Day 6 - Getting lost on a straight road and reaching Damaraland - 25th June 2018
A lot of you have been asking if we remembered to turn of the lights - thanks for your concern first of all, and the answer is YES. The reason we now remember to turn off the lights is because every time we opened the door after turning the engine off, the car would make a really angry beeping noise. Not knowing why, we assumed it just wanted to warn us that our doors were open, in the most annoying way possible (we insulted it a lot). Well, just next to the Tropic of Capricorn two days ago we made the connection between both, and suddenly felt very self-consciously embarrassed. At least if the battery runs out, it won’t be because of the lights.
I woke up at 6am this morning after a cold and short night - this B&B was adorable but all the windows were open all the time and it was freezing in the rooms and breakfast area. Quick shower and repacked my entire suitcase before Anne emerged from her sleep and we went for breakfast. It was dark and foggy outside, we’d planned to have left at 7:30 - which we did! On time for once - because today was a loong drive and we wanted to do the detour by Cape Cross to see the seal colony.
So. Many. Issues.
First, as we set off, the car was cold and full of condensation, so the windscreen was impossible to look through. Then, the fog was so dense we couldn’t see where we were going - Annie was driving and I was directing. Street names were impossible to read, and cars were only seen at the last minute.
We managed to find our way to the C19 towards Henties Bay (Hentiesbaai), but the visibility conditions were getting worse by the minute. Heat on full blast (we were rapidly baking ourselves to get the screen to clear up, but the process was SO slow). I therefore decided to manually wipe the condensation away in an effort to help Anne in at least having an idea of where she was going. Of course every minute I had to start again but it was better than nothing.
After a good 20 minutes, we could see through the windscreen again but the fog hadn’t cleared up. I triple checked the map - we couldn’t miss Cape Cross, there was only one road leading to it, along the eery Skeleton Coast. It was a ghostly and depressing drive, with only sand and grey fog around us, and the occasional beam of bypassing headlights. 4 th check in the map, 45 km to Cape Cross from Hentiesbaai, which we’d just passed, we’d be there in about 40 mins tops (speed limit was 100km/h). Except that an hour later we were STILL driving on that same gloomy road (we could see the Ocean now though) and nothing. It didn’t make sense. Another 10 minutes and suddenly, a signpost indicating the upcoming ‘Mile 108’ in a few kilometres made my stomach sink. Mile 108 was supposed to be 35km after Cape Cross. We had managed to get lost on a straight road.
U-turn and here we go again. Lucky we’d left so early - we’d really wanted to arrive early at the lodge and actually enjoy the afternoon there. The Cape Cross detour adds a minimum of 2 hours to the journey though, so considering we just lost 50 mins in the wrong direction and another 50 to get back….we might as well had slept in an left much later. It turned out that with the incredible thick fog, we had completely missed the signpost indicating to turn left towards the Cape.
250 000 seals yelling, wailing, barking, suckling, fighting and…smelling. They stank terribly We didn’t stay long, but it was fascinating to watch them roll and loll around. This place is where Portuguese explorer XXX landed for the first time in Namibia, in the 14th Century (though the country was only colonised much later by the Germans, in the 1800s).
That done, we were ready for some sun again. about 5 minutes after we turned inland, we escaped the cold fog and were almost sweating in the Namibian sun. What a pleasant contrast. Quick change of clothes and driver and off we were again. It was almost noon.
The road was incredibly scenic - for a change ;). I didn’t think Namibia had more landscapes to hide but how wrong I was. Wide plains with purple mountains in the distance outlined our drive to the small (and sad) town of Uis, where we stopped for fuel and were harassed by locals to buy their gemstones. This town used to be very industrial, providing employment though the exploitation of tin, but the mines shut down as Namibia became Independent. So now the locals go in the mountains and find heaps and heaps of rose quartz, Kgalagadi Jade and many many more sorts. As we refuel, a young man came up to us and we started chatting. He wants to sell us some stones. I ask for the price of one but he tells me one is too expensive so I need to buy 5. Logical. ‘It is how business works’ he tells us. I really only wanted one, but he insisted I take more, because in fact, all he wanted was N$ 100 (about £7) and felt bad that I only get one for that price.
