Land of extremes

Land van uiterstenOnce we leave Sossusvlei and the campsite in Sesriem behind us, we are once again alone. There is no traffic anywhere around us. It is as if the buses full of tourists and the many campers have dissolved in the Namibian dust. The road is in poor condition and has been changed into a rough washboard by the heavy coaches. Because we are the only ones on the road we can use the full width of the road to find the best path and avoid the biggest stones. It is still early but already very hot. Whenever we stopped to take a picture, it is nice to continue driving again for some air flow to cool down. With all the zippers of our suit open for some ventilation and with sun cream on the cheeks we bounce through the dust.

Land van uiterstenAs sudden as the tourists disappeared this morning, so suddenly we find all of them again when we stop at Solitaire, a settlement with exactly 92 people. It does justice to its name because it is the only settlement in the area, miles away from everything and everyone. Located in a ruthless place, right in the middle of the dry desert, where throughout 2013 only 58mm of rain fell. What a place to live!

Solitaire has a gas station, a motel with some rooms and a bakery. And it is the bakery that is world famous in Namibia! Even before we left the Netherlands, the reputation of the apple pie had reached us. Friends sent us pictures of the cake and the GPS coordinates so that we would not drive past it. Once we have parked the car and the motorbikes, I quickly hurry inside. From the desert I suddenly step into a parallel universe full of cakes, pies, cookies and all kinds of bread. Land van uiterstenThe smell of fresh apple pie and fresh coffee have never been so delicious. We order three large pieces of apple pie and first look at them in admiration before we put our forks into the big chuck of dough. Delicious! (For anyone who is still on its way to Namibia, these are the coordinates: S23 53.610 E16 00.327).

From Solitary we leave the washboard-road for a ride through the hills. The road we go onto is a ’white road’ according to the map. We always have to wait and see what that means for the state of the road. Today it brings us good, because it is a beautiful gravel road which has just been graded. With a large machine the top layer of the road has been scraped off. The washboard disappears and a smooth surface is left, great to ride on. The road sign that warns that the grader is working on the road is one of our favorite signs.

Land van uiterstenOn the detour we make through the hills we cross three passes: the Spreetshoogte pass (1,850 meters), the Remhoogte pass (1,556 meters) and the Gamsberg Pass (2,347 meters). The road is paved on the first pass, which is not as adventurous as gravel, but easy to ride and moreover not so dusty. The road is paved because the slope is so steep that cars would not make it to the top. The heavy Land Cruiser that Dick is driving is working hard to get to the top. In the second gear he slowly drives up the mountain. We take our time to take pictures and look out over the vast plains. Just like the many shades of green we saw in Uganda, we see many shades of yellow, beige and brown we see here. Very nice. We can see the road we took from Solitaire, but the sand dunes of Sossusvlei disappeared in the dusty sky.

At the top of the first pass the cobbled stones stop and we ride on gravel again. It is a beautiful route. All other tourists seem to have taken the main road, because since Solitaire we have only seen one car over a distance of more than 172 km. That will never happen in the Netherlands. The road winds through the hills and with the many turns is a nice change from the long straight roads of the last days. Land van uiterstenIt does require more concentration while driving and we can all feel that we woke up early yesterday to see the sunrise at Sossusvlei. At the end of the day, when the sun is already low in the sky, we take a look at the map to see where we can spend the night. Unfortunately, on these kind of remote routes the places to stay are sparse and it seems that we still have to drive quite a distance to reach the first affordable place.

On the map are a number of lodges, but they are all Game and Hunting Lodges. Estates where you can hunt game such as kudu, oryx and springbok if you pay a high price. In the most exclusive hunting lodges you can even hunt lions, which are specially bred for hunting on farms in Namibia and South Africa. If the hunting is done, the lion is sent as a rug by courier to the home of the hunter where the hunting price will decorate the floor. A controversial ‘sport’ of which people do not speak openly and which is only practiced on remote estates. Not the kind of place where we will find a camping spot within our budget.

