14th June 2005 to 11th July 2005
We crossed the border at Oshikango and entered Namibia or should I say ‘nirvana’. The border town on the Namibian side had all the things that Angola unfortunately lacked, banks with ATM’s, petrol stations with petrol, shops full of things at realistic prices and how can I fail to mention fantastic roads. Oh, almost forgot, these roads come at a price and all foreign registered vehicles have to pay road fund tax, but when you offset that against wear and tear to both the vehicle and ones self it would be cheap at twice the price and since we didn’t need to pay for a visa it was money saved all round. With a bit of luck and some time maybe Angola will be like this once the billions of dollars that disappear to line various peoples pockets gets redirected to improving the infrastructure i.e. roads, housing, water and sanitation. Improved roads leads to lower transportation costs which in turn leads to cheaper goods therefore raising the people’s standard of living.
After the border we said goodbye to Arthur and Swantje and they headed off to Botswana. Now that we are in a part of Africa that still has wild animals Blanca is expecting lions behind every bush but with the amount of cattle, goats and donkeys about I find it highly unlikely. Still we did see a green mamba crossing the road just before the border so one can’t be too complacent and dangers still exist. After a nights bush camping we headed for Tsumeb and our first real Namibian town. What a bizarre place, a bit like a cross between a small German town and small town America but with a few Africans thrown in for good measure. It’s a bit like going from Mad Max (Angola) to Blue Velvet or Twin Peaks. Tsumeb was so clean and well organised that it is hard to believe that you are still in Africa. No rubbish on the streets, pavements that you can walk without fear of falling in to an open sewer, street lighting and traffic lights that actually work! Here in “over” civilised Africa are supermarkets where a shopping trip doesn’t blow a month’s budget but one still has to be careful just because it is so easy to over indulge!
We set our selves up at the North West Backpackers as it was close to the internet and had a washing machine. We had a lot to organise here, contact Jonathan at Crozier 4x4 about a new exhaust manifold and spares for the diff lock as well as the usual mountain of e-mails. We also got the opportunity to catch up with my post birthday “cheesy” dinner, at a hotel just down the road. The meal was fantastic, at last a decent steak at price we could afford, and we went to bed stuffed! The meal was so good we decided to treat our selves again before we left and headed back to the bush and then Etosha National Park.
Just as we stopped to park for the night Grommet blew another heater hose, funny that these things always happen in the bush and never in a camp-site. Well that was it I had just about enough of Grommet and his cooling system, so I set to and changed the whole lot, better now than in the park surrounded by wild animals!
Almost immediately after entering Etosha we saw zebra, gazelle, giraffe and wildebeest, this was fantastic, animals everywhere. We had been driving around the park for most of the day and were on our way to Halali lodge to camp but we still hadn’t seen any of the “big five” when I noticed a group of vultures circling ahead. I was hoping to see a kill or at least a lion or two. As we drew closer, there she was a solitary lioness standing over a wildebeest she had just killed. She was exhausted but despite this, was desperately trying to drag her quarry away from the attentions of the gathering group of vultures and jackals and away to the safety of the bush. I stopped the growling Grommet close by and we watched amazed as she dragged the dead beast right across the road in front of us and deposited it by a small tree. Blanca was keen to move on afraid that the lioness would now turn her attentions on us. But I could see her attention was elsewhere and she appeared to be calling to the surrounding bush. We waited; she then abandoned her kill and disappeared only to return a short while latter with two cubs in tow, at the same moment as a small herd of elephant arrived on the scene. It was just like Discovery Animal Planet and we were there right in the thick of things. Unfortunately the park has a sunset curfew so we had to rush off before we got locked out!
This was our first experience of camping South African style, large open spaces, plenty of toilet/washing facilities with hot water, and each spot had its own barbi, light and power. Very impressive! Following a very quick dinner we walked to the water hole, which is illuminated at night to watch elephant, black rhino and lion come for their evening drink. We had just returned to Grommet when we were startled by a crashing sound as a trio of honey badgers scavenged the rubbish bins. What a day! The next morning we left and headed out in to the park again and our next night at the busier Okaukuejo lodge. Compared with Halali it was packed with four large “Over Lander” trucks as well as groups of extremely well equipped South Africans here for a quick winter break. We actually felt a little embarrassed and under equipped with our merger operation, no gas lamps, washing up station, fake grass etc, so we decided to try out the buffet and avoid any further humiliation! Since we were very hungry we more or less sampled every thing on offer and were eventually politely asked to speed up as the staff wanted to go home. Africa!
Nothing quite matched up with the events of our first day, but we still had three fantastic days in Etosha and were amazed by the amount and variety of wild life there but it was time to move on.
With great roads we sped towards Windhoek stopping at Outjo along the way were there is a cake shop with internet attached. A very dangerous combination, particularly when you are hungry and need to check the progress of your DHL parcel. All was well with the parcel it had just left Johannesburg and would be in Windhoek on the Friday. Perfect! Time for a snack, we had met a group of middle aged Americans travelling in an overland truck briefly in Etosha and here we bumped in to them again as they waited for the truck to load up with more provisions. They were all very interested in our trip, one particular couple, Chuck and his wife, Susan, asked if they could contribute and very kindly paid for our lunch.
