Monday, 2 May 2011

Another week in Namibia, one day in Botswana, then on to Zimbabwe

Rain. You probably don't associate Namibia with rain. But they do have a rainy season (December to April) and this year it has been particularly wet. Many regions in northern Namibia have had more rain in one month that they usually get all year. Rivers which have been dry for over 30 years are in flood and many gravel roads are impassable. Bearing all this in mind I was extremely lucky to get through the five days of gravel roads without any rain. Let's face it, had it rained I'd probably be writing this blog from a hospital bed rather than a rather plush, green camp ground (with an Olympic swimming pool!?)

We stopped in Tsumeb to see if we could get a hire car to go into Etosha National Park. Hailed as the best safari park outside of Kenya, Etosha is one of those places I'd hoped to go but it just wasn't going to happen. You can't take motorbikes in (something to do with lions) and we couldn't find anyone to hire a vehicle from (most people have their own vehicle) and anyway, there has been so much rain in and around Etosha the animals don't have to congregate at the (floodlit)waterholes for which Etosha is famous. So we decided I wasn't worth it. Oh well, another reason to return with Tracy (and a car).


It’s hot in Namibia – stopping for a break mid morning

I thought this might be a good time to take you through the “average” day of a (well, of this) motorbiker. Let's start in the evening. As sunset is before 6 p.m. here I usually go to bed at 7 -8. I'm watching “The Wire” on my netbook and have a few books loaded on my Kindle. I'm currently reading Dan Walsh's “These days should happen to everyone”. I don't like it. Too blokey. I've also got Tony Blair's biography and doubt it will live up to Mandela's!

As I go to bed so early I usually get up at around 6 a.m. I have coffee and some South African rusks for breakfast (they are baked biscuits, great for dunking). Daryll and Angie are far better campers than me and usually manage to produce some sort of decent breakfast from behind their oily Suzuki's. I have no idea how they do it! Pat/Christine and Tom try to find their breakfast at a café or service station. They don't carry any cooking equipment. Sometimes I join them if I'm feeling lazy.

We usually set off between 7 and 8. We stop for a break every 60 miles or so and hope to get to our destination by mid afternoon. At the moment we are camping, although Pat and Chris don't have a tent so they share with Tom's (luckily quite big) tent. Cost? Camping in Namibia costs about £7-10 per person per night. An evening meal is usually £7-10 and a bottle of beer, £1. Petrol is 80p a litre. I ride at about 60 miles per hour and seem to get just over 50 miles to the gallon. We normally ride at about 60 miles per hour.

Two months in Southern Africa and hardly a mosquito in sight but that's about to change. We're heading into malarial Africa now and are having the inevitable travellers discussion about whether to take malaria pills or not. Often in the past I haven't bothered especially if it's only for a few weeks but this time I decided I would. Travelling alone and by motorbike is hard enough but with malaria... no way. I don't want to be stuck on my own somewhere sweating away in my tent with malaria. So I'm taking Doxy something which is a one a day pill. Daryll and Angie have the same thing. Tom is on a once a week pill something similar to larium. Pat and Chris said they weren't going to take anti-malarias. It's not good for the system and it masks the disease so if you get malaria you wont know. However, he's changed his mind and they've bought something. Interestingly, Tom’s pills were bought in the US and cost about $24 each. Pat bought the same type in Luderitz – $2. Go figure.. Lots of travellers don't take anti-malarials – what do you think?

Namibia is a wonderful country to travel around. The people are really friendly, the countryside stunning. In a country with 65% unemployment and at least 25% HIV/AIDS it's amazing that the people seem so happy and friendly. So, next time you're moaning about having to wait two hours in A&E in the UK to get free world class health care, or complaining when the recycling isn't collected, just remember how lucky you are. This is one of the reasons I travel. To see how the rest of the world copes with the absurdity of life and to appreciate how lucky I am. (And to get annoyed at how privileged we are in “The West” and how little we appreciate it)


Not a great picture – sorry – but you get the idea

Moving towards the Caprivi strip the scenery changed a little. We were now passing little mud hut villages. Children were playing in the puddles. Men were sitting under the trees, chatting, each one holding a big stick whilst the women were walking around in the sun with bundles of wood or buckets of washing on their heads. And just about everyone waved at us. Five big scary motorbikes zoom into your rural life for a few seconds and you smile and wave. That doesn't happen when I ride through the Cotswolds!

It was quite amazing actually. Almost every child and many adults waved and smiled at us. Just because we were on motorbikes. You wouldn't get that reaction if you were in a 4X4. Equally, when we stopped at one camp for the night there were two bikers from Germany. We greeted each other like old friends and spent a few hours comparing notes on roads and swapping advice on where to go. All the 4X4s in the camp ground stayed in their own area and didn't talk to one another. I love travelling by bike.