The wide plains gave way to smaller ones in a backdrop of high, round, red boulders, the dirt became orange, and we were oo-ing at every new bend in the road, especially as we passed a signpost bearing a warning regarding elephants: we were officially in Damaraland. However, we’d been driving for 7 hours and were starting to get tired. A short stop on the side of the road to buy some handmade jewellery from a Herero woman (they have incredible dresses and hats as their traditional clothes) gave us the opportunity to stretch our legs, and once again off we were.
The 72km from Uis to Tywfeflontein on a bumpy road (hi African massage) were scenic and strenuous. We were both drowsy, and I need to concentrate on the road, so got rid of the air con and lowered the windows. The warm wind was extremely comforting, and slowly again, the landscape started changing. The boulders disappeared, and dark brown and purple escarpments made up the majority of our surroundings. A ‘Doro !Nawas 5km’ signpost was probably one of the most comforting things this week, after the apple pie of course.
9 hours after we left Swakopmund, we were sitting by the pool of this absolutely incredible eco-lodge (owned by Wilderness Safaris), sipping rooibos and eating chocolate brownies. Doro !Nawas is a Damara name, and has a ‘click’ sound in the middle of it - the Damara people have four types of clicks in their language. It means 'dry rhino', because there used to be loads of desert-adapted rhinos, that moved further into the mountains as people settled here.
We’re exhausted and drained, but in absolute awe of this place. The people are sweet - had missed this after 2 days in cold Swakopmund - and the food is splendid. Not to mention the 360 views around Damaraland. We have the opportunity to shower and sleep outside of our rooms - definitely must be tried! For now though, dinner by the fire, an incredible prickly pear and toffee cake for desert and bed. Early day to track desert elephants tomorrow….
Day 7 - Desperately searching for elephants in Damaraland - 26th June 2018
Breakfast at 7am - was the best breakfast so far: PANCAKES. Although the one at Galton House was really good too.
We then left at 7:30 for our first game drive on this trip to track desert-adapted elephants, with Regie (short for Reginald). These eles are essentially African elephants, exactly the same species, except that they’ve adapted to harsh and dry living conditions: they’ll eat anything, drink much less water and that’s about it. They’re also smaller in size, and have longer legs.
So we set off, excited to see our first elephants, and we started tracking. After about an hour, victory, a lone bull with pretty large tusks (they also usually have tiny tusks) was quietly munching away at a thicket. I’ve never seen elephants in such a jaw-dropping setting, and Anne and I were incredibly happy to be able to observe this special bull.
Apparently, he had separated from a big herd the night before, so Regie left him in in peace and the real tracking began. We found, then lost, then found, the lost etc fresh tracks that we followed for about 5 hours with no luck. None of the other guides on the radio had found them and they’d all given up. We were determined however, even if it meant late or no lunch. He was such an amazingly dedicated guide, and I think quite nervous at the idea of not finding them. ‘These desert-adapted elephants give me stress’, he says to us, as he reaches for another lemonade in the cooler box. We saw kudus (mother and baby), steinbok and a lone chacma baboon, but no eles.
‘I have one last space I can take you to and otherwise it means they are in the mountains and we cannot find them’, he tells us, as we traversed a beautiful golden plain. He stops once, checks his binocs - nothing. Anne and I look at each other disappointed, were we really this unlucky?
Drives on, stops and checks. We look at the direction he’s observing - nothing. Suddenly, ‘yes!’ he exclaims. ‘Let me tell you, they are at two o’clock’. We look, hearts beating. Still nothing ( the biggest terrestrial mammal is incredibly hard to find, they just look like big rocks). Anne has her binocs and I’m squinting -we’re supposed to be looking on the flank of a very far-away mountain. A tiny, tiny light grey speck maybe stands out, but the mountain is so far away the tit could just be our imagination playing tricks. It was them.
The guides’ ability to spot animals has always fascinated me. These guys have hawk-like eyes.
Anyways, ‘hold on’ he says, swerves off road and drives bumpily towards the mountain. As we get closer, we notice four eles around a tree - the matriarch, her sister and its calf, and a younger bull. The baby was passed out under its mother (it was getting hot…and the light was hash), and they were tranquilly resting and cooling themselves down by blowing dust through there trunks.
