Namibia: Journeying to Windhoek
13th July - 29th July 2002
I set my alarm for early in the morning, determined to be up before the sun rose and walking along Bay Road into the desert to try and hitch a ride with the first traffic to leave Luderitz. As I left the Luderitz Backpackers all the other guests were still asleep. The same seemed true for the town as I walked out of the hostel and along Schinz Strasse before turning left and along the main road out of town. In the early morning twilight the town was still and quiet, apart from the wind blowing off the ocean; nobody was about. I walked for maybe half an hour until I reached the edge of town and could only see sand dunes ahead of me. A couple of cars passed by, but didn't stop. From their frantic looking sign language I gathered that they were only driving locally and were not heading out far into the desert. I must have looked like I was planning to travel a long way today, with my backpack on, a daypack in my hand and my dusty, road-weary hat on my head; my looks were not deceptive. I waited beside the road just past a gas station as the early morning rays of sun finally broke through. The nights were cold in Luderitz at this time of year, especially when compared to other countries I had travelled through a couple of months ago; I welcomed the warmth the morning sun brought.
Standing near the gas station seemed like a good idea. Anyone travelling a long distance today would have to stop here for fuel and would have plenty of time to see me standing beside the highway. My plan worked and shortly a car, a four-door saloon, pulled out of the gas station and stopped alongside me offering me a ride to Keetmanshoop. I couldn't believe my luck (again) and accepted the lift; the time had just gone seven 'o clock. The driver was a local black man dressed smartly in a suit, his wife sat in the front passenger seat so I clambered onto the back seat with my luggage and thanked them for stopping to pick me up. I immediately felt safer in this car than in my previous, hair-raising ride into Luderitz a few days ago. We talked briefly as we began our journey into the desert, introducing ourselves and finding out a little about each other. The driver worked for the government and had a meeting to attend in Keetmanshoop later that day. Our conversations didn't last too long, we both had trouble understanding each other's accents, and so I sat back and enjoyed the desert scenery on the way back to Keetmanshoop.
The wind blew far stronger today; the dunes outside of Luderitz were swiftly marching across the road. At times we could not see the surface of the road as the sand blew from the desert like a heavy mist only a metre or so deep. The sand blasted against the side of the car, scraping across the metal work, I'm glad it wasn't my car receiving this battering from the desert. When we later stopped for a break at a small roadhouse and opened the car's doors, a pile of sand fell out of the door seals. On this journey I could relax, not having to worry if the driver was about to fall asleep, or loose control at over 160kmh; it made the journey a lot more enjoyable. The desert looked stunning on this bright morning. The flat-topped hills were cloaked in a heavy shroud of mist. We could see the mist tumbling down the side of the rocky hills and evaporate into thin air on it's decent to the desert floor. The driver slowed down to watch these clouds and the three of us were mesmerized by the way they cloaked the hills like a thick blanket and gracefully swept down the hillsides.
At the more sedate speeds we were travelling at, keeping fairly close to the speed limit, we didn't arrive in Keetmanshoop until about eleven o' clock. I asked the driver to drop me on the B1, the main north south road in the country, which bypasses the town. He dropped me at the southern junction and we said goodbye and I thanked him once again for the lift. I walked along the B1 to reach the northern junction with Keetmanshoop, so that I could catch the traffic from Keetmanshoop heading north, as well as the through traffic. It took me about half an hour to walk to this next junction, in which time not a single vehicle passed me; as far as I could see, which was quite a long way in this flat desert, there were no vehicles. My journey to Windhoek looked like it may suddenly take longer than planned after such a good start leaving Luderitz. Just pass the junction, where some locals were selling crafts and souvenirs beside the road, I dropped my backpack in the dust and began to wait patiently.
