Blog 19 by Mick: Knock knock? Go Away!

Being our second visit to Lüderitz we were far more on the ball, not just knowing the opening hours of Kolmanskop, we were also surprisingly organised enough to get there on time. And ‘on-time’ enough to not only see it but to even get on a tour. And more impressive still, it was the early tour! Although it must be admitted that we arrived just as the tour was starting and ate our breakfast while our guide kicked off his introductory spiel, which was rather memorable for one particular spectacle.


Kolmanskuppe – the original German spelling. It was later modified to the Afrikaans spelling of Kolmanskop. Translates to Coleman’s Hill.


While explaining the facilities available to the inhabitants of Kolmanskop, he described the various uses for the “Casino”, the building in which we were standing. It wasn’t a gambling house at all as per the English definition but more of a community hall used for everything from banquets to dancing to meetings. We were told that the Casino had been designed by some well qualified architects in Germany and the acoustics by all accounts were outstanding. “Fair enough” I thought, the trivial factoid ironically going in one ear and out the other. Old mate then goes on to announce that he would love to demonstrate just how fantastic the acoustics are and starts to walk to the end of the hall where there is a small handheld stereo centre stage, and a piano in the corner. I’m thinking “mate, we believe you, we really do, this… this isn’t actually necessary… at all… please… please stop”.

To my surprise he ignores the CD player and sits down at the piano. I must admit I’m a bit pessimistic but quickly back peddle as he beings to play. It becomes quite obvious that: (a) the piano was nicely tuned; (b) old mate can play it very well indeed; and (c) the acoustics of the building are exceptional. The next sound we heard was the bottom jaws of every participant on the tour, about 20 or so, creak open and smash into the floor in unison. Old mate burst into song and this bloke can sing! Seriously, like this fella must be Namibian Idol for sure.

Everyone is enraptured for the next 3 minutes or so while he plays out his song. Truth be told it wasn’t a demonstration of acoustics at all as it was obvious after about 5 seconds that they were very good. This exhibition was a blatant advertisement, for it turns out the CD perched on top of the piano is actually his album and not so surprisingly it is for sale. He receives a hearty applause from us thoroughly enthralled tourists but I don’t think anyone bought his CD – maybe because it was in Afrikaans. Anyway, this dude had serious talent. Fact.


I would like to introduce THE Namibian Idol to the world! It is this guy!


It was a highly unique way to start a tour and put everyone in quite a jovial mood. Our singing guide was a great source of information on the area and its history and presented it in an effervescent, camp as a row of tents, kind of way. Turns out that Kolmanskop, as with a lot of old mining towns, has a fascinating past laced with sordid stories of greed and depravity. Diamonds were discovered in 1908 after a worker dug one up while constructing a railway in the area. This fella just happened to have previously worked in the Kimberly diamond fields of South Africa so he knew exactly what he was looking at.


It is said that the first things the Germans made anywhere was a Skittle Alley, kind of like 10 pin bowling. Then NamDeb guys still use this alley today for boozy tournaments apparently.


Now all they needed was qualified certification of the diamond before they could list the company and raise some capital to get mining. In Keetmanshoop, the nearest town of any real consequence, there just happened to be geologist who would positively confirm the identification. Being the only one in Namibia, old mate knew he was in a pretty prime position to benefit from his isolated circumstance and demanded he be written into the company as a primary shareholder or he wouldn’t formally confirm what they already knew. With time of the essence and no real alternatives, they succumbed and he earned/extorted his fortune. A classic bit of scumbag brinksmanship.


The Mine Managers house. Me wishing I could make a quick and enormous fortune! This one had been partly renovated.


Wonderfully preserved 100yr old wall paper in the fancy houses near the top of the hill


And another


When we first visited Namibia Tanya touched on a couple interesting Kolmanskop facts in her blog, some of which I’ll also include here. So if you get a sense of déjà vu reading this don’t stress, its not a glitch in the Matrix, although still feel free to practice your best Keanu Reeves “whoah”.

