The Namibian Border Hop

Blog 13 by Tan: The Namibian Border Hop

 

After a few hours sleep we woke up at 5:30am and set about packing our things and saying our temporary farewells to our awesome new friends Danie and Sara. Packing our bikes is officially my least favourite thing to do. With space at such a premium on the bike, the packing must be done very systematically. It is basically the least enjoyable thing you can do outside playing cricket or having root canal surgery performed. People we meet on the road are generally highly envious of our trip… until they witness the elaborate ritual of packing our things in the morning and getting dressed in all our bike gear. It is at that point that people say…’you know what…on second thoughts, bugger that’ and then they cruise off in their spacious, air-conditioned cars. It is such a time consuming and ridiculous procedure very much like a really shitty game of Tetris. The worst thing is when you have everything packed after 40 minutes of determined stuffing of bags and grunting and straining to do the straps up only to see you forgot to pack the running shoes which will ONLY fit if you place them ¾ of the way down in the left hand pannier next to the toiletry bag and below the coffee percolator. Everything must be unpacked and repacked once your adult temper tantrum has subsided. But oh no! You forgot that you bought a new pack of ground coffee and the shoes only fit when the packet of coffee is at least half empty. Better unpack the other pannier! It is at that time I wonder why we aren’t doing this trip in a Landcruiser.

 

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Bikes all packed and farewells in progress. Sara looks happy to have had us….or perhaps to be rid of us???

 

Anyway we did manage to get things packed and set off on our pain in the arse visa dash to the Namibian border. As it was the last day of our South African visa the ride was nothing but a long slog with the only stop being at a little café in Piketberg for a savory muffin with cheese and grated biltong and a half decent coffee. This was a necessary stop as I was quite literally dozing while riding after having had so many late night chat sessions with Sara and Danie.

Extensive roadworks along the way slowed us down and made us overheat in all our riding gear. We couldn’t muster any sympathy for our plight from the road workers who were all making us wait with the cars and trucks, slamming down their stop signs with all the flourish of Gandalf from Lord of the Rings ‘You shall not pass bikers, you shall not pass!’

 

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It is on these roads that the DR is at its happiest

 

We did the 300km stretch from Bitterfontein to Vioolsdrif border post in one go to try and make up some time. The scenery was of the monotonous Australian variety so we utilised the cunning old biker trick of chewing gum to stay awake. We got though the South African border post without a hitch despite the less than perfect Carnet de Passage paperwork. Before leaving South Africa officially we confirmed the new visa rules would allow us to re-enter the county for 7 days.   South Africa had recently bought in some strict visa rules to stop people working illegally in South Africa and to stop the scourge of cashed up foreign tourists pumping money into their economy it would appear. It was disappointing we couldn’t stay longer in S.A. but we saw it as a perhaps necessary nudge out the door as we had a lot of Africa to see and the longer we stayed in South Africa and the more friends we made, the harder it was getting to leave.

 

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On the way to Ai Ais

 

We finished up the long day by riding the awesome dirt roads to Ai Ais for the night. After the +800km day we were less than enthused about the idea of setting up a tent in the dark. We jumped at the idea of staying in the resort as it was my birthday therefore the indulgence was fully justifiable. As we checked in so late there was no one at reception to tell us the price of the room until morning. We requested their cheapest room/linen cupboard fit for sleeping and crossed our fingers that it wasn’t too expensive. When I saw that our room came with bathrobes and 3-ply toilet paper in the dunnies I started to worry that it was a $300 a night type establishment and we’d have to spend the next few weeks sleeping in ditches beside the road, subsisting on a diet of soya mince and Chakalaka to re-balance the budget.  Luckily it was only $120 for the two of us with breakfast, which, while WELL outside our budget, was not a tragedy for a single night.

