Travel Namibia 35 is no holding passionate divers back from the lure of unexplored water and, before I knew it, I was on my way to the bottom, a mere one hundred and eight metres below me. For the record, my dives in Guinas were some of the most stunning I have ever done. The walls of the lake are covered in multi- coloured fish, creating a jewelled and entertaining landscape. In fact, the fish were literally everywhere: even at one hundred and ten metres shoals of silver still accompanied me as I swam ever deeper into a huge unexplored and seemingly endless cavern. I found out later that these fish had actually evolved in Guinas. Misnamed the Otjikoto tilapia ( Tilapia guinasana), they are specifically adapted to the sinkhole. Looking back on those dives I am not sure what I enjoyed most – the depth, the exploration or just sitting and watching the antics of those unique little fish. It was with regret that I finally had to say goodbye to the crystal blue skies of Namibia and its fascinating lakes. I was left with endearing images of brilliant red sunsets, dusty white roads and some of the best diving I have ever done. Even more intriguing is the fact that I only scraped the surface of Namibia's diving potential. ABOVE: Lake Guinas MIDDLE and BELOW: Cannons DIVING IN NAMIBIA Due to the conditions, diving is for advanced divers only and the ability to manage decompression is mandatory. All divers must be qualified to dive sub- 50 metres on air as no helium mixing facilities are available. Because of the depth, Divers Alert Network insurance is also a requirement. Kit can be hired in advance from the local operators. The best time to dive is from April to October, when the midday temperatures are not excessive. OTJIKOTO Located near the town of Tsumeb, Otjikoto is about 450km from Windhoek. Accommodation is available on site ( camping with electricity is provided), or in Tsumeb itself. The dive site ranges from 26 metres to 90 metres deep and it's a six- metre drop to the surface of the water, so divers need to be relatively fit. All diving must be done through an established operator, and divers need to give at least two weeks' notice. LAKE GUINAS Lake Guinas is next to Otjikoto, but there is no accommodation at the site. The lake is privately- owned and diving is undertaken only with permission, which can be organised by the local operators. Harasib and Dragon's Breath eath Special qualifications, experience and abseiling techniques are required ( including full cave diving qualifications). The caves need to be rigged for diving, which requires at least a week of work by a team of six people, so at least three months notice is required. DIVING OPERATORS Otjikoto Diving Enterprises, Windhoek Underwater Club or Skeleton Coast Divers. n Contact Stef at sviljoen@ mweb. com. na n tel + 264 811 29 5318 n Tinus at tinusvw@ iway. na n tel + 264 811 29 9389
T oulus learned to cook at the feet of his granny in the southern Namibian town of Maltahöhe. The little boy watched carefully as she mixed ingredients that reflected both her Nama culture and that of the white household where she worked. He loved the way she tossed in some plant, herb or other ingredient that brought new flavour to a traditional dish. One thing was sure – that ingredient wouldn't be lettuce, for Toulus's granny never liked salad. She told him that she wasn't a goat, so she certainly wasn't going to eat any green leaves. When he was eight years old Toulus was abandoned by his parents. He was raised by a lady called Lena who worked in the laundry of Wolwedans Lodge in the NamibRand. During school holidays he helped out with maintenance and building. One day Ralf Herrgott, the head chef, pulled him into the kitchen to clean. Impressed by his attitude he tried him out as a kitchen hand, peeling potatoes. Toulus did well and it gave Ralf and Wolwedans owner Stephan Brückner the initial idea for the Namibian Institute for Culinary Education ( NICE). In 1990, when Namibia became independent, tourists were mainly easy- going locals and South Africans, who often camped or visited the national parks, plus a few Germans and Brits looking for laid- back vacations. The better lodges were homely, comfortable and basic and the food was just the same: grilled meats, including game; beans, potatoes, mealie meal; simple salads, and German- style breads and cakes. There was a lot of beer and South African wine to wash it down. Nobody was going to starve, but nobody was going home with memories of gourmet delights. Ten years, even five years ago, local men who worked as cooks at Namibia's resorts and lodges went back to their villages on their days off and pretended to be working as labourers. They were unwilling to admit they were cooks in tribal cultures where cooking was only for women, and what they cooked was basic braaivleis ( grilled meats). Fast- forward to almost twenty years after independence and Namibian hospitality has moved ever upward, reflecting its status as the ecotourism capital of Africa. Namibia draws discriminating travellers to some of the most remote 5- Star lodges, resorts and game reserves on earth. These places are not easy to build, some taking years to complete. Roads must be hewn from rock and sand, and materials transported over dry riverbeds and steep mountains, across sand 36 Travel Namibia Until recently male cooks at Namibia's lodges told their families they were labourers, too ashamed to admit they worked in a kitchen. Now a new chef's school in Windhoek is changing perceptions, as Sharri Whiting found out.