My camera had its moment again - I realised it has in fact something to do with the shutter that sometimes gets stuck after I release it, making it permanently in autofocus. At least now I know what’s wrong with it, and can ‘dig it out’ so that it can function. We stayed with them for a while before driving off to meet a bull making it way towards the same little group. The landscape was so dramatic, it was absolutely stunning to see this big bull slowly and elegantly walk past us in a backdrop of impressive mountains and sand dunes. Damaraland isn’t your typical desert, it’s a mix of rock, sand, low grass and shrubs, with lots of fry river beds and their oasis.
After lunch (my taste buds and stomach are in a happy place here), we couldn’t resist the call of the enticing pool. As we went up to eat some homemade cakes for tea, this young waiter names Karl came up to us for a chat, and taught us to play African Casino - a game the Damara chiefs would play to win land or get new wives. It can go on for ever, it’s worse than monopoly; it’s played using stones and a box with circles carved into it. He taught us a few Damara words, and the four different clicks in the language - so complicated, but beautiful to the ear.
Karl was a funny one. He whipped out his phone in the middle of our conversation and got the lock screen to appear - a picture of him, topless. We naturally ignored it, but he clearly needed the recognition - ‘woops’ he says, looking at us. ‘That’s me by the way. I am a bodybuilder. I lift weights every day in my compound’. Anne and I glanced at each other then looked away, hiding our desire to burst out laughing.
Still smiling, we left him to his work and went on a small hike, exploring the nature around the camp. Colours for sunseet were properly African...you can see I had fun with shadows. The rest of the evening went by peacefully. Having no wifi here is splendid.
The staff sang for us at dinner. Their voices are so pure…rhythm is in their blood and under their skin. We left the table with a happy smile on our face, excited for the night outside - obligatory after our outside shower. A very special element about this place is that not only can we shower outside, we can also pull the beds out and sleep under the stars. In this case, the moon, because guess what, in the one place specially made to look at the night sky…it’s the full moon. So tomorrow will be all about waking up at 5am to admire the stars from our beds. The shower outside was cold though, the weather decided to get windy just as we stripped down.
A few bats are flying over us as I type this, and Anne’s main concern is about what sort of things will be flying around us (‘are all the mosquitoes dead [in the dry season]?’). I’m surprised I’m not either, A few years ago I would never have been able to do this, but it’s very pleasant. The moon is so so bright though…
ALSO we’ve found a name for the car. All of your suggestions were amazing, and we had a good laugh discovering them. So thank you. But we wanted something local and unique - you’ll learn it in the final post :) Bonne suit x
Day 8 - Reaching Etosha - 27th June 2018
In all honesty, I slept badly. I think Annie did as well, I drowsily remember hearing her roll the bed back in our room at around 4am. The moon was just so bright. It was like having a torch stuck above our eyes. I was determined to see the stars though so stayed the night. My first alarm at 5:20 am proved to be useless - the moon was still up. At 6 as well. Urgh. Eventually, I realised it would be pointless, but something interesting was happening to the moon as it was setting - it was becoming blood red. Sleepily, I fumbled for my tripod and bigger lens, I’m not too sure how it will turn out.
Our last breakfast at Doro was melancholic….we ate in silence as the sun rose in a pink sky. I had three servings of fruit, eggs and pancakes, and we created sandwiches with their delicious homemade bread. Each took a muffin and two pancakes, wrapped them in tissues and got ready to say goodbye to everyone. Micheal, Karl, Regie, Agnes (lovely Agnes who was like a mother to us) and all the sweet sweet members of staff will be greatly missed. They sang for us again as we left.
Because of our endless road to get to Damaraland, we’d missed out on the visit to Twyflefontein, a World Heritage site where San cave paintings dating from 8-6,000 years ago were discovered in the 1920s. So we quickly detoured there, and were in awe when our assigned guide entering the site took us to the first set of paintings. They’d been drawn using rose quartz (the strongest local rock) on sandstone, and the reason they have been so well preserved is due to the dryness of the landscape.
These engravings were used for educational purposes as well as spiritual ones - in terms of education, the bushmen created hunting maps, drawing watering holes or footprints of the animals they could hunt. A very famous one, the ‘lion man’ shows a lion with a human handprint on its tail and holding something it is mouth: the bushman who drew it then reincarnated as a lion.
