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Published: October 30th 2010
9am arrived with our car - a small VW Golf - at the front of our hostel. I ask Freddy our hired car company guy “What year is it?” He says “Aahhh…2008!” I found it hard to believe as the bonnet didn’t open and power steering was non-existent. I drive off in a stutter, stalling 3 times on my way out of the Namibian coastal town of Swakopmund. I would return two weeks later to what would be one of the great two weeks of my travels. Not only did this country provide consistent amazement via its scenery. It is now officially classed as thedribblemans most photogenic country ever.
Namibia’s capital Windhoek is not much really so I headed straight to Swakopmund with my new travel buddy Emarn a New Zealand girl who’s accent was not strong enough to take the puss out of. Before we continue dribblers. We all have to thank Emarn to not only put up with me for two weeks driving around with no radio but if it weren’t for her, Namibia potentially could have been shithouse.
See Namibia is not a friendly solo travel destination. There are big distances from town to town with
nothing in between. Each day consisted of about 6 hours driving. So the other options were to hitch hike (as public transport is limited) or take the ridiculously expensive tours, which only cover the basics. 2 weeks is good enough to cover most of Namibia’s gems but if you can afford to, 3 weeks is better.
Emarn and I teamed up well. She had her license stolen but I had mine so we could hire a car. She had a tent, which I didn’t so that meant we could sleep at whatever town whenever it got dark. And this is Namibia. Get in the front seat and just drive! In the end we covered close to 5000km. We were lucky enough to have the same plans and staying at the same accommodation in Windhoek to meet up. Namibia’s problem to travel this way is that you need patients and luck to cut costs.
Before we left Swakup I went on an ATV dunes half day. Swakup is the adrenaline capital of Namibia, although walking around the German architecture town it is a lot quieter than that. The town is built on the desert so within 10 seconds you
are on the desert dunes.
I did manual in preparation for my 2 weeks driving a bloody manual car. Without being told how to change gears it took me a while to get going and get use to the steering. But once figured out it’s a great feeling just carving up the sand and trying to get as close to the lip of the dunes and down again. There were jumps as well where this young guy full of cockiness towards the end ended up falling. I looked back and couldn’t see his head. We go back to try and help him out and sure enough his head was still attached to his body. There was sand boarding as well but it doesn’t do much for me.
Swakopmund is reported as more German than Germany and an innocent trip to a restaurant led to a drinking session with Suzuki incentive winners - All South African car salesmen and loving the Jagermiester. These guys were solid blokes about double the size of me. I’m sure they won the incentive by saying to potential buyers “HOWZIT! BUY THE CAR NOW!” And in a prime example of South Africa’s rugby obsession;
They were able to sing word for word the traditional rugby songs of rugby nations including the New Zealand hakka. I tried to get them to sing the great Aussie song; “We are one, but we are many. And from all the lands on earth we come. We share a dream and sing with one voice. I am, you are, we are Australian.” But it was in vain. The whole Australian thing didn’t go down well. Worth a try though!
After stalling in front of Freddy three times we quickly buzzed through Walvis Bay a half hour south (after being beeped at by locals three times) and headed for Sossusvlei. It took about 5 hours or so and little did we know but it is the actual getting there that’s Namibia’s highlight more so then the highlights themselves.
A token photo and piss at the Topic of Capricorn sign was done (it is the only notable tourist site along the way.) This broke up the drive through the hidden beauty of the country and its ever-changing scenery. Once off the main roads we shared the driving so both could appreciate the scenery equally. The dirt roads although good
enough to get up to 120km/hr at times did need concentration.
We went from golden sand dunes around Walvis Bay, to a crest of a hill and all of a sudden a grand scale of Namibia’s remoteness. Open plains of reddish/yellow earth with rocky hills in the distance and no sign of life. From open plains to small canyons it sometimes was hard to choose. Do I want this scenery to change or should I get excited of what’s over the next hill. And without fail it wouldn’t disappoint. Most of the time you could see the road stretch out in the distance finishing in the horizon. Something so rare.