Land van uiterstenAfter twenty kilometers we pass a gate that says in golden letters “Red Sand Desert Ranch”. It is a farm where they keep cows, but it is also a lodge. It looks luxurious. Because we are tired and do not feel like riding any further, we decide to take a look. You never know, we might just find a place to stay. At the reception desk we are welcomed by a friendly, cheerful lady who -much to our surprise- tells us that they also have campsites. Happy that we do not need to drive any further, we follow the signs to the campsite. We drive over the huge estate, along the airstrip(!), in between the cows and park in a truly beautiful spot. With a glass of red wine and our chairs around a campfire we toast with a sigh to a beautiful day.

The next day we drive from the hills through the beautiful Kuiseb Canyon back down. At the last  hill we overlook a vast plain. The road runs as far as we can see in one straight line to the west. We are in the desert again. Land van uiterstenThe first few kilometers there are still some bushes and quiver trees, but not long after that we only see sand on either side of the road. Yet even this is in its own way very beautiful. It is very hot and the sun is reflected in the bright sand. We stop several times to refill the drinking bags. We decide to skip lunch today, because this is no place to make a sandwich in these temperatures.

We follow the road to the west, towards the Atlantic coast, and see the ocean in the distance at the end of the afternoon. It is extraordinary that we can already see it, because according to the GPS it is still more than 30 kilometers away. The closer we get to the coast, the more the temperature drops. And that goes fast, because after 20 kilometers we have to stop to close all the zippers in our motorcycle suits. Once we are on the coast it is so cold that I am shivering on my motorbike. I have to turn on my heated grips to be able to move my hands. The sky is gray and the sun that was shining so brightly an hour ago is hidden behind thick clouds. What a contrast to the temperatures in the desert!

Land van uiterstenPeter and I are very cold when we park our motorbikes at the campsite in Swakopmund. At the reception desk is a surly looking lady who curtly informs us about the prices and rules of the campsite. We walk around the grounds to find a spot. The spots are very large and have a private toilet block, complete with shower, toilet, sink and fireplace. A luxury that explains the high price. Despite the luxury all three of us conclude that this is not only an expensive campsite, but also the most cheerless campsite we have ever been. Maybe it is the lack of ‘green’ or the gray colour of the stones or just the weather, but we do not like it. Back at the reception desk the grumpy receptionist tells us about the large number of burglaries and robberies in Swakopmund. Even on the campsite we should not leave anything in our car, despite the armed guards and the electric fence. Wow. With some nostalgia we think about the wonderful campsite Rooi Sand where we were welcomed so friendly.

Land van uiterstenDespite everything, we decide to stay one night at the campsite. We do not want to search for another place and would prefer to take a hot shower as quickly as possible. Once the tents are pitched and we are nice and warm again, we decide unanimously that it is too cold to cook. We go out to eat! With a thick sweater we walk through the old town of Swakopmund. Everywhere you can still see that Namibia was once a German colony. We walk along houses that are built in a typical German style and walk through the ‘Wasserfal strasse”, the “Bismarckstrasse” and “Schlachter Strasse”. All typical German names. We can buy tasty sandwiches at the “Konditorei” or buy a book at the “Buchhandlung”. We also hear a lot of German spoken in the streets, not only from the many tourists, but also spoken by the locals. We find a table at Kücki’s Pub where we have a schnitzel and a big German Erdinger beer, while in the background the German schlager music comes from the speakers. It is as if we are on vacation in Germany.

Land van uiterstenFrom Swakopmund we drive along the Atlantic coast to the north the next day. We leave our bikes at a campsite in Hentiesbay and get into the car with Dick to drive a little further north to visit the Cape Fur Seal colony at Cape Cross. With more than 100,000 seals it is one of the largest seal colonies in the world! The whole beach is full of the great beasts. Every square meter is busy and it reminds us of a huge anthill. They make so much noise that we can hardly hear each other. And they are pretty smelly! For as long as our noses can take the smell, we continue to watch the animals. We can get very close to them on the boardwalk, but it is just as nice to look at them with the binoculars to see what they are doing: swimming, fighting, sleeping, crying, washing, waddling, sunbathing. Very nice, especially to see so many animals together!