We dropped off our guide, Anne-Eli to her local village on the way back (i had to sit on my suitcase in the back, our monster is actually huge because of our two spare tyres), and then, time for Etosha (Anderson’s Gate). Baboons on the road, everywhere.
The road was pleasant, we listened to the really great wildlife photography podcasts Gerry Van der Walt makes (not just about photography, but all things Africa, wildlife, bush, travel, business related). We reached Etosha in no time (for once, only a short drive - most was on tarmac, so that means 120km/h), arrived at our camp and cooled down by the pool (we can feel the African sun a looot more here) before setting off on our first self- game drive.
It was really cool to finally see some game, and also see Anne’s reaction when she saw zebra and giraffe for the first time. They were everywhere. We saw loads of eles (though few photographic possibilities, but it was really just about the experience). We also had no more food left, and dinner at the Etosha Safari Camp (a very relaxed / ecclectic campsite that also had small rooms) was expensive, so we bought snacks for dinner at the tourist shop in Okaukaukejo, one of the main campsites inside Etosha. Dinner was biltong, nuts, fruit and yogurt in a mug we found in our room. Breakfast will be huge tomorrow and we will be hungryyyy.
I can finally post all the blogposts I’ve been writing over the last three days because we have a tiny bit of wifi, but it’ll probably take forever*. We’ll see. Tomorrow we cross the park to get to Onguma…it will be superb I think..
*30/06/18 note: this was wishful thinking. Northern Namibia has terrible wifi, so am currently battling with the one in Windhoek..
Day 9 - Getting mounted by horny elephants (well, almost) - 28th june 2018
We woke up from our omelette at around 6:45sih, and opened the door to a superb sunrise. Breakfast and we were offff for a full day of game driving to cross Etosha and reach the eastern Von Lidequist Gate. Spoiler: we spent 10 hours in the car. I think all blood has left my gluteus maximus.
The first few hours were…uneventful. Zebras everywhere - even Anne who was so desperate to see them yesterday was blasé. We probably saw around 1000 in total, if not more. Giraffe, oryx, kudu, more zebra, heartebeast, impala, springbok and wildebeest were everywhere. But nothing else. Waterhole to waterhole, same thing, not one big five or cheetah.
We’re also probably going to have to change a tyre, but right now we’re pretending it never happened and that it’ll hold for another three days. Essentially, Etosha is full of potholes, and as I swerved to avoid one, I drove over a rogue thorny thicket branch, hoping the car would just pass over it. Except that it got stuck between the front right tyre and the bottom of the car. We managed to get rid of it but our hearts were already sinking, imaging that the thorns must have penetrated the tyre for us to drag it the way we did. Finding the nearest rest stop, we climbed out of the car, and indeed, a thorn was sticking out of the tyre. It was small and looked very superficial, so we broke the outer bit and hoped the other part inside would hold and stop the air from coming out.
We continue,, finding anything but leopards, rhinos and cheetahs. I had my camera and 70-200mm balancing on my lap, ready to break and shoot, and Anne had the map sprawled out checking the waterholes we could stop at.
After a while of just zebras though, we switched over and decided to start making our way to the East.
Anne loves elephants. I do too, but I had a terrifying experience in Botswana a few years ago and so my greatest worry for this entire trip - what I desperately wanted to avoid - was to come across elephants on the road after a bend or something.
So we drive on and I direct her towards a waterhole near the Salt Pan (that we went to check out, see below).
In the distance, we see an elephant, delicately drinking, with the Pan in the backdrop. Beautiful. I take a few shots and on we go.
Suddenly, just after a bend, I whisper ‘STOP STOP’ pointing at 1 o’clock. Anne hadn’t seen it - an elephant was literally on the side of the road. She immediately stops the engine as she realises what’s going on and we sit there, in awe but very aware of its size (towered over the car). It was a huge bull, who happened to be in must - aka high hormone alert, which means more aggressive. He was eating but kept looking in our direction. At some point it decided to walk towards us, before stopping to eat again. As it went slightly more into the bush, we realised we had the opportunity to pass. Gently, Anne starts the car and moves off slowly - we really had to avoid any sudden movements - and was we pass him, he starts shaking his head and showing off, clearly wanting to impress us and tell us who’s boss. I urge Anne to keep the same slow pace and we passed him with no problem. Our legs were shaking - he had been very very close.