I felt bad for Emarn as she had to put up with me stopping for photos but I wasn’t all that bad and when you are face to face with what was ahead of us you can see why. I actually stopped taking photos, as I didn’t want to get too ridiculous and eventually missed some afternoon shots that were just perfect lighting. Morning and afternoon provided even more colour to this barren scene.
I still remember the shot I should have taken driving to Sossusvlei. The
campsite is 60 minutes drive to the sand dunes of Soussuvlei and so it’s a pre-sunrise drive to Dune 45 after an overnight camp. 6am through the gate. It was pre dawn, yellow grass, black rocky hills in the distance with a misty white line just above the grass and 3 Oryx running across the road. All in a morning blue filter. This image like most images last for about 20 minutes drive forever creeping closer.
Dune 45 (45km from the campsite) is where you can really tell you’ve hit Namibia’s tourist scene. The dunes of Soussuvlei are Namibia’s No.1 tourist site and can reach as high a 325m so climbing up the lip of the dunes is best done in bare feet - In the morning - The sand is cold and you get a better purchase on the sand. There is no sense of you alone with the world because there are so many tourists. Instead what is great about this site is that it doesn’t matter too much what you do on them because the dunes will just reform sooner or later.
This was taken into account more so in Soussuvlei itself. Just a tip
- Always do the sunrise run. Any later and the dunes don’t have that pristine look anymore just evidence of the carnage from the sunrise group - To get there you need a 4WD for the last 10 minutes so a rip off fee of near $15 is charged those who cant drive there. The climb up takes a while and the dune creates a giant amphitheatre of bright orange dune. Some German tourists brought some skis and sand skied down. Emarn and I buried each other did rollie pollies and all that stuff.
Whilst Emarn was contemplating the burial of herself I did one step at the top of the dune and the sand just topples down and quarter buried her. I saw one of the skiers on his way back up again after the burial. Exhausted I say to him. “This is probably why sand skiing hasn’t made it to the world stage.” Everyone got into the act, even the oldies by running down.
Half way walking up the dune Emarn gave me shit for looking like such a tourist. I had a bag on my back, a water bottle in hand and my camera around
Strong German influence
my neck. The first two didn’t bother me much but the camera around my neck was something new to me? It was disconcerting. Camera strap scarfing the neck adds 10 years to a person! I have always been a wrap the strap around my right hand type photographer. You know, much cooler. What’s happened to me?
We left the dunes around lunchtime and headed for Aus the last town before Luderitz. About 6 hours drive south and it just about toppled yesterdays performance. This time round I was half way through a sentence and dropped my jaw and said “Whooaa…” I wanted to take a photo but was in awe. Emarn slowed down as it looked like we were heading to the end of the world. About 40 kms to a red sandy horizon, the afternoon sun to our right. With a couple of black rocky eroding hills providing the only chance for perspective.
The whole two days driving had everything. Valleys of eroding hills, black baboons clinging to the limited man made fences, water mirages in the distance, passing locals on horse and cart. And all this done with no A/C! You can’t experience Namibia any better
In Aus we experienced the coldest night of all 2 degrees (or lower apparently) with a gale force wind hitting the campsite, which was poorly positioned in the middle of a valley. I had 6 layers of clothing on, 3 layers of pants, a beanie and snow gloves. At 3am I was busting to go to the toilet so took my gloves off in advance. When I got back inside the tent I realised oh shit I think one of my gloves attached itself to me when I peed. The stars at night were incredible you could see the smallest of stars but even with another opportunity to appreciate them. It wasn’t worth it. The next morning I found them, smelt them and it seemed clear of any urine.
The 120km ride to Luderitz was something else again. It was like entering another planet. Open yellow pastures changed to a rocky outcrop with sand slithering across the road like a scene from a horror movie. At times the wind was direct and cuts across like alarm trigger beams. It felt like Apocalypse had hit and there is no life bar two people in a 2008 (?)
VW Golf. All of a sudden there is a speck in the horizon of rocks. A cathedral prominent sitting atop on the left - it’s Luderitz.
“My God this place is in the middle of nowhere” was my comment at first sight. I met a guy here from Cape Town now living here and I said, “You swapped wind, wet and green for wind, sun and desert.” He was our guide for a ghost town 10km inland called Kolmanskop.
