This is a bumper Easter special. Put the kettle on, sit back and get ready for some great photos, and forget about that stupid arranged marriage thing happening this week.
Namibia – at last. The second least populated country in the world (per person per square mile - after Mongolia) Before I started this trip, last year, I knew there were two places I definitely wanted to visit. Alaska and Namibia. And in many ways Namibia was top of that list. In 1991 I'd read a book (there were lots of pictures in it) about Elephants in the Namib desert and ever since then I'd wanted to visit the country. I even bought a Lonely Planet in 1997 thinking I might finally get there. So you can only imagine the excitement I felt as I crossed the river that forms the border between South Africa and Namibia.
I was riding with Pat/Christine and Tom, and will be for a while so I'd better fill you in on these guys. Tom is a 68 year old American from Washington State. He bought a V-Strom in South Africa and is riding to Europe with Pat and Christine. They are French Canadians from Montreal two up on an Africa Twin, modified (and painted) by Pat who knows a lot about bikes. I'd briefly met Tom and Pat at the biker rally I went to in Canadian in August and found them by chance in South Africa two weeks ago. They seem happy to have me tagging along with them and I am really enjoying riding with other people for a change.
80 miles into Namibia and we had a choice to make. The dirt/gravel road off to the left headed 40 miles to Fish River Canyon and I was certainly keen to give it a try. However we were aware that Namibia had been suffering from some unseasonably heavy rainfall and we had no idea how good the roads would be. Tom was understandably concerned about riding off road as his foot was still hurting a lot (I think I'd mentioned in my last blog that Tom had had a fall in Cape Town). He decided he wouldn't risk it and would carry on on the tarmac. Both Pat and I decided we would go down the dirt road. We agreed to meet Tom the following day and headed off for Fish River Canyon.
Which way to go?
The road was in better condition that I had hoped. It was a well graded hard dirt road with some gravel. There were a few pockets of sand here and there and I gave myself a few scares but I made it safe and sound, if a little behind Pat who is a very accomplished off road biker, to the Canyon.
Wow, what a canyon. Very similar to the Grand Canyon, not quite as big but we were the only people there. So given the choice I'd have to say I prefer this one. The solitude and quiet and knowledge there there really isn't anyone else around made it a special place.
Fish River Canyon
Close enough for me
One of my biggest nightmares is being on a dirt road, heading towards sunset and the bike won't start. Guess what. Turned the key and nothing, Nada, not a sausage. There were only two good things about this situation. One, it was the Africa Twin that wouldn't start. Two, Pat knew what to do.
His battery contacts had become loose – it had happened before – in Peru.
Ludiritz – at the end of the world. 200 miles down a one way road Ludiritz really is at the end of the world. Riding the 8 metre wide asphalt road I looked to my left. Rocky desert for hundreds and hundreds of miles, same to the right. I was riding right through the middle of the Namib desert. And I had to stay on the road because I'd be shot if I left it. That's, at least, what the sign said at the beginning of the road. The reason? Diamonds. They are everywhere here and de Boers own the place.
Ludiritz became a diamond town at the turn of the century and for a short period of time boomed. But by the 1920s the boom was over and it's been in terminal decline every since. I looks very Germanic here (mainly because it is). German art nouveau architecture – apparently.
Just outside of town is Kolmanskop Ghost town, a diamond town. Boasting a theatre, bowling alley and casino the town boomed a hundred years ago, began to decline after WW I and became derelict in the 1950s. Now the desert is reclaiming it, making for some great pictures if you can get here before the German tourists put their towels everywhere.
This is what happens if you don’t sweep the floor for 50 years.
Four have become six. We have been joined by Daryll and Angela. They are Canadians who started last July when I did and Daryll was also at the Canada bike meeting in August. They went down to Argentina and are now heading up Africa. We crossed over briefly in Cape Town and now they have caught up with us again. We're all heading the same way for the foreseeable future. Six people and five bikes.
Daryll on a Suzuki DR 650
Angela –Suzuki 650 DR
They have a blog (it’s not as good as mine but I promised to mention it)
However six became five again as Tom had been to a doctors in Luderitz as he ankle wasn't getting better. He was told that his foot was infected and he needed to rest. (Apparently he shouldn't have burst his blood blisters with a thorn from a tree and then rubbed it with his dirty hands!) He was given penicillin and told to rest so he headed off to Windhoek on the paved road for a weeks R and R whilst we tackled to gravel road through the Namib desert.
Tom can be found at tomrinbellingham.blogspot.com
Which reminds me. Pat and Christine are at www.sur2roues.blogspot.com . It’s in French.
Stopping off for a break on the gravel road we got chatting to a local. He works the farm here and the owner leaves them for months at a time. He hasn’t seen his boss in weeks and is running out of food. Nevertheless he was a happy guy and loved chatting to us. I took his photo and gave him a copy using my Pogo Polaroid. Just look at how pleased he was. Made my day.
A castle in Namibia?