Land van uiterstenBack in Hentiesbay Peter and Dick take out the roof tent, while I am preparing dinner: Mexican tacos with beans, vegetables and meat. It is already very cold. The pepper in the food and the delicious red wine provide some warmth, but once the plates are empty we want nothing more than to crawl into our sleeping bags. It is still too early to go to bed, so we turn the Land Cruiser into a home theater. With the laptop on the dashboard of the car and a cup of hot tea in hand, we see how the guys from Top Gear drive their cars over the salt plains in Botswana. Good inspiration for what is still to come and a nice warm evening at the chilly Namibian coast.

The next morning we get a text message from our South African friends Brett and Yvonne. The last time we saw them was in Kenya when we celebrated Easter at a campsite in Nairobi. The message tells us that they are also in Namibia. They are staying at Spitzkoppe, a site 100km away from us, which is just around the corner to Namibian concepts.Land van uitersten We had not planned to go to Spitzkoppe, but after the three of us have looked on the map we decide to ride their way. It is a bit out of the way and we have to rearrange our travel plans, but it will be very nice to see our friends again.

After breakfast we therefore head east to Spitzkoppe. It is cold and foggy on the coast and as we drive off Peter and I both wear our thick sweater. While we ride away from the coast the fog begins to disappear. The sun shows itself, the wind lies down and it is slowly getting warmer. Only 15 kilometers(!) from the coast we are suddenly back in the middle of the desert under the blue sky in the blazing sun. We quickly take off our sweaters and open all the zippers of our suits. I empty my Camel bag in one gulp and go to Dick for a refill for the rest of the route. We have never experienced such a huge difference in temperature in such a short time. Very special!

Land van uiterstenWe drive through the Dorob National Park to the east. The road is one straight line to the horizon with on both sides nothing but light-colored sand. On the horizon we see a few small bumps that are getting bigger as we continue. These are the rocks of the Grosse Spitzkoppe, our destination for today. From the misty coast and the dry sands we now drive along vast fields with low bushes. They are in bloom and give the desert a yellow colour. And the landscape keeps changing, because only a few kilometers further on there is only dry yellow grass.

Halfway through the day we arrive at the gate of the park where we need to register first. In the distance we see two people waving enthusiastically. Brett and Yvonne had seen us from afar by the dust cloud that we threw up behind us. It is very nice to see them again after such a long time! Land van uiterstenThey lead us to the place where they have made camp. Their Landrover is parked in front of a huge boulder. Only now you can see how high the rock formation is that we have seen on the horizon all day. The rocks reach hundreds of meters into the air.

It is an entirely different campsite than the places we visited in Namibia earlier. There is no water, no electricity and only a dry toilet (a hole in the ground with a toilet bowl above it). With a little preparation, such primitive conditions are no problem. We have plenty of fresh water with us (in the car of Dick is even a 60 gallon tank) which we can use to cook and wash. We have enough food, some wood for a campfire and even enough full batteries for our cameras.

Land van uiterstenWe join Brett and Yvonne in the shade and talk about the adventures that we have experienced since Kenya. At the end of the day the five of us climb on one of the big rocks to watch the sunset. We sit on the stones that are still warm and watch the sky turn orange while the sun sinks below the horizon. A wonderful spectacle and a home theater in its own way. After the sun has set, Brett makes a big campfire. Once the wood is no longer burning and only the charcoal is glowing our ‘boerewors’ goes on the braai. The salad comes to the table, a pan of potatoes and a bottle of cold white wine from the fridge in Dick’s car. What do you mean ‘primitive conditions’?

After a quiet night in the desert, the next morning starts as we finished the previous evening. We climb the beautifully shaped rocks to see the sun rise. In the valley we see klipspringers -small bambi-like deer- and we hear the hyraxes yelling at each other. While the nature around us is slowly waking up, I sit with my dad quietly on the rocks, each with our own thoughts. What a magical place! Land van uiterstenAlthough we could have stayed here forever, we put our stuff back on the bikes after breakfast. We say goodbye to our good friends and continue our route through the beautiful Namibia. The next place we want to visit is Etosha National Park where we will go on safari for a few days. From Spitzkoppe it is still 600km away, a distance that we want to cover in four days.

