NAMIBIA WAS FULL of surprises! It was also full of challenges! As I mentioned in my African Adventure II post, every country had its own riding-related challenges. In Botswana, it was the pot holes. In Namibia, it was the state of the gravel roads. Wow – I would have given anything for a Botswana pot hole in exchange!
You may recall that in my African Adventure I post, I indicated that I took off-road riding courses in preparation for riding in Africa. Those courses were indeed helpful, particularly in terms of understanding and practicing riding standing-up (which is the ideal riding position for off-road riding). However, NO course could properly prepare me for riding the Namibian dirt roads because there are NO roads in North America that are comparable – none! In addition to being sandy with lots of loose gravel, many roads are actually grated horizontally: so, it’s like you’re riding over corrugated steel for hours, standing-up!
NAMIBIA’S GRAVEL ROADS
I must confess that much of my time riding in Namibia was spent with me saying, “Oh my God – oh my God! Don’t fall – don’t fall!” With Rene in front of me, having ridden the same roads many times, I followed his treads when I could – thankfully, on gravel roads the staggered rider formation isn’t critical.
I must also confess that with my focus on Rene’s riding path and on my “Oh my God – don’t fall!” mantra, there’s no doubt I missed-out on wonderful scenery. But hey – I never fell! Remember: at the time I was in Africa, I’d only been riding motorcycles for four years. I was one of the least experienced in our group. Interestingly, throughout our trip a number of my fellow group riders made somewhat snide comments about my riding so close to Rene – I could never figure out why they cared…
Another by-product of riding closely behind Rene on the gravel roads was that I got absolutely covered in his “dust”, on a daily basis!
One quick note about riding standing-up: standing takes a bit more energy, but allows your body a wide range of motion to aid with balancing the bike. Standing on the bike pegs turns you into a dynamic part of your bike rather than just dead weight. It makes you an active part of the suspension, which can save your back from the jarring. Also, it lets you see farther and above the dust. All of that said, it’s still rather fatiguing for long distances. Of the 5,200 kms of our trip, over 1000 kms were on gravel roads; the overwhelming majority of those gravel roads were in Namibia.
In general, getting sick while travelling is extremely unfortunate because you only have so many days in a given location, you’re in a hotel, etc. Getting sick while on a motorcycle trip is beyond brutal particularly given that you are your mode of transport. I was extremely careful throughout our trip. I’ve been sick all over the world (Turkey, Bolivia, Thailand, etc.). I certainly didn’t want to be sick motorcycling through Africa! So, I didn’t put ice cubes in any drinks (since ice cubes are made from local water and could be problematic). I only had salads at places Rene said were “safe”. I didn’t try any “exotic” foods or meats as I felt I couldn’t afford the risk. All of these precautions and yet, I got sick – twice!
The first time was the night we arrived in Hardap. We arrived at our accommodations, relaxed and had a group dinner. I made a decision to not have the salad because Rene couldn’t vouch for it. Yet, when I returned to my chalet for the night, I was sick throughout the night. Our group was going somewhere the next day (given our “surprise and delight” agreement, it wasn’t described in detail) that would take two hours – each way – by van. I decided through the night that I would forego the trip. That next morning, I joined the group for breakfast at 6:00 to advise that I’d been sick and wouldn’t go with them that day. Rene encouraged me to reconsider, if I felt up to it. In the end, I decided to take the risk – thank God I did! I’d have missed out on a highlight of the trip if I hadn’t! I’ll explain further below.
The second time I was sick was the day we were crossing the border into South Africa from Namibia. I started out the day on my bike but felt so ill that I almost rode off the the road at one point (true story!). So, after our first stop, Rene put my bike on the trailer and I spent the day riding in the support van. It was fine driving around and chatting with our driver. Unfortunately, there was one HUGE downside: the one day (of our 22 days) I was in the van was the one day (of our 22 days) that the “action shots” of each rider were taken by Rene. So, I have no “professional” pics of me riding in Africa. Thankfully, I have lots of awesome memories.
Curiously, I never figured our what made me sick either of those times. There was one other inexplicable illness moment: thank God it didn’t involve me! The day we arrived at our hotel in Karas had been a fairly light riding day. We’d stopped for lunch along the road and had a choice of sandwiches made by Rene, Piet and our driver. Then, we continued on and arrived at our accommodations in time for folks to have a drink and relax and even have a nap before dinner. When I arrived in the dining area that evening, I was surprised to see barely half of our group at the table. Everyone else was in their rooms sick to their stomachs! Throughout dinner, we tried to figure out who had what sandwiches or condiments but between those of us who were healthy, we’d had everything that was offered at lunch. So, there was no explanation for why half our group was so sick – I’m just grateful I was in the other half!
A NOTE ABOUT RACE
Although I’ve barely mentioned in it these African Adventure blogs, being a Black woman riding through Southern Africa was a very significant and poignant experience for me. As I noted in an earlier blog, I ALWAYS raised my helmet visor when we rode through towns. I wanted my race to be obvious to anyone looking at us. While I have many memories of animals and landscapes, the visions that have truly stayed with me are of children and adults waving as we rode through towns. One thing I’ll never forget is when our group was passing a pick-up truck on the highway. The truck’s cargo area was filled with children between 5 and 8 years old (unsafe, I know). As we passed, the kids looked at Rene and were fine. Then, when they saw me, they started pointing at me and jumping up and down… priceless!
