THE AFRICA DIARIES: 2 WEEKS IN NAMIBIA
According to our friendly TripAdvisor helpers, the easiest way from Maun, Botswana to Windhoek, Namibia was by taking the bus, then hopping on a different bus, then taking a taxi to the Botswana-Namibia border, walking across the border, hitchhiking in the Kalahari desert, and then cabbing from the nearest town, Gobabis, to Windhoek.
It sounded intimidating to us as well, but between that and never leaving Botswana, we figured it was the better option.
We have to hand it to TripAdvisor, it went without a hitch.
We did get a bit nervous when we got to the portion with hitchhiking, and as we started to get hangry we may have started to bicker and maybe fight over who's stupid idea (Lucas's) it was to hitchhike in an empty desert where the only traffic seemed to be going into Botswana, not out. Maybe.
As we sat finishing our lunches, we saw our only hope driving into the empty gas station. A gentleman standing outside ran over and asked us if we needed a ride, told us the car that has just pulled in would be happy to.
We didn't even know if they knew each other.
Considering the town was over an hour and a half away, how much did the driver want for his generosity?
As our hearts sank, he finished with "Namibian."
So, like five dollars each. Sweet.
Since our rescuer was extremely sociable, especially about issues of the heart (he had three kids with three women and was a true romantic), the trip went by impossibly fast and our last direction was to cab from Gabobis to Windhoek.
Basically, we were in the clear unless we got kidnapped.
So, to keep things interesting, we got kidnapped.
Basically, we agreed on a price and when we left short one person, the driver assumed we would cover the cost. Even at our insistence that we would not.
We were still on our way out of town at this point and we repeatedly said he needed to let us out, or expect he wouldn't get the amount he wanted.
Since he refused to stop and let us out, and we still refused to pay the price he wanted, we spent the next hour and a half anxiously sitting in the back seat, wondering if he would drive us to an empty stretch of road and throw us or our bags out.
Africa is not as dramatic or scary as people say, so the only thing that ended up happening was a tense payment when we got to the city.
Windhoek was an exciting variation from the cities we had been visiting for the majority of this trip. With German colonialism influencing the architecture and street names, the city was a hybrid of Afrikaans, English, and German roots.
Interestingly enough, we found out on a walking tour of the city that a few of the beautiful and imposing buildings within the city were actually provided thanks to North Korea due to Namibia supplying them with Uranium. Who knew?
Our first taste of Namibia was at Joe's Beerhouse where we sampled Oryx schnitzel and Kudu steak, our first game of the trip (that we know of, Kenya mystery meat might have surprised us). We are always hungry and we love food, but this was next level delicious.
Ready for our travel disasters to end, we went to Europcar to rent a vehicle for 28 days.
We set off in our little Toyota Corolla, excited to have our own set of wheels.
Enroute to Swakopmund, we detoured to a Gross Barmen Hot Springs Resort for a dip in a desert resort pool, and then on to Spitzkoppe. Literally a big rock. In the middle of nowhere.
The road you take to get there is designed how you'd expect a road to take you to the middle of nowhere in the desert is designed, ie. for 4x4s, not Toyota Corollas.
Don't let this picture deceive you, this road was a bitch.
We made it in one piece, took some pictures of the rock, and made the painful journey back to pavement.
Another interesting fact about Namibia that you should note: there is only about one main highway in the entire country. Which is fine, for a population of approximately two million. We'll come back to that later.
Due to our detour, we arrived late at night, breaking our promise to not drive at night on our first night.
Swakopmund is hailed the adventure capital of Namibia, so we were surprised to arrive to a city empty of...anyone. We passed no vehicles, no people, no open stores, and I started to question my apocalypse preparation.
When we found an open German restaurant, packed full of people, it felt like the whole town was inside.
Basically, pretty much everyone lives in Windhoek, and the rest of the country is very, very, very sparsely populated.
Since the next day was Sunday, the entire town was basically shut down. With our new freedom, that meant we could make split decisions to drive to places like Cape Cross Seal Colony.
Lucky for us, we were there at the perfect time to see thousands of seals, and plenty of seal babies who's big eyes could get them anything they wanted.
Even the walkway was guarded by seals, forcing onlookers to hurry around them, though they seemed completely unconcerned by the humans walking among them, even posing and getting as close to the camera as we would allow.
Sure, they are cute, but only when there is a healthy distance between their teeth and your flesh.
Lucas learned that the hard way when his antagonizing got him chased by angry seals who had managed to slip onto the walkway through a hole in the posts.
This is their walkway now.
Once we managed to tear ourselves away from the curious colony of seals, we backtracked back to Swakopmund, stopping at a shipwreck. If you have the time, you could view the eerie graves of many ships, and wildlife along the inhospitable Skeleton Coast.
On a lighter note than death and shipwrecks, the next day we took to the sand dunes of the Namib Desert to quad and sandboard. We spent most of the day gaining as much speed as possible to climb the steep dunes and rip down the same side, forming our own little half-pipes in the desert sand.
And, if you don't gain enough speed?
Well, Lucas found that out for us too.
You roll your quad down the sand dune, and hope you aren't in its path.
At this point we were still pretty fond of the desert, so after lazy day in Swakopmund, we decided to drive the long stretch of desert to Sesriem and the famous Sossuvlei, conveniently located as far out of the way as possible.
We learned to hate the desert.
We learned Toyota Corollas were never meant to grace the roads of Namibia.
We drove over eight hours on rough gravel. Not gravel like you or I might be used to in Canada. Gravel that was formed in hell itself to make your entire life miserable for as long as your tires are on it.
Can you tell where the road ends and the desert begins?