Namibia is a strange place, a bit like Texas in a way, vast flat open space, sparse vegetation with literally everything fenced off into vast farms or game ranches. Here land is measured in number of hectares per head of cattle rather than the other way around. With all this fencing it isn’t easy to find a discrete bush camping spot so we are having to make do with the many picnic/rest areas along the way. A result of which we found ourselves outside Windhoek and chanced upon a place called the Stop Over offering camping and accommodation. The place was immaculate and had the cleanest showers and toilets we have seen with lashings of hot water. They even had a bath our first since leaving England. After a very cold night sleeping in Grommet we drove the ten minutes in to Windhoek to collect our parcel, drop the fridge off at The Off Road Centre and do a little shopping. The parcel had arrived but had been sent on to the DHL office in Walvis Bay but the girl in public relations promised to have it flown back by close of play that afternoon, so with time to kill it was time to shop. I got some new shorts as my others were falling apart, then we got some food to barbeque and as we still had some time to spare we went to the cinema. When we came out we again had to remind ourselves that this was still Africa and not London.
Back at DHL the parcel arrived as promised, much to my relief and we headed back to the Stop Over in preference to one of the backpacker hotels in town. It was the perfect place to replace the manifold, guaranteed hot shower and a stove to barbeque on.
At last we have a quiet Grommet, well as quiet as a 101 with a “sports” exhaust could ever be and the new diff lock switch appears to work but only time will tell.
With the fridge fixed, the problem was a failed temp sensor, it was back to the supermarket to get it restocked before heading off north again to the Damaraland.
Who should we meet travelling in the opposite direction but the two Belgians, Koen and Heidi, who we had last seen in Luanda almost two months ago. It was good to see them again and we decided to camp the night together, swapping stories over large gin and tonics. It is strange how small Africa really is!
Here in Namibia we have had more trouble with the police than anywhere else so far, first was the road fund tax at the border, next we were stopped for not wearing a seat belt escaping a fine with a bribe, then we had a long discussion over an out of date English road fund tax disk despite having a current Namibian one. I suppose just because this is “civilised” Africa it is still Africa and you can never really escape corruption. While I am up on my soap box I must say a few words about “game farms” and the attitude here to game in general. One has the impression that land here in Namibia that can sustain life is farmed, be it cattle, goats or as a hunting concession. Land that can’t sustain life is left for the miners and the land that is of no use at all is for the native Africans and the wild life. Wild life is purely a commodity for those with hunting concessions were any animal no matter how endangered has a price on its head, if you have the money you can kill lion, leopard, cheetah, rhino, elephant, etc. Then you have the farms were wild life is either in direct competition with the live stock or considered vermin in the case of lion, leopard and cheetah and in general shot or poisoned as the few conservation projects that do exist do not have the land or the resources to gather up problem animals and accommodate or relocate them.
Now where was I, oh yes in the Damaraland a very arid desolate place with some very spectacular scenery as the changes in geology give rise to stunning colour variation to the desert landscape. We were even able to spot some wild life trying to eek out an existence in this barren place and were fortunate to chance upon a small group of rare mountain zebra along with ostrich, gazelle and oryx. As we were close by we decided to spend a night at The Save The Rhino Trust sanctuary near Brandberg. We didn’t see any rhino though as they are very shy and understandably fearful of man. But we did go on a very informative hike with David, one of the volunteers.
In the morning we headed for the coast, we would have liked to visit the famed Skeleton Coast but it is closed to all but organised tours, finding it blanketed in fog headed back in to the desert for the night. The next morning the fog had lifted so we made our way along the salt road to Cape Cross and the Seal Reserve. You can smell and hear the seals long before you see them and what an incredible site, literally hundreds of seals everywhere, in the sea, on the shore, sunbathing on the rocks and very, very close.
After a quiet night on the beach we made our way to Swakopmund and stayed at the “Desert Sky”, more of a back packer lodge but they had space in the car park for Grommet and again all the facilities you could wish for. But a word of advice – don’t arrive in one of these pseudo German towns on a Sunday like we did and expect anything to be happening or open! Most places were closed or closed early but by Monday everything was throbbing again, ok more of a gentle hum! I went in search of some new headlight bulbs and had to make do with a pair of replacement light units as the bulbs are no longer made. Still they should be better than the candles they replaced!