The town of Kolmanskop was built and mining kicked off in 1909. At its peak it was home to about 1500 people, and the diamond fields were so prolific that by the time World War One started 5 years later one tonne of diamonds, over 5 million carats, had been mined including a 246 carat monster the size of a golf ball. Realising the scale of the resource and wanting to secure it, the German Government declared a 26000km2 Prohibited Zone all the way from the South African border 320kms to the south and up to about 100km inland and denied access to all members of the public.


Snooping members of the public not allowed!


And stay out!


Mining at this early stage was tragic from a humanity perspective, a lot of it involved chaining black labourers around the ankles and having them crawl over the hot sand on hands and knees. Thankfully, as the diamonds laying on the surface were soon exploited the mining operation advanced to conventional mechanised open cut techniques. The mine closed in 1954 and the town was abandoned, leaving it to be slowly engulfed by the sands of the desert.


See, told you it got engulfed by the sands of the desert. Plenty sand. Many many sand everywhere!


Even more sand.


The Architects House absolutely chockers with the desert. This one was very unstable.


Kolmanskop was very well set up for such a small town of that era; including Africa’s first tram to deliver everyone’s daily ration of ice (from the ice factory) and fresh water (20l per person shipped from Cape Town), and a very well setup hospital which included the southern hemispheres first x-ray machine. I’m assuming the radiologist must have really hated his job as it was used primarily to search for smuggled diamonds – surely one can x-ray only so many colons in a lifetime. Another interesting smuggling fact; owning pigeons is illegal in the entire Prohibited Zone as stolen diamonds can be strapped to a pigeon and then released to fly home. This ploy can often come undone by greed as overloaded pigeons either die or stop due to exhaustion, where they can be trapped, have the diamonds retrieved and the pigeon released again. It’s then a simple operation to follow the pigeon home to find the thief.


Inside the hospital. This hole in the wall I think was the radiologist trying to escape his office after being asked to x-ray another hairy miner’s butt.


And this was the radiologist’s house. “Guess what they made me do again today!” and BAM! Another Door off the hinges!! Note – this actually wasn’t the radiologists house at all.


The hospital’s verandah. Lots of lonely afternoons looking out into the desert with tears in his eyes. Please lord, not another smuggler! Not one more!!


WW1 had huge ramifications for the area. South Africa, at the request of England, invaded German South West Africa (the colony that was the precursor to Namibia) and by 1915 they had defeated the German forces stationed there. The mining rights were stripped from the German Diamond Corporation and transferred to De Beers who operated with complete and unfettered control right up to independence in 1990, when the Namibian Government bought in 50/50 with De Beers. In the 70’s and 80’s as the UN and the worldwide community put increasing pressure on South Africa for illegally occupying Namibia, De Beers was accused by internal whistleblowers of unsustainably mining the cream of the deposits and not declaring the full value of diamonds mined. Essentially industrial scale theft from an occupied nation by a company unencumbered by pesky ethics or scruples. In Namibia alone De Beers has been accused of illegal mining, human rights abuses, and has been embroiled in corruption scandals with the Government. Classy.


Some interesting photo opportunities. It really was a photographer’s paradise.


The dry weather meant the buildings were very well preserved.


Lovely set of stairs


Wandering up to the top houses.


Today, it is estimated that at least 4 million carats are still unmined in the Kolmanskop region, and while rare, it is not unheard of to stumble upon a diamond on the ground. To ensure that these diamonds are declared, a finder’s fee of 70% of the value of the diamond is given as an incentive, and the disincentive of prison time if you don’t.


Wandering around looking for diamonds….. nope nothing. Plenty sand though.


Any diamonds in this room? Nope…


Interrupting her sand bath…


Views of Kolmanskop. Not very exciting.


After another day in town for bit of bike maintenance (new sparkplugs, checked air filters after so much sand and leaned off the idle mixture a bit), and general chill out by the seaside eating sea creatures and drinking, it was time to hit the road again. The wind had been horrific in Lüderitz with at least 40 knots for the previous 2 weeks or so, and talking with the owner of the backpackers he mentioned the following day would be even worse with +50 knot winds forecast. He advised us to leave early.