 

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Camp ground at Ai Ais

 

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The fantastic outdoor warm spring. Too warm during the day but perfect at night

 

That evening we met two other motorbikers who we shared dinner and drinks with; Peter a South African on a BMW R1200GS and and Ido an Israeli guy on an F800GS. All in all it was a pretty fortunate turn of events for Mick as the hotel room got him off the hook for a birthday present and the presence of the bikers meant he got out of having to be all romantic-like to me on my birthday. But don’t you worry! I’ll wreak my lady vengeance by giving him the silent treatment in 8 years time, insisting that I am fine then finally let him know I am furious at him for the time we were riding bikes in Namibia and he didn’t get me a proper birthday present and romantic dinner. Mwah-haw-haw! Mwah-haw-haw!

We stayed on another night in our rightful place this time (the campground) and chilled out and enjoyed the outdoor hot springs. From there we headed to the Cañon Roadhouse to get some internet that would allow us to arrange to fix the tooth I broke at the most inconvenient of times. Our 7-day South African visa timetable now had to include getting from the Namibian border to Stellenbosch, receiving and fitting the new gears, getting a crown made and fitted for said broken tooth and riding all the way to Botswana. No worries!

 

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More Namibian scenery. Note me in my stylish summer riding gear – all the rage in Paris this season

 

Michael is insisting that I write the reason why my tooth broke as a type of public shaming exercise that will hopefully mean the end of dentist related dramas for the rest of the trip. Fair enough! My name is Tanya and I like the sweeties. Especially sweeties of the chewy variety that have the odd tendency of creating such forces of suction that burst blood vessels and pull teeth from your head. Mick has always been at me over this (my only vice) but has never pushed things too far lest I decide to nag him about his beer consumption. So, like the Mutually Assured Destruction of the Cold War we both had something that could destroy the other so things kept on very much as usual. However, that night I broke a tooth on some candy, which represented a significant escalation in the conflict. I don’t make it a habit of lying to Michael but at that moment I felt it best to do so by omission. I told him about the tooth which broke while I was ‘eating something.’ My expert level deception however failed when I neglected to destroy the incriminating evidence. While cleaning the room to check out in the morning Mick found a half eaten packet of sweets in the bin and knew there is only one thing that would make me throw away sweets… the jig was up. I have since resolved never to eat chewy sweets again and bury (or preferably incinerate) all incriminating evidence from now on. There you go Michael.

 

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Quiver Tree at Canyon Roadhouse

 

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Hanging out at Canyon Roadhouse – incidentally they do a great Amarula cheesecake

 

As we left the Ai Ais/Richtersveld Transfronteir National Park we were treated to an awesome display of animals. We raced the DRs against ostriches running alongside us and saw a heap of Oryx (Gemsbok) which are the most stunning of creatures. I was riding along as spied a medium sized springbok that looked a lot like he was going to dart out in front of me. Sure enough that is what he did but I had enough time to slow down to have him pass right in front of me in full flight with both of its feet a good meter off the ground. It was an amazing sight to behold. Man I love riding in Africa!

 

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A blue truck…that is old

 

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A weathered old beast…sitting on his bike in front of a corroded car

 

We booked in to the Hobas camping spot near Fish River Canyon and drank a few beers by the pool. There was a 2-year-old child of one of the camp workers there who was more than a little interested in the bikes. He ran straight up to Mick’s bike and set about mounting it. Mick tried his hand at child engagement and supervision, which naturally ended in tears and injury to said child. In Mick’s defense he told the kid to keep away from the exhaust demonstrating that it is hot and he should not touch. Unfortunately something was lost in translation and the little tyke appeared to see Mick’s demonstration as some kind of instruction and immediately put his hand on the hot exhaust. Fortunately the dad told the kid something along the lines of ‘that’s what you get for not listening’ and I emptied the contents of my Camelbak on his hand and threw him on the bike before the wailing started.

 

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The motorbike enthusiast

 

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Mick smiling at avoiding child abuse charges

 

That night Mick noticed that a bolt had come loose from the exhaust can end cap and the exhaust leak had burnt a hole in his side plastic and pannier bag. Mick realised that the only way to rectify the situation was with a Windhoek Draft can and duct tape.

