19.3.2010 – Day 90 – Etosha, Namibia
Although we were stamped into Namibia, our bikes weren’t, so this morning we took it easy to do admin in this next country. Down to the border again to get the carnet stamped and pay vehicle import tax. Next, by consensus, it was off to Wimpey for a fry-up – we really are back in the developed world! An ATM visit was closely followed by a visit to the supermarket to buy washing powder and 5 packs of biltong (only 2 left by this evening). We checked up on getting vehicle insurance, but were told by the insurance broker that you can’t get 3rd party motorbike insurance in Namibia, so better drive carefully!
We set off down perfectly straight, perfectly tarmac-d and perfectly sleep-inducing roads. There are a surprising number of vehicles on the road in this part of the country – mostly 4x4 pick ups, and mostly, and unusually for Africa, not driven by NGOs. To keep drivers awake on the boring roads, the government has kindly put up fencing about 20-30 metres from the road and employed shepherds to herd cattle, pigs and goats between the 2 verges. Mixing 120km/per hour traffic and slow moving cows does liven things up somewhat. I skirted thunderstorms most of the day – remarkably never getting wet.
The junction for Etosha National Park is a huge milestone for me on this journey. We had a family holiday at Etosha in the late ‘70s, driving up from Johannesburg. This point marks the meeting of the lines across Africa. Today I connected my early childhood in South Africa with my life in Europe, with a line across continents. It was a happy-sad moment really. Things are very different here now – the road to Etosha is tarmac-d and at the moment the landscape is green and lush from all the rain. I remember travelling down this road in our regular 2 wheel-drive car in dusty, dry heat. The drinking water in the car was so hot, you could have brewed tea with it. But mostly today I thought about our family together in a car on holiday – whilst today I am travelling alone with no parents left to join me.
At the game lodge in Etosha on that holiday I remember thousands of swifts or swallows (I don’t remember exactly) in the dusk, circling and gathering over the waterhole for migration. My Mum explained how these birds migrated from the UK all the way down to South Africa and back every year. When I lived back in Sheffield I would see swifts and swallows and I would think about their migration as a reflection of my desire to visit South Africa again. These migrating birds have always been a favourite – and although my trip is not over yet, today I have completed my dream of migrating myself on a journey south, through Africa.
20.3.2010 – Day 91, Etosha, Namibia
An R&R day of the best kind.
I’ve spent the day at a game lodge on the edge of Etosha National Park. This morning was spent game-viewing in the park from the back of a land cruiser – no motorbikes allowed! We visited the old German fort. Inside the fort was where we spent a night back in the 1970s. It’s a game lodge owned by Namibia’s National Parks authority. Back then the fort sat by itself in the bush, giving a remote feeling. Today much more infrastructure has been built around it, including a museum and jewellery shop, which unfortunately detracts slightly from its sense of sanctuary in the bush. Ironically, the rooms that we slept in back then are now the toilets! Very nice toilets at that.
Time moves on and I wondered whether I should travel to Johannesburg to our old house and neighbourhood, or just head south to the Cape. I feel more inclined now to discover more of South Africa, particularly with Tracy, so she can get to know this wonderful part of the world. I’m sure in time we will be back again, with our family in tow. The trip isn’t over just yet though, as I want to finish the journey at the Cape of Good Hope, South of Cape Town. This part will be very different though – the journey so far has been to see what is between here and the UK – now I just want to enjoy being back here.
My life has been sculpted by the people I have met, and the places where I have spent time over my 38 years. Southern Africa is one of those places which has left a permanent imprint on me, just like many people have over the years. Southern Africa, and in particular South Africa, will always be part of me and I hope to spend more time here in the future, than I have recently. I want to enjoy South Africa for what it is now – and with the people I care about. I guess that’s why I don’t want to visit the past in Jo’berg.
