Namibia – Vast Place of Nothingness

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Blog 18 by Tan: Namibia – Vast Place of Nothingness

 

We were both pretty ecstatic to be back in Namibia again as our earlier weeklong foray into the south of the country had thoroughly whetted our appetites for this haven of adventure biking. Our happy return to Namibia was momentarily blighted by a maniac who pulled out in front of us to overtake a truck and we had to both ride off the road to avoid getting collected front on. We headed straight for Windhoek where we were set to pick up a bunch of spares and meet up with a fellow biker we had connected with online.

 

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Freidel and Tony – fellow travel nuts and our kind hosts in Windhoek

 

First up on our agenda was a visit to the local Suzuki dealer where we organised delivery of some desperately needed bike consumables, new front tubes and tyres for our jaunt through Darmaland and Kaokoland as well as new sprockets, brake pads and chains. All our tubes were old and patched multiple times and delaminated patches were a cause of much heartache in the pans in Botswana. With our new gear (and with some still on order) we rode over to the home of Tony and Freidel who had kindly extended us an invitation to stay with them while in town. Tony is a fellow biker (BMW R1200GS) and keen traveller and his lovely wife Freidel, while not a biker herself, didn’t bat an eyelid at a motley pair of bikers like us showing up. To say they spoilt us is an understatement. In the morning we were greeted with a quiet tap on the door and a tray of freshly brewed espresso coffee and homemade biscuits. I hope family back home are reading this…this is now the standard we have come to expect. Please act accordingly.

In between braais and beers we spent a bunch of time trying to secure a visa for Angola – a place we were both dying to visit but hadn’t put it on the route until recently. Angola is a difficult place for foreigners to secure visas and this was certainly our experience. The time of year we were applying was less than ideal as it was right before their extensive Christmas vacation. After struggling to secure an invitation letter and then crashing headfirst into the Christmas holiday period, we figured it was simply not going to happen for us so with a heavy heart we decided to put Angola on the ‘next time’ list.

One of the other numerous chores we took care of while in the ‘big smoke’ of Windhoek was to buy a Delorme InReach unit which is an emergency satellite messenger system. It is very similar to a SPOT messenger, which we already own but didn’t bring on this leg of the trip. The reason for this is that the SPOT messenger service doesn’t have the sufficient satellite coverage to be reliable in Africa. The InReach, working on the Iridium network, does, so we got one. For those unfamiliar with these devices they are basically a text type equivalent of a satellite phone which allows you to press an SOS button and get help sent to you or simply you can use its “check-in” function where people of your choosing receive an email with GPS co-ordinates and a Google Maps link of your location. We can’t recommend these things highly enough to any rider that goes off-road. If we were tarmac people I think it would be overkill, however, with much of our riding in Australia being the extreme remote kind with zero mobile phone coverage and seldom with the benefit of a back up vehicle, I would say it is a necessity.

 

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The Delorme InReach SE – our lifeline to the real world if we need it

 

We have used our SPOT in anger once before when we did an unsupported crossing of the Simpson Desert – the world’s largest parallel sand dune desert which requires you to ride over 1200 sand dunes all while carrying 50-odd litres of fuel. Anyway towards the end I injured myself badly in an awkward little crash where I hyper-extended my right knee over the handle bars tearing 3 ligaments and a tendon in the process. I was in pain and couldn’t ride the remaining couple hundred sand dunes but it was hardly an emergency warranting the Australian tax payers to fork out tens of thousands of dollars for a rescue operation. Knowing that mechanical fault or minor injury were a distinct possibility on this trip we set up a ‘help request’ message as an alternative to the full-blown ‘SOS’. This meant our relatives got a request for help message with our GPS co-ords. They then found the nearest service station who did vehicle recoveries who would send a guy out into the desert in a ute to pick me up. Next afternoon said guy arrives, charges a small fortune for his efforts and I ride in the ute while Mick finishes the desert crossing including the 44m tall monster sand dune ‘Big Red’ at 9pm at night…. fun times! Long story short these devices are a fantastic back up plan for riders who like to push the limits but aren’t completely reckless.

 

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Mick confirming that the map was most definitely wrong and that was why we missed the turnoff. Definitely the map at fault here

 

Before hitting the road again, we had one last breakfast with Tony and Freidel who were great fun and a wealth of information on travel in Namibia. We were heading to the legendary sand dunes of Sossosvlei. We had planned to go down Spreethoogte Pass but being so immersed in the fantastic riding we managed to miss the turn and instead found ourselves travelling down the awesome Gamsberg Pass. Really, you can’t go wrong riding in Namibia!

 

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View down Gamsberg Pass

 

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Along the way he managed to find some fun little tracks

 

We took a pit stop at Solitaire where we had been strongly advised to go to the Moose MacGregor Desert Bakery for the obligatory apple pie, which through word-of-mouth had become a must do on any travel itinerary in Namibia. Now I am quite an expert on all things dessert related so have quite discerning tastes. While it was not the best apple pie I have ever had it was still damn good especially after a draining few hours on the bike.

