As soon as I was able to move pretty normally again, we left Swakopmund planning to visit some touristic attractions in Northern Namibia, before heading to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.
My friend wanted to see some wall paintings on the rocks, but it implied a long walk under the torrid Namibian sun at 40ºC/104ºF, so I decided to stay in the parking lot, reading and speaking with the workers, all of us trying to get some shade.
When my friend came back, we gave the guide a ride to his village and it was funny to drive almost to the door of his hut. After hitting on me – which was an advance of what would happen later in Tanzania, the country where any white girl can find a husband- he entered his house and we left with the intention of seeing some rock formations. But nightfall came while we were driving and we pulled over to sleep in the car.
The next morning we realized we didn’t have enough gas for all the places we wanted to see – and it’s difficult to find gas in Northern Namibia – so we just visited the Petrified Forest, which wasn’t that great. We gave another guide a lift , and we headed to Windhoek, where our Couch Surfing host was waiting for us.
In Windhoek we had a taste of civilization again; it’s a very interesting city with lots of different cultures. Apart from English, people speak a dialect that sounds like a mix of German and Afrikaans, although I think it also has some Ovambo and Bantu influences.
Our host took us to the local bar, Joe’s, where both black and white people enjoy good beer and meat. Namibians are very proud of their ‘Windhoek’ beer, which I have to admit was pretty good; it’s also pretty famous in Southern Africa. At Joe’s I tried Oryx meat, which was really tasty, although I couldn’t help thinking about the beautiful creature I had photographed in the desert a few days before.
And the time came to leave Namibia! After returning our rental car in Windhoek, it was a difficult mission to find transport to Botswana. Finally we found a 6 a.m. minibus that took us from Windhoek, across the border, and to Ghanzi, in Botswana. In the minibus we met ‘John John’ – I have no idea if that was his real name -, a white Ghanzian man. He offered to take us to town from the bus stop because it was in the middle of nowhere; his father would be coming later to pick him up.
So they took us to Ghanzi and even offered to take us to Maun the next day, which was the place we needed to go to visit the Okavango Delta. Due to subsequent experiences, I’m not afraid to claim that offering rides in Botswana – especially to white people – appears to be customary, even if the person who offers a ride is not what you could consider very friendly, but that’s just how it is. Since accepting that ride meant having to sleep at this man’s farm away from the city, we kindly declined the offer and took a local bus to Maun. Of course, the bus had around 40 seats and there were more than 100 people. I was already used to that, it felt like being back in South Africa.
When we finally got to the camping site in Maun, a dip in the swimming pool was a taste of heaven after those 800km on that extremely hot day. It also allowed us to relax a bit before our next adventure: the Okavango Delta!
Saddened by our farewell to the desert, we drove through sand storms to Walvis Bay, the first place that looked like ‘civilization’ after a long time. It was also the first time we were able to see and smell the ocean since we left South Africa.
We ate a VISA-payed pizza -we couldn’t resist the temptation- and then kept driving towards Swakopmund, one of Africa’s most famous extreme sports capitals.
Since we had plenty of time to get there, we stopped on the way and drove off the road to see some dunes that were next to the ocean – a beautiful mix of landscapes. After enjoying the view for a while, we returned to the car and tried to get out of there, but the car laughed at us. We were stuck in sand, and I don’t even know how that happened. The more we tried to get out, the more stuck we were. But suddenly, before we had time to laugh at our misfortune, a messenger of God came to rescue us in his pick-up truck! We hadn’t even been stuck for 5 minutes when he came, a Capetownian middle-aged man who had seen us from the road and thought we could be in trouble. And yeah, we were. But not only that, besides he just happened to have a rope and pulled us out in a second. It looked like he was used to save stupid tourists from their sandy deaths. After thanking him we continued our journey to Swakopmund, where we stayed at a cool backpackers, thinking we had escaped from the dangers of the sand.
