A trip of a lifetime

Posts tagged “minibus

Goodbye Namibia… Hello Botswana!

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 guide’s hut in Northern Namibia

One of the huts in Northern Namibia

 

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.

 

Joe’s

Joe’s

 

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.

 

Bus stop in the middle of nowhere

Bus stop in the middle of nowhere

 

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.

 

Camping in Maun (my little individual tent at the bottom right)

Camping in Maun (my little individual tent at the bottom right)

 

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!

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My First ‘Minibus Taxi’ Experience

The next stage of my trip was about to begin: Jeffrey’s Bay. From Cape Town I took a flight to Port Elizabeth, and from there I took a minibus taxi to get to the bay. For those of you who don’t know what a minibus taxi is, it is a van certified to carry 15 passengers but usually packed with 20 and plenty of packages and suitcases placed on top of people’s legs. This is the cheapest way of travelling through Africa and in some countries is the only public transport that exists. That is the reason why this was my main way of transport through the continent. I had been told that they were very dangerous because the number of accidents involving minibus taxis was high, and indeed I saw many accidents myself since they drive too fast and recklessly, but fortunately I was never involved in one.

A minibus in Lesotho, they all look the same in Africa

A minibus in Lesotho, they all look the same in Africa

My first experience in a minibus taxi was a breath of fresh air. Firstly, I thought Port Elizabeth’s taxi rank was the definition of chaos – a lot of different minibus taxis without any name on the front and people shouting and selling things. I was amazed but at the same time I imagine that I looked really lost, because a woman approached me and spoke to me in a language I couldn’t understand, and when I said “Jeffrey’s Bay” she took me to a quite hidden minibus under a bridge, with no name on it, and she pointed at the inside. I thanked her and asked again “Jeffrey’s Bay?” to the people inside the minibus to make sure I was in the correct one, and they nodded. So I chose a spot and placed my big backpack on top of the seat next to me since there was no place for baggage, and the little one on top of my legs. Of course that was wishful thinking, and as soon as the minibus got full I realized that I was going to have to carry both of my backpacks on top of me. A kid came selling some sweets and crisps, and when the last inch of the van was filled with more luggage, the woman who had been collecting the money from us got out and closed the door. We were ready to go!

With my two backpacks on top of my legs, we rode about one hour to get to Jeffrey’s Bay. It was a bit uncomfortable, although soon I would get used to it after travelling entire days like this. But let’s go back to my first ride.

As soon as I entered the vehicle everything felt right; I felt that I was where I was supposed to be. That was what I was looking for when I decided to travel to Africa, it felt real. I was the only white person inside the bus, since generally white people in South Africa always move around in their private cars, they don’t use public transport.

When I saw Jeffrey’s Bay on a signpost I asked a young woman if she could tell the driver to drop me off at the Spar supermarket, because my boss was waiting to pick me up there. She understood and translated to the driver, who stopped immediately – we were at the supermarket already. I enjoyed the freedom that this mean of transport gives you as opposed to the normal buses. As the name indicates, it is a taxi indeed, so you can get dropped off wherever you want as long as it’s on the way. Later on, I learned that you just have to shout the name of the place where you want to stop when you’re approaching it. I thanked the woman and the driver and met my new boss at the supermarket, who took me to the backpacker’s to start my new adventure!