Anne’s desire to see elephants up close was now fulfilled. We drive along a beautiful, beautiful road to the next waterhole called Springbokfontein. Huge numbers of different animal groups could be found everywhere - giraffes, oryx, zebras…we take a turn and suddenly, 4 musty elephant bulls on the road, staring right at us. This time, they weren’t as chill as the previous one. Two start coming inquisitively towards us, but with an attitude. Again, they make it clear who’s boss. Shaking their heads, waving their trunks - moving back and forth. It was all show but Anne was scared to bits and I wasn’t feeling particularly brave either (not at all even), but panicking was the last thing to do. I had flashes of a mother elephant charging us in Botswana, as I started thinking of how ironic it was - the one thing I wanted to avoid happened multiple times in the space of an hour. We were within safe distance and the car was turned off. Now was not the time to suddenly back away, we just had to keep quiet. Having the side of their heads moist wasn’t the only indicator they were horny, all of them were erect and happily displaying it.
They came SO close. Both of our phones were dead and I took pictures through the windscreen with my camera, I think they turned out ok, but it was more of a ‘moment’ experience than a photographic one. They walked by, advancing behind us but the biggest of the 4, with incredible tusks came within 1m of the car. By that time, Anne just wanted to drive away and avoid elephants at all costs.
Except that I noticed they were going towards the other waterhole, Okerfontein, and that it would be a really good idea to watch them mess around the water. So we drove there (leaving them an exaggerated amount of space, they were far in the distance) and arrived as they were drinking. What a sight (and poor Annie again, having to put up with my urges to observe animals she clearly wanted to steer well away from). One of them started rolling around in the water, and the droplets from when they lifted their trunk to drink shone in the strong sunlight. It was so beautiful. Also, the fact that they were quite far away meant that we were, somehow, much more relaxed.
In total, we spotted 14 elephants today, 6 of which were close and stressful musty encounters. After the waterhole we had another one in the middle of the road ahead of us.
Finally, we reached the eastern side of the park, chilled at a waterhole to watch giraffes drink, and then as the sun was setting we left Etosha for our lodge - Onguma Bush Camp. It is superb, and the sunset was magnificent. Couldn’t take pictures because I stupidly missed the lodge driving way too far and so we lost 30 mins driving past and back to the lodge, during which the beautiful sunset had consumed itself.
Onguma is magnificent, but they’ve been having some issues with a stinkbug infestation - Anne’s phobia. So whilst she was laughing at my fear of hornets and wasps in the desert, karma has struck and our room (we have a mosquito net) has these little bugs everywhere.
After the best banana cheesecake for dessert, and a shower, the only thing we want now is a bed and a well deserved night’s sleep.
Day 10 - Game drive and chill - 29th June 2018
‘Impalas have an M shape on their butt. It is the M that is standing for McDonalds..Impalas are the fast food for the predators’ - Victor, Onguma Guide.
Never heard that one before, but Victor’s calm and serious voice - randomly blurting it out of nowhere - created a stark contrast that really amused us on our final evening game drive.
But first thing first.
After an early breakfast by the waterhole this morning (scrambled eggs are really amazing in Namibia…actually, anything tastes better in Namibia was the general consensus we both reached) we drove to Etosha ready to find some game.
Well, we saw…elephants. All innocently drinking this time though, nothing too bad. After spending some time at each waterhole, we decided to call it a day and got back an hour before lunch, confident that our guided game drive with an Onguma guide and vehicle around the Onguma Reserve would be much more fruitful.
Onguma has an incredible waterhole (though sadly very little game visits is- probably because of other loud tourists), right beneath the dining area and swimming pool. Following our sunbathing-anywhere-we-can trend, bikini were on and we rested by the (very cold) pool. Hard to imagine this is winter, especially in Northern Namibia, where it gets much warmer than down south. We were asked to book lunch and what we wanted as we were having breakfast, and prices were ultra reasonable. So we each chose delicious sounding sandwiches, made with homemade wheat bread, fresh veg and different toppings.
