Namibia

Located on the west coast of southern Africa, Namibia is a vast land of stark contrasts. Namibia's 1.6 million inhabitants live in a country twice the size of California, making it one of the most sparsely populated nations on Earth. Karen and Rob had the privilege of living in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, from August 1996 to July 1998. In our two years there, we were able to explore almost every corner of this vast and beautiful land, from L├╝deritz in the southwest to Katima Mulilo at the eastern tip of the Caprivi Strip and just about everywhere in between, including the dusty settlement of Tsumkwe, a collection of a dozen or so permanent buildings in the middle of the Kalahari Desert that serves as the administrative capital of the remote Bushmanland region.

Prior to WWI, Namibia was a German colony, and the German influence on Namibian culture is still evident in the architecture, cuisine, and local customs. From 1919 until 1990, Namibia (known then as South-West Africa) was administered by the Apartheid government of South Africa. Namibia gained independence from South Africa on March 21, 1990 after a long and violent struggle for freedom by the South West African People's Organisation (SWAPO), a marxist-oriented guerrilla movement that became the nation's largest and most popular political party at independence. Since 1990, the country has enjoyed peace and relative prosperity under a democratically elected government.

Namibia is a tapestry of peoples and cultures. There are more than a dozen major ethnic groups found within its borders. The largest tribe, the Ovambo, make up nearly half the population. Other groups include the Kavango, Caprivians, Damara, Herero, Nama, San (Bushmen), Tswana, Rehoboth Basters, Coloreds (mixed-race), and Whites (primarily of Dutch and German origin). English has been the official language of Namibia since Independence, but the lingua franca is still Afrikaans, a colloquial version of Dutch that originated in South Africa. German, Oshiwambo, and Otjiherero are also widely spoken.

Although it is an extremely arid country, Namibia boasts a variety of natural habitats, from lush riverine forests in the Caprivi Strip, to high mountainous plateaus in the center of the country, to seemingly endless desert moonscapes completely devoid of plant life. Namibia is bordered by two deserts: the Namib along the country's cold Atlantic coastline is one of the world's oldest deserts. Its towering red dunes and the famous shipwrecks along the Skeleton Coast have appeared in numerous National Geographic videos. To the east lies the Kalahari desert, home of the San Bushmen, the hunter-gatherers made famous in movies like "The Gods Must Be Crazy."

One of Namibia's greatest treasures is its wildlife. Namibia is home to the infamous desert-dwelling Elephants, as well as the world's only remaining genetically-viable population of Black Rhinoceros. Namibia is also home to the largest remaining Cheetah population in the world, thanks in large part to the conservation efforts of the Cheetah Conservation Fund and the AfriCat Foundation. Namibia's world-famous Etosha National Park, an 8,600-square mile reserve in the north of the country, is one of the most spectacular wildlife parks in all of Africa. During our visits to Etosha, Karen and Rob encountered countless Elephants, Giraffe, Lions, Hyenas, Wildebeest, Zebra, Hartebeest, Impala, Steenbok, Springbok, Dik-Diks, Oryx, Kudu, Baboons, Jackals, Warthogs, a rambunctious Honey Badger, and a number of Black Rhinos, including one that tried to put a hole in our Jeep Cherokee after we unwisely obstructed its path across the open savanna. We even got that little incident on video, though the audio track (which includes Karen's excited reaction to the charging beast) has been deemed unfit for tender ears.

Namibia is where Karen and Rob first took up birding, under the tutlage of Peter Kaestner, one of the most accomplished birders in the world. More than 625 bird species occur in Namibia, many of which are found only in southern Africa. In less than two years, we managed to see more than half of these species, including the Herero Chat, the Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush, and the bird for which this website is named, the endemic Dune Lark.

For anyone with the time and financial ability to do so, we highly recommend a visit to Namibia. It is a unique country that offers spectacular natural beauty, diverse wildlife, a colorful history, and interesting people, customs, and cuisine (the latter being comprised almost exclusively of red meat). Enjoy!