The next morning we decided to try sandboarding, which is exactly the same as snowboarding, but on sand. My friend was used to going snowboarding, but this world was completely new to me. We spent the morning going up and down the dunes, it was really fun! We couldn’t slide down many times, because to be able to do that you had to walk up the dune first, which wasn’t easy. But it was an interesting and enjoyable sport that I recommend you try if you have the chance.
After all that adrenaline rush from the morning, my friend convinced me to try quad biking in the afternoon. Big mistake.
First of all, don’t use an automatic quad if you’re driving up and down the dunes, it gets stuck all the time. In flat areas was fun, though.
Secondly, if you see it’s getting stuck all the time, don’t try to go up a steep dune – it will get stuck and fall backwards. And that’s what happened to me. I fell backwards with the quad, which got the best part because it fell on top of me – lucky quad. As for me, having a 200-kilo-monster on my back, eating sand, being unable to breath, and having gasoline dripping on my face was not a nice experience. Those seconds before my friend and the guide got to me were never-ending. But the worst part came afterwards, when we had to go back to the quad station and the guide asked me to drive the quad back there, because we were pretty far away. So in pain and terrified of having another accident, I had to drive that monster back to its cage for what it looked like hours but I think it was 20 minutes. Of course, when there were high dunes I just left the quad there and walk – with difficulty -, and let the guide do his job.
After that, I had to stay in bed with ice for a couple of days, which forced us to stay in Swakopmund a bit longer than we expected. Quad bikes: never again!
After our adventure with the tires, we left Aus and headed towards Sesriem to see Sesriem Canyon, this one smaller than Fish River Canyon.
On our way to Sesriem my friend let me take over the wheel, and I learnt to drive for the first time in my life! I know it sounds sad that I had never driven at my age, but in Spain you can’t learn to drive on your own; you have to take official lessons and they are really expensive.
And believe me, the long, quiet dirt roads of Namibia must be the best place to learn to drive. I enjoyed every second of it and understood why people like driving so much. Of course it has nothing to do with driving in a city (specially a crowded Spanish city); I wouldn’t enjoy that at all.
So slowly but firmly we got to Sesriem Canyon, camped, and decided to enter the canyon and explore what was down there. We stayed there until it was dark, entering every nook and cranny we could find, and enjoying another beautiful African sunset as we were getting lost down there without light.
That night we slept under the stars, with a friendly tree providing us with shelter.
The next morning we drove to Sossusvlei, which is a salt and clay pan surrounded by high dunes and located in the Namib Desert. This is the main attraction in Namibia, due to the vastness of the desert and the colors that the sand creates, especially at sunrise and sunset.
In Sossusvlei the dunes are identified by numbers, and our goal was to watch the sunrise from the top of ‘Dune 45’, the most famous of all, but soon we realized that the desert was not that deserted. Loads of people with their overland trucks had come to do the same, so we left looking for some deserted desert. There was desert enough for all of us.
Some lonely wild animals, a group of springbok running in front of you, a dune that looks close but it’s hours away, never-ending sand, fierce wind, crazy Egyptian-like bugs, the burning sun, and a extremely peaceful feeling in your heart. That’s how the Namib Desert can be described.
We wandered around the desert for hours, jumping and running down the dunes while admiring even the tiniest insect that we could find. Eventually we climbed the highest dune and had a sandy lunch there (after all, sand has minerals), and then we headed down to Deadvlei (literally ‘dead marsh’), which looks like a giant, white, dry lake. Seriously, that place was incredibly huge. There were some trees at the end of it and it looked like they were pretty close, but we walked for about an hour to get there, also experimenting the classic mirage that makes you think there’s water on the ground – and we were running low on water. But the place was magical, and the experience unforgettable.
Since the avid tourist trucks had finally disappeared, we were able to watch the sunset on top of ‘Dune 45’, although it wasn’t as incredible as the sunset in Fish River Canyon. But the sand turning purple everywhere was a show worth watching.
The following day we enjoyed our last moments in the desert before going back to ‘civilization’, and the dangers that were awaiting us there.
