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Published: November 19th 2014
After the relaxed and efficient Namibian border formalities, we covered the 50km of gravel to Tsumkwe in 30 minutes. It was great to have some pace after battling the morning road.
We were very low on fuel, so it was a relief to roll into the Tsumkwe general store and fuel station to fill up. I noticed that most of the locals had very similar facial features – small flat faces, with high cheek bones and wide-spaced heavily-lidded eyes. As the local teenage guys were checking out the bikes, their speech was riddled with clicks. It was one of the times during the trip where I put together stuff I’d seen on TV with a concrete location – “this must be the area where the San people come from”.
Heading in to the store we encountered a strange sight. Two African women in what looked like Victorian costume. Massive puffy-armed dresses and wide extravagant hats! Bizarre. Later we learned that they were Herero women, a Bantu ethnic group who had permanently appropriated the dress of their German colonial oppressors (who wiped out tens of thousands of Herero in the early 1900s).
During the long ride down to the
Namibian capital of Windhoek the next day, we took a detour to visit the largest known meteorite in the world – the Hoba Meteorite. Pretty cool to stand on a huge block of solid metal of indeterminate age that until 80,000 years ago was speeding through outer space!
Namibia had been in the grip of quite a serious drought, and for most of the trip Jaap had been talking about how hot it would be here, but during our ride to Windhoek we were regularly overtaken by purple-black clouds and then drenched. At one stage it was so dark and wet that all the cars we came across had pulled over and were waiting for the thunder storm to pass.
Once in Windhoek we pulled in to the Chameleon Backpackers, and were happy to warm up in a shower, change in to some dry clothes, and head for a beer at the bar. While there we met a German biker who helped us with directions to the elusive KTM dealership. The next day we dropped the bikes off with Henner the owner of the dealership, and his team worked on them all afternoon to have them ready for
the next morning. Henner even donated a virtually new Mitas E-07 50/50 rear tyre. My newly washed, freshly shoed, brake-pad equipped, handlebar-raised, fully serviced bike was a beautiful sight to behold, thanks Henner, you’re a legend.
The next day after an afternoon’s ride we hit the Germanic town of Swakopmund and the Atlantic Ocean. Another milestone, and the first time we’d seen the sea since Egypt. I embarrassingly got stuck in the loose sand of a beach-side bar car park, were signs said “if you’re not in a 4x4 you will get stuck”. Cringe.
That night Jaap and I enjoyed a German-inspired 3-litre glass boot of beer each and a massive crackling-encrusted pork dinner at the Swakopmund Brauhaus. Good preparation for the next morning’s “Living Desert” tour in the Namib Desert, where I headed out into the desert in a V8 Landrover with deflated tyres, and our guides attempted to track down the “small five” for us. A couple of Namaqua chameleons, a sidewinder snake, a nocturnal Palmato Gecko, and a shovel-snouted lizard. It was incredible how we would be in the barren hot sandy waste of the desert, with only the occasional half-dead looking bush, and all
of a sudden our guide would reveal something unique, fascinating, and beautiful. At one point our guide braked the Landrover hard, jumped out, ran partway up a dune, burrowed his arm deep into the sand, and then held it up triumphantly with what looked like a small snake. This was in fact the last of our “little five” - the legless Fitzsimons burrowing skink!
Part of the reason the Namib desert is relatively rich with life is because while it almost never rains, the morning fog that drifts in from the sea provides moisture that hydrates the ecosystem. The Namib Desert Beetle is an excellent example of this: “To drink water, the Namib Desert Beetle stands on a small ridge of sand using its long, spindly legs. Facing into the breeze, with its body angled at 45°, the beetle catches fog droplets on its hardened wings. Its head faces upwind, and its stiff, bumpy outer wings are spread against the damp breeze. Minute water droplets from the fog gather on its wings; there the droplets stick to hydrophilic (water-loving) bumps, which are surrounded by waxy, hydrophobic troughs. Droplets flatten as they make contact with the hydrophilic surfaces, preventing
them from being blown by wind and providing a surface for other droplets to attach. Accumulation continues until the combined droplet weight overcomes the water's electrostatic attraction to the bumps; at that point it will roll down the beetle's back to its mouthparts.”
Then these little guys are snaffled up by other animals as the perfect desert snack and water bottle.
After lunch and we were back on the bikes and after passing through the town of Walvis Bay on the coast, were treated to the open, fast, stunning gravel roads of the Namib desert. I seldom had full traction with the fine gravel road, but felt very secure in my control of the bike as the road was so uniform. What a buzz to be floating at high speed above the surface of the desert roads. In its unique way, this desert environment was the most beautiful of the entire trip for me. Warm colours, a massive sky, and outcrops of ominous rock jutting from the desert plains. The landscape often had us shaking our heads with disbelief. This scenery, combined with the fun of the roads meant that waves of euphoria would often sweep over me
as I was riding. It sounds a bit dramatic, but hell it was cool.
