A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Petravs

Two women, a big car and a roadmap ...

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… that is how the story of this traveladventure begins. From desert to ocean to savana plains and mountains, Namibia is a top destination for people who like to travel independently. After doing some group travels over the past years, it was great to be on the road with a friend for 3 weeks and travel at our own pace. With a size of 824.000 km2 and a population of only 2 million, there are vast open landscapes. To me there’s nothing like the sensation of driving on these open roads – gravel in this case ☺ - and seeing it all pass by, the scenery, the people, the wildlife. We chose to stay in lodges and bush camps, many others camp or do a combination.

Whatever way you like to travel, you will find the 'waw experiences' in Namibia. There is something about the country that gets into the heart of every traveller, far away from the crowds and stress. Ofcourse the country has problems of its own. There is an enormous gap between rich and poor, also creating social and health problems like alcohol abuse, and high numbers of HIV. And yes, we have seen poverty, people living in poor conditions, walking in the scorching sun in the middle of nowhere. But in our contacts with Namibians, whether they were white or black, we also saw an enormous will to move forward.

And what about safety? We didn’t experience any trouble. Namibia is a fairly safe country to travel through, even for two women. In fact at the moment, I feel safer in Namibia than anywhere in Europe to be honest... Just use common sense and listen to the advice of the people in the lodges and guesthouses. The main risk seems to be road accidents due to high speed. So travel slowly, make sure you get to your destination before dark, get enough fuel, and take water and some food with you ... oh and a satellite phone might come in handy too (especially if you don’t know how to change a tire :-)).

On our 3000 km trip there were so many highlights, from seeing the most amazing nightsky in the Namib Desert, to sitting in a hut with a group of Himba women and a two week old baby, late night campfire talks, tagging along with a group of Bushman people showing us their ancient knowledge and traditions, watching an elephant passing by at just 2 meters in front of the car, ‘cruising’ over the high sand dunes at Sandwich Harbour and then seeing how the cold and wild Atlantic Ocean meets the high sand, the sight of hundreds of flamingos on a beach near Walvisbaai, seeing a lion having his lunch snack, observing large amounts of giraffes and zebras drinking at a waterpool, watching the sun go down over the desert or the palmtrees in Palmwag, ... need I say more?

I hope this blog inspires to travel, whatever destination you chose.

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Previous blogs:

http://kiwiblog.travellerspoint.com (2010)
http://pearlofafrica.travellerspoint.com (2011)
http://roadtripusa.travellerspoint.com (2012)
http://cuba2013.travellerspoint.com (2013)
http://awesomecanada.travellerspoint.com (2014)
http://grancanaria2015.travellerspoint.com (2015)
http://irishroadtrip2015.travellerspoint.com (2015)

Posted by Petravs 11:27 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

"You have a big car, it's like a bus"

Windhoek

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The sun comes up as me and my friend Lesley step of the plane in Windhoek. After a whole night of flying we wake up in a different world. Namibia, there it is. After months of planning and dreaming our feet touch the soil of this African country. It’s a very small airport and we go through passport control – where Lesley is nearly stopped because of some problem with the arrival paper we had to fill in. In the arrival hall we mainly see people from travel organisations picking up groups. But we are all set to travel as a duo in our rental car. We queue to get our euros exchanged for Namibian dollars, and after about half an hour they tell us they don’t accept VISA, only cash. Oh well, this is Africa. We’ll try in Windhoek.

Next step is picking up the car. The guy at the counter copies our driving licenses, makes sure we sign some papers and he adds: “You have a big car. It’s like a bus.” He probably finds it strange that two women travel without men and on top of that manage to hire the biggest available car. It’s a Ford Ranger, 4x4. My little Mazda fits in nearly 3 times honestly! But we better get used to it. This is our loyal road companion for the next 3 weeks. Lesley is brave enough to take the first driving shift. But before we can leave the airport, the guy asks us to follow him to a nearby little center where they offer some education about driving in Namibia. There’s an obligatory video showing the dangers of being on the (gravel) roads in Namibia. Yes, speed kills, as we see on photos of car accidents. What a way to be welcomed ☺ We’re getting a tiny bit worried. But the guy says: “you’ll be fine!” Just ... don’t ... speed. And oh yes, drive on the left side of the road! That’s a lot to take in after a sleepless night on a plane. A bit shaky we hit the road. Lesley drives and I’m the navigator. Left, left, left, is my main advise. It’s about a 45 minute drive to the city of Windhoek where we’ll stay in a B&B before we really hit the road.

