Namibia: End of a long journey
13th July - 29th July 2002
The day had finally arrived, the day I made my final journey of this trip across Africa. I got up early for breakfast on Saturday morning; it was still dark and foggy outside. I had decided that as this was my last journey I would hitchhike back to Windhoek along the trans-Kalahari Highway. After my previous experiences hitchhiking across the Namib Desert I planned to make an early start, soon after dawn. After saying goodbye to everyone I finally left the Space far later than intended. The two Israeli girls were also returning to Windhoek today, but had decided to take the bus instead; we agreed to meet again later in the day at the Cardboard Box.
The Alternative Space Backpackers is in an ideal location near to the highway. For once I didn't have to walk for kilometres to get to the edge of town and away from local traffic, I woke up already there. I left the Space and headed off into the desert and the fog, crossing the railway line and soon arriving at the highway just east of the bridge over the railway. I walked for a short distance east until I passed the forlorn looking Martin Luther. There I waited for some traffic, the fog now lifting, I could see as far as the bridge in the distance. Traffic heading east out of Swakopmund and into the desert was light, as I expected. The odd vehicle passing me didn't stop and continued off into the distance. I waited for almost an hour until a pickup truck pulled over and offered me a ride all the way to Windhoek.
I threw my pack in the back and climbed in, eager to get going back to Windhoek. Standing beside a highway going nowhere does get demoralising after a while and I was only too happy to at last be on the move again. The pickup truck was old and had seen better days, the interior a mess as though it had never been cleaned; I must admit that living in a desert environment it cannot be easy to keep a vehicle clean. The driver was middle aged, I would of guessed he was in his forties; he had an unkempt appearance, unshaven, long black hair, which looked as though it hadn't been washed for some time. I couldn't place his ethnic background; he seemed to be from some Mediterranean descent. Both the driver and the vehicle appeared well suited to each other, as though they had spent many, many days travelling together and had started to take on each other's personality.
After some small talk, the general where, why, who etc I settled back for the ride through the desert. While we were talking a familiar smell hit my nose, alcohol. I dismissed the smell, after all it was still early in the morning and all the bars had been shut for some time back in Swakopmund. As I made myself comfortable and stretched my legs out I kicked some of the rubbish in the floor well to one side; there was an unmistakeable clink of bottles. I looked on the floor to see some empty Smirnoff Ice bottles by my feet. My nose was right; I could smell alcohol.
I sat back thinking to myself, oh dear, as we hurtled through the desert. I caught a glimpse of the speedo; we were doing 170kmh. I soon came to a predicament when the driver asked me to grab a bag behind my seat. Inside the bag were another four bottles of Smirnoff Ice. He offered me a bottle and I had to make a quick decision whether to accept it or not; I preferred to stay sober at this hour of the morning, but if I didn't drink it he would. I eventually decided to abstain and popped a bottle open and passed it to him. I sat back and worried as we continued at high speed across the desert; there only seems to be one speed out in the desert, and that is very fast.
While doing 170kmh he began fumbling with his jacket, which was stuffed behind his seat, the bottle of Smirnoff Ice between his legs. This caused him to drift across the road so I asked if I could help. He was after his cigarettes in his jacket pocket. I took them out for him and for the rest of the journey either lit his cigarettes, or passed him bottles of Smirnoff Ice. We stopped at the small town of Karibib, not to refuel but to buy more Smirnoff Ice; I am glad I hadn't decided to help drink his supplies earlier; it would have been a wasted effort.
Soon we were back on the highway, tearing through the now semi-arid landscape. I began to wish for this journey to be over and found comfort in watching the signs indicating the number of kilometres to Windhoek fly past at regular 10km intervals. It was not long until we reached Okahandja where the B2 road from Swakopmund joins the countries main north-south road, the B1. Soon we came across a drunk driver weaving along the road at high speed, travelling in the same direction as us towards Windhoek. This drunk driver was suicidal as he weaved across the road into the oncoming traffic. Cars were swerving off the road trying to avoid a collision; we eased up and followed a couple of hundred metres behind. I managed to persuade my driver that trying to overtake this car would be madness. I began a conversation about drink driving in Namibia and the penalties involved if caught. My driver agreed with me and frowned on people who drove while drunk; meanwhile he sipped another bottle of Smirnoff Ice. The drunk driver in front of us went around a corner at high speed, by the time we had made it around the same corner and could see the long straight road in front of us the drunk driver had disappeared. There was no wreckage on or beside the road so we guessed he must have careered off the road and into the desert.
After this incident we travelled slightly slower and my hopes began to rise as we neared Windhoek. My driver was returning home to his family in Mariental and dropped me in the centre of Windhoek on John Meinert Strasse, a short walk from the Cardboard Box Backpackers. I paid him a few dollars as agreed when he picked me up and walked back to the Box. I hope he made it safely back home to Mariental, especially as he no longer had anyone in the car lighting his cigarettes and opening his Smirnoff Ice bottles.
My journey, which started twenty-seven weeks ago in Kampala, Uganda and took me through ten countries and many thousands of kilometres was finally at an end. All that was left to do was a taxi ride on Monday morning to the international airport. This whole trip had exceeded my expectations and had gone far more smoothly than I could of ever hoped for. I had achieved everything and more that I wanted from this trip. I had met some wonderful people, both locals and other travellers and had learnt a lot about the history and the people of Africa and the current problems they face. I had banished some of the myths I had about Africa and was going home with a far better understanding of this continent than I had six months ago. The memories of this trip will last a lifetime.
It felt right to return home now. I would miss the life I had had over the last six months but looked forward to spending some time in a stable routine back home in Dorset. During the taxi ride the 42km to the airport I gazed out at Africa one last time and began mentally planning my next trip to this continent.