That night we camped in the desert near the Tropic of Capricorn. The night sky was ablaze with stars, and the Southern Cross was high in the sky, a reminder of the distance I had covered from home (55 degrees north) - no chance of seeing the Southern Cross there!
Fuelled by Jaap’s stove-top espresso machine we embarked on our second day through the desert. We had a big breakfast in the town of Solitaire, before taking a looping detour through the Spreetshoogte Pass and Remhoogte Pass which was incredible fun. From there we blasted through more mind-blowing landscapes before setting up camp near Sesriem within the boundaries of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. Tomorrow we would be up at 4am to head into the Sossusvlei area to climb Dune 45 and watch the sun rise over the highest dunes in the world.
This idyllic sunrise experience didn’t quite eventuate however as heavy fog surrounded us until after dawn. We just had to laugh as we huddled at the top of the dune and imagined other massive dunes stretching out in front of us
through the fog. It had been quite a climb up the dune, but the descent was far quicker. Maybe only 30 seconds of high-speed, metres-long strides, straight down the face of the dune to the plain below. This made for some good slow-mo footage from Jaap’s Go-pro! See our Namibia video here
Soon after we reached the bottom of the dune the fog burnt off and revealed the sunning Sossusvlei landscape – a large salt clay pan surrounded by huge red dunes. We headed further up the valley with the overlanding tour bus we had hitched a ride with (no motorbikes allowed in the area), paid for a 4x4 to ferry us even further, and then walked into the mind-blowing Deadvlei.
Deadvlei (Dead Marsh) is a clay pan with stark dark dead camel thorn trees contrasted against the white floor of the pan and deep red of the world’s highest sand dunes. A thousand years ago flooding from the nearby Tsauchab river allowed the camel trees to grow, but a changing climate, drought, and the encroaching sand dunes blocked water from the area killing the trees. The trees have not decomposed in the centuries since because of the
aridity of the environment, and stand as a incongruous testament of more fertile times. It was a surreal experience walking barefoot in the dune amphitheatre on the dry clay tiles of the pan floor between the trees with their black twisted limbs reaching for the blazing Namibian sun.
Another grin-inducing ride south through the Namib saw us pull into the remote town of Betta for petrol and a late lunch. A stocky Namibian farmer hammered on brandy insisted that we stay to drink with him. He kept asking the store/fuel-station/restaurant owner to translate his Afrikaans as his English was very rusty. After about twenty polite evasions from us he finally relented and gave us a very friendly goodbye, almost breaking my hand with his farewell handshake. Another couple of hours riding and we pulled over at dusk to set up camp in the Tirasberg Conservancy north of Aus. After spoiling ourselves with two of cans of beans and a can of mushrooms heated over the stove, we headed to bed, it had been a long but brilliant day.
We had seen pictures of a ghost town that had been swallowed by the sand dunes near the coast, so
we turned west at Aus and headed out towards Luderitz to find it. The town of Kolmannskuppe was established after a rail worker found a diamond nearby and the area was declared "Sperrgebiet" (Prohibited Area) by the German government and diamond mining kicked in to full swing. Driven by the wealth of the first diamond miners, the residents of the newly-founded Kolmannskuppe built the village in the architectural style of a German town, with amenities and institutions including a hospital, ballroom, power station, school, skittle-alley, theatre and sport-hall, casino, ice factory and the first x-ray-station in the southern hemisphere, as well as the first tram in Africa. Due to changing fortunes the town declined over the years to a few families and was finally abandoned in 1954. Since then the dunes have encroached into the town, and many houses are half filled with sand. Peeling embossed wallpaper, old wall fittings, shafts of light streaming into the buildings through collapsing roofs, a claw-foot cast iron bath sitting outside in the sand. It was an interesting morning wandering about the place.
It was our last evening in Namibia and the campsite we found was a fitting final spot. After entering the
The last Namibian supper
Bean and mushroom surprise with wine.
Richtersveld National Park (near Fish River Canyon) we pulled up at a mind-blowing location overlooking a valley surrounded by jagged black hills catching the last of the evening light. Not only did we cook up another spectacular bean and mushroom special, but we had also bought a bottle of South African red wine to toast the end of our Namibian adventure. It might have only cost $3, and was drunk out of our camp mugs, but it tasted pretty bloody good.
We had been hopeful that Jaap's rear tyre might make it to Cape Town, but the high-speed ride into a massive head-wind the day before had completely eaten the last of his tyre. To our dismay the canvas was visible in places, and we still had a fair way to go before we could replace the tyre. So Jaap limped off the next morning at a speed that he was happy to crash at. I mucked about taking photos and then catching up, and we finally made it to the border. Entering South Africa was a buzz, this was our 15th and last country of the trip. I had always been aware of how easily the trip might
be ended, by injury, mechanical issues, illness, or theft, but as we rode off south along Highway 7 it felt like we might just about make it to Cape Town!
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