21.3.2010 – Day 92 – Omarura, Namibia
I said goodbye to the Swiss this morning, probably for the final time. The roads this morning were mostly flat and straight - with bright sunshine it is almost impossible to keep awake and alert enough to ride safely. Every few kilometres are small rest areas – usually a concrete picnic bench, 2 painted oil drums made into bins and a tree to give shelter. I stopped every half hour or so, desperately trying to wake myself up. I was riding myself into a trance, looking 5 kms ahead at the mirage on the road. I started to see people by the side of the road, when in fact they were termite hills, and with the few cars and trucks in the distance, I couldn’t tell whether they were coming or going. Bush and scrub covered the landscape as far as the eye could see, with just the occasional farmhouse set back from the road. A 50metre corridor is kept as grass to the sides of the road, with fences separating it from the bush.
My other fear of today was suicidal warthogs. It’s difficult to see them in the long grass and if they run out on you, you wouldn’t be on your bike for very long! Every 60-100km a small town appears out of the mirage. Perfectly groomed old towns that date back to the 70s. Being Sunday, the lack of traffic added to the time warp.
Everything is in these towns, but with so few people in Namibia they lack the claustrophobic oppression of mass-commercialism back home. Life is easy now – supermarkets sit next to gas stations, with Wimpeys, shops, cafes and ATMs on the side. People of all races seem relaxed and friendly – I love it!
When I used to watch American and Australian tv shows as a youth, back in the UK, I used to dream of moving to these ‘idyll’ countries, where the sun is always shining, the streets are always quiet and the sidewalks lush and green. Places where people live outdoors and if it gets too hot, you just jump in the pool. I can see now that really I was just wishing to be back in Southern Africa. Of course, the reality for many people in Namibia and South Africa is exclusion from the idyll, where most blacks live in impoverished townships and all people, particularly in the cities, fear crime. But I do love it here and I always will.
22.3.2010 – Day 93 – Swakopmund, Namibia
I set off this morning for the skeleton coast. It was dirt road all the way – over 300kms. These roads are well graded, which means some of the time it’s possible to ride at 100kms per hour, no problem. Occasionally though, there is deep gravel or sand which, with all the weight on the bike, makes it swerve violently. This, in effect, can make it reckless to go so fast. Down on the coast road though, salt is used as a road-covering. The road looks like tarmac, and as long as you don’t make any sudden movements, it’s possible to cruise as 120km per hour quite safely. There are virtually no cars or settlements on the roads, so when I came across a pick up, stopped in the middle of the road, I pulled over to see if they needed help.
6 black men were stuck, out of gas. We came across this in Southern Angola also – people travelling with too little fuel in desolate places. I left them a bottle of water and told the next garage down the road that they needed 5 litres of fuel.
The landscapes here are vast and over the first 130kms scrubland disappeared into flat, barren, featureless desert. With so much space, a sense of agoraphobia takes hold. The only reference on this straight, endless road, are the wooden telegraph poles which disappear into the mirage.
Through 360 degrees the road and landscape blend one into the other. I eventually drove into the sea mist which I first saw 50kms earlier. The coastline is barren, cool and airy in the mist. I found a fisherman’s hangout in the first small town I came across. Dozens of white Africans had their 4x4 pick ups parked outside, with fishing rods on the roofs. Inside the bar/restaurant, rugby is shown on the big screen and large men drink beer while their blond kids run around barefoot outside.
The walls were covered with trophy fishing photos. Taking all this as a sign, I chose the first thing on the menu – “fish and chips”. Unsurprisingly it was fabulous. On the way out I passed black employees cleaning out cars, gutting fish and washing the 4x4s. It’s obviously a country still socially segregated – no black customers whatsoever.
On the way into the town I’m staying in tonight, I got stopped by a policeman. He pointed out that I did not have my headlights on. I knew this, as the bulb had blown earlier. I spent the entire time in Africa being told to switch off my lights by the police and public alike. Most other police on the continent are bribe-able – which, dreadful though it is, can be useful if you have money! When this copper told me he was going to fine me, I assumed he meant ‘fine with no receipt’ (bribe) – but of course not, here in Namibia. He just meant a fine. Luckily he let me off after I appeared as pathetic as my energy would allow and promised to get it fixed tomorrow.
