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Namibia Part One

Home to the second-lowest population density of any sovereign country, after Mongolia, Namibia greeted me with a donkey crossing the road and no moneychangers in sight. I’d crossed over the Orange River and entered my second country of the African ride.

I cycled 50km to the nearest town with a supermarket, Aussenkehr, and loaded my panniers with the cheapest and nastiest foods that would see me to the next proper supermarket a mere 300km away. I turned away from the tar and began what would become a familiar scene in Namibia; dirt roads, corrugation, fences and dust. Lots of dust.

Whilst the country is touted as one of the least populated, the tri-annual migration of holidaying South African’s (joined with a healthy dose of international tourists), made any feeling of isolation dissipate with each passing 4X4 and its accompanying plume of diesel fumes and fine dust. With ample time to ponder the simple things in life, I categorised the passing cars into three main groups:

Bona-fide Overlanders: Cars/motorbikes emboldened with an array of stickers, flags, dents and more jerry cans than tires. These fine specimens understand the overland ethos and would always pull over as a matter of formality to ask if I needed water, food or any help.

Weekend Warriors: Cars/motorbikes emboldened with an array of Hire Company and hazard stickers with more money than sense. Located below the bona-fide overlanders in terms of likeability, the weekend warriors drive at high speed, often fail to give even an inch on a wide-open road and barely stop. If they do it’s for a photo of the bicycle and myself, no doubt to show friends back home.

Absolute Fuckwits: An inglorious category, the ‘absolute fuckwits’ sit a rung below the humble Ebola virus. Usually resigned to bus drivers, taxis and overlanding tour groups, they take up the entire road, chop up the entire road, and leave a sand storm for the entire road. This category, often denounced by all other road users, often has the effect in making Australian cyclists yell out loud, “ABSOLUTE FUCKWIT!!”

I cycled in the direction of one of Namibia’s foremost tourist attractions, Fish River Canyon. Touted as the second largest canyon system in the world, it snakes its way over 160km with a maximum width of 27km. The night before my arrival, I decided to camp in the Ai-Ais National Park with the intention of saving money on campsite fees. It was only at 8pm when I nearly shat myself at the sickly sound of hyenas circling my tent.

I was in the middle of nowhere, alone and frozen with fear with my trusty, yet pitiful 2” Leatherman blade. It wouldn’t have stood much a chance against a pack of hungry animals, so I resided my fate and concurred it wasn’t worth losing sleep over. They came back three separate times that night, and I have never been happier to see sunlight. Quite rich coming from redhead. On three scattered hours of sleep I packed up my gear and rode out to the main Fish River Canyon lookout.

I coughed up the 80R entrance fee and cycled one of the most horrendous, corrugated roads to the main lookout. Over the space of four hours I watched a steady stream of tourists arrive, take their photos and then leave within the space of 30 minutes; a mere blip in the canyon’s life.

The canyon system has artwork dating back an impressive 27,000 years, and as I watched millennials pout in front of a selfie stick, I really wondered how far we’d come and how I’d nearly trade it all in to be one of the original inhabitants.

Naturally, the bike brought some attention and I talked to a variety of groups and was once again on the receiving end of endless South African hospitality, being gifted some beers and a giant orange. A cloud of dust drew closer from the horizon and no sooner a ‘G-Adventures’ bus arrived, spelling the end of the tranquillity as they overtook all the tables and laid out a feast fit for all the hungry ‘adventurers’. I initially felt lonely, but upon further research the eighteen day tour from Cape Town to Victoria Falls cost $4,000USD, nearly double that of my entire budget for Africa.

Everyone had left by sunset and I said I might meet them back at the campsite. Not a chance! I hopped over the rails and set my tent up literally at the cliff’s edge. Not a breath of wind could be heard as I watched the full moon illuminate the canyon in colours of dark blue and magenta and I lay silently in awe at one of the most impressive wild camps I’d ever concocted.

I watched the moon set over the back of Fish River Canyon as it had done over the last 350,000,000 years and cut up my orange in complete, utter content. The sound of cars broke the silence and I again met the same people from the night before.

An honest reflection of the view from my tent

I’d politely asked the visitors how the campsite was, knowing full well that my experience trumped theirs. “That G-Adventures bus my God! They were up at 5:30am banging cutlery and the bus revved the engine and drove off by 6…..Absolute fuckwits”, one replied.

The dirt road beckoned north with a continual headwind that had followed me from Cape Town. I continued to fight the corrugation and endless overlanders plying the roads, making slow but steady progress north. I must have looked to be in a pathetic state, for the first time in all my travels I was given money by other tourists.

“Lekker journey bro! Here hope this helps and allows you to freshen up”, the random patron claimed.

I then switched to the main B1 highway leading to Namibia’s capital Windhoek, allowing me to avoid the corrugations and top up my food supplies. Sitting by a roadside petrol station, I downed a 1.25L Coke in no time and threw the bottle in the bin. Upon watching, a young child raced over to the bin, picked up my empty coke bottle and drank the last 50mL from the bottom. The expression on his face said it all. He then went to the bore tap, filled it up with water and walked away. This small benign act somehow solidified my existence in Africa. I’d been quite spoilt with the ease of transition from life in Australia with smooth roads, clean water and speaking English. Yet here I was, a little stunned and ashamed with the heavy feeling of privilege that I would for sure feel over and over again for the next year.

On the last night before Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, the desert climate had temperatures falling to -4C. A continual flat tire deflated my ambitions in reaching a paid campsite for the night and I had to improvise by sleeping directly under the national highway, the B1. After I’d set up my tent I realised a flock of birds were nesting next to me. A truck then thundered past, making the whole area vibrate. It was going to be a long, sufferable night. Finally, almost on cue, my inflatable sleeping mat started leaking. All I could do was laugh.

Bleary eyed from the previous nights lack of sleep, I made the final climb into Windhoek. I cycled past Robert Mugabe Avenue and arrived at Chameleon Backpackers in need of rest. I originally intended to stay for a few nights, but quick internet and a free breakfast pushed out my stay for nearly a week.

I’m only human.

Each morning the staff would watch me put away eight pieces of toast, two bowls of yogurt, an assortment of cold meats, orange juice and a coffee, then slumber over to the couch until mid-afternoon. The rest was justified after one day off since Cape Town, and it would be the perfect time to plan my next stage through to Victoria Falls, Zambia.

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