 

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Mick’s bush mechanic skills in action

 

We spent the night sleeping under the stars with just the cots out instead of the tent. It was awesome and no baboons tried to eat our faces during the night providing an added bonus. It also meant less packing in the morning by not using the tent. We are a little bit in love with our cots which almost didn’t make it on the trip with us as we feared taking a bed along would in some way diminish our status as tough, rugged world motorbike travellers. Luckily we decided to bring them in the end and we have fantastic nights sleep as a result. The cots are made by a great company called Helinox that sells lightweight outdoor adventure equipment. We discovered when searching for a good travel chair to take with us. We found the chairs, and a table and two beds but unfortunately no wardrobe and chest of drawers. The cots weigh less that 2kg and while they are a little bulky we have enough space for them in our luggage. But when it comes down to it after a long days ride it is worth it to have a comfortable bed no matter what the ground is like.

 

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Minimalist camping

 

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Fish River Canyon

 

Next stop was Fish River Canyon which is reportedly the second largest canyon in the world behind the Grand Canyon. The local Nama people say the canyon was formed by the writhing and thrashing of a giant wounded snake as it was being chased down the valley. As a professional geologist I must say that based on the evidence we have it is probably not the case. Instead it looks a lot more like it formed by a couple billion years worth of wind and soil erosion and also by the collapse of the valley floor due to the shift in tectonic plates. A smattering of sedimentation and metamorphism, some intrusions in the form of dolerite dykes, bit of an ice age and inland sea type situation, add in some faulting and subsequent hot springs and Robert’s your mother’s brother, you have Fish River Canyon.

 

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Mick at the canyon

 

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Loving how the panorama shots make me look so thin

 

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Soooo hot in this joint

 

Next up we headed for the Quiver Tree forest near Keetsmanhoop along more awesome, desolate dirt roads. Mick got a pinch flat and tore a hole in the sidewall of the front tyre after binning his bike in a slippery algae covered culvert that I suspect he did not slow down sufficiently for. Mick had been hating his front Mitas E07 for some time and this latest incident was the definitive end of the E07 front experience. I put my hand up to fix the flat while Mick watched on patiently frustrated at my slow and deliberate tyre changing. He was made to feel a little embarrassed when carload after carload of farm workers finishing work for the day drove past to see him standing there twiddling his thumbs while the lady changed the tyre. Now that I think of it, some of the guys gave thumbs up gestures that may not have actually been meant for me.

 

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Me carrying out the world’s slowest tyre change – didn’t pinch the tube though

 

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Quiver trees

 

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More Quiver trees

 

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Yet more Quiver trees – it was a forest after all

 

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Interesting quiver tree factoid before everyone falls asleep; the name comes from the San (Bushman) use of the tree for storing their arrows, the Quiver Tree wood is tubular, very light and very soft inside so a tree branch could be easily hollowed out for use as a quiver

 

We made it to the awesome Quiver Tree Forest campground where we met a 3-legged pug dog, watched the sun go down behind the trees and prepared a braai of springbok steak and milli pup for dinner before spending the night under the stars again. While there we met a friendly guide touring Namibia with a truck full of Germans that offered us a place to stay (and more importantly wash clothes) when we visited Swakopmund. Yet another kind and unexpected offer of hospitality.

After the customary lazy start to the day we went to the nearby Giant’s Playground for another rock fix. The area around Keetmanshoop has some pretty impressive dolerite dikes that are about 3-6 meters thick and up to tens of kilometers long and are aged at a rather youthful 180 million years old. The rocks at Giant’s Playground are from one such dyke. The giant puzzle piece looking formations are a result of spheriodal (woolstack) weathering caused by water flowing through cracks and fissures in the dolerite and ongoing weathering causing further cracks to develop along with wind blown sand erosion for good measure. Namibia – geologists’ paradise.

 

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Geologies!   Geologies everywhere!

 

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Giant’s Playground

 

Pulling into Keetmanshoop for fuel for our 300km ride to the coastal town of Lüderitz, we noticed Mick’s front tyre had gone flat due to the tear in the sidewall getting larger and pinching the tube. When leaving camp in the morning we had already decided to scour the town for what replacement front tyres might be available, however we weren’t confident in such a small community. We went around to 3 different tyre shops, all friendly and helpful with advice but none of which stocked motorbike tyres. The best we could manage was to get a tyre transported down from Windhoek to arrive the next morning. With time of the essence, Mick tried one last tyre place. Sure enough the bloke had a thoroughly bald Metzeler Tourance which he was selling for the princely sum of 200 Rand (a bit over 20 real dollars). It was clear we needed the tyre badly so negotiation was pointless. We accepted that we were getting completely shafted and paid up with relative cheer. However, a greater indignity was still to come.