I'd read about Duwisib castle in 1997 when I thought I might come to Namibia and had it marked off as one of the places I wanted to visit. It's a neo-baroque structure smack dab in the middle of the barren Namib desert. It was built in 1909 by some (insane?) German baron. The rocks was quarried locally but pretty much everything else was imported from Germany requiring 20 ox wagons to pull it 250 miles across the deserts. Artisans and mason were hired from Europe to build the 22 room U-shaped castle. The baron and his wife lived there for 5 years and then in 1914 they set off to Britain to buy some horses. On the way WWI broke out and Baron Captain Hans Heinrich von Wolf (sounds mad doesn't he?) slowly made his way back to Germany. He re-enlisted in the army and was killed two weeks later at the battle of the Somme. His wife never returned to Namibia.
Shame it was a cloudy day.
To get to Duwisib we rode 200 miles off-road. Most of it was fun – but not all of it. On the second day, Angie high sided her bike (that means she fell off) and although she was OK she'd damaged her panniers, windscreen and more importantly she was shaken up a little. We stopped early for the day and Pat and I headed off 15 miles up a side road to get to the Duwisib Castle. The road was very sandy and I very nearly high sided twice. Pat watched me coming through some deep sand (at about 40 mph) and I was fishtailing like nobodies business. I seriously thought I'd dropped it at least twice and was quite shaken up by the time I got through. So these photos come at a price.
Pictures of the gravel road and Namib desert..
And some more pictures…
Sunrise at Helminghausen, Namib desert
I took this picture of 11 children (and a dog) from the same family. All brothers and sisters. I gave them a copy of the picture using my Pogo Polaroid. I don’t think they’d ever seen their own photo before.
Fixing Angie’s bent frame. It worked!
Me – riding the Namib desert.
Sossusvlei is Namibia's number one tourists attraction. When you think of Namibia do you think of this?
I hope you appreciate these pictures. It takes a lot of effort to get to Sossusvlei. First you have to get there. About 250 miles off-road. Then you have to get into the park. Easy if you have a car but, unbelievably, they don't let motorbikes into the park. A few years ago someone on a bike went off road into the sand and now they don't let bikes into the park – even though the 40 miles from the entrance to the dunes is paved. Crazy. We argued about it but they wouldn't let us in. So we had to pay £8 park entrance fee, £12 to camp in the park and £25 to get a shuttle bus to take us down the paved road to the dunes. (Which picked us up at 5 a.m.) So, again, these pictures come at some cost.
But it was well worth it. The sunrise was pretty good but over the next two hours the dunes changed colour and it was quite incredible.
My favourite place was an old dried up lake. The shifting dunes had blocked the path of the river and the lake had dried up. The dead trees were up to 900 years old. This is Namibia's number one tourist attraction and you can see why.
Well worth the time and effort to get here.
The other famous site here is Dune 45. Much photographed at sunrise. Here it is…
From Sossosvlei to Swakopmund was another 200 miles of gravel road. Angie's bike was suffering a little and when we got to Solitaire and stopped for the night we found that the frame holding her panniers to the bike was broken. Daryll and Pat tried fixing it but it needs sorting out properly at a garage somewhere.
Our campsite at Serrium
Just a small stream but we had fun.
Solitaire is just a petrol station and a bakery. The bakery is run by a Zimbabwe/Scotsman who bakes a wonderful apple pie. We'd heard whispers of “apple pie in Solitaire” from travellers alone the way but didn't dare believe. I would have taken a photo but I ate it too quickly.
More pictures from the desert.
Sand – in the Namib desert, you don’t say…
OK maybe i wasn’t a happy as I look
I’m thinking of becoming a professional motorbike photographer.
This is a nice sunset photo – until you notice Pat’s underpants hanging in the tree.
And then the following day we made it to tarmac. I'd really enjoyed riding across the Namib desert on gravel roads. Mostly the roads were fine but whenever it got sandy it got tricky for a while But I certainly improved my off road riding skills. I made it through without dropping it – something I didn't think would happen after the sand of the first day, and really feel I've accomplished something.
Three of us were happy to see the old black top again.
Swakopmund is a strange little place. Squashed between the hot desert and the cold sea (The water never gets above 15 C here) Swakopmund exists in its own little bubble. As we rode into town we crossed the river which was clearly in flood. Lots of people were taking photos and later we were told that the river was flowing for the first time in 30 years. Namibia has certainly been suffering in the rain and its clear we were lucky to get through our off road adventure without any rain which would certainly have caused us a lot or problems on those roads. We're going to be on tarmac for the rest of Namibia but are hearing stories of flooded roads and washout out villages.
Second time crossing the Tropic (first time in Baja in November)
Swakopmund is hundreds of miles down a dead end road from Windhoek it has re-invented itself as the adventure centre of Namibia. Come here and you can go dune buggy riding, sky-diving, hot air ballooning, or on a desert safari. Or, like me, you can spend Easter Sunday doing your laundry and sitting in an internet café updating your blog.
It's been great travelling with other people since Cape Town. Very different to being on my own and I think I hadn't appreciated how stressful solo travel can be. Amazingly, some might say, they haven't told me to bugger off yet so I'll be tagging along with “the Canadians” for a while yet.
No bikes allowed
So this week I did 450 miles on gravel spread over 5 days. An awesome little mini adventure in Namibia. Was that the best week of my whole trip so far? Could well have been. But then again maybe this coming week is going to be the best. We might go into Etosha National Park, then we are heading down the Caprivi strip into Zambia and on to Victoria Falls.