Wondering around Lüderitz. One downside of travelling with a geo is this – constantly stopping to look at rocks.


Redefining windy. These roads would have been cleared during the night by the maintenance crew. But here comes the desert across the road yet again. This is 8am and it already coming over the road.


We were out of town before 8 but even then it was touch and go as the wind was starting to get pretty serious. The first 30 or 40kms or so were especially horrid, with sand blowing across the road and massive gusts trying to blow us over. Thankfully by the time we were near Aus the wind had receded to a blustery but manageable level, however the vibration of a cattle grid was the last straw for my poor chain and that snapped.




The end of the broken chain removed and getting ready to attach the fresh bit


I had been watching them for a while and knew they were both pretty worn, however mine was the worse of the two. By now it had done about 29000kms and was stretched to one click off the end of adjustment. I already had new chains in Windhoek, however the accompanying new sprockets hadn’t arrived and I wasn’t keen on putting new chains on old sprockets. So I figured we could try push the envelope a little further and hopefully get to Lüderitz and back via Swakopmund, an additional 1500kms or so. Apparently the chain didn’t agree! I always carry spare master links and a length of spare chain, so it was a simple enough operation to repair the break and 30 minutes later we were off again.


New bit of chain added


And joining it.


We headed north on the C13 which is locally known as a bit of an acid test for riders new to sand. Tony from Windhoek had regaled us with tales from a BMW club ride he had done where 3 people were hospitalised (and seriously at that, a couple badly broken legs and a punctured lung in amongst the usual broken ribs and collar bones) within about 10kms of each other, due mainly to inexperience riding big loaded bikes in soft conditions. We then continued north on the D707, which threads between the sand dunes of the Namib Desert on the left and the mountains of the southern Namib Rand on the right. It had a reputation for being even more sandy and not a good route option for the average guy on a big adv bike, and I can see why it was that. It was definitely sandier but on the DR’s it was relatively easy going and we found only one quite soft of rutted section of about 10km that required some extra care and attention. We made it to Solitaire and decided to camp; bought some wood and pork chops and had a nice bbq with a couple brewskis.


The D707, sand dunes to the left


And mountains to the right.


Back on the main road – there is plenty granite outcrops to look at. Most Namibian dirt roads are mostly all like this, well built and well maintained.


We rode through to Swakopmund the following afternoon after some nice gravel road riding, including a detour up and down Namibia’s steepest pass. Walking through town looking for a restaurant we were aware of just how much German influence there still is in Namibia. While it was noticeable in Windhoek, it was everywhere in Swakop (as the locals call it). German signs to German shops full of German food, German beers in German pubs full of people speaking German. There are about 30000 people of German descent still in Namibia and its seems they are all here and very proud.


Spreethoogte Pass, Namibia’s Steepest Pass.


Looking down from the top. The steepest bits were paved.


The last bit of Kuiseb Pass on the main road towards the coast – was very picturesque


Just before getting to the coast, we had to stop and put jackets on. The temperature dropped dramatically, probably from mid thirties to mid twenties. It was a real shock!


We had a good walk around the next day, checked out the waterfront and a crystal museum and met some of our neighbours in the backpackers who had a very nicely set up Landcruiser Troopcarrier. Roy and Nicole where travelling with their 16 month old son Kevin who was born on the road. They were 3 years into their RTW overland journey and were on the final leg, driving from South Africa back home to Switzerland. They were heading north and invited us to join them for Christmas at Etosha National Park. We were heading in that direction too and the idea of being just the 2 of us for Chrissy seemed a bit lame, so we gladly accepted their offer.


moah hahahah! Crystals!


It was impressive, but I’ve seen bigger floaters.


View of the waterfront from the pier


We hit the road with the plan of going to Spitzkoppe, a large granite formation a couple hundred kms away, but we had a lunch engagement first. Way back in Keetmanshoop about 6 or 7 weeks previous, Tanya approached a tour group that seemed quite well equipped in the hope of borrowing a power adaptor so we could charge our laptop. The tour leader, Ernst, was a really nice guy and invited us around to his house in Swakop, which we were now off to.