Well. Remember at school when the menus looked delicious and you end up with a sad, sad looking plate? Well our sandwiches were like that. DRENCHED in mayo, it was the only thing we could taste. Half the ingredients were missing. We then decided to ask for a fresh juice to get rid of the taste of bad mayo, but it was all applteizers and the sort of drinks that would only have made things worse - we felt genuinely sick.
The only cure was to sit by the pool in the sun and hope the cake / tea time would come fast. Bravely, we swam in the cold water for a good fifteen minutes, until we couldn’t take it any longer, and napped in the sun, waiting for the afternoon game drive.
There’s an extremely sweet waiter here, who takes such good care of Anne and I. He came to us with a plate filled with the cake they were serving - more of the drop dead delicious banoffee cheesecake of last night (many of you know my passion for anything related to bananas and cake). With rooibos tea, we were in paradise, the lunch episode long forgotten (not really, we still have shudders reminiscing it).
Everyone was waiting for us in the safari vehicle (we were NOT late, for once) and off we went. Anne wanted lions, I wanted any cat at this stage. Some people in the car had never been on game dries before, which was quite sweet - especially when they gasped in wonder at springbok, impala, zebra, and gnu - but it meant stopping for any wildlife sighting and over the last two days we’ve probably seen 1000 of each. Light was beautiful though, my favourite time of day with early morning, and Victor, our guide, struck gold as we took a turn and encountered three cheetahs, a mother and her near-adult cubs. Finally, a cat! Especially these ones - Namibia has the highest population in the world, but they’re actually quite hard to come across. We stayed with them for a while, the light was perfect. Other Onguma vehicles joined us, but we had the best views. They’re such delicate creatures, with their blood red eyes and exquisitely elegant morphology. They were lazing around, but it was a magical moment.
After an hour of observing them, we drove on, stopping for more gnus and zebra…but still, no lions. Finally, Victor took us to a superb spot for sundowner and that was it. Eating biltong in front of a gorgeous sunset, overlooking a superb plain. Not bad for our last night in the bush. When we thought it couldn’t get any better - dinner was amazingly good. Oryx fillet in red-wine sauce - cooked to perfection, the meat just melted in our mouths. Hadn’t had such good meat in a long, long time. The cheesecake we had for dessert was also delicious. We both have a weird feeling of nostalgia as tis wonderful trip, filled with beautiful people, landscapes and wildlife is coming to an end. I think we’re also dreading the 7 hour drive back to Windhoek tomorrow, it’ll be long and exhausting. We’ll try and squeeze in a game drive in Etosha and visit the AfriCat Centre in Okonjima if we have time, but we definitely don’t want to arrive in Windhoek after nightfall.
Day 11 - Confusing Namibian logic, juice and red lights - 30th June 2018
I woke up at 6am, we’d agreed on breakfast at 6:30 am to be able to do a quick game drive before leaving for our 7 hour trip back to Windhoek. Anne had an upset stomach, and wasn’t feeling well, so I went to breakfast and got her a big bottle of mineral water, and let her rest before our huge journey back.
I went for a quick game drive but had literally so little time, could only stay at the nearest waterhole to the gate (Klein Namutoni) and although the light was superb as the sun as gently rising, only guinea fowl, pond birds and other unidentified bird species were found at this source. I knew I should have gone to the other, but I preferred staying 30mins at this one, enjoying the bush wake up, than 5 at the other and have to rush back.
I met Anne in the breakfast area, we packed some lunch, hugged Matheus, the sweetest waiter ever, goodbye, and off we were. It was L.O.N.G. We really wanted to visit the African Day Care centre, near Okahandja, 2.5 hours from Windhoek and around from Etosha, and I was sticking to the 120km/h limit like glue.
Except we really got annoyed with Namibian speed signalling and logic. These past 10 days we’ve been sticking to the limits, mentally cursing them but respecting them nonetheless. Some made no sense, a sudden reduction from 120-100-80 in a very short span of time, and keeping to 80 for 500m before back to 120 (which they never tell you to get back to, you have to guess when the 80 zone is finished).
