Namibia had been the dream for so long, all through the roughest parts of the trip – Everything will be great once we get to Namibia. There will be shops and toilets and campsites and campfires. There will be minimal bureaucracy. They speak English. It will be heaven. We cross the border, and heave a sigh of relief, and are immediately asked for money by a man spraying the car for foot and mouth. We head through customs and are hassled by fixers, strange after going through so many borders with no one there except us. We fill out our fisches, head to immigration and get our stamps, all without a word being said to us. No smiles. Nothing. We head to the desk to sort out our carnet, with the word “customs” above it, and fight our way through all the people gathered around the hatch. The woman pays us no attention and eventually I elbow my way in and put my carnet in front of her. She stares at me blankly whilst dealing with everyone else before us. This is not the place for customs. How silly of me, going to the desk with “customs” above it. This is road tax. So we fill out the forms and explain to the lady we have no local currency. She gives us a blank stare. She then calls for some other people to join her with their blank stares. “You have no money?” We explain we have money but no Namibian dollars. Being as we have just crossed from a different country I fail to believe this is the first time they have come across this. “You have Rand?” Standing next to the border with Angola, we explain that we do not have Rand – Why would we have Rand. We are 2000km from South Africa. We ask if they take dollars or have an ATM. More blank stares. We ask how much the road tax will be. More blank stares. Eventually, someone takes pity on us and explains there is an ATM near by and we leave the border to go and find it, withdrawing a random quantity of money as still no one will tell us how much road tax is. We pay the woman and head off to find customs, where we are met by more blank stares. This is not quite the border we had been expecting. We drive off into northern Namibia and head to the nearest town where we know there is a campsite. We drive past supermarkets, fast food outlets and clothes shops in awe, and arrive at the campsite. Which is deserted. We have already driven 350 miles and crossed a border and are very tired. There’s no way in, so we drive off into the setting sun to the next campsite – 40 miles away.
We pull into the campsite along side the hotel, and although it is not the Namibian campsite of our dreams, it is quiet, flat, has running water, a pool and pizza. We head off immediately to the bar, only stopping to check out the two motorbikes next to a ground tent that we will be sharing the campsite with, which both have British plates. It’s been a good while since we have seen British plates and get quite excited, heading off the bar to find their owners. There we find Helen and Jimmy, who are driving up the East Coast of Africa on their motorbikes, having had them shipped to South Africa. We join them for dinner, and I discover that this is The Helen. The Helen who cycled the same route we had taken over 22 months on her own, whose blog I had read (helenstakeon) and used to explain to my Mum how safe it would be! Her slight embarrassment by being called The Helen repeatedly is got over and we spend a lovely few days at the campsite with them, having barbeques, and making the most of the car shops, service stations and supermarkets. By the end of our time in Oshakati, Stanley's bodywork is no longer attached to the roof, but has made it back to his panels, he has two functioning tow points, has had a full service and even has a new steering wheel cover, as his own steering wheel has melted somewhere along the way and James and I can’t drive without getting covered in melted rubber. I spend our three days with our new friends feeling ashamed by the amount of stuff that we have, and have a big clear out. There’s nothing like talking to someone who cycled for 22 months carrying everything they need to make you think you probably don’t need four tea-towels. I reduced to two, Helen said I could even reduce to one, but that is clearly a mad thought, so I kept two.
Next was our big treat, something we had both been looking forward to for the whole trip. Etosha, reportedly the best National Park in the world, is a desert wilderness, blighted by drought, with a huge population of animals, including elephants, lions, leopards, black faced impala, springbok, ostriches – the list goes on, and we booked ourselves into their campsites for 5 nights. We pack up camp, and head off to get the last bits done to Stanley, which will only take a couple of hours and then we will start the three hours drive to the Western gate to camp outside, ready to pounce in first thing in the morning. The service takes a lot longer than planned, and we end up spending nearly eight hours in a Wimpy burger – living the dream – and get going very late. It’s nearly sunset but the roads are good, so we push on and get as far as we can before dark, but Stanley has other ideas and overheats. On the plus side, we watch the stunning sunset surrounded by a herd of wild donkeys whilst we wait for him to cool off and head off again. We have very few rules but one of them is do not drive after dark in Africa, but rules are made to be broken and this is Namibia, so there are no bandits so we plough on. We drive an exceptionally long road bordering the park and start to realise our mistake as we drive past two completely totaled cars. Animals are the problem here and this road is fraught with things jumping out at you. We drive past a collection of tow trucks and realize this is a very common problem. The sides of the roads are cut back to allow you some vision, but we still manage to narrowly miss killing a hyena, and very nearly plough into a herd of zebras – not quite the game viewing we had been expecting. We stay at a campsite just outside, driving in wired after both spotting anything that might jump into the road, praying an elephant doesn’t decide to take residence just in front of us. We have a simple dinner, made much quicker when the manager comes over and explains lions walk around at night so be sure to check the colour of the eyes with your torch. If they reflect green its okay, if they reflect yellow, be very afraid. I have one beer and no more as there is no way I am getting out of bed that night and run up the ladder at the speed of light. Through the night we hear the noises of animals walking through the camp, and I am convinced I hear the padding of a big cat, but that could well be all in my head. In the morning, we head to the camps very own waterhole and it feels like there is a show being put on and the animals all know their part. We start with hyraxs running around our feet, then the zebras and giraffes stalk across to the waterhole, with the odd oryx. They move on quickly, as a large herd of elephants follow them up. We haven’t even entered the park yet, and we are already seeing some of the most beautiful animals.