 

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Biker fuel – coke and apple pie

 

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Desert paraphernalia at Solitaire

 

With sugar now pulsing though our veins we made it easily to the campground at Sesreim, which is the gateway to the Sossusvlei National Park. The campsite price was pretty steep but by staying in the Sesreim camp we were afforded the added bonus of being allowed to enter the park-proper an hour before the rest of the tourist throng who stayed outside the park gates. We had resolved to get up at some despicably ungodly hour and be waiting on the road to Sossussvlei when it opened at 5am to make our way to the dunes for sunrise. The major complication with our plan was that we were going to have to hitch a ride in a car for the 60km to the dunes. Despite having beautiful tarmac all the way until 10km from the dunes, motorbikes are forbidden from entering the park. It turns out years beforehand a bunch of local bikers had run riot in the dunes and basically ruined it for countless bikers who came after them. That is the thing about motorbike riding. Unlike car drivers, motorbike riders tend to get painted with the same brush. When some misbehave it sets the perception that all misbehave.

 

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Tired and grumpy people awaiting the first rays of sunshine and asking “why the hell did I get out of bed so early?”

 

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“Oh thats why!” Sunrise over the dunes. It was quite spectacular

 

With the bikes out of the question, Mick and I set about doing the first bit of hitchhiking of our lives. I would have to be the worst hitchhiker that ever lived and hated every second of it. After tentatively sticking my thumb out we had 3 cars go right by us. The rejection I felt was as extreme as it was ridiculous. I simply didn’t have the right mentality for the task and after being so independent for so long with our trusty DRs this felt like tremendous reversal of fortunes. Luckily we found some sympathetic Dutchies in the VW Polo who were happy to squeeze us in for the drive.

 

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I think this magpie knew if he hung around Deadvlei at sunrise, people might feed him something. He didn’t seem to perturbed by all the people around

 

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More sun and sand. Both are ever present in this part of Namibia

 

Unfortunately the last 10km of thick, soft and heavily rutted sand had to be crossed by an expensive N$100 (about US$10) return shuttle, which is a shame as it would have been challenging but great fun on the bikes. We headed up the dunes and saw the sunrise, which despite hating early mornings was worth getting up at 4:30am for. We had the first costly gear loss of the trip when I dropped our newly acquired point and shoot camera face down on a sand dune. The lens was totally clogged with sand. A couple hundred bucks down the drain on that one. Gutted! All in all, Soussesvlei and the Deadvlei (the ‘Dead Pan’) were remarkable.

 

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Deadvlei; it has some of the most iconic views from Sossussvlei

 

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Dead tree of the Dead Pan. These Acacia trees died about 700 years ago but can’t degrade due to the lack of moisture

 

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Jump shot, inspired by our friends Ireen and Alan

 

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A rare photo of the two of us. Mick and I on the Deadvlei

 

A firm, life-long hatred of hitchhiking was established on our return ride to the campground. The first car that rejected us did so kindly and understandably as they were completely full to the brim of gear. These guys were actually a pair of nice Dutchies that we had met earlier in Botswana so it was all cool there. The next Land Rover that came seemed a bit reluctant as they were worried about all their gear in the back, so we said “no worries”. We had expected to maybe wait up to an hour and we had only been there a couple minutes, there was still heaps of time to find a ride. But the husband insisted, he was quite keen to help but his wife could hardly have been more furious. She was livid and let it be known. The atmosphere in the landy was pretty unpleasant despite the friendly small talk offered up by the husband; the wife had a look of unrestrained distain on her face for the full 60km. Safe to say I will seriously consider the “shrivel up and die in the desert” option before I hitchhike again. But on the bright side I appreciate my bike more than ever now.

 

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Enjoying the sights of Namibia. The name comes from the Nama language of this region and means “Vast Place of Nothingness”. Seemed quite fitting about now.

 

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An iconic symbol of Namibia – the Oryx. They do as well in the desert as they do on the grill

 

Before heading south, Mick set about changing out our front sprockets, which were in a woeful condition. So the bikes don’t work so hard on the highway, we run a 16-tooth front sprocket. However, our local supplier in Queensland stopped making them and as we weren’t able to source any others, we went ahead and got some made. We got bismuth and mild steel versions and fitted the mild steel variant first to see how they would go. But after only 5000kms they had deteriorated so fully we have abandoned them. After the first 3000km they looked kind of ok but worn, after 4000km they started to look pretty worn but over the next 1000km they thoroughly and completely shit themselves. We have pictures but Mick is far too embarrassed to show anyone how worn he let his kit get. A proud man he is. What I can tell you is that they looked more like throwing ninja stars than anything that goes on a bike.