ANYWAYS. We had a 1pm booking at AfriCat, we could make it but it meant no stopping. I see the speed reduction to 80, and that it’s only for 500m so I slow down, but not to 80 by the time the panel was passed. Was still in the process of slowing down when out of nowhere - of course, it’s always like that - we see the police car parked on the right and an officer running towards our direction, indicating to park. My heart was sinking, I was probably over 80, or at least when he flashed it, and I cursed myself a good few times.
‘This was an 80 zone’ he tells me. ‘I believed I was on 80, was I not?’, hoping that by some miracle I had reached it in time.
- ‘You were at 96’.
But he goes on, with a wide, almost malicious smile - he was clearly loving this. ‘The problem is that I have nothing with me to make a receipt. So to pay the fine (350N$, aka approx £27) you need to drive back to Tsumeb (100km away) and go to the police station and pay there’. Then he looks at me, with another smile. ‘So what can we do’, he adds.
I was determined not to go down that road. Suddenly, a car honks, and a driver stops a few meters ahead, u-turns in the middle and comes to greet him. He leaves to chat, for a good ten minutes, with his friend. ‘Just run off’, suggests Annie. It was so tempting. He comes back, and I was sitting there, madly trying to come up with solutions.
‘Can I not pay at the nearest town (Otavi, 20km away), at the police station?’
-‘No, because it is not the same district’ - that was, in fact, probably a lie, because we’d passed a sign saying we were in a new district. He was just presenting the situation in the most inconvenient way.
-‘Can I give the money to you and you write a receipt and give it to the police station? We don’t want to have to drive at night to get to Windhoek, and my friend is slightly ill.’
-‘No, but what else can we do?’ - he still has that toothy grin.
-‘Please, please for this time could you let us off?’ I beg, with my nicest smile, using a soft, desperate voice (this was absolutely authentic, at this point we WERE desperate, time was ticking, and we couldn’t drive all the way back.
-‘Yes, I could let you go for this time’. That smile though. Still doesn't move.
We sigh in relief. ‘We have some food or drinks, do you need anything?’ I say, hoping it would suffice to say thank you. ‘Yes, some juice would be good because I will be thirsty when I get back’. I bought him his juice and we were off. Between this and elephants, I would take on eles any day.
On we drive. More weird speed signs, and I was so paranoid. I was still at 80, not daring to go faster, and everyone was overtaking so I decided to go for it. Also, at the exit of a big town, they had built the panels in the wrong order, so 100km/h was before the 80km/h. Talk about confusing.
We reached Okonjima (where AfriCat is) 20 mins too late, so we were refused entry, and set off again, frustrated. Anne was feeling better, we swapped seats, and she did the last 180km. So many useless speed signs, again. They were everywhere.
Finally, we made it to Galton House. We smell, we’re sticky, tired, but so, so happy. We still have a bit of money left, and wanted to go shopping for local products and jewellery - except everything closes early on Saturdays. Also, we realised that if I had issues with distinguishing right from left, Anne had trouble stopping for red lights. Woops.
The shower was heaven. We hadn’t showered yesterday (no time before the game drive and after dinner we just needed sleep). But yet again, the logic escapes me….no comment needed, just look at the shower…
Dinner was equally very replenishing, just because we ordered soup and vegetables to change from all the meat and carbs we’d been stuffing our faces with all week. The members of staff here are really lovely. Actually, everyone we met has been incredible kind…to be expected, but it always comes off as a surprise. Not used to such warmth, friendliness and kindness coming from complete strangers.
I've now won my battle with wifi and uploaded everything to date. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I've loved writing them!
Day 12 - Suitcase battles and Sad partings wtth /Gaisa
I battled with the internet well into the early morning to upload all of my posts. But because of ~ le trépied ~ my suitcase was not cooperating, so I’d planned on getting up early and re-packing. I had about 5 hours of sleep, and getting up to the cold Namibian mornings, in the dark, to pack, was not fun. Breakfast helped a bit though, and we prepared our final make-shift pack lunches for the plane..and the huge layover (especially Annie’s) in Joburg.
Our Ultimate Safaris shuttle driver was really cool. We had a proper Namibian / South African house party going on in the car for the 45min drive taking us to Hosea Kuto International Airport.