I am, however, getting a little frustrated with my experience of Africa. During the day we ride past people and wave at them. When we get to a “rest camp” it's populated by white tourists and feels very closed off from the “real Africa”. Not sure I can do much about it at the moment. Perhaps things will change in Zambia and Zimbabwe but first I have to get past Victoria falls. I'm looking forward to seeing the falls but not particularly looking forward to all the tourist trap that is, inevitably, Vic Falls.


It’s dark 12 hours a day and all my photos are in the light. This is Angie and Daryll cooking in front of my bike which is in front of a NOMAD overland truck (part-timers!)


So, I'm riding down the road, thinking to myself, why is it that I always have good ideas when I'm on the bike and I can never remember then when I get off. Today I thought of a couple of things I should I put in my blog – I think I solved the Libya problem, world debt and have worked out why 42 is the answer to life the universe and everything. And as soon as I sit down with my laptop all I can remember is that I can't remember.

All of this was buzzing around my head as I road down the Caprivi Strip. I'd first read about the Caprivi strip when I read an adventure motorbike travel book and the author (Sam Manicom) had a horrific crash in the Caprivi strip. I hasten to add that this is not why I'd come here – it's the only way from Namibia to Vic falls – but in some strange way I was worried about riding across it In the event it was quite a disappointment. The road is now fully paved and although it's a park and we were supposed to see elephants (something about the greatest density if elephants in the world) we didn't see a thing – well is as a few goats and some donkeys and one Kudu.


Riding the Caprivi strip

(All this talk about “My average Day” suggests I was having a slow week. Well, that all changed on Friday.)

Not only did we not see any elephants on the Caprivi strip, but the day hadn’t started too well either. 

I suppose I'd better own up to the fact that after 27,000 miles I dropped the bike.

Let's get the photo out of the way first.....




And now the (pathetic) explanation. Leaving the camp-site at Popa Falls (the start of the Caprivi Strip) I was riding up the sandy entrance path. As I turned a corner, I saw a woman in front of me carrying a bucket on her head. She obviously heard me coming and stepped off the path. She turned and waved at me as I passed. Now it would have been rude of me not to have waved back and, after all, what could go wrong? I briefly raised my hand and immediately lost control of the front wheel. I knew what I should do and hit the gas to raise the front wheel and get myself out of trouble.(“In sand speed is your friend, Dom, use the force”) It worked for a second but then I started fishtailing all over the place and after about 10 metres of this the front wheel dug into the foot high sand bank on the left hand side of the path. There was no way I was getting out of this and I went down.


“The force is weak in this one”

Luckily I wasn't going that fast (second gear) and I was falling into deep sand so I didn't hurt myself at all and all I broke on the bike was the hand guard. My adventure motorbike first aid course training kicked in straight away and I followed the ABC. Airway, Blood, Camera. I took a few photos before struggling to pick the bike, which I managed just before Daryll and Angela came around the corner.


Note the “woman with bucket” in the background. She caused the bloody accident and just casually walked by, sniggering to herself.

Oh well, what's an adventure in Africa without a fall?


So when we got through the Caprivi strip (without seeing any elephants) I was a little disappointed, a bit upset, and had written the day off as a failure. Still, it was Friday 29th April and if I was back at home in the UK I'd only be watching T.V and I can't imagine they'd be much on! :)

Stopping for petrol we met an Englishman called Dan. He told us that the place we were going to stay was flooded and we should stay with him in his lodge which was conveniently just down the road. Even though he was from Middlesbrough we decided to trust him and followed him 8 miles down a bumpy road and then one and a half miles down a very sandy track (which he had failed to warn us about!)


Not exactly “The Dakar” but more than enough sand for my liking.

But it was worth it. He was building a brand new eco-camp right in the middle of the pristine marshland that borders the Caprivi strip. He took us out on a 2 hour boat ride through the swamp – our own poor mans Okavango delta experience and we got close up with some hippo's and an elephant. I even went for a quick swim as he assured us there probably weren't any crocs. about. We had the campsite to ourselves and sat by a camp fire watching a far off electrical storm while overhead an upside down Plough (or big dipper) moved across the sky. Awesome.


Chris, Pat, Dan, Tom, Angie (left to right)







20-25 year old male


Daryll at sunset


Our camp



I had a cup of tea and a ginger nut to celebrate the wedding.


Yet another African sunset


We met a group of Aids orphans on a day trip and I took there picture, printed it with my Pogo and gave them a copy. I’m so pleased I have this little gadget with me.