 

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The long awaited end to Mick’s much despised E07 front tyre

 

It was a scorching hot day (as most are in Namibia) and Mick asked if he could change the tyre in the relative cool of his workshop. After spending a small fortune on a barely road legal tyre that the guy no doubt got for nothing, we thought that was a reasonable request, especially as he had no business going on at the time. Our tyre hawking rip-off merchant however said that he would have to charge Mick a further 50 rand for the privilege; all this confirming our suspicions that the guy was a thorough douchbag. Mick responded “Mate I’m not paying you for shade” and walked out.

The nice part of the story however is that the whole time I was waiting with the bikes in the ample free shade of the Bridgestone dealer across the road. The guys there were fantastic to us. Despite the fact we didn’t spend a cent there they let us change our tyre in the shade of their workshop… in fact they insisted on getting one of their guys to change it for us. Not only that, they repaired a couple of tubes for us too. They refused any payment. We did however go and buy a cold coke for everyone, which cost us more than 50 rand but we were happy to pay it. So in summary, Keetmanshoop Bridgestone dealer = champions, Stumpys Tyres ie the guy across the road = doushbag tyre pirate.

 

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The ample and free of charge shade of the Bridgestone dealer – thanks guys!

 

We rode into the worst head wind of the trip to get to Lüderitz. The last 40 km in particular were HORRID. I swear I am not exaggerating when I say that it was SO strong the last 40km were ridden with all abdominal muscles fully engaged and arm muscles and teeth clenched in order to stay upright. All this led to the shocking fuel consumption of 13km/L. Which reminds me, Mum – please send money (haha).

We stayed at a nice little hotel called the Bayview Hotel where the lady running the place (a fellow biker) gave us a ‘biker discount’ on a huge room. Lüderitz is an interesting looking place with distinctly German colonial architecture, awesome rocks, great seafood and with a pleasantly eerie look to the place.

 

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Oryx – these guys are the ultimate survivors. When water is scarce they can they can minimise its need for by allowing their body temperature to rise from a normal 35.7°C to 45°C. They have also been known to impale lions on their horns

 

The ride to Lüderitz is extremely desolate with barely a tree in sight and just the odd Oryx or ostrich to entertain you. The last 120 km of road into Lüderitz is lined either side by vast diamond fields which is ‘Forbidden Territory.’ Signs warn you that you are not permitted to go anywhere off the road lest hordes of ninja police employed by the diamond companies come and get you. Casual fossicking for diamonds is not looked upon kindly, which is a shame as a couple diamonds would supplement the trip budget quite nicely.

 

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Amateur prospecting not allowed – bummer

 

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Michael risking the wrath of the DeBeers sand ninjas

 

On that topic actually, it is quite funny when we meet people and they hear we are taking 3 years off work. People are so keen to know how we can afford to do that while at the same time not wanting to be rude by asking. Others come straight out and say that we must be rich. Our explanation that we saved the money by working is far from exciting so instead we are thinking of claiming to be Australian aristocracy; ‘I hope you wont treat us any differently to know that I am the sole heir of Lady Charlene von Trundlebed while Michael’s Dad invented the UGG boot so we are both gloriously rich.’ Anyway, I digress.

 

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Bluey in the sand

 

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Sand, sand… look, whats that? is it? nope nope, thats sand too

 

The desert that lines the road to Lüderitz has produced copious amounts of diamonds since the fields were discovered in 1908. During the diamond boom the desert gravel was so rich in diamonds that at night, men on their hands and knees scoured the desert floor for diamonds that were easier to spot under the light of the moon. It is said that at this time proper handfuls of diamonds could be grabbed. Imagine ladies, imagine! This might sounds pretty romantic but the reality was that this work was often performed by black workers chained at the legs and made to crawl across the desert floor on burning hot sand all day searching for diamonds. A sad business.