Both our flights home weren’t pleasant - Anne was flying 12 hours to Amsterdam after a 9 hour layover in Joburg and I had 11 hours to Paris with 5 hours at the airport. But we also didn’t get much sleep - smelly neighbour for Anne and well for me, one word: babies. I suppose being a -sleeping-on-our-front person doesn’t help finding a comfortable position on a small and hard plane seat. Also, airlines have got to figure out their food menus. Please. I then got ripped off by a French taxi driver because the SNCF was on strike AGAIN and then locked out of the building because no keys and it was 7am so no one was awake. The travel karma continues. More travel stories to laugh about when we’ll have recovered from lack of sleep.
The hard part was saying goodbye to the car. We had named it ‘/Gaisa trare khoes’ (/Gaisa for short…hard to pronounce, even for us) - which means ‘strong woman’ in Damara. The ‘/’ is one of the soft clicking sounds coming from the front of the mouth (cf Day 7). We even had issues with that click, and it’s the easiest to make.
One of the suggestions we had for the name of the car that made us laugh the most was ‘the colonialist’ - but we were too attached to it to name it at such. Fondly nicknamed it the tank as well.
Parting with /Gaisa symbolically ended our trip. Most of the trip ‘moments’ happened with our big girl, from excitement, to scares, to frustration with road signs and the road in general, to our hazy control of the first gear, to fits of laughter, to deep philosophical discussions about food (the list goes on and on) but especially about how amazing our Mums are. A huge part of our car discussions revolved around our families and Mums in particular, about how grateful we were to have kind, loving, beautiful and especially brave souls who worry for us - sometimes excessively - and sacrifice so much. This past year has been full of challenges, but your strength continues to amaze us…we’re so proud to have you by our side. You’ve produced passionate, independent and curious girls, and we owe you a lot. So thank you. (Also we still love you, despite the fact that you didn’t pick us up from the airport at 5:40 and 10:30 am…).
It was a beautiful trip. From A-Z. We had complications, yes. We had moments of doubt, yes. But it’s actually what made this experience unique. Who on earth manages to get lost on straight roads? Stories to tell and to laugh about.
Part of me was even a little disappointed to end up not changing a tyre, but apparently we were told it was the ‘very smart thing to do’ to break the thorn and leave the other half in, rather than pull it out. So some mechanical skills (lol) were put to use.
A lot of people ask me if I’d like to live or consider moving to Africa. My current answer has always been and is still ‘no’ because it would take away the magic of rediscovering the bush every time, of falling in love all over again. Maybe it wouldn’t, who knows. But one thing is for sure, I’m a proud European, and I do sort of enjoy being able to eat raw food without wondering if I’ll be sick (my immune system and digestive in particular has a tendency to be quite weak - I usually bring back little African parasites with me home). Both Anne and I are happy to be home, and eat a tonne of vegetables, after the 2 weeks of meat, meat and more meat. With lots of bread in between. The food was delicious, don’t get me wrong. But I miss having a full plate of veg on the side of whatever I eat, and will be glad to have a somewhat more balanced diet again. Lost a lot of weight and muscle mass on this trip, and I look forward to resume training again. We both know we’ll be back, I’m glad Anne has this certitude. I’m going to sound repetitive but it was such a cool trip. We were way out of our comfort zone, particularly when we were introduced to /Gaisa (that first gear though…and the lights…) but that’s what makes it all the better. So many people made this trip special, at every single of our stops. So thank you, thank you, thank you. Namibia you’ve wowed me again, and we’ve only seen portions of your beautiful land.
Next stop for me will be camping on the banks of the Zambezi River in Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe, and hopefully two weeks in Kenya straight after (if all goes well). I am already down for another road trip (or on horseback?), this time to discover an unknown country, why not camp on the car ? So many possibilities. We didn’t see much of the big five, and I have yet to tick off baby leopards and a live hunt on my list of sightings. Of course we need to come back, or do something similar again.
Thank you for following this adventure, it was so, so pleasant to discover your comments, messages, likes and shares. We loved sharing this adventure with you - it became a thing, 'this goes on the blog' - and I'm glad some could find interest in it. If you need any recommendations or have any questions in prep for a similar trip or just curiosity, just comment below. Will be overjoyed to reply :) kahus! (pronounced key eyos) [thank you - Damara language].