Our trip through Namibia started really well. But the first catastrophe was waiting for us on the next turn (although Namibian roads don’thave many turns…)
Let’s start from the beginning.
Since we were told that the only way to visit Namibia was by private vehicle, we rented a small car in Cape Town, with the intention of giving it back in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. Even though returning it in another country entails paying an extra amount to the car rental company, renting a car in Windhoek with the same company was much more expensive than in Cape Town, so this was the cheapest way.
The first day we did around 600 km -about 370 miles- and slept at a camping site in Springbok, a little town on the northwestern part of South Africa, close to the border with Namibia. That’s where we started to notice the change of weather; the night was so cold that after a few hours trying to sleep I had to leave my tent and sleep inside the car. This was the first of many car-sleeping nights, sometimes because of the cold, sometimes because we didn’t want to spend more money.
After crossing the border the next day, we drove through the dirt roads to Fish River Canyon. It is the largest canyon in Africa and the second largest in the world after Grand Canyon. The view was spectacular, being in a place like that you feel really, really small.
We watched a great sunset having a Windhoek (Namibian beer, quite tasty), and I convinced my friend to forget the camping site, stay there and make a bivouac under the starry Namibian sky. I have never seen as many starts as I saw there, and I doubt that I ever will.The night wasn’t as cold as in Springbok, and the sunrise was beautiful, although not as impressive as the sunset.
We continued our journey towards the North through the dirt roads (forget about finding many paved roads in that country) and enjoying the deserted view. Namibia is a country of long, long roads without seeing anyone but a bunch of springboks, kudus or impalas jumping onto the road. The territory is theirs, after all, so we proceed cautiously.
Everything was going great, but when we got to a burning hot paved road after hours of driving through the dirt roads… oh no. Yes. Flat tire. In the middle of nowhere. Ooook no worries, we have a spare one in the trunk. So let’s change it and continue the trip, we will go to the nearest town and try to buy another one.
We found a ‘town’ called Aus, a super small town with just a few houses, but surprisingly there was a hotel, and a garage! So far, so good.
We asked if they had tires for our car, but they didn’t have them that small (then we realized why generally people don’t use small cars in Namibia, because you can’t go anywhere with those tires), so it would take a day to order it from another town. We didn’t want to lose a whole day in that little village so we decided to go and pick up the tire from the ‘city’ where they would send it from, and later continue to the dunes. So we left Aus without a spare tire. Big mistake. We took the road that we had taken to Aus, back towards the East, and after 35 km we got another flat tire. More or less at the same point where we had had the previous one.
I couldn’t help but to burst into laughter, but my friend didn’t find it that funny. We were really in the middle of nowhere; the nearest town was 35km away; the desert sun was hitting hard; and we probably didn’t have more than 2 litres of water. But I was super calmed down (I guess my time in Africa had already affected me), and I decided to check out the Lonely Planet to see if I could find anything. Bingo! The phone number of the garage we had just been to. Thank God! And thank you Lonely Planet. So we called them and it was more or less like this: “Hey… do you remember the Europeans that just stopped by looking for a tire? Well… we have a situation here, could you come and pick us up?” They said yes, but you know, African time… so after a quite long nap in the car they finally arrived with a 4×4 turned into a tow truck, and we headed back to Aus… again.
This time we accepted our destiny and stayed there until our tire came the next day, but everything happens for a reason… I was able to have my first shower in three days!
No other place has impressed me as much as Namibia did. This vast territory contains thousands of kilometers of emptiness and peace, sometimes with a small surprise when a group of springboks jump in front of the car, or maybe a giraffe that has lost her family, or an elephant if you’re “lucky” enough. In some places you can drive for an entire day without finding any other cars. And the colors… the most amazing colors I’ve ever seen: the orange fire of the desert; the bright purple, red and orange of the sunsets; and the beautiful white sky at night, full with the powerful light of the stars everywhere you look, without any kind of light pollution.
Some of the pictures of this astonishing country: