What’s not to love in Namibia?
Beryl Markham, a remarkable woman who grew up in East Africa, wrote: ‘So there are many Africas. There are as many Africas as there are books about Africa… Being thus all things to all authors, it follows, I suppose, that Africa must be things to all readers. Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla, an escapists Utopia. It is what you will and it withstands all interpretations… To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just home. It is all these things but one thing – it is never dull’.
I may not have grown up in Africa. But I feel at home here. And it certainly is all those things. Namibia is no exception…. I would like to add that it can also be dismally wet.
‘Rain?’ I hear you say. ‘In Namibia?’ Yes, that’s right. Namibia is not all desert. That’s what I’ve discovered.
On the road, you often meet other travellers. Inevitably you swap stories, explain where you’ve been, recommend places to go. I was often told, ‘You have to go to Namibia’, ‘You’re going to love Namibia’, ‘Namibia is beautiful’, ‘If you like the desert you’ll enjoy Namibia’. Namibia, it seemed, was a solid favourite when it comes to African countries. For me, this sort of praise usually ends in disappointment. I’ve discovered that the understated places are the real gems, the notorious places the most welcoming… With Namibia on such a pedestal, it was bound to fall in my estimation. But sometimes I am wrong. And I’m glad.
Admittedly, on the surface, things didn’t get off to a great start. Puddles of water. And lots of rain. I hate the rain. And for the first week it rain. A lot. Yes, I realise it’s the rainy season. Despite that, Botswana had been surprisingly dry. Just short sharp storms that refreshed and revived. A most welcome break from the searing midday heat and heavy humid overcast days. Crossing the border into Namibia late in the afternoon, I cycled fast through the game reserve, watching the threatening grey clouds looming over the Okavango Delta, rather than looking out for wildlife. I made it to a lodge and put up my tent just before the downpour ensued. Wet tent. Wet clothes. Just me that was dry. The last, easily solved by heading to the bar. And it just kept raining. For the next week.
But it was going to take more than rain to dampen my spirits. I’d had such a great, albeit short, time in Botswana. With lots of wildlife and open space. Meeting fantastic people with fascinating stories. And despite the long flat tarmac was enjoying the long days on the road. Good times usually fly by. Botswana was behind me in the blink of an eye.
And Namibia didn’t seem so different. The warm hospitality more than made up for cold cycling in the rain.
Drivers often stopped to ask if I wanted a lift. One local pulled over. I cycled over to him. He leant out the window, ‘Do you want a lift? Oh, sorry, I thought you were a man cycling in the rain. But you’re a girl… a woman… well, that’s even worse.’ I couldn’t really see how a man would be any less drenched than I was, so I just said that I didn’t mind the rain (I’m always surprised what lies unconsciously spout from my mouth when cycling in the rain or up particularly long or steep hills), that I couldn’t possibly get any wetter (which was very true) and that I had nearly reached town where I could then get a shower (even though it was still 30km away and anyway I planned to continue and sleep in the bush). He clearly saw through this bullshit and replied, ‘if you’re scared, you can sit in the rear seats or even in the back of the truck with your bike’. At this point, it hadn’t even occurred to me that he might have other intentions. I’m just stubborn and was determined to cycle the whole way.
My plan to sleep in the bush that night didn’t quite go to plan. I procrastinated in Grootfontein all afternoon. Sheltering from the rain in an internet café and then a bar. Eventually the rain eased and I cycled off, direction Otjiwarongo. The road gradually rose through the mountains. Rich land in the valley. Huge cattle farms and tracts of land fenced. For the first time in a year and a half, there is nowhere to get off the road and camp. Getting dark. What to do? Cycle up to one of the farmhouses set back off the road and boldly knock on the door. Ask if I can camp on their ground. Sure, no problem, I am told. And then I’m shown to the spot where I can camp. My campsite is a spotless en-suite guest room with king size bed and massive duvet you can get lost in, complete with an invitation to join the family for dinner. Rain of not, I think I can risk a night without putting the tent up. Despite foregoing the tent and a massive downpour in the night, I remain dry. No leaking water dripping on me during the night. No puddles under my mattress. Bags dry. And for the first time in a week I put on dry clothes in the morning. Being the uninvited guest turns out to be an excellent strategy. A filling breakfast and I hit the road. Even spying a porthole of blue in the sky. Will I even see the sun today?
No. It rains harder than any other day! I have to take refuge under roadside trees frequently.
But as I head further west, the weather improves.
And nearing the small town of Khorixas after an increasingly hot long day on the road. I smell food. Really good food. Meat. A barbeque. There are two bakkies parked by the roadside. Smoke is rising from behind. I slow down. A white face peers out from behind one truck and waves hello. I wave back. Cycle over. ’That smells really good,’ I say. Already salivating. This introduction is the slightly subtler version of the uninvited guest. What more can be said but, ’Would you like to join us for some kebabs?’ And what more can I say but, ’Yes please’, already licking my lips in anticipation. Hungry cyclists are the scourge of the roadside picnickers. Not baboons or hyenas. Sorry guys. Two kebabs, a rack of ribs and a drink later, I hit the road again, fully satiated. The kind guys from Grootfontein pack up too and continue their return journey from a fishing trip on the Skeleton Coast. I suspect they stopped again further down the road and restarted the bbq, without the hungry cyclist.
Now the sun is out and scorching. That’s more like it. Welcome back the desert…