NAM. YOU WON’T KNOW TILL YOU’VE BEEN THERE MAN
If you’re a typical South African like I am, then all that separates you from Namibia is a passport and a full tank of gas. Here’s why you should fill up and join the queue at your local home affairs
If I’m honest, I’ve never been anywhere outside South Africa before. But I do watch a lot of television. And besides, Namibia is not much more than a tenth province (a vast one) right? And I’m almost certain it’s the home of Windhoek beer – and judging by their lagers and draughts alone, this was going to be one trip to remember. Ergo, this was practically a pilgrimage. How different could it be?
LANDED: AND IT’S DAY ONE
The flight from Cape Town to Windhoek’s major airport takes exactly as long as one to JHB – two hours of compact (contrived) bliss. Apart from landing on what looks suspiciously like an abandoned field – the weather and the terrain all looked and felt very familiar. The friendly Isuzu folk who orchestrated our trip were on hand to usher us into an assortment of KB double cabs bakkies including petrol and diesel derivatives. These were not new cars; they were dealership demo models and had been filled to bursting point with snacks of all descriptions – so things were on the up. Until I realised that my cellular network’s roaming abilities were not up to scratch and a Namibian sim card was needed to make my phone act like one. With this bought, charged, loaded and inserted I was ready to go… “shotgun!”
LEG1: WINDHOEK TO KHORIXAS
Driving duty on this first stint fell with fellow scribe, Brett, who had proceeded to gun our petrol KB through the gates of the airport and onward in convoy to our first destination – a swish overnight lodge in the Khorixas in the North some 400km away. The KB’s air conditioning was a welcome feature warming up the cabin in stark contrast to the harsh cold outside – don’t be fooled by all that sand and sun. Namibia is definitely the kind of place where you’ll need thick layers of clothing just as readily as sun block. I haven’t packed in any lip ice and am already feeling my lips get all scratchy and blistered. Still the drive is beautiful and the vehicle is more than capable of powering through the empty (traffic, there is no such thing here) highways and freeways, occasionally half covered in sand. It’s not uncommon to see sea on one side of the road, and desert on the other either – with mighty dunes and rock structures littering the landscape. Lunch is our reward after a series of driver changes, course corrections and the like. Des Fenner and his team have decided to ignore the normal rigmarole of route planning etc. and we’re as a result most likely the most chilled 6 car convoy on the road. A few more hundred kays away lay our destination, our lodge in the Khorixas. Everything is a few hundred kays away, everything. The locals oft describe their driving routines and if you include return journeys it’s easy to chalk up 1000kms in a day. Some poor bastards have to do it everyday. So it’s encouraging to see other older dust covered, sun baked KBs still doing duty in the dirt. Distributing newspapers and magazines must be hell. In contrast, internet and cell connectivity thrives – my Nokia’s enjoyed four bars of signal since I’ve stuck in that Nami sim. A hearty supper and the sum of the journey means we sleep like babies.
LEG 2: THROUGH DAMARALAND TO WALVISBAY
The ride in last night was done in total darkness. It seems that in Namibia the heavens have a light switch and in winter that gets turned off at 6pm sharp. It’s a shame as we missed the sight that presented us this morning – stretched along the mountain range was our lodgings, now bathed in sunlight. It’s a beautiful sight but there’s no time to admire it as we’re quickly ushered into our Isuzu KBs for another four hundred and odd kilometres. We cover most of it through dried river beds – coating our tyres and most of the body work with muddy dirt. The views are unforgettable. Huge rocks and hills line the rivers and we roll deathly silently between them for quite some before rejoining the highways. This time we’re moving north and it’s along the shore on route to Walvis Bay. It’s windy, the sand from the desert on our left blows across the highway and onto the beach immediately on our right (Why did the sand cross the road…) creating the illusion that the road we’re on is made entirely of sand. There’s no need to imagine however as it soon turns to exactly that, not to mention gravel and all sorts of slippery stuff. The KB’s four wheel drive are a boon with lengthy stretches of road covered in loose stuff and sand – we’re keeping 400m gaps between us just to avoid driving in dust clouds. On the right of us massive smooth rocks (hills really) litter the horizon. Ten minutes later, we were parked on top of one as all six KBs managed to scale the largest with little effort – another party trick. We stop for fuel and refreshments before making our way to Walvisbay. It’s getting dark and sure enough just past 6 o clock it’s officially night time. And that meant a hearty supper before retiring to our 70s throwback hotel rooms. By now, my lips were completely chapped and unhappy – must remember to get lip ice at the garage tomorrow.
LEG 3 WALVISBAY TO WINDHOEK
Yawn. Day three starts off with a full breakfast and the promise of a plane trip home by noon – funny how you’re always glad to return home, even after a particularly epic trip, and no matter how comfortable your hotel room was the night before. Still, we were all glad to leave for home. By now we’d formed a relationship with our black bumpered, petrol KB and were happy to chuck our luggage in and scramble onboard one last time for our final leg. I’m at the wheels for this part of the drive and with nothing too daunting or taxing to worry about the kilometres just melted away. Our final lunch with the Isuzu team was a lengthy one with much of Windhoek’s finest export consumed and laughs had – we even had three days of stories to retell, all of it good. A hop into a mini bus for the short trip to the airport means we had to part ways with our KB after three happy days inside and that was a genuinely sad moment, but I had bigger problems – my lips were I’m sure close to all but falling off and I was yet to find a shop that had a remedy. Relief would only be found at the airport 3 hours later. Ouch.
Namibia is a beautiful land – and whilst it feels instantly familiar, there is much that gives it its own charm. The landscapes are unique. The sunlight over the acreage of sand is playful, caressing even. The dunes and river beds inspire outdoorsy behaviour and the people are friendly. Go see it. Go see it in a KB. I did and it bloody rocked. But pack in your lip ice.