As a Black person, I was aware of my race throughout my trip – as I am here in Canada on a daily basis. There was only one time in our trip that I recall being incensed by a race-based exchange. We went to an abandoned diamond mine in Namibia (I am on purpose not naming or or providing a link because I do not want to promote it in any way). It had been run by Germans from 1908 to 1928 and was the most stark example of the scourge of colonialism I saw in my time in Namibia.
A Namibian chanced upon a diamond cache. The Germans immediately took the area over, made it exclusively German space (allowing only Germans to mine and make money) and then they simply abandoned the area when they depleted all the diamonds. The Germans were management, lived in houses and had many comforts of Germany such as a gym, a bowling alley and a general store. The stark contrast, the locals were the labourers and stayed across a valley in barracks; they were not allowed to work for more than two years because certain rights were triggered at the two-year mark.
Now, that history is unfortunate but not surprising given the era. What infuriated me was that the inequities were in no way acknowledged during the tour! It was only after I asked about the barracks across the way that the tour guide acknowledged that the local Namibians had been housed there. She then “white washed” all aspects of locals’ experiences and seemed rather annoyed by my questions. For the record: I was actually only curious, I wasn’t even trying to prove a point. Needless to say, my comment card was VERY full after that tour! Interestingly and disappointingly, no one else in our group of primarily Canadians seemed bothered…
As I’d mentioned previously, we agreed early on the our trip that Rene would provide scant information regarding what we’d see and experience throughout our trip so that the trip itself would “surprise and delight” us. I felt that Namibia really delivered on that promise.
The Namibian capital city, Windhoek, was a fairly typical modern city. We had a rest day there. While in Windhoek, we spent the day off of our bikes and in our van, driving around the city. We first went to a motorcycle shop (typical) and then we checked out the city sights. Given that Germany colonized Namibia, Windhoek has a bit of a European city feel. There was also the juxtaposition of San People or “Bushmen” (the Kalahari Desert Peoples) and a San Market surrounded by urban buildings and commerce.
As I mentioned above, I was sick throughout the night during our first night in Hardap. It turned-out that our two-hour trip that next day was a drive to Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert. I must admit that, like most North Americans, I’d never heard of Sossusvlei. And, for some reason, I hadn’t realized it was on our trip – even though there are a couple of pics on the Renedian website along with a reference to a “dune tour”. Although the area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013, I’d imagine most “westerners” were unaware of Sossusvlei until Prince Harry and Meghan Markle chose to honeymoon there (in 2018).
Sossusvlei has spectacular, massive, primarily red sand dunes as far as the eye can see. And amazingly, you can climb the dunes! It can take over an hour to get to the top of one. With the heat of the Namib Desert, you’ve got to be making your way back down by 10:00AM or it’ll be too hot. We arrived around 8:30AM. I didn’t have the correct footwear (I’d worn Keens sandals) so I climbed-up barefoot. Having no shoes was fine on the way up, but was tough with the sun-heated sand on the way down. In the pics immediately below, you’ll see people at the top of one dune.
Seeing and experiencing the dunes at Sossusvlei was truly a highlight of my trip – I can’t believe I almost missed it! Now, I continued feeling “under the weather” much of the day and I slept in the van after climbing the dune while everyone else hiked the clay and salt pans within Namib-Naukluft Park . But at least I got to see and climb the tallest dunes in the world!
(b) The Atlantic Ocean
I didn’t see it coming – at all! Who knew that the Namib Desert ended at the Atlantic Ocean?! Who knew that any desert would end at an ocean – the two seem incongruous. But we travelled as far west as we could go in Namibia (to Luderitz) and there it was – the Atlantic Ocean! It was a true study in contrasts: arid desert scapes abutting a huge body of water. We had lunch at the Luderitz Nest Hotel – surrounded by the ocean and lush landscaping – and then we headed back into the desert and were southbound for the remainder of our trip.
(c) Fish River Canyon
I had never heard of Fish River Canyon. So, even when it was mentioned we’d be going there, I had no ideal what to expect. I’ve been fortunate to have visited the Grand Canyon twice in my life (as an aside, I had booked a trip to return there in March 2020 but COVID-19 scuttled those plans). Fish River Canyon comes the closest to the Grand Canyon of anything I’ve seen. In fact, it’s the second largest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon.
We left our motorbikes at our hotel (the Gondwana Canyon Roadhouse ) then made our way to Fish River Canyon by van. I’m really glad we did because – as the first pic below shows – the road to the Canyon viewing area is terrible! Of the drive to the look-off point, the website Dangerous Roads states “the road to the canyon is 57km (35 miles) long… The road is totally unpaved. 4×4 vehicle required. Nestled in the middle of the desert, the drive is pretty remote.” That’s all very accurate. But wow, is it ever worth the drive!
Sadly, leaving Namibia did not mean leaving the dirt roads – there would plenty of those waiting for us in South Africa! What leaving Namibia meant was that we only had one country remaining to traverse before we’d be leaving the continent.
One thought on “African Adventure III: Namibia”
Excellent adventures you’ve had!