23.3.2010 – Day 94 – Swakopmund
Well I spent the day in and around Swakopmund - staying just one block from an authorised Yamaha dealer was just too big a pull not to take a day off and get the bike serviced. Swakopmund is a perfectly formed town by the coast, surrounded by huge dunes and frequently covered in sea mist. It’s set out on a grid with a few-too-many 4 way stops. Many of the buildings are older, but in perfect condition. All the newer buildings are built in sympathetic style – no doubt under good planning laws. The place is perfectly tidy, not a piece of litter on the ground, or flake of paint to be seen. This sleepy town is as touristy as Namibia gets. A self-styled adventure capital – it’s the Chamonix/Queenstown/Cairns/Vic Falls of Namibia – yet the place feels so gentle and relaxed.
Once I got the bike back, I thought I’d better explore a little. 30km down the road is a port version of Swakopmund called Wavis Bay. Huge dunes flank the left of the road to Wavis Bay whilst wild beaches and lifestyle housing is on the right. I had a drive through the township of Wavis Bay. All the main routes between towns link up the affluent and previously white town centres in Southern Africa. On the edge of town and away from the main road are the townships. I was both surprised and pleased to see this township had better living standards that I have seen for a long time on my trip, for black Africans. Although dramatically poorer than the predominantly white areas, the township was full of well-kept, painted, single storey housing; decorated doors, walls, gardens, modern roofing and windows. A pleasant shopping arcade sat on the tarmac streets which had seen the hand of landscape architects. I saw new children’s play areas and plenty of smartly dressed kids in school uniforms.
Although there is a black/white wealth difference in Namibia, I am told the government is one of the least corrupt in Africa - so more of the mining revenue goes to its people. I heard today that if the oil revenue of Equatorial Guinea was dispersed amongst its citizens, rather than being embezzled by its government, all citizens would receive something like 37,000 pounds a year income, rather than the present average of around 200 pounds.
24.3.2010 – Day 95 – Windhoek, Namibia
What wonderful days. I set off east toward Windhoek on more straight roads. This part of Namibia is turning out to be cappuccino and chocolate cake travel. Out of the wilderness, every 150km or so, small towns provide everything a weary traveller could possibly need. 2 coffees, a slice of chocolate cake and a packet of biltong later, I arrived in Windhoek.
Namibia is full of rules: No stopping. Wear your seatbelt. No motorbikes etc etc. And the rules are enforced. After such a long time in African countries with a flexible approach to policing and law and order, it comes as quite a shock. At least this will acclimatise me back to European levels of governmental control. So hopefully I won’t try to bribe the first policeman who stops me back in the UK.
I bumped into the Swiss couple for one last night. I also met a friend of Rolph’s, from Maun, Botswana, who is travelling on a BMW GS around Southern Africa.
25.3.2010 – Day 96 – Keetmanskluff, Namibia
Today I set off from Windhoek south again. First through rolling scrub, then later on progressively flatter, more barren, hotter country. Occasionally I’d pull off this very quite main road south, into little towns, which seemed to service local farming communities. Again, this feels like the 1960s or 70s – so bizarre – quiet roads, old buildings and old fashioned shops.
There are so many different types of people here. I’m not sure what the P.C. terms are, but there are blacks, whites, browns, bushmen and all things in between. I pulled off the main road by mid afternoon and headed 14 kms down a dirt track in search of a famous quiver tree forest and lodgings. The quiver trees are iconic symbols of Namibia. These ancient trees, some 300 years old, are only found in desert areas around here. The wood is used for the quivers of bushmen’s arrows – hence the name. The lodging here is wonderful – self contained domes are scattered around, as are the braai areas near a pool. The owner has several dogs and 3 pet warthogs that loved to be stroked (the fur is not that soft!) and played with.
3 cheetahs live in the area which they feed daily at 5pm. Only 1 turned up today. I stood just 4 metres away watching it chew on a piece of gristley meat – amazing. It is quite poignant for me – as a youngster we went to a cheetah sanctuary near Jo’berg where I sat and stroked a cheetah. A photo of that moment is framed on our wall at home. These elegant, graceful animals will always be a favourite of mine.
I met up with a Brit and Cape Townian couple at the camp, who kindly invited me to a braai this evening. Braais are a way of life here and despite the fact that it is always the man who cooks the braai – she trumped him by being South Africa and took over the tongs! It was amazing – sat outside eating wonderful food under incredible stars in the bush with the Southern Cross pointing the way for tomorrow.
PS – did you know the Southern Hemisphere moon has a rabbit? You do now.