Swakopmund Coworking at Desert & Ocean
During our time in Cape Town and Windhoek, Chipp fully embraced the whole coworking thing. So, it just made sense to find a similar place during our two weeks in Swakopmund. As luck would have it, there was a Swakopmund coworking spot - Desert & Ocean - ten minutes from our apartment.
Coworking in Swakopmund - a Desert & Ocean Overview
A quick Google search pointed to a coworking space in one of the converted industrial areas of Swakopmund. Without a rental car, a walk from our apartment would’ve been too far, but it’d be an easy, ten-minute “commute” in the shoebox of a car we had at our disposal.
After some back-and-forth e-mails with the Desert & Ocean staff, Chipp confirmed details and that the numbers made sense. And, by “made sense” in coworking terms, the analysis is pretty straightforward: does the increased productivity from working at a coworking space outweigh the daily costs? For Americans making US dollars but paying local currency - “lifestyle arbitrage” - the answer is typically a resounding “yes.”
During his Day 1 tour, Chipp learned a bit more about the spot. A French couple - Ingrid and Phillippe - moved to Namibia over 20 years ago and, eventually, opened Desert & Ocean. And, the building shares space with the couple’s other venture: a local safari company called Damarana Safaris (with more time, we definitely would have signed up for a trip!).
After chatting with Ingrid and Phillippe, Chipp saw the rest of the space. A refurbished warehouse, it had everything a remote worker needed - “hot desks” (i.e. first-come, first-serve workstations), private offices, and conference rooms to rent, depending on your situation. Plus, a French press (or “plunger” to our South African friends!) and espresso machine guaranteed a supply of complimentary caffeine.
In addition to the steady flow of remote workers, Desert & Ocean also has a permanent tenant - the local non-profit EHRA, short for Elephant-Human Relations Aid. As the name suggests, EHRA focuses its efforts on desert elephant conservation in Namibia. And, the organization offers some incredible volunteer opportunities to actually go into the wilderness and help with the conservation work - another bucket list item for our next trip to Namibia!
“I Protect the Frenchman’s Bastille!”
Damarana Safari offices took up around half of Desert & Ocean, but the safari company used the entire warehouse and driveway behind the offices to house/maintain its fleet of vehicles. So, on a daily basis, there were always plenty of guides and mechanics in the area - great to chat with on coffee breaks.
One guy in particular, an older Namibian, was particularly entertaining. Shooting the breeze with him out back one day, Chipp learned he was a welder - responsible for any metal work on the safari 4x4s. In this capacity, he lived on site so could 1) make round-the-clock repairs, if required, and 2) keep watch over the facilities. Or, as he exclaimed:
“I protect the Frenchman’s Bastille!”
A Southern Africa Independent Coworking Network?
Working at Desert & Ocean for two weeks, Chipp also had plenty of opportunities to chat with Phillippe. One recurring topic was marketing all these independent coworking spaces, that is, figuring out the best way to let fellow travelers / remote workers know that these places existed.
Sure, the Google search thing works. For our travels, though, we were already going to Swakopmund, coworking space or not. What about the people with more open itineraries, the ones who need a place to work but have complete flexibility on the where?
Ideally, throughout southern Africa, owners like Ingrid and Phillippe could build a network with other independent coworking spaces in the region (e.g. Craft + Graft back in Cape Town). Through some promotional model, if remote workers joined at one spot, they’d get discounts/incentives to join another coworking space in the network.
Everyone wins: remote workers find reliable coworking spaces, and the spaces more effectively market themselves as true remote work destinations. In another world (i.e. after a whiskey or two), Chipp would love to take point on building this network. But, that’s not currently in the cards - cool idea for anyone looking for a business development adventure in southern Africa, though!
Two Beards and a Saint - and Workday Discipline
Desert & Ocean’s in an industrial zone a few miles inland from the city center, an area just off the rail line. But, as with a lot of the world, Swakopmund has seen a transition in these areas, with some old industrial buildings repurposed to new uses. In this vein, a few blocks down from the coworking spot, a cluster of old warehouses has been converted into retail spaces, cafes, and - as Chipp would discover on his first lunch visit - a brewery and gin distillery.
Asking around Desert & Ocean, people recommended a coffee shop called Two Beards and a Saint for lunch. Tucked into the back of this converted industrial area, the cafe has a big, garden-style outdoor area and an indoor lounge/roastery.
Posting up inside, Chipp looked at the menu. Beyond an awesome selection of coffees, cakes, and pastries, the restaurant has a lunch menu that rotates daily - one light fare, one sandwich, and one heartier dish. Cool model, and with only three options that change daily, you know you’re getting some fresh, local chow.
Stillhouse Distillery for a Gin Tasting
Stuffed after opting for the heartier option and a big ol’ slice of chocolate cake, Chipp made his way back towards Desert & Ocean. He nearly didn’t make it. Around the corner from Two Beards - and right next to each other - a distillery and brewery called to him. But, on a Monday, returning to “the office,” and trying to be productive, Chipp summoned every last ounce of discipline to say “no.”
But, the seed had been sown. That Thursday afternoon (the end of our overseas “work week”), we headed back for a tasting at the gin distillery - Stillhouse Atlantic. The brewery hours didn’t work with our schedule, unfortunately, but Chipp made sure to compensate with plenty of Namib Dunes bottles out in town.
With just the two of us there, we sat with one of the Stillhouse owners, a gal who co-owns the distillery with her husband. In an entertaining family story, she and her husband decided to formally open a distillery so their son, who loved distilling as a hobby, would focus on his actual job - being a doctor!
At risk of sounding ridiculous, our Stillhouse tasting was less a tasting than a curated gin experience. For the next hour, we not only learned about the entire distilling process and sourcing of ingredients, we worked through the different ways to enjoy Stillhouse’s delicious gins - neat, on ice, with tonic, with flavored tonic, with an orange twist, with a lemon twist - and the ideal situations for each option.
After buying a couple bottles for the road - an absolute must after this experience - we thanked our hosts and left, already looking forward to pouring a drink back at our apartment!