call ahead to the next destination to find out the conditions of the road on their side and to let them know that you are departing. The latter call can be the most important that you make as you are not only finding out about the road, but also reminding them to expect you and to worry and / or send out a search party if you don’t arrive.
If you come to a river that looks like it is flowing fast and might be more than fifty or sixty centimeters deep, stop and wait for it to subside. If you have a mobile phone and a signal, call ahead and tell them about your circumstance. If it is later in the day, they will probably send out a vehicle and a skilled driver to assist you. After all, they will feel bad about charging you if you don’t spend the night.
If you arrive in Namibia, an unlike the sunny marketing literature, it is raining, bear in mind that you have come to Namibia on a good day. The rain brings life and happiness to Namibia. Don’t be surprised if someone tells you that God has blessed your arrival with rain. It’s not an entirely unusual comment if it is raining.