We don’t have a GPS, but the paper roadmap brings us exactly where we need to be: The Elegant Guesthouse, just outside the center in a quiet street. We are immediately welcomed by the lady at reception, offering us a cold drink, tips on visiting Windhoek, breakfast times, ... We immediately notice she’s very careful about safety guidelines in town. “During the day you should be fine in the main streets. But don’t take your big camera with you.” The guesthouse has a deal with a taxi driver, so we can call him later when we want to go into town. But first we put our bags in the room and take a moment to sit in the sunshine in the garden and take it all in. Our holiday begins. Three weeks on the road lie ahead of us! A fantastic feeling. After a simple brunch/lunch the taxi picks us up and brings us to perhaps Windhoek’s most ‘famous’ landmark: the Christus Kirche. For us Europeans a small and modest church. A man sits on the doorstep. Tries to sell us a key hanger. “Please, there is a lot of unemployment,” he tries to convince us. But I don’t even have a Namibian dollar in my pocket. He does have a top sales argument: “If you buy this one from me now, others will leave you alone!”. Hadn’t heard that one before. But still, he’s not too obtrusive and we manage to politely say goodbye.

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We cross the street over to the Tintenpalast or Ink Palace, the Parliament building, surrounded by large gardens. Walking up the steps to the entrance we gaze at the Windhoek skyline. Though ‘skyline’ might be an overrated term. Namibia’s capital isn’t really what we came for. It doesn’t even feel like a real African city. The main street Independance Avenue is busy. We manage to get money from a cash machine and visit a giant super market to get some basic supplies. We also learn that the local fast food chain is called – appropiately – ‘The Hungry Lion”. After a quick lunch – some place else than the hungry lion though - we wait for our taxi driver again. But it’s African time, so 2 pm becomes nearly 2.30 pm. What matters is that we are in a trusted cab and back in the guesthouse we start to feel the consequences of a sleepless night. Time for a siesta.

Late afternoon we meet Elisabetta, an Italian women who works for Wild Africa Travel and comes to give us some last info before we really hit the road. Peculiar woman! Oh, how she loves the Belgians. They show so much interest and the women dress really nice!! For about 1,5 hour she keeps us entertained. What to do if a Namibian family stands in the middle of the road in a remote area? In any case, no hitchhiking! And what about the roadblocks? “Don’t be scared if the police officer asks you funny questions. When you’re in a remote area he probably just wants to make conversation because he hasn’t seen anyone in a long time.” She insists we message her every evening so she knows we are safe at destination. “You have to be at destination before dark! If you’re not there we start a search!” It’s a lot of info to take in, but we’re ready for the adventure to begin. We end our first day with dinner at Joe’s beerhouse, a very popular spot apparantly. Lesley tries a variety of meat (yes, even crocodile!). I stick to fish. Back at the guesthouse the security guy is on duty for the night shift at reception. It’s a young boy really. He tells us he goes to school during the day and then works at night. We offer him the fresh fruit from our room – a tip Elisabetta gave us “they will never ask for it, but a red apple is really appreciated.”

Posted by Petravs 11:22 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Under the milky way

Windhoek - Namib Naukluft Park

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First real day of the roadtrip. We have a relaxed breakfast and then load the car with our luggage. On leaving Windhoek we have a quick stop at a petrol station to buy water and then we leave the capital behind us. For a long time we drive on a tarred road, but then comes the C23, our first gravel road. Immediately it’s a different feel of travelling. More remote, slower and very dusty ☺

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Because it’s our first day getting used to the car and the roads we drive for nearly 6 hours to the Namib Naukluft Park where we stay for 3 nights in Hoodia Desert Lodge. Late afternoon we reach the gate of the lodge. We have to open it to enter the long driveway to the lodge. There’s no way to tell yet what the place will be like. Slowly we make our way untill at the backdrop of a mountain we spot little houses and a bigger main building. It looks fantastic and only gets better as we come closer. Like a fata morgana! As soon as I park the car, owner Thomas is there to greet us with wet towels and cold drinks. He leads us into the lounge of the main building and we are overwhelmed. The interior is fantastic. We are invited to take a seat and we learn our host loves to talk! He was born in Poland, but grew up in Germany, and now he and his wife have this fantastic place in the Namib desert. He tells us about the day trip they organise to Sossusvlei with guides from the lodge and we say we’ll think about it (you can also drive into Sossusvlei with your own car and we don’t want tob e pushed into some expensive organised trip). Thomas shows us around the mainbuilding, the restaurant, outer deck, small swimmingpool and then we go to our own little ‘house’. The views over the area are magnificent. There’s anough distance between the guest houses, so we enjoy the silence and really just sit on our little terrace enjoying being there and watching the sun go down. It’s winter time in Namibia, so by 5.30 pm it starts to get dark. Above us soon unfolds the most amazing night sky. I’ve rarely seen so many stars – certainly never in Belgium with all the light and air pollution – even the milky way is visible. Guided by the light of our lamp (provided by the lodge) we walk to the main building for dinner.

