Namibia and the road to Cape Town

I got my first glimpses of Namibia riding south from the Angolan border. Most of it looked similar to everywhere else in Africa. There were still loads of small shanty-style shacks and little bars with people lazing outside but in general everything was much more developed. One development I wasn’t happy to see was the police setting speed traps and I saw a couple of locals getting pulled over.

I decided to stay the night at a camp site resort in the town of Tsumeb. The campsite was expensive, but was super-equipped even having an olympic size swimming pool. I camped with some other travelers there who had been hitchhiking around Africa. Later I went to the bar to get some food and celebrate passing through the difficult bit. In the bar I noticed that here was hardly any black people there. Having traveled in Africa for 5 months, I’d got completely used to being surrounded by Africans and African culture and I felt a little strange to now be in a almost completely European setting. Later in Windhoek, I realised that I had gotten the wrong impression of Namibia that night as many of the places I went to had a completely mixed clientele.

In the bar I met Tertius and Pieter, two guys from the capitol, Windhoek. We had a few beers and they suggested that I should go and see Etosha national park, which I had passed about 80 km before. We weren’t too sure if it was possible to enter the park with a motorbike but the girl at reception told me that ‘people do it all the time’ and ‘just don’t stop to look at the lions’, so the next day I rode back the way I came to have a look but when I got there, the lady from the park looked at me strangely and told me it was too dangerous to pass through with a bike. I guess I should have known this, but what surprised me was that I had done an 200+km pointless detour and I wasn’t bothered at all. I guess it shows how many miles I’ve been doing recently. It was over 400 km to Windhoek but it was easy to do the distance with smooth roads and some tunes on my headphones. I got concerned when my chain started slipping on the wheel sprocket. I considered doing a roadside repair but in the end laziness won, and it held out till Windhoek.

I bumped into Tertius again at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Windhoek. He directed me to a backpackers, where I immediately saw that the big yellow overland bus was there. They had passed through Angola before me but were waiting in Windhoek to regroup with those who could get Angolan visas and had flown to Jo’burg instead. The backpackers had a bar, a pool, hot showers, a kitchen and wifi and even though I was still camping, it felt like luxury. Windhoek itself is a very clean modern city and it was a nice to be able to get anything I wanted in the supermarkets and get a taxi without having to first negotiate a price for ages. Lilio and Sanguito were in town also, and I caught up with them for some drinks before they started their long ride back to Luanda.

I stayed in Windhoek for almost a week. Its very easy to be inactive at the backpackers, but I managed to change the chain and sprockets on the bike (the rear one had no teeth!). I like to think that I made it across Africa on one chain set as I had fitted the set way before I left the UK so it would have made it. In case anyone is interested, I never cleaned the chain and I only I oiled it with engine oil every 500km or so. I’ll never clean a chain or buy fancy chain lube ever again!

I headed west for Swakopmund, one of Namibia’s major tourist area famous for the sea and sand dunes. I had met a Namibian family at the backpackers who had invited me to come and stay on their sofa. Some other riders at the backpackers had told me to take a dirt road to Swakop as it was shorter and more scenic so I had to go this way. The road was in very good condition and easily I smashed the 350 km, although there was no petrol stations and I carried some extra fuel in a plastic bottle (turned out I didn’t need it but better safe than sorry). I saw loads of wildlife on the way, including giraffes and shit loads of ostriches.

Swakopmund is a very pretty seaside town, with a huge German influence. There were loads of beautiful houses that wouldn’t look out of place on ‘Grand Designs’. I met up with Courtney and went to his place for my first Namibian braai (BBQ). The next day I went off to get some things done to the bike and Albi, a friendly mechanic I had met in the bar the day before helped me fix my leaking fuel tank. I went for a ride around the sand dunes near Walvis bay. There are large areas of the dunes set off for people to use quads and bikes on. I wasn’t confident enough to try to climb the dunes but it was good fun sliding around on large sandy areas without the fear of hitting something. In the evening, Courtney took me shooting (targets only) at a rifle range in the desert. The next day Courtney and family headed off to Etosha park and I relocated to another backpackers. I had got a new tyre fitted at the Dune Works Yamaha dealership and David fixed my rear wheel that I had dented on the road to Luanda. Later we kicked some South African arse on the pool table in the bar.