We found the house and got ushered into a really lovely garden with set table on the lawn. We sat down to a fantastic lunch and shared some good stories. By the time lunch came to an end it was getting so late that reaching Spitzkoppe would now be quite difficult. We thankfully accepted Ernst’s offer to stay for the night and stayed up well into the morning chatting.


We cooked breaky the next day – one of our favourites. French toast, bacon, fried banana, yogurt and berries and maple syrup. Nom noms.


The following day we still planned to only go through to Spitzkoppe, so we had a couple hours to spare which could be filled with some little maintenance jobs. I’d bought a new compressor to replace my one that died in Botswana and that needed as much weight cut off it as possible, plus some dash bolts had come loose and needed loctiting. There are always a few little things to do. I found a little play in Tanya’s sprocket carrier when lubing the chain. Pulling the wheel off, the cush drive bearing was worn as were the rear wheel bearings so they all got changed from spares I carry. They had nearly 19000kms on them by now so they were due. With all that done, it was once again too late to hit the road so we settled in to another night of very welcome hospitality with Ernst and his sons.


Saying goodbye to Ernst and his son Daniel


After 2 previous failed attempts we managed to successfully leave the next morning. We made a quick stop at the local bike shop, Duneworx Yamaha, and ended up buying some neck braces and the owner of the shop, Jan, looked after us well. It was now lunchtime so we ducked around the corner to the “Brauhaus” for a proper German schnitty. Sitting with a bunch of lubricated Germans, we felt the urge to share a beer before hitting the road. It doesn’t take much pressure to get me to imbibe, so order a beer we did.


2 litres of beer in a giant glass boot. What could go wrong?




Tan got in the mood.


Such a beer, even split between 2, required a pretty significant sober up period so it was nearly 4 by the time we got back on the bikes. And we hadn’t even got out of town when I got that awful feeling that there is nothing connecting your front sprocket to your rear sprocket. Bugger. Seems I hadn’t riveted one of the master links so well back on the roadside near Aus and one had failed. Having used all our spares fixing it the first time, we resorted to the phone and called Jan. He turned up not long later and supplied us with a handful of 525 rivet links and I got to fixing it, being sure to do it properly this time.

While packing up my tools, a bloke on a CBR600 rode by, did a u-turn and then invited us around to his house in Walvis Bay, about 30kms south of Swakop. “I’ve got a place you can sleep, we can have a braai and few beers, but I’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning as I’m getting married tomorrow.”

Um. Wat? Even though he should have had much more serious things on his mind than accommodating two bikers, Matt was insistent. This seemed like much too cool a story to miss out on so we gladly accepted. We had a great evening and Matt did indeed get up and get married.

We finally did leave the next morning, riding past Dune 7 and out to the Moon Landscape – both local tourist attractions. We then rode up the salt road to Henties bay, stopping at one of the Skeleton Coast’s many shipwrecks on the way. Heading inland, the scenery was pretty harsh with no vegetation of any significance, just the odd tuft of dying/dead grass. Everything else was rocks and sand. Yet even with that, we still saw Springbok out here.


Dune 7 – big sand dune


Looking out over the moon landscape


Riding around the moon landscape


The Zeila Shipwreck near Henties Bay. The sand was pretty soft but the big piggy handled it just fine.


Spitzkoppe can be seen for miles as the huge granite outcrop pokes from the rather bleak desert surface. For the local community, the tourists that come to see it present the main/only form of income. So along the roadside there are stalls selling mineral specimens mined from the nearby hills, mainly tourmaline, aquamarine, quartz, amethyst and the odd bit of topaz. The campground is run by the local community so that money should also filter in somehow or another.


Riding from Henties Bay to Spitzkoppe


Geologist drooling over the roadside crystal stalls


Tan bought a couple things… It was a nice way to invest some money into the local community and made sure it got to the people


From left to right: Tourmaline in Quartz, Tourmaline on Feldspar, and Tourmaline in Aquamarine.