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The restaurant is a large circular area with very high ceiling. The window doors to the outer deck are open and all the staff are incredibly friendly. We’re spoilt with a delicious 3 course dinner and then go out to the deck where we sit in the dark and gaze at the night sky. I feel so lucky to be there. We decide to do the guided daytrip to Sossuvlei on our 2nd day in the Namib desert. So one of the guides, Jonathan, gives us a suggestion for a selfdrive activity the next day. He draws us a map to do a part of the Waterkloof walk. By the time he finishes the map, he says we can also take a shortcut over the land of the lodge and then unlock the gate, which would safe us up to 40 minutes of driving. So he redraws the map ☺

Posted by Petravs 11:21 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Jonathan's map

Hoodia Desert Lodge - Namib Naukluft Park

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After breakfast we hit the road using Jonathan’s map. We follow the rocky driveway passing the guesthouses. It’s a bumpy start but we enjoy every minute. We reach the gate leading up to a gravel C-road and unlock the chain. We attach a little plastic bag to the gate, so we can spot it again when driving back. It’s just a long stretch of road so we’d easily pass it. Jonathan’s description brings us without problems to the gate with the sign of the wild mountain zebra’s. Another 10 km lie ahead of us, through a beautiful mountainous landscape. We arrive at a small building with reception and bar where we pay a small fee. They are not in a hurry, but neither are we. The Waterkloof trail is 17 km long, but we will only follow the beginning of the trail leading up to some waterpools. “Are there any dangerous insects by the pool?” Lesley asks the woman. She stays silent for a minute, looking down on her paper and then she says: “There is NOTHING dangerous there.” (stupid tourists, but she doesn’t say that out loud).

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The trail is marked with yellow-painted footprints on the rocks and soon we walk by the Naukluft river, though it’s just a small stream here. It’s warm but the trees offer some shade and we spot a group of baboons. They seem to observe us too, but keep a distance. We see no mountain zebra’s though, but then again we’re only walking by the river and not higher up. We don’t find any real pools – according to Jonathan we would even be able to take a dip but we don’t see how– and return to the starting point after about 2 hours for a simple lunch. It’s quiet in the park, just a few other travellers, and that suits us fine. We have a smooth drive back to the lodge and spot the gate with the plastic bag ☺ We’re back in time for another sunset.

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Posted by Petravs 11:20 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

"We are no tourists, we are explorers."

Sossuvlei

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Today is our exploration of Sossusvlei. We get up at 4.30 a.m., and have a very early breakfast because we hit the road at 5.30 a.m. so we arrive at Sesriem gate when the sun comes up. There are 6 French people, a German couple, an Australian couple and a British couple. We put all the French together in the car with Jonathan ☺ Our driver is called Johnny and he seems to have some more humour than Jonathan who is the leading guide today. Despite the early hour he’s already making jokes and he asks us all to introduce ourselves.

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At Sesriem gate there’s a short line of cars waiting and the sky starts to light up purple and red. A group is doing some yoga while waiting. The British man is in the car with the French and says to his wife who is in ‘our’ group: “well, you are definitly in the good car...”. The ambiance isn’t happening yet with the French. Then the gate opens and we start the 60 km drive to the Sossuvlei area. But I’m glad we don’t rush and take time to stop along the way. We see air balloons rising in the sky as the sun comes up. Jonathan and Johnny take us out for a first walk to talk to us about the geology of the desert and the life on and under the sand. We spot a snake and a spider called ‘white dancing lady’. I have no desire to meet a scorpion. “What is a desert?” Jonathan asks like a real teacher. I would say: a dry place where it’s very very hot. The scientific explanation is a bit more complex and Jonathan draws numbers and schedules in the sand with a long stick. The Namib desert is at 55 million years the oldest desert in the world, but it’s certainly not a ‘dead’ place. Surviving in the desert is harsh, but some species seem to be adapted. Spiders, gecko’s, beetles, snakes, birds... and also springbok, oryx, kudu, .... they might seem less impressive than the big safari animals, but they are pretty tough.