The diamonds themselves come from Kimberlite pipes located many hundreds of kms away in southern Africa (Lesotho and around the Kimberley area) by weathering, mostly from rain but also by wind, which eroded diamonds out of the kimberlite pipes and swept them into river systems which over the past 90 million years have flowed from east to west and emptied into the Atlantic Ocean. This is why there is also a lot of sea floor mining of diamonds along the coast of Namibia and South Africa. The interesting thing about the marine diamonds is their extremely high ratio of gem quality diamonds which is as much as 95%. This is because the inferior diamonds with fractures and inclusions that would be only fit for industrial purposes simply don’t survive the trip from pipe to ocean. To put that in perspective, the world average mined gem quality ratio is only around 20%. At Argyle mine in Western Australia, it is just 5%. Any adventurous friends with scuba diving licenses and no fear of incarceration should message me promptly.

 

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Arrived in Lüderitz just in time for an impressive sunset

 

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An incredible seafood poitjie. Tasted even better than it looked

 

For us the big draw in coming all the way to Lüderitz was to visit the abandoned diamond mining town of Kolmanskop. At its height the town was home to over 1,500 people. The residents of Kolmanskop lived the high life during the diamond boom where they are reported to have had champagne and caviar parties that ran for days. The reason for all the partying, you ask? Consider this little factoid. In just the first 5 years from when the first diamond was found, 5 million carats – a tonne of diamonds (literally a metric tonne!) was plucked from the sands around Kolmanskop. But it wasn’t all champagne and caviar, as summers were hotter than Hell, sand storms raged and water, which needed to be shipped in from Cape Town, was often so scarce that people bathed in soda water from the soft drink plant. Is it just me or does that sound wonderfully refreshing? Swap the soda water for tonic, source a few lemons and bottles of gin and get ready for the 3-day caviar party, I say!

Today Kolmanskop is derelict and the desert is encroaching to such an extent that sand fills the old buildings making for what I imagine to be an interesting sight. I say this because we didn’t actually get to see it in the end as we’d missed the limited opening hours. We managed to see a tiny bit of the place before being shooed away by security. We figured that we had better follow instructions to leave as I don’t think they would look too kindly on two mining professionals hanging around the Prohibited Area. We were gutted and have resolved we might just have to ride all the way down back to Lüderitz when we come back into Namibia in December.

 

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Kicking ourselves for missing the opening hours while trying to gauge just how seriously enforced they were

 

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Prison, you say!….alright better be moving on

 

We headed back to town to gorge ourselves on seafood and drown our sorrows before riding all the way back to the South African border. We were running a bit late as the decision to share a bottle of wine while mildly dehydrated led to me being a bit too pissy to battle the gale-force winds of Lüderitz with any real expectation of staying upright on the bike.

 

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Not a bad spot for lunch

 

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Ocean fresh calamari that melted in the mouth…oh I do like to be beside the seaside..

 

We rode to Rosh Pinah which is a mining town (lead/zinc) near the border. In the grand tradition of mining town’s, accommodation was insanely expensive with them wanting $150 for the night in crappy motel room. We opted instead to go to the national park right on the Senderlingsdrif border post and find somewhere to bush camp. We ended up finding a great spot in a quarry for another night under the stars. We chose a more isolated part of the quarry to set up camp so that we wouldn’t wake up in the bucket of an excavator the next morning.

 

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Our humble abode in the middle of a quarry. Me…true to form, refusing to get out of bed

 

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Ferry over the Orange River at the Senderlingsdrif border post

 

The next day was another sprint from the border to Cape Town so I would be there in time for my 8am dentist appointment the next day. Instead of fighting the boredom of riding on tar we rode through the Richtersveldt instead. We rode down to Lekkersing on some softish roads and then hit the tar briefly toward Port Nollath before heading south on the dirt again toward Kleinsee. We followed a bit of the coast which included entering a couple of closed off diamond mining towns that required us to show our passport and quite possible unknowingly agree to on the spot cavity searches if we are caught even glancing at the ocean. Luckily it was a Sunday and no-one found us at all suspicious so with continued without incident.