 

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Some more routine maintenance

 

Next stop was at Duwusib Castle which was built by a German fellow for his wife -to-be who told him rather plainly that, if she was going to live in the middle of nowhere Namibia, she was going to live in a castle…. so get cracking. Nicely done I think. So hubby built a castle in a very short amount of time by importing a bunch of labourers from Europe as well as timber and furniture. Everything came through Lüderitz port and then was brought on the ox cart the 330kms or so to Duwusib. WW1 then started so in a reckless bout of patriotism old mate ran off to join the German army and got promptly killed on the Somme. His wife then abandoned the castle and returned to Germany. In all they only got to enjoy the castle for about 5 years.

 

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On the lovely though at times sandy dirt roads to Duwusib

 

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Look closely and you will see my textbook sand riding technique

 

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Downton Abbey in the desert and on a budget

 

From there we took some nice dirt roads to Aus where the DR’s were completely in their element. After topping up on fuel and an awesome game pie and coke, we started on the familiar 120km road to Lüderitz. Not far from Aus is the Garub waterhole which is a gathering point for the famous Namib desert horses. The horses were pretty tame I would assume partly on account of the constant stream of gawking photo snapping tourists. But more than that, they seemed pretty lacking of energy, understandable given their environment which is not exactly conducive to life. But they survive, some look a little worse for wear, but they survive. On the whole they seemed in fair condition actually, although covered in scars from biting and fighting each other.

The Namib desert horses are about 150 in number and while they are a feral animal, due to their historical connections and popularity with tourists like us they get by unbothered. No-one is completely sure of their origins but one of the more likely explanations is that they are made up of horses left by the South African and German armies after World War 1. Another more romantic theory relates back to Duwusib Castle. Upon learning of her husbands death at the Somme the beautiful baroness in her crazed grief went and let all their breeding horses loose from their stud farm. However it happened, since that time they have adapted themselves to high temperatures and bugger-all water. The discovery of diamonds actually worked to the horses’ advantage as their territory was within the forbidden areas so they were left to do their own thing. Which, from what we could gather, was stand around in the sun and dine enthusiastically on each other’s shit. That is what we saw. And I must admit it did diminish the mystique of the horses in my eyes. But in their defense I really couldn’t see anything else on offer food wise.

Upon further research I have been able to confirm that they do, in fact, mostly get by on two rather convenient if not particularly palatable forms of sustenance. One is the salty residue of dried lather which they lick from each other’s coats. The other source of food is the dung of their fellow horse, which contains almost 3 times the fat and twice the amount of protein as the equivalent amount of dry desert grass. But don’t think about this too much, it really does present a chicken-and-egg style conundrum that will keep you up at night.

 

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Coke and a game pie. Some riding fuel before heading off into the nasty winds of Lüderitz

 

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The famed desert horses around the waterhole. Not much to eat out here, unless you’re into rocks or shit. Lacking a decent set of molars, the horses seem to prefer the latter.

 

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A few hot and weary ponies. This one is sniffing rocks, maybe on the off chance he might find something edible. Sorry turd-breath, no luck here I’m afraid.

 

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This guy had made the connection between humans and non-faecal food.

 

We had been hoping to get to Lüderitz before midday to avoid the horrendous winds we dealt with last time we went there. But as ever we were running late. When we got back on the road and started heading west to the Atlantic the wind got worse and worse as we got closer to the coast. While last time we were greeted with a nasty headwind, this time it was an even nastier cross wind which was transporting sand dunes from one side of the road to the other. There was a road crew out with a bulldozer and grader to keep the roads clear. The sand took the paint off Mick’s fender (literally) and the skin from our necks (ok, slight exaggeration, but it was painful nonetheless). We got into Lüderitz around 3:30pm with aching muscles and necks and headed straight to a seaside bar. Afterward we found a simple but huge double room at the Element Riders Backpackers for just N$280. This was pretty exciting for us as we hadn’t seen those kind of room prices since South Africa. Namibia has fantastic campgrounds and expensive rooms in hotels and lodges and pretty much nothing in between. It is a bit frustrating for anyone on a budget and in need of the occasional bit of comfort. Thrilled with getting a cheap room we went and blew a bunch of money on an extravagant seafood dinner. We went to bed mildly pissy from the wine with a stomach full of ocean life, but with no regrets.

 

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Want the paint stripped from your car? Drive to Lüderitz in the afternoon.

 

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Killer plate of crayfish

 

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Nom Nom Nom

 

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Glug glug glug

2 Comments on “Namibia – Vast Place of Nothingness

  1. I have never had the pleasure of hitch hiking Tanya so I completely sympathise. Looks like an amazing country & certainly everyone I know who has visited Namibia raves about it. Might just have to make the effort one day…

  2. Oh, and about the coffee and biscuits in bed, happy to oblige with the coffee making and biscuit making but perhaps the bedside delivery service might not be up to scratch…

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