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As we continue our drive to the heart of Sossusvlei, we admire the shapes and colours of the red sand dunes. A popular tourist activity is climbing a dune. “But we are no tourists, we are explorers!” Jonathan states. So no, we don’t climb a dune. I’m not heartbroken, it’s getting terribly hot and I’m sure I can appreciate this special place without the exhaustion of tackling a sand giant. Still, the sand is a challenge. The Sossusvlei can only be reached with a 4x4 car, and even then many people get stuck. Ofcourse that can’t happen to us because Johnny drives here nearly every day! Yep, you guessed right ... we sink in deep. And Johnny’s manouvres to try to get us out only make it worse. The engine roars and we smell burning. “Can we do something to help?” one of the women squeeks. Johnny doesn’t even answer, no jokes now. It’s time to get out of the car. We don’t even need to step down anymore, the wheels are totally covered in sand. Jonathan’s car is already ahead so they can’t help us. But immediately another driver of a desert tour stops to try to pull our car out. He’s driving around with a bunch of Asian tourists who start clicking their photocameras. Yes, we are an attraction! Johnny and the other driver connect the cars with a cable. The cable snatches. Boy boy, this isn’t Johnny’s day. Another safari truck stops and this time the rescue is succesful. We thank the other driver and we get back into our car. “The guys will tease me with this for at least a week!” Johnny nods. And we say “oh, but it was an adventure, Johnny! How boring it would have been without getting stuck in the sand!”

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We stop near Deadvlei where we walk the last kilometer tot this peculiar place. Deadvlei is an old pan with merely the skeletons of trees left – some over 500 years old. A walk over a sandbar takes us there. It’s only a kilometer, but it’s midday and the air is hot hot hot and very dry. Time to get the sun hat out, sun factor 50 and water. I have seen photos of Deadvlei so many times and it’s strange to finally stand there myself. The colours are bright: the blue of the sky, the red of the dunes, the almost white of the cracked underground and the brown-black of the dead trees. Very peculiar. It’s a pity it’s just too hot to stay out a bit longer and get a better feel of the place. But our bodies just tell us to get out of the sun and after about 20 minutes we head back to the car in desperate need of a cold drink and some food.

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We’ve been on our feet since 4.30 a.m. and start to feel it. Good news though, Jonathan and Johnny have the perfect lunch stop under a wide accacia tree. We are invited to just take a seat on a camping chair and before our eyes unfolds a peculiar routine. We are in the middle of nowhere and our guides set a table like we are in some classy restaurant for lunch. I expected they would hand out sandwiches or something, but oh no these gentlemen don’t just go for your average pick nick. There are table cloths, napkins, complete set of cuttlery, glasses, butter on little plates, and even an improvised sink where we can wash our hands. The salads and cold meat are displayed on a buffet table and on the drinking list is anything from water and cola to rosé wine and beer. We propose a toast and enjoy our fancy desert lunch. The food attracts little birds, the so called sociable weaver. They build large compound community nests, a rarity among birds. We have seen many nests along the way, huge bird houses in the trees.

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Sitting around our big lunch table it’s time for us to be sociable too. We learn that our French companions are all from around Marseille. There’s this mother and daughter travelling together and they don’t even seem to like eachother. The mother isn’t in such good shape and for the whole day Jonathan and Johnny pay special attention to ‘maman’, even getting her food, or offering her an arm when she needs to walk a bit. The daughter doesn’t seem too enthousiastic about her ‘maman’ and I wonder why they are on this roadtrip together. The Australians and British are befriended couples. And then there’s Birgit and Michael from Germany who are also at the beginning of their trip and already had bad luck with the car. One day on the road and all the electrics failed, so the rental company needs to replace it. It’s stressy for them. “Hey man, what did you do to your car?” Jonathan teases Johnny, referring to the stuck-in-the-sand incident. And then it’s time for coffee and cookies.

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The day isn’t over yet. We cannot leave the area without a little exploration of Sesriem Canyon, on our way out of the park. It’s a narrow fissure in sandstone, 30 meters deep in places, carved by the Tsauchab River. It was used by the early settlers, who drew water from it by knotting together six lengths of hide ropes (‘zes riemen’ in Dutch, or ses riems in Afrikaans). Certain times of the year the river’s bed is marked with refreshing pools. Heavy rains can also cause flash floods in the canyon. Then you won’t make it out alive. We are visiting in a very dry time, no danger there, so we descend. At least, half of the group does, the others decide to head back to the lodge. Johnny takes us on a short walk and explains the geology to us.

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By late afternoon we’re back in our beloved lodge. Last evening in this enchanting place. It’s only the beginning of the journey and we already feel nostalgic about leaving this place. We are spoilt once more with a delicious dinner and we spend some time in the gorgeous lounge (I want a living room like this!) going through large photo books. The images show us what to expect for the next part of the trip and walking back to our desert ‘house’ under the stars I cherish the very moment, pure joy of travelling and discovering beautiful parts of the world. Large grasshoppers welcome us at the door.

Posted by Petravs 11:18 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

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