April 20, 2016
Windhoek, unfortunately, turned out to be what I had heard. The capitol of Namibia, it’s a big city, with a crime problem. I’m sure like most big cities, there are pockets of good and pockets of bad. I don’t think they put many hostels in the “good” sections.
Outside the gate to my hostel was a sign that said “Do not leave your vehicle unattended on the street. It WILL be broken into.” Not “it MIGHT”. I spent two nights at the hostel; one before the safari tour to Etosha, and one upon returning. The first night someone left their rental car on the street briefly, and lost all of their stuff. The second night a woman had all of her luggage stolen, including her passport (I never heard the story of how, so I don’t know if it was in a car). In both cases, they were U.S. citizens. Not sure what that says, but the sign is fairly prominent. I left my bike inside the gate, with a cover on it, for the three days I was in Etosha, and was still worried about it, although all turned out fine.
It’s a shame, because aside from Windhoek, my experiences in Namibia have been overwhelmingly positive, and the people have been great.
Leaving Windhoek, I rode back up the same highway that I had just come down in the safari bus the day before, eventually turning away from Etosha on a road out of Otavi. From there to Grootfontein I passed through a wide valley, which looked a lot like the Rio Grande Valley in Texas — large, flat, grassy plains and pastures with tall palm trees and cattle — except for the low mountains on the horizon.
This would be my longest distance to cover in one day in Africa — around 515 kilometers or 318 miles — and fortunately it was all paved.
At a fuel stop along the way, I received the usual questions: “Where are you coming from?” (most people here initially assume I am South African, I guess because I am a white guy on a motorcycle), “How long have you been on the road?”, and “Where are you going?”. When I mentioned that I was from Texas, the response was “I see you have your cowboy shoes, but where is your hat?” The stereotypes of Texans are as strong or stronger than our stereotypes of Africa.
I spent the night at Roy’s Rest Camp just north of Grootfontein. At the campsite, I met Jeremy and his mum B, who are traveling together in a rented 4×4 camper truck, and having a great time. I’m still not sure I understood it exactly, but it sounded like Bea was from England but had been living in New Zealand for a long time, and Jeremy is from New Zealand, but has been living in London, working in IT. When he was recently “rendered redundant” as they call it (laid off), he decided to do this Africa trip, and chose his 76-year old mother as his navigator/traveling partner. I had dinner with them at the campground, and coffee the next morning, and they’re great people. B is a hoot. I’d choose her for a traveling partner too.
Jeremy had lots of questions about my bike setup. He rides, and after meeting me, is seriously considering a long trip on a bike.
I also met two gentlemen from Sedgefield, South Africa, who along with some friends started a craft brewery as a hobby after retirement and now can’t make enough beer to satisfy everyone’s demand for it. They recommended a camp site for the following night near Divundu, so I made a note of it and decided to try to track it down.
Leaving Roy’s the next morning, the scenery began to look more like what I had always imagined Africa to be. There were small huts, about 8 feet square, made from tree branches for walls and with thatched roofs. These homes were usually in a compound of six to ten of them, surrounded by a fence also made of tree branches. (I later learned not to call them “huts”. They are “local houses”. And the gathering of houses surrounded by a fence are the houses of extended family.) Occasionally a house made of corrugated sheet metal would appear in among the wooden houses (where does all of this corrugated sheet metal come from?), and the inevitable plastic lawn chair. I have to think I’d be the richest man in the world if I could just get a few cents royalty from every plastic lawn chair sold.
These women were grinding grain outside their family houses. I wouldn’t want to arm wrestle them. They’re using slightly smaller versions of utility poles and really slamming them into the grain. It was impressive. I would definitely say I was more impressed with them than they were with me.
African version of Home Depot: everything you need to build your house, for sale on the side of the road.
Women dressed in bright dresses walked down dirt paths alongside the road, carrying heavy sacks of grain, plastic jugs of water, or woven bowls on their heads, perfectly balanced, some with a baby in a sling on their back. Children waved eagerly as I rode by. Young men gave me the thumbs-up, while smiling broadly. By the end of the day, my left arm was tired from so much waving back.
Eighty kilometers from Divundu I passed my first motorcycle traveler going the opposite direction on a yellow BMW GS. I slowed, but he didn’t, so I continued on. I didn’t see his license plate, so I’m not sure where he was from, but the bike was loaded similar to mine. This is definitely not the Gringo Trail in South America; it’s been just over 3,500 miles in Africa, and that’s the first traveling motorcyclist I’ve seen on the road.
Several miles down a gravel road, I found the Mobola lodge and campsite I had been told about. A nice place, right on the river, with a bar over the water to watch the hippos and crocodiles.
Overlooking the Okavango River from my campsite. Hippos were a bit noisy but didn’t bother me.
Tell me where in the U.S. you can have this: a swing bridge over a river filled with hippos and crocodiles, that leads to an island with a bar. So after you’re done drinking, you have to sway back across the crocodile-infested waters, in the dark, on a swinging bridge. With great personal choices comes great personal responsibility. THIS is what I love about other countries.
Bar on the island. Looking across the river to Angola.
The next morning I packed up slowly, as I was only going about 25 miles to another riverside camp. This one I had read about earlier and had booked a reservation in advance, otherwise I would have gladly stayed at Mobola another night.
Not only was the deep sugar sand road into the camp a bit of work, but then the road turned to water…
Yes, this is the road.
Made it across, slowly. Not deep, but fast current, and rocky bottom.
The camp itself is on the edge of the Cubango River; very green and lush. Which is probably why the crocodiles and hippos like it so much also. My campsite is right on the river. I’ve been assured that the animals won’t disturb me (or does that mean they attack quickly?).
No kidding….this is the swimming pool: a cage in the middle of the river, so you can swim with the crocs and hippos.
My campsite, on the river’s edge.
Water heater for the showers. Wood-fired. Or elephant dung. Depending on what you’ve got more of.
Yes, this is REALLY the toilet. And yes, I shot this photo from the jungle. There is no screen on this side; only on the side facing the campsites.