Into the park we must go, and we drive through the barren wilderness, amazed that anything can survive there. We were worried it would be too touristy and there would be too many cars around each waterhole, but that first day we are almost entirely alone, waterhole hopping as there is very little to see in between. One of the waterholes is like the Etosha of the guidebooks, with fifteen different species gathered round all at one time, and we enjoy spotting all the game and herd animals, with a healthy dose of elephants just to keep my adrenaline levels up. We camp at the Olifantus camp site, which used to be an elephant abattoir in the days the elephants numbers were too great and meet a charming couple of holiday makers in a campervan from England, Rob and Jo who have the misfortune to be followed by us for the next week, with us turning up next to them at nearly every campsite. As the days tick away, we see lions, hyenas, jackals, rhinos as well as all the game animals and birds. We also have an encounter with a honey badger which was a little too close for comfort when he chased after me for our sausages. I abandoned the sausages, running off whilst James chased it off with a camping chair. At this stage I explained to him that honey badgers, despite the cute name, are one of the most lethal animals in Africa, with lions often abandoning their kills to them, and they also have a nasty habit of jumping up at men when threatened and clamping down on their testicles with their vice like jaws. He looked a bit ill after that, and I took on the full time job of honey badger watch.
Whilst watching lions at one of the nearby waterholes, a landrover pulls up opposite, and the lions are overlooked for a bit of overlander spotting. We definitely recognize the car, with its British plates and tiny flags down the side. This is one of the couples we have been following the whole way down, an English man and a South African woman whose blog has helped us out many a bad day. We head back to the campsite and find Rob and Mandy (wheretonextAfrica) and spend an extremely pleasant evening swapping stories, and mostly disasters, of the whole way down. It must be very odd for them as I seem to have an encyclopedic knowledge of their trip, having scoured their blog for border tips, routes and passable roads.
We struggle to leave this desert paradise and extend a day, and then have a real treat when Rob and Jo need to leave Etosha a day early, and give us their extra night. But eventually, we must go. We head back up through Oshakati, and up towards the Angolan border, where there is reportedly some stunning scenery. The towns and roads within Namibia we have seen so far resemble the mid west of America, dusty and barren with industrial shopping centres. I must say, we are not particularly sold on it so far, especially as every conversation we have is met with blank stares and often people turning and walking away mid sentence. I’m not sure if this is because of our accents, our colour or this is just the way people are, but our tempers are beginning to wear a bit thin and I am becoming overly British with talk of manners! It is very unlike the rest of Africa we have enjoyed where people are extremely friendly and want to chat. So we head up to Ruacana, and Epupu falls, driving along the Kunene river, which is truly stunning, and spend a few days at the community campsite there, run by the local tribes people. As we drive along the 4x4 tracks adjacent to the river, we see the tribes living as they would have done centuries ago. This is Himba country, and the women wear tribal dress, covering their bodies in paint, and with their hair formed into amazing sculptures. The men wear loin clothes, often teamed with a football shirt, just to add a modern twist. We get to Epupa falls where we discover our quiet campsite, at the top of the waterfall has been overtaken by a British film crew for the next few days. We decide that when the circus comes to town, its best to watch and stay for a few days, walking around the tiny village and watching the stark contrast between the Himba peoples normal way of living, and this British crew with their pick up, cameras, flash cars and drones for filming. It was all a bit odd.
James is napping after the excesses of a night with the film crew at their posh lodge, and I need some credit so walk to the local shop, which doubles as the bar. No one speaks English but I point at my phone and am directed by the crowd outside to a little hatch. I walk in and join the queue behind three Himba ladies in full tribal dress. They have left their machete on the ground and move it so I can reach the hatch and buy my credit. We go to the bar the next day, something we try to make a habit of as it is always interesting. There is a pool table and we order two beers (750mls each!) and watch the Himba men play pool in their loin clothes. A lady comes and sits next to me, and decides I am too white and starts to paint me, eventually stealing the dregs of my beer. It seems there is always one in every bar in the world.
It has been quite a change getting to Namibia, but not in the way either of us were expecting. Namibia, so developed in some ways, but in others far worse then many of the countries we have driven through. In all of Africa, it is the first place we have struggled to find drinking water, needing to boil our own. We have had to be super careful with diesel, as there are limited petrol stations, often needing to go well out of our way to make sure we have enough and cash machines are nearly non-existent in the north. This is obviously all things we expected in Africa, but this is genuinely the first country these have been problems. It is also the first place we have really noticed the black and white divide, and we both really dislike it. Having never been to South Africa, James informs me it’s about to get a whole lot worse. I also expected arid desert, with little in the way to look at and there I have been proved completely wrong. The country is stunning, with hugely changing landscapes and it truly is still wilderness with opportunities to camp completely alone in beautiful scenery. But this is just the north, we still have a long way to go through this colossal country.
Liz Jarman & James Nunan
Our trip from Essex to Cape Town & back again
Km travelled : 50818km
Countries visited: 30