 

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Awesome gravel roads of the Richtersveld

 

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Sunny, desolate, sandy, dusty…we love this stuff

 

Keen to avoid the extensive roadworks around of Clanwilliam we instead took the dirt road that followed the highway on the eastern side of the Oliphants River and Clanwilliam Dam. It was dirt road, scenic and less frustrating than negotiating the roadworks but probably no quicker in the end. It was dark by this point and unknown to us there was a widespread blackout at the time. As we rode into the first town in a while we were met with no electricity and people all over the place. At this point I was convinced we had ended up in the type of place we really should not be in. All the horror crime stories people regaled us with when we told them we were going to South Africa circulated in my head and in the end I absolutely gunned it though the apparent shanty town like a maniac…stopping for nothing and no one. I later found out it was actually a nice little town that simply had no electricity at the time. The blackout we discovered was actually caused by one of the major electricity generating coal silos in the country collapsing. The government claimed that there was NO indication that the silo was going to collapse. It just…like…collapsed. Sure there were cracks appearing all over the thing but seriously it was like completely out of the blue.

 

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After dead straight roads that go forever, this T-junction was pretty exciting

 

Anyway, my brush with imagined danger and sore back from long days on the bike made me decide to stay the night at the nearby Piekernieerskloof Resort. It was yet another one of those places that we walk into and know it is too good for us. However, we were pleasantly shocked by a more than reasonable room rate and one of the best rooms we’ve stayed in during our whole time in Africa. We were obviously looking a bit worse for wear as the receptionist requested that we pay for the room upfront. I took it in my stride and told her if I saw people that looked like us I’d get them to pay up front first too. After a full days ride we annihilated a pizza and put away a few gin and tonics. The next morning we left before 6am and made our way into Cape Town, lane splitting like crazies, and made it in time for my dentist appointment.

A 5.30am start and an early morning dentist appointment is the price I had to pay…….because I am Tanya………and I like the sweeties.

8 Comments on “The Namibian Border Hop

  1. Another great blog. So wonderful to be part of this adventure and Namibia does look quite wonderful…

  2. Mick,
    You look to be safe mate, but make sure Tan is weary of them dolerite dykes thingamejigs – lest she start batting for the other side 😉

    Keep the shiny side up 😉

    Fitzy

  3. Hey Mike and Tanya,

    Just loving your blogs and the photos! Thanks, awesome stuff and great that you are sharing it all!
    I have been to most of these places and although not on a bike, quite relate and do intend to learn to ride / get my license this year! Oh yes all the best for 2015 by the way, know it will be a magical one for you guys!

    Looking forward to your Botswana blog…..we met in Maun at the Old Bridge Backpackers!
    I just loved my trip to the Okavango and hope to get back there with Zulu Rum that Im promoting.

    Keep the humour and pics rolling…..oh and them tyres…

    Love and best wishes,
    Tanya Hall
    fm Durban, SA

    ps hopefully even meet up with you guys somewhere in the future!

    • Hi Tanya, thanks for reading and thanks for the feedback.

      Best of luck with getting your licence and we know you’ll love the freedom it gives you. It’ll open up a different kind of travel for you as getting there will be so much more fun. Keep it upright, and my advice; don’t trust traffic, ride like everyone is trying to kill you.

      Hopefully we do meet up in future, keep an eye on our Facebook page its a lot more up to date with our current location.

      Cheers again,

      Mick and Tanya

  4. Dad the UGG boot magnate… lol! The man wore the same pair for 20 years!!!! That said my laughing was wholesome and there is nothing like the truth… Work hard save hard play hard. Meanwhile great tales and photos. Must read these more often to live vicariously.

  5. Loving this, I am terribly ashamed of admitting where I’m up to in your blog, but this post was amazing, loved it all! Such charismatic reading, can’t wait to find out what happened next!

    • So glad you’re enjoying it Amy. We do our best to ‘take people along for the ride’ with us. Don’t feel bad at all about being behind on reading the blog. Goodness knows we are WAY behind on writing the thing!

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