We could now safely head off into the Namib Desert, Grommet purring like a little tiger eating up the kilometres and thoroughly enjoying these smooth gravel roads. These roads are so empty with so little traffic that when a car approaches, you tend to take notice, but when that car suddenly veers to the left, hits the side of the road and rolls onto its roof you really do take notice! I quickly stopped Grommet and rushed over to help the people trapped in side fearing the worst. I wrenched open the crumpled rear door and found a family of five dazed Americans from Johannesburg. It was fortunate that they weren’t going fast at the time and amazingly were all wearing seat belts, or I shudder to think what I could have found. Swiftly we got everybody out and unloaded their luggage. They phoned the hire company and explained the situation but it was obvious that no help would arrive for quite some time, if at all. We mentioned that there was a lodge a bit further back down the road and that it was a better place to wait than out in the bush with night approaching. They agreed so we loaded the family and their luggage in to Grommet and headed off. Sharon was clearly in shock and Michael was struggling to contain their three very excited kids. Kuecki the owner of The Rostock Ritz Desert Lodge soon had everyone at ease, sorted out rooms for the family, the hire company and a replacement car for the morning. With Michael, Sharon and the kids in safe hands we were about to head off when they insisted that we join them and spend the night at the lodge as thanks for rescuing then. How could we refuse? The lodge and rooms were stunning each with a breath taking view across the valley. This was a real treat; we could have never afforded/justified staying at such a place on our budget. In the morning following a huge breakfast we thanked Michael and Sharon and continued on our journey to Sesriem and the sea of dunes, passing the wreck of their car being loaded on to a trailer.
When you enter the Namib Naukluft Palk and head up towards Sossusvlei you are struck by the immense size and variety of colours of the dunes flanking the valley some of which rise to over 200m. Somehow we managed to resist the temptation to climb them as time was pressing. It is a shame that you cannot camp in the park as it would have been nice to see the sun set/ rise. So we headed off and camped just off the road.
With most of Namibia being flat and open with only the occasional mountain ranges, which are invariably set on private land, it is hard to find sanctuary from the cold winter winds that blow across the plains. This obviously isn’t a problem if you have a camper and can cook inside. For us and our outside life, preparing an evening meal on the “No 2” in a howling gale isn’t easy, especially as the “No 2” is rather like Blanca’s driving, full speed or stop, so forget anything requiring a gentle simmer! One thing that has crept back in to our diet being both affordable and of a good quality is meat! Spaghetti bolognaise with mince, beef stew with beef, carbonara with bacon and of course the barbeques are now a lot more interesting!
Our plan was to meet up again with Arthur and Swantje at Fish River Canyon but the nagging question was where? Since we were almost out of petrol and Namibian Dollars we decided to head for Keetmanshoop and rectify the money, petrol and bread crisis then try and find the Germans. But by a stroke of luck who should we bump into coming in the opposite direction but the huge yellow Ifa and Arthur and Swantje, so we all headed back to Keetmanshoop to stock up and visit the internet. I had received word of the bombings in London and was anxious to read the full story. As far as we are aware, nobody we know was hurt in the blasts. I suppose it was inevitable that there would be some retaliation for Britain’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s just a pity it had to happen killing and injuring so many innocents.
Back to the story. Stocked up we headed back towards Fish River Canyon, camping just outside the park to save on fees, and these parks aren’t cheap! The views of the gorge, Africa’s answer to the Grand Canyon are spectacular but yet again it’s a pity that it is closed to unsupervised day hikes to the canyon floor, I guess it’s the old German influence not allowing anything that isn’t organised! We then set off for Ai-Ais and the hot springs arriving in time to have a big barbeque to celebrate Arthur’s 40th birthday. Yet another African birthday! The following day we decided to chill out a bit and swim in the hot pool, then after a snack lunch I joined Arthur and climbed the 350m high peak opposite the camp, I guess its an over 40 thing. All was going well until faced with a Tom Cruise Mission Impossible vertical climb that a touch of vertigo got the better of Arthur and forced us to take a “softer” route to the summit, still the views were definitely worth the climb. By the time we had climbed down it was time to move on again. Just outside the park in an unfenced area we left the road and headed off in to the desert. It was just like a Martian landscape very, very dry with hardly any vegetation, which was probably the reason it wasn’t fenced. It was obviously of no use to anyone except maybe NASA to try out a new Lunar rover or probe or two. We all retired early as the next day was another border and South Africa.
We still haven’t got to grips with Southern Africa and its German/European ways, well equipped camp sites, the great roads and reasonably maintained pistes were the only concerns are occasional corrugations and overturning tourists. The scenery has been on a par with Morocco but with better wild life. But we have missed contact with the locals and the local markets, in fact the local Namibian seems to be an endangered species. To add to the Namibian “whites” there are also a lot of South Africans here on their winter break. I just hope that there is somebody left to let us in at the border.
We are now in Cape Town, South Africa.
We arrived on the 17th of July, exactly 9 months after leaving Malaga, Spain and some 25.000 km and 15 countries later.
Good roads at last!!
Welcome to Twin Peaks
Rhino at night
Watch for Warthogs!
Ex exhaust manifold
A life on Mars
Salt road in the fog
Seal skin coat, anyone?
Crossing the line
Hard life of the overlander
A new friend
Fording with Geu
Grand Canyon Africa style
At the summit