When we finally managed to creep into Sesriem at 20km an hour, due to our carefree and plan-as-you-go attitude, our options for the nighttime fast approaching us were camping (with no camping gear), or staying in a lodge for the reasonable price of roughly 500USD.
With our minimal reception, we found a lodge 40km away, which on our god forsaken roads meant over an hour and a half driving.
They didn't have any availability.
So we pulled the car over in the desert, and reclined our seats for the night. Which sounds fine now, but at the time my thoughts were solely on the scorpions, spiders, and snakes I was sure were seeking human contact.
When Lucas could finally convince me to open my door, we were rewarded with the clearest stars you could possibly imagine.
And a flat tire from god knows when.
And we aren't talking a little puncture, we are talking a full scale blow out with at least six 5 inch gashes forming a star around the rim.
Like I said, those roads were a bitch.
At this point we had given up on the idea of Sossuvlei.
But when we backtracked back to the gates of Sesriem to gas up and take the long journey back to pavement, someone thought to mention that the one hour road to Sossuvlei was in fact paved!
So we could make our jaunt into the middle of nowhere worth it at least.
The bright orange of the Namibian desert against the blue sky was stunning, and we got to climb the famous Sand Dune 45, the most photographed sand dune in the world.
When the pavement ends, one of the 4x4 vans we became comfortable with on safaris picked us up and took us to see the sand dune called Big Daddy and Deadvlei.
Back at the gates, and after two hours on pavement, our spirits were considerably lifted. We told ourselves we would carefully drive the horrible roads straight to tarmac and not leave it again.
The gravel had other ideas. Even at a slow pace, after two hours of driving we heard the unmistakable sound of a tire popping.
We had just passed a sign that we were 128 kilometers away from the town and tarmac.
At two P.M. in the desert. With no spare.
Fifteen minutes without signal passed incredibly slowly, and the enthusiasm we got from those first bars was dashed when the emergency contact of our rental company told us they would send someone to get us. From Windhoek. Their best estimate was they would get there in about eight hours, unless could we see someone driving by? In the desert of the barely populated Namibia? No. Not at all.
Our messiah arrived in a pickup truck doing about 140km an hour. While we choked on the dust trailing him, he fishtailed around to rescue us from Europcar's complete inadequacy.
A local Namibian named Appie took our phone to tell Europcar, in Afrikaans so there was no misunderstanding, that he would be taking us the final two hours to Maltahohe to get our tire fixed, driving us two hours back to our rental, changing our tire, and Europcar would be bringing us a bigger and better vehicle free of charge, as well as reimbursing us for the tire payment. Because "nobody should be on these roads in that piece of shit."
It was 10 P.M. when the tire was finally changed. Appie and his friend took us to a high end lodge their friend owned to feed us. Amazing buffet-style game was served to us free of charge, because the owner and our rescuers were so genuinely nice they wouldn't even charge us for food.
We didn't arrive back in Maltahohe until late, and after our vehicle situation was sorted out with Europcar (we were the proud new renters of a brand new Toyota Fortuner), Appie insisted we sleep as guests in his home.
Yes, for the second time within a month we were offered a free place to sleep by a kind stranger.
This is the Africa we know.
Our promise to leave gravel in our memories evaporated with the problems of the day before, so we once again drove the long and rough drive to Luderitz.
When we finally hit that tarmac and all four tires were intact, we could finally breathe again.
You could almost take a nap while driving, the roads were so straight and empty. The picture perfect desert roads.
Luderitz was out of the way, but it is the place to stay when you are looking to visit Kolmanskop, the abandoned diamond mining ghost town of the desert.
After a few hours of wandering through the heat midday, Lucas was well within reason to be tired of seeing the remnants of sandy abandoned houses with their paint peeling from the walls, but for someone with a camera it is impossible to go through quickly. Each room felt uniquely eerie, especially the old hospital, which felt like it belonged on the set of a horror movie, even during the middle of the day.
Our time between the desert and the ocean in Luderitz was otherwise pretty calm. We went to watch a football match with others from our hostel, and our discussion with one American of the World Cup 2014 left him telling his travelling partners we had gotten "political."
Apparently those less competitive than Lucas and I think it is bad manners for a country to whollop another regardless of the professional level. The German was def on our side though, obviously.
The last thing we needed to do was visit Fish River Canyon.
Instead of ending up on gravel (again) at night, we decided to break up the drive with a town on the map called Seeheim.
Literally, blink and you would miss it.
Apparently a hotel with two little houses down the road is enough in Nambia to be considered a town and make the maps.
Being the only option also means you get to set the price. So it was nice, but definitely overpriced. One night was all we needed, and in the morning we left early to finally visit Fish River Canyon. Now we can buy souvenirs saying "We've visited the second largest canyon in the world!"
We couldn't do the hike since it takes five days to complete and day hikers aren't allowed, but the view was worth the visit. The Orange River winds through the gorge, and the Namibian heat beats down on anyone visiting the canyon. Luckily we brought lots of water and a picnic to have at the viewpoint.
Unfortunately, as we mentioned before, Namibia is quite scarcely populated, and so once again the options were camp or drive.
We opted to recline the seats of our much more comfortable Fortuner. The automatic alarm when movement was sensed in the car after the door was locked probably woke up a few campers nearby, until we found a way to shut it off. It went off three times. Our bad.
In the morning, instead of spending another night in a "town", which may or may not be an actual town, we decided to head straight to the border.
Maybe you can tell from the length of this post, but we loved Namibia. South Africa would have to be pretty amazing to beat the desert wilderness of Namibia, and the people extraordinarily nice, but we were ready to find out.