I left Swakop the next day to ride to Sossusvlei. I had heard that the road was badly corrugated, and Courtney had suggested an alternative route for me to to take, but again, I was not allowed to pass on a bike cos it was a national park. The C14 turned out to be no problem and the bike bounced over the corrugations with ease. I had planned to refuel at a tiny place called Solitaire, but the petrol station there had no fuel whatsoever. A friendly guy offered me some fuel from the tank in his car but we couldn’t find a suitable pipe to syphon it out. After ten minutes of getting high on petrol fumes I gave up and decided to chance the 80-odd km to the next station. My speedo had stopped working on the way to Windhoek, which along with making it difficult to avoid speeding tickets it also made it difficult to work out how much fuel I had used, but I rolled into Sesrium without having to switch to reserve.

Sesrium is basically a couple of petrol stations and a couple of campsites located 70 km outside the Sossusvlei national park. To be able to see the sunrise over the dunes, you need to camp inside the national park as they don’t open the gates till 6am. I wandered in and saw some Africans camping on the side of road. I went to say hello and was immediately invited to camp with them and share their food and booze. Verile and Chris, are both from West Africa but live in Windhoek and it was great hanging out with them as I hadn’t really been met so many black people since I had arrived in Namibia. I woke up at 4:30 am to be able to ride to the dunes in time for sunrise, but I was pissed off to find out that no motorcycles are allowed. The 60 km road up to the dunes is sealed but other biking tourists have spoiled it for the rest of us by playing around on the dunes, so they have banned all of them. This was a big problem for me, and I was stood by the gate for twenty minutes trying to thumb a lift as 4wds full of tour groups drove past me. Eventually, a French guy on his own agreed to take me along. We had only driven about 15 km through the gate when he realised that he didn’t have enough fuel to get to the dunes and back. The petrol stations were both closed cos it was too early so the only thing we could do was take fuel out of my bike and put it in the car. It took ages to get 5 litres out and we sped off towards the dunes. We arrived just in time to see the sun rise over the toilets at the car park at the other end! Still it wasn’t all a loss though as we got to walk around on some dunes while the other tourists were still somewhere else.

Verile told me to go and check out an ultra exclusive game lodge nearby (like 1000 euros a night!). It was great riding the worse-for-wear dirt roads there on an unloaded bike but when I got there I was told that I it wasn’t open to the public and I’d have to leave. Still I’ve stuck some pics for you all to see how the rich and famous go to look at animals.

After another fun evening of eating and drinking with Chris, Verile and the girls, I rode the back roads to Luderitz. The scenery was stunning again, but I was starting to notice the cold more, especially when I got my feet wet riding through the fords.

Luderitz is a very german port located in the restricted diamond area. There are big signs telling you not to leave the main road and I’ve been told that this is because it is still possible to find diamonds lying around on the ground. As I approached Luderitz I started to experience the strong winds that the town is famous for and I was leaned right over for a good 20 km with sand blasting across the road. In Luderitz the wind was even worse and I couldn’t be bothered with camping as I knew I would be able to get any sleep. I managed to rent a bungalow for the night and I went off to find something to eat. I had completely forgotten that it was Easter Monday and everywhere was closed except for a bar. I had a couple of beers but had to leave the bar when I has getting harassed by a very drunk woman who kept asking me to buy her things. She did mention to me that a typical wage for a maid in Namibia was 750 Namibian dollars a month (75 Euro).

The next day I moved to a backpackers and tried to change my front tyre back to the road-biased dual-sport that I had been carrying since Libreville. I have been very lucky on the trip so far and haven’t had any punctures at all. I put this good fortune down to a sealant that I had put in the inner tubes before leaving (Good call Gian!). However, I had been so keen to get value for money out of the knobby front tyre that I had worn it down so far that it had worn right through the inner tubes too! Then I managed to completely screw up the most basic of motorcycle repairs twice by damaging BOTH of my spare inner tubes. It took me 3 days and 7 patches to get it to stay inflated and I removed and remounted the tyre so many times I’d lost count. I’m putting it down to dodgy patches! On the plus side I got to know lots of characters in Luderitz when I went drinking in the local boozers. Manfred owns ‘Barrels’ a guest house/bar/restaurant that is quite a social hub for Luderitz. I played guitar there on a couple of nights and even got invited to dinner after someone recognised what song I was doing a bad job of playing. In the pub I met Boy, who was usually the only black guy there, Fernando, a Spanish guy who manages a local factory and Pixel Monster, a local graffiti artist. It seemed a good idea for me to get my bike customised and Pixel Monster agreed to do a stencil on the side of the fuel tank (Disco Dave – you’re not the only one with custom paint now!).