Coming from the Henties Bay side, we came in through the back gate past the signs telling us we were being very naughty and to only go in through the front gate. We weren’t too worried though as Ernst had told us to just present at the front gate and pay your fees on the way out and everything will be fine.


The back road into Spitzkoppe. There was a sign at the gate to go in through the front but the guy just let us straight through….


Riding around Grosse Spitzkoppe


And so it was. We decided to stay in a room so that we could get away early and ride the last couple hundred kms into Windhoek and still arrive in the morning. We still had things to pick up, and being Monday the 22nd of December most businesses were closing at midday for their Christmas break. Sadly the room was pretty overpriced but the bar was functional and we met an interesting South African guy there.


There was some wild meerkats there but had been around people so much they were pretty tame.


Digging for din dins


He had ridden from Cairo to Cape Town in 36 days as part of a BMW group. He enjoyed himself immensely, however lamented the very fast pace of the trip and one particular nasty experience in Ethiopia. While riding through a small village, he watched a guy push another guy out onto the road and into his path who he then hit and injured, thankfully not seriously. He was quickly arrested in the kerfuffle that followed and forced to pay for medical expenses, a traffic fine and some other fees, and hire a lawyer and a translator to negotiate a settlement with the village chief for injuring this guy.


Tan having a cuddle before leaving


They agreed to a figure, however the chief backed out of the deal not long after as they wanted more money. By now the South African biker was pretty fed up so decided to just wait for the local magistrate to rule on the case in a couple days time. Technically he spent that time “in prison”, however the policeman was pretty relaxed and let him camp inside the police grounds and wonder around, he just wasn’t allowed to leave. The magistrate gave him a small fine and let him go, however the whole ordeal cost about US$1000 all up. The really sad part is that this was all a money making scam, the villagers just take turns getting injured. He loved the scenery of Ethiopia, but didn’t enjoy the incessant and aggressive begging, rock throwing and the general anti-foreigner attitude.


Leaving Spitzkoppe on the way to Windhoek to pick up tyres and other spare parts


We made Windhoek on time down a very boring but quite busy tar road, certainly very busy compared to the places we had been recently. At our first stop we got some tyres that will hopefully last us to Europe (Heidenau K60 rears and Conti TKC80 fronts) and replacement intercom batteries as both of ours had failed. Needing come cash, I hopped on the bike to go to an ATM and thought I could hear a faint rattle coming from the motor. Surely not…

We got our stuff and made our way to the next rendezvous, the local Suzuki Dealer for knobby tyres for Damaraland and Kaokoland (Pirelli MT21’s), sprockets and a few other things. This time I was sure – a very faint but definite knock knock knock.

Ah shit.

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.


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.


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.


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!


View down Gamsberg Pass


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.


Biker fuel – coke and apple pie


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.


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


“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.


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


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.


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


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


Jump shot, inspired by our friends Ireen and Alan


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.


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.


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.


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.


On the lovely though at times sandy dirt roads to Duwusib


Look closely and you will see my textbook sand riding technique


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


Killer plate of crayfish


Nom Nom Nom


Glug glug glug

Blog 17 by Mick: Mokorros in the Delta


While our jaunt into the bush was only 2 days there and back and we didn’t even get to where we wanted to go anyway, the energy expended in the heat and the dehydration meant everyone was pretty slow the next morning. We all ate a big cooked breakfast with lots of coffee, ironically not a great choice for dehydration but definitely very good for everything else, especially feeling pretty slow.

We said our goodbyes to the Beemer brigade who were all heading north to Kasane, and then crossing into Zambia for a look at Victoria Falls. Mark, Tan and I said our goodbyes and watched the loaded up bikes roar off through the sand, then we slinked back to the bar and ate toasties, drank coke and talked shit until we all felt a bit more energised.