The walk from my last lift had made me hot, especially under the bright sun, which was now hot as the time approached mid-day. The road looked as empty as the surrounding desert, not a vehicle to be seen. I could see some cars driving around the outskirts of Keetmanshoop, but only a few of them made their way to the B1 and the junction where I now found myself standing. Maybe every five minutes or so a car or truck would pass by, none of them stopped. I waited for over an hour, gradually becoming more aware of the time slipping by and the 500km journey still in front of me. As each vehicle disappeared north into the distance I became more anxious that this dusty junction would be the end of the road for me today. Eventually a minibus approached from Keetmanshoop, I flagged it down and found that it was going to Windhoek. I put my backpack on top of the trailer, which was heavily overloaded and squeezed myself into the minibus. After standing in the sun for the past couple of hours and now staring out of the window at the endless flat central plateau covered in scrub, I soon fell asleep.
I woke up as the bus slowed and turned right off the main highway into the small town of Mariental. This is the largest town between Keetmanshoop and Windhoek and serves as a small commercial and administrative centre. We stopped to refuel at a petrol station along the wide main street where we all took the opportunity to get out and stretch our legs or buy snacks and drinks from the small shop on the forecourt. In the meantime the driver finished fuelling the minibus and then drove off along the main street, leaving all us passengers hanging around the forecourt. At first I wasn't too worried, I had become used to local minibuses in Africa suddenly disappearing to collect spare wheels, more passengers or just visiting friends and family. After about twenty or so minutes I became anxious as to the whereabouts of the minibus and especially my backpack on top of the trailer. It didn't help me either that the local passengers where becoming concerned as well. I stood on the side of the road looking in the direction I had seen the minibus disappear. Once or twice I caught sight of it in the distance crossing the main street before disappearing again down a side street. This raised my hopes slightly but I still could not get rid of the anxiety of being parted from my backpack.
Well over half an hour after we stopped at the petrol station the minibus reappeared in the distance and came towards us along the main street. The driver had been away driving around this small town colleting a handful of passengers. I felt relief at seeing my backpack again on top of the trailer and at last to be travelling north to Windhoek. By late afternoon we approached Windhoek, the capital and largest city in Namibia with a population of 160,000. The driver didn't go through the centre of the city as I expected him to do so, but drove around the Western Bypass instead before finally dropping me a kilometre or so north of where the bypass crosses Independence Avenue.
As soon as the bus stopped we were almost surrounded by taxi drivers, like bees attracted to a honey pot. I was not exactly sure where I was and after an exhausting 850km journey from Luderitz I decided to take a taxi into the city centre and to the Cardboard Box Backpackers. The driver had never heard of the place so I offered to navigate and ten minutes later we were outside the Cardboard Box on Johann Albrecht Strasse, the end of a long days travelling. After checking into a dorm room I headed out to the bar at the back for a cold, refreshing beer. It felt odd to have finally made it to Windhoek. I planned to end my African adventure here in a couple of weeks time; this city would be my last view of this beautiful continent before returning to London, I had reached the end of the road. However, before that day there were two things I still wanted to do, a desert safari to Sossusvlei before spending my last few days relaxing in Swakopmund on the coast.
The beer hardly touched the sides; the day travelling across the desert had really made me thirsty. There is a travel agent based at the Cardboard Box so I went to have a chat about two things; one-way flights from Windhoek to London and safaris to Sossusvlei. The news on the flights did not seem encouraging, there are not many options from this small city and the Lufthansa flight I was hoping to take had been cancelled. I decided to worry about all this after the safari, which just happened to be leaving the next morning. There were two main companies operating here, Crazy Kudu and Wild Dog; I was booked on the Wild Dog tour, although I kept getting their names mixed up and soon began telling everyone that I was going to Sossusvlei with Crazy Dog.
I returned to the bar for another beer and ordered some dinner. As I sat there at the bar I heard a familiar voice talking behind me. I turned around and saw Julian standing behind me. I had met Julian about a month ago at the Inkosana Lodge, by the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa. We spent the evening catching up on where we had been and what are plans were over the next few days and weeks. Julian had hired a car and planned to drive to Etosha National Park in the north tomorrow, we would probably both be back in Windhoek again in a few days time.
Continue reading this journey: Safari to Sossusvlei