Boy turned out to be a compete dark horse, and after helping me with some welding repairs we went out and got hammered drunk. He knows absolutely everyone in Luderitz and the next day he picked me up in a suped-up pick up truck, that he drove like a drift-racing maniac and we went to watch a rugby match and go drinking in one of the townships.

The ‘township’ is actually just a suburb, but it is where the black Namibians mostly live. There were loads of little bars and people selling food and the street (‘street meat’). I loved being there. It was like being back in the north. People had warned me not to go into the townships but there were no problems whatsoever. This could be because we were with Boy, whose sister is the mayor of Luderitz! but in general the atmosphere was great and we had a laugh with loads of randoms.

A couple of days later I went to see Fernando’s factory and realised that a lot of the people we had met were actually all Fernando’s employees! I was really glad to have had this experience in Namibia as I’ve been told by many people that the townships are a no-go area for tourists in South Africa. In Namibia you will find African and European cultures living side by side, but you have to make more of an effort to find the African because the country is so set up for tourism that in your rented 4 x 4 you can easily pass it by.

Eventually I left Luderitz. I’d been there for a week and I’d seen pretty much all that there was to see, including the Ghost Town of Kolhmanskop, an old diamond mining town that was abandoned in the 1930s.

I rode east towards Keetmanshoop then headed north to spend the evening on an extinct volcano next to Berserba. It was very peaceful up on the mountain and I was the only one there. I had an early night on what was to be my only alcohol-free evening in Namibia.

The next day I went for a hike around the volcano and got a little bit lost when coming back to the camp because the path isn’t well marked out. I headed south towards Fish River canyon and the hot springs of Ai Ais. I stopped for fuel and met another rider who was going the same way. Rejean is a French Canadian photographer and he had been riding his rented BMW 1200GS through southern Africa for the last two months. He had managed to ride only on sealed roads and was a little apprehensive about taking to the gravel but after half an hour he was sliding around fine. Ai Ais is a very well equipped resort, with a spa and swimming pool all heated by natural hot springs, but it isn’t possible to buy anything there so after a couple of days we left to go to the border. Many of the other people staying at Ai Ais were from South Africa and we got loads of invitations to stay and have braais.

We had been recommended to cross into South Africa at the small border on the Orange river at Sendelingsdrif as the road was more interesting. The recommendation turned out to be completely true and we passed another 7 riders coming the opposite direction from South Africa. At the border the Namibian customs guy tried to charge me 220 dollars (22 euro) to stamp my carnet without success (‘Sir, you appear to have mistaken me for a man who hasn’t just crossed Africa!’). We took a little motorised pont across the river into South Africa. and then rode back towards the coast at Alexander bay then south to Port Nolloth and back inland to Springbok were we stayed the night.

Riding along the coast I was the coldest I had been in a long time and I had to put on all my warm riding clothes. I’m not in the tropics now! From Springbok we rode south to Elands bay, a small town on the coast famous for its surf. There we found the Ventersklip camp site and were invited in for loads of booze and food. Here is the owner Albert telling me the secret of a proper South African Braai.

After two booze-soaked days at Ventersklip, we rode in the general direction of Cape Town, but taking every scenic mountain pass we could find on the map. South Africa is absolutely stunning with loads of mountains and vineyards everywhere. Some of the towns we passed through (Paarl, Franchhoek) were so European that it would be very easy to forget that you are in Africa.

Arriving in Cape Town, I went to straight to find Jambo Guest house in Green Point. The English owner, Barry, had done a similar journey back in the seventies when he crossed Africa on a Volkswagon Combi van! He had been following my blog since I left Europe and had invited me to come and stay at his luxurious Guest House.

I’m feeling great to have crossed my first continent and I’m already thinking of how I would like to do Africa again in the future. Originally, I was going to ship my bike out of Cape Town but I’ve now decided to explore more of South Africa before I leave for South America. After all, How often am I likely to be here with a bike? My parents have flown in to come and see me and have brought me some supplies. Ewan and Charlie had their support team and I have my folks! We’ll be doing the whole tourist circuit of Cape Town for a week, but first, celebrations are in order!

(ps – excuse the lack of descriptions on the pics, and the upside down photos. I’m having major uploading issues! – will sort later)

4 thoughts on “Namibia and the road to Cape Town

  1. Andy, You have made it through an amazing country…love the photos of the desert, the bike seems to be holding up well too, I guess some things will wear out through all the continued abuse … all the very best from us all… Andy Fay says hi too…
    Best regards

  2. Amazing photos as ever. Although the way the gallery is set up it looks like you are taking aim at a small girl who dared to try and steal your bike. You’re a harsh man Andy.

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