Namibia, a country we have wanted to visit since we first over-landed through this region in early 1983. During our time in Cape Town from 1983 to 1985 the opportunity to visit did not arise, but finally we are crossing at Ngoma Bridge into Namibia some 30 odd years later. We have arrived! Namibia is a vast country and with the aid of friends, Martin and Karen in Cape Town, we have identified about six months of travel here! So we have to compromise and have selected a small number places we would like to visit, mostly in the North West and then down the west coast. We have a long way to travel on the first day and the return of 120km per hour roadsigns will aid this process. In Botswana, the town speed restrictions would go on for many kilometres and just as you accelerate 20 minutes after leaving the town there is the police radar trap. No such worries in Namibia – the 120km per hour signs are just metres out of town.
The border crossing is easy and we only have to pay a road fee of Namibian $259 for our vehicle. I ask if we can pay in any other currency. Yes we are told it is 259 in any currency. Since the Namibian $ is pegged to the South African Rand, all major currencies including US$ have a better than 10:1 exchange rate. Great way to make a profit! We pay in South African Rand.
It seems to be slightly greener here than in Botswana, possibly due to the fact that the Caprivi Strip now renamed Zambezi region, is bounded by rivers on both sides. Family plots appear to be rectangular and cleared of all vegetation except trees. Houses are built with both traditional and modern materials, we see bundles of thatch for sale at the roadside and many properties under renovation, I guess ahead of the rainy season which is due to start in a matter of weeks.
Wild animals appear absent, as is the destructive activity of the elephants we had become used to in Botswana, but domestic livestock abounds on both sides of the road, as usual requiring the driver to pay careful attention to any sudden movement.
Sometimes nature does intervene and for those of you with molehills in your gardens back home, spare a thought for the unfortunate who have this in theirs!
We eat up the kilometres and I reflect on a major difference I see between between motorcycle and car/4×4 travel. I believe we are more isolated in the 4×4 and do not form the same connection with people along the way. Having said that, in 38 degree plus temperatures with sand and loose dirt roads, my motorcycle skills would not be up scratch and so for us this is the best way to travel here, plus for some reason you cannot enter National Parks on motorcycles – I think it has something to do with carnivores not wearing helmets when riding their victims’ motorcycles.
Our original route was to be along the Angolan border to Ruacana, but I thought that we should visit the Etosha Pan, just for a day to get a sense of the place, which required a southerly detour. We will also have a greater selection of food to choose from when restocking in either Grootfontein or Tsumeb. This will require us to cross the vet fence line. Built to stop the spread of foot and mouth disease, the fence runs across the country from the edge of the Skeleton Coast NP to the Botswana border. No fresh meat or unpasteurised milk may travel southwards or westwards through the fence. A great deal of effort must go just into the upkeep of the fence, let alone the manning of the various checkpoints across the country. The aim is to keep the larger commercial cattle farms to the south free of foot and mouth disease to enable them to retain their export markets to Europe, USA etc. For the smaller local farmers north of the fence, they feel shutout of the lucrative beef export markets and would like the fence moved to the Angolan border. This will be an ongoing issue here in Namibia.
Towards the end of a long day driving, we will have covered approx 900 km or 550 miles and have decided Grootfontein will be our destination. Before we set off, we had purchased the Tracks for Africa: Namibia Self-Drive Guide, a book which is designed for independent travellers in Namibia. As well as planning advice, tourist information etc, it contains a very comprehensive list of accommodation throughout the country. We choose Maori campsite, just outside of Grootfontein, which turns out to be well run, if a little quirky, with nice cold beer. The owner has built a small 8 meter / 26 foot high castle like structure, that cleverly allows you to rise above the treetops and get a fantastic view of the sun setting over hills with drink in hand. Very clever! A great deal of hard work goes into establishing and maintaining the facilities which are competing with so many others. Not an easy life.
It was interesting that we have been asked a couple of times by locals about crime in South Africa, once by a policeman. There seems to be a view that crime was much more violent in South Africa than Namibia. We asked about the practice when leaving the supermarket of having groceries checked against the receipt. We were told shoplifting is a problem and got a memorable quote from Samuel in this context. “If you do not learn from your mistakes, they become your hobbies” referring to those who get caught and do not reform. I thought it could have application in other aspects of people’s lives.
Today I heard the sad news of the passing of my uncle Basil. I remember him as a kind and generous man, who would always take time to help others. He was a wizard with anything mechanical. My first motorcycle ride was at his place in Hilton, Natal on an old two stroke CZ I think, with a car battery strapped on the back and someone running alongside to change gear via a mole wrench secured to the stub of the gear change shaft! He will be missed and our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.
We stayed at a new campsite,within the Onguma Private Game Reserve just outside the entrance to the Etosha National Park (NP). Here we found excellent facilities that had only been open a couple of years. Small and secluded just the type of camping location we look for. Etosha NP was a quick visit, but for me seeing a solitary giraffe standing tall out on the pan was enough of a reason to have visited this national park.
While easy to spot out in the pan, amongst the trees is a different story.
The drive to Ruacana was uneventful and mostly tar. It did seem as we travelled further north that the gap between villages diminished, although some villages required an 80km per hour limit while through others one could sail through at 120km per hour. We could not work out the reason for the difference. At Ruacana the tar road finishes and we will be on dirt roads and tracks for the next couple of weeks. Here the fun starts.