Saying goodbye to our BMW biker buddies. Peter and Gabriel were carrying “commercial quantities” of tyres – I think if they were to break down somewhere their plan was to open a tyre shop to finance the repairs…


Mark had packed his KLR for about the 4th time with the idea of going to Zimbabwe and ultimately Mozambique, but was again second guessing his plans. The managers at Elephant Sands had him on a pretty good wicket and it was a great spot to be with lots of interesting work to be done. So once again he ended up unpacking his bike back into his bungalow and instead went to drive a water tanker. There is a bore about 30kms away that is a permanent source of drinking water for the elephants when the water hole at the camp is dry and the elephants start getting desperate and destructive. Mercedes Benz had donated a refurbished Scania B-double for this purpose a couple years ago and for most of the year it just sits unused. That is until the end of the dry season comes and it is desperately needed to water the animals. Before this it wasn’t uncommon in similar circumstances for elephants to die in the empty waterhole of dehydration. I tips me hat to Mercedes Benz and the good people at Elephant Sands – fantastic work.

This left us to get on our way. Our destination was only about 150 kilometres away so we left at about 4:30 in the afternoon to avoid the worst of the heat. And also because we were lazy. We settled in at the restaurant craving protein and salt after all our exertion and feasted on bloody steak and salty chips.


An awful lot of snoozing went down


The next couple days were stinking hot as the wet season built up but still it refused to rain. In northern Australia during the build up, or Mango Season, it is kind of hard to not go a bit berko in the high 30’s or low 40’s heat combined with wicked humidity. Turns out its much the same in Bots. We spent many hours cooling off in the pool, reading by the pool, reading in the pool, working on the blog (both in and by the pool), and binged a couple seasons of Breaking Bad (again with significant involvement of said pool). Before leaving Australia we had stockpiled a variety of movies and TV shows as we had envisaged all this free time where we could entertain ourselves but it had never really eventuated, until now. We watched a fair few episodes a day and did a steller job of powering through the first 2 seasons.


We slept in the tent, but our real home during our Planet Baobab stay was here.


After a few days of doing nothing more than swimming, eating and sleeping, we decided we better actually do something so packed up our tent and made our way down the highway to Muan. We had been recommended staying at the Old Bridge Backpackers which had a pretty cool vibe through the day and a mixed bunch of clients – overlanders, backpackers, expats and locals. At the night though it got a little seedy it must be said with some locals being of the employ by the hour variety.


Our plane for the Delta flight


Hey look! Termite mounds!


We were approached by a group of young backpackers who asked if we wanted to split the cost of a scenic flight over the delta, which after a quick discussion we thought that was a great idea. We ended up changing flight companies in the airport at the last minute though because they had assured us there was a 6th person to split the bill with. However on arrival that person suddenly disappeared and that pushed the price up. We had spoken to them on the phone to confirm the flight at before leaving for the airport and within 40 minutes the phantom 6th person had vanished. Yeah right….. classic tourist scam – seeya later. Anyway, the company we went with was great and we saw plenty of game once we got used to looking down from above. It was a great way to get a sense of the Okavango Delta – a really unique environment.


We saw heaps of giraffe, elephant, buffalo and hippos from above


Every year, about 11 cubic kilometres (11,000,000,000,000 litres) of water flows into the delta. That is a lot.


Far from being a swampy mess of a place – its more a collection of channels and pools of water at the end of the dry season and the water is crystal clear. Buffalo and Elephant in this pic


Back in the pub we got chatting to a German fella who was doing the classic Cape Town to Cairo route on his KTM 950 Adv. He had some lovely Leo Vince pipes on his V-twin that made some pretty erotic sounds. He had been given 3 months off work so was doing what we plan to do in 10 months – rest assured he was travelling at a much more hectic pace then us.


Norman the German biker


The following day we got up early and packed up our stuff and stashed the bikes in a corner of the campsite. We had organised to do a Mokorro (a local dug-out canoe that is poled not paddled) trip into the delta. After a quick blast in a power boat, we met Sam our mokorro guide and after poling for about 3 hours into the delta we made camp. In the evening we went for a walk to look for game but found nothing except bored looking tourists from another mokorro tour. Sam tried to spice things up by spruiking the virtues of a termite mound and a baobab tree, but if I’m honest they weren’t overly exciting. We also stumbled across a baby leopard tortoise shell which had been cracked open by a hornbill. We had seen these birds all over Botswana and they are quite impressive to look at with their big powerful beak, however we hadn’t seen what that big powerful beak was actually capable of until now.