Group leader with the (above) photo

Tom was a little worried about leaving Dan’s camp – he is still short of confidence after his fall in Cape Town. His foot is better but not perfect. He left first, 15 minutes before the rest of us but this happened…


It took him 10 minutes to get his foot free. He’s OK now.

Our plan was to then head into Zambia and hit Livingstone, from where we would visit Victoria Falls before heading up Zambia and then into Zimbabwe. I want to go and see what Zimbabwe is like and the Canadians need to go to Harare to get visa's for Ethiopia. (Don't ask me why.) But talking to Dan we decided to change all that and head into Botswana. Why? Well, in short Zambia is very expensive and because the Zambezi is in flood we can't see the falls from that side so really need to go to Zim. To avoid Zambia we head from Namibia to Botswana then into Zim. Got it?


Where am I going?


Entering Botswana through the foot and mount dip.

Whilst in Botswana we stopped in Chobe National Park. To get there we had to ride through the park. At one point Tom pointed to the right and there, right by the road was a bull elephant. We all stopped and had a good look. But, unfortunately for me, the elephant was keen to cross the road right where I'd stopped. Whilst I was busy trying to take an arty photo he clearly got annoyed and stamped his foot and shook his head. I knew what that meant ( he wasn't happy and I'd better get out of his way). As quickly as I could I turned the bike on (it's amazing how long it takes a BMW computerised engine to start when you need it to) and, as they say, got the hell outta there. I've seen plenty of elephants in my time, but nothing quite beats a close encounter whilst on a motorbike.


Ok I see the elephant, now how can I get an arty photo?


No, not quite right. I need something in focus in the mirror – forget the elephant think of the reflection…



Holy shit – he’s looking at me


I know just what Tracy would say if she heard that I’d been in an accident with an elephant. “How’s the elephant?”



Sometimes just getting to the campsite can be a mini adventure all of its own.


Sunday morning – up at 5 for a morning safari. We saw elephants, female lion with cubs, male lion, warthogs, giraffes, buffalo, hippos, storks, vultures, baboons, monkeys, impala other lion burgers and lots of birds.


Everyone should go on safari at least once in their lives. if you haven’t been (and you can afford it) you really should go. It’s a crime to live on this planet and not witness at least some of it’s natural beauty.

We only spent 24 hours in Botswana. It took 5 minutes to leave and about an hour to enter Zimbabwe, mainly because we got caught behind a dozen German tourists. I got charged £55 for a visa ($30 for USA, $65 for Canada) and then $51 for insurance.


Angie riding through Zimbabwe


Victoria Falls. I wasn’t expecting to be too impressed with Vic Falls. Not because it isn’t impressive but because I know (from photos) what it looks like. It looks like this…

DSC_0024 (2)


But because the Zambezi was in full flood there was SO much water pouring over the falls we couldn’t see a thing. It looked like this….





Which was great. i really enjoyed it. I may not have seen much but I certainly heard and felt the force of the mighty Zambezi.


And occasionally the skies cleared.





Zambezi bridge that connects Zimbabwe with Zambia. It’s also were

the bungee jumping happens.

DSC_0019 (2)

Victoria Falls is certainly impressive. It stretches for about 2 km and I can even hear the roar of the water from my tent about a mile away. However, just for the record I still think Iguacu (Argentina/Brazil) is more impressive.


Camping a mile from Vic Falls. The clouds in the background are created by the waterfall. (Incidentally, this is where I was when I heard that Osama bin Laden was dead.)

One last story for this week. One morning Angie picked up her helmet and a spider had made a web inside it. She freaked out and I (bravely – Tracy will tell you, I don't like spiders) picked it out for her. Just a reminder to us all that we need to check helmets, boots etc. for unwanted hitchhikers.

When we were unpacking at Vic. Falls. I found a tiny field mouse in my grey bag. It must have jumped in in Botswana and I released it into the wild in Zimbabwe. Later on I got changed and put on my converse shoes. When I put the right shoe on I felt a lump under my heel, as if my sock was all crumpled. You guessed it. Another field mouse, but this one was dead.Initially I thought that I had squashed it to death but then realised that it had been stuck in my shoe all day and was already dead. Didn’t make me feel any better.

I can’t end my blog on that so I’ll tell you this. On the safari, our guide told us that warthogs are really stupid and have a very short memory. When a lion chases them they run away, then they stop, forgetting why they were running, only to be pounced upon by the lion.

Have a good week.

1 comment:

  1. Dont feel bad, Dom, that was quite a sandy patch you bought a farm on! Would even have happened to Charley Boorman! Part of the experience, boet. Vic Falls is awesome!