Luderitz is known as Namibia’s mother town. The whole of Namibia’s coast is unhospitable. Ludz has the Namib Desert inland and this howling South Atlantic wind that doesn’t quit. The only thing it has, is a secure bay and compared to the rest of the coast that meant good enough for settlement. Old German architecture surrounds and it’s a close-knit community where everyone knows everyone’s business. Because of its remoteness a new face is treated like a long lost relative and the hospitality is sincere and welcoming.
The winds here are so strong that the world’s only speed kite surfing championship is held here. We were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the almost one month tournament.
That was on the way to Diaz Point a nice drive to get out of town. At the point you cross a wooden bridge to a wind that is so incredibly strong that when you open your mouth front on to the wind it is like you are skydiving.
Luderitz is also a rare opportunity to communicate with locals whilst driving from place to place. Most people work in the fisheries industry and a popular saying when they offer you a drink and you first refuse is to say “Ah don’t worry its on the company card.” The best meal in Namibia is at Barrels bar. Eisbein (pork) with sauerkraut - An indication of the still German influence in this country. Even its beer follows German old school rules.
All the major beers follow the 1516 Reinheitsgebot standards of only malted barley, hops and water. And oh god it tastes good. Another good indication on Germany’s brief and lasting influence on this area is through the ghost towns about 10 kms inland. Kolmanskop is the easiest to access. It is just off the main road and entrance is not a bother.
Diamonds were found here last century
and a great diamond rush occurred. Desert surrounds and if it weren’t for the diamonds this area would not have been inhabited. Which is the case now - Now, a ghost town that hasn’t been inhabited since 1956 - The diamonds dried up and were found near the Orange River south of the country. Although diamond mining has restarted it is not like it use to be with a vast area called the Sperrgebiet (Forbidden Zone) blocked off to the world for almost a century. It is now Namibia’s newest national park but apart from Kolmanskop, permits take a while to obtain.
For the town the desert is slowly taking over with millionaires street houses filled with sand, wallpaper wearing out, sand blasted glass. The tour goes through the day-to-day lifestyle of the residence. From dancing balls, Africa’s first movie films, the gym, 9 pin bowling alley. To how and where food and drink use to be delivered as nothing could be made here. The town would have a more eerie feel to it if it were done at sunrise or sunset but the board of tourism decided to charge and extra $20 for that privilege.
of Luderitz will be the lasting memory for me. Maybe because I am from a big city like Sydney but I liked the community spirit here. The general take the piss attitude especially at this poor bastards name ‘Pus Kunt’ at the bar. He ended up braking the toilet seat near closing time. We met this guy Wolfgang who invited us to stay another night, which we obliged. He took us to the Oyster market before another Eisbein. And I couldn’t believe my taste buds. Normally I gag but struth these were the best oysters ever. I actually ordered more.
It is hard to leave Luderitz, the locals will always come up with some event tomorrow that you can’t miss out on but we left and took the back route to Fish Canyon and what a good decision that was. Why take the major road when you’ve got a beast of a late 80’s early 90’s VW Golf!
One thing about the landscape here is that the scenery seems mountainous and belongs 3000m above sea level in summer but this is all at normal sea level. It’s as if all the planets on the solar system are covered.
Mars is met between the Sperrgebleit and Fish River Canyon National Parks. This leads to the Orange River where for the first time we see a river with flowing water in it. Greenery surrounds us at car level whilst above us cliffs from Fish River Canyon the world’s second largest canyon.
We stayed at Ai Ais. A spa resort with camping facilities. It doesn’t make sense but at 40 degrees outside - a thermal spa sitting out in the blazing sun works. The heat is released through the pours sweat and the hot day in the non A/C car was forgotten. But only overnight as the 6 hour boring ride (the only one in Namibia) from Fish River Canyon back to Windhoek was scorching and endless.
I wasn’t sure if the North of Namibia could compete with the south. The south was an incredible experience re confirming that I made the right decision in not yet “settling down” at home. These experiences are why I’m still roaming about. Could northern Namibia match it?
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