Baby leopard tortoise shell that had been seen to by a hornbill


Our game walk the following morning was a little more eventful. We left a little after 6 and it wasn’t long until we found a “tower” of giraffes, the collective term for a group giraffe standing still. Interestingly, the collective term for giraffe walking is a “journey”, whereas for giraffe eating is a “stretch”. That is another trivia night winning nugget of info right there, you can thank me when you get your hands on that meat tray.


A lone giraffe way in the distance. He stopped to look at us then remembered he was far behind his herd and ran off again.


A leopard tortoise so excited about being picked up it tried to pee all over Tan


Ready for a close up


Anyway, back to the tower. At 20 animals, it was easily the biggest group of giraffe we had seen yet (either standing, walking or eating). About 20 minutes after the journey had walked off (you see what I did there?) we saw the dunce of the herd galloping in a panic trying to catch up. He must have fallen asleep under a tree or gotten distracted by a butterfly or something while the stretch had breakfast (still with me?) and had fallen far far behind. The rest of the game walk was filled with the usual sort of animals, a leopard tortoise, zebra, wildebeest and some other antelope. Oh, and termite mounds and baobab trees too. Can’t forget those.


Views near our campsite


Bushmen use baobab trees to make rope

Mick cooling himself off in the clear water of the delta watching an elephant on the other bank doing the same


The afternoon though was something mighty special, probably the highlight of our time in Botswana. While out on the mokorro to enjoy the sunset, we could hear an elephant in the scrub nearby ripping off branches and shaking down fruit from palm trees. To our astonishment he appeared from the bush and walked down to the channel and started eating lotus flowers, ripping them from the mud, thrashing them through the water to clean them and crunching away happily.


Crystal clear waters of the delta


Mokorros at sunset


This elephant put on quite the show for us


For the next hour or so we were amazed as this big guy slowly walked up the channel with us sometimes as close as 20 or 25 metres away, or as close as the mokorro guide’s nerves would allow. While there are very intelligent and quite majestic, elephants are incredibly powerful and very dangerous animals after all. The camera and SD card must have been near overheating by the hammering it got. It was such a highlight – truly amazing.


He didn’t seemed bothered by us at all


Shameless poser!


All that was missing was a glass of wine. Maybe a cheese platter


The photo opportunities where near limitless. This is one of my favourites of the trip so far


The final day of the trip included one more game walk, where we saw the usual game (zebra, wildebeest etc) and some bustards, a really ugly critter. On the return we stumbled upon some fresh leopard tracks and then had a look at an elephant skeleton that had been there for about 4 years. Sam gave us some interesting info, apparently when an elephant is old and knows it is about to die, it will go to the delta and have a large drink of water, then find a shady spot and lay down and die. The other members of the herd will stay and mourn for a few days and then leave, and when next in the area will return to the body and scatter the bones so its less recognisable as an elephant corpse. It is really quite human behavior that they seek emotional closure like that. When the body is found, the park rangers will come and remove the tusks and burn them.


Elephant skeleton scattered over a reasonable distance


Fisherman with his catch in a traditional dugout mokorro. Many of the ones we rode in were fibreglass or plywood, however this one was the real mccoy


Back in Maun, it was time for washing after our couple days of camping and walking in the heat. I use my clothes bag as a pillow which is fine when most of your clothes are clean. When most are so disgusting your worried that a pack of hyenas might be following you looking for the corpse, you have a problem. We were at that stage.

With that done, it was time to go. We hit the road in the afternoon for Ghanzi which at 290kms, and we were advised by some tourists at the backpackers the trip would take us up to 5hours because of the pot holes and donkeys. But they weren’t powered by the mighty DR tractor; we went straight through and did the trip in a bit over 3 hours, which was fortuitous as we avoided the evening storm. It was then a simple ride the next day to Windhoek, the gateway to the deserts of Namibia.