The area we drive through is possibly even less populated than other parts of Namibia. From Spitzkoppe we drive a couple of hours before we arrive at the first settlement. We can fill up the tanks and stock up on food and water. And especially the latter is badly needed, because it is hot and we drink a lot of water. The road is in very poor condition. The washboard road has such high bumps that Dick stops several times to check his tires. We decide to follow a smaller road, hoping that it is in better condition. The first part is indeed in better condition, but then the gravel disappears, leaving only sand. Land van uiterstenI do not like sand (which is still expressed lightly). Even after all those kilometers I can still not get used to the fishtailing of my bike in the sand. With a red head of trying to keep my bike up (and perhaps of frustration) I squad next to my motorcycle to let some air out of the tires.

While we stand still, we are overtaken by a cart pulled by three donkeys. On the cart sits a man with a boy of about ten years. In the back of the cart is a metal box together with a blanket. The man asks where we are going. He himself is on his way to a village some 10 kilometers away to bring his son to school. It is Sunday afternoon, so not a school day, but the boy will stay in school during the week and only come home next weekend. The man asks if Dick has a place in the car for the boy and his stuff, because just before the village the road runs through a dry river where wild desert elephants roam. It apparently is quit dangerous with the donkey cart. Dick has enough place in the big Land Cruiser and happily wants to give the boy a ride to school. The box and the blanket are put in the back seat and the boy gets in front. Land van uiterstenThe man turns his donkey cart, puts his hand in the air to wave and then drives off. We drive on, while we think about the man’s request. In the Netherlands is unthinkable that a father would ask a complete stranger, a man even, to give his  ten year old son a lift to school. What a different world!

The deep sand is no problem for the Land Cruiser. We let Dick pass and ride behind him at a slightly slower pace while we search for the announced elephants. We drive through the dry river into the village and see the white Land Cruiser parked next to the small school. While the boy carries the heavy box and the blanket to the dormitory, his friends are curious about the Land Cruiser and run up behind him to ask about his adventures. It is the story of the day!

Land van uiterstenWe continue our route and arrive at Aabaadi Mountain Camp at the end of the afternoon, without having seen any elephants. We have driven a large number of days without resting and we are tired. Not is the last because of the heat and the effort it takes to drive on the Namibian roads. We look at the map and see that we can cover the distance to Etosha in three days, allowing us to take one day off. The idea to sleep in and have a lazy day is attractive. After half an hour, the plan goes out of the window again, because while we sit slumped in our chair we are attacked by flies. They buzz around our heads, crawl into our nose, ears and eyes and cannot be chased away. This is not the place for a relaxing day off. We go to bed early and will ride again tomorrow.

Land van uiterstenThe next morning it appears that we can not just leave, because the Land Cruiser has a flat tire. A big screw sticks through the rubber. Peter and I have been very lucky so far, because even after more than 28.000km we have not had one flat tire. Dick and Peter replace the empty tire for one of the spares on the back of the car. After a quick breakfast we escape from the flies and hit the road. On the road are a great number of signs that warn us for elephants, but unfortunately we do not see any yet. We do see giraffes. They are eating from the trees beside the road. If we had ridden very fast we would not have seen them, because with their dark spots they perfectly blend in the golden and brown landscape.

That evening we park the car and the bikes at the parking area of the Palmwag Lodge after a long day in the dust. It is a beautiful lodge in the middle of the desert. It is busy and all campings spot are taken. Fortunately, we can stay with some other campers on a remote part of the lodge. Land van uitersten An additional advantage is that the place is even closer to the pool! The water is very cold, but it feels like a great luxury to just float in the pool for a while. With one splash all the Namibian dust that had gathered around our noses disappears. From the pool we look out over a green lawn with beautiful flowers and tall palm trees. Just behind that is the barren brown landscape. It keeps surprising us that they can make such a green oasis in the desert.

Refreshed, we continue the next day. First a while through the hills, over the Grootberg Pass and along rock formations where you would expect to see cowboys any moment. A little further the desert is again completely different. The long straight road of white sand contrasts sharply with the blue sky and yellow coloured fields next to it. The desert is in bloom, it is beautiful. The road is in good condition and we are making good progress. After all those miles there are days when I feel one with my motorbike. Land van uiterstenWithout thinking he takes me anywhere I think I want to go. I only need to look in the right direction and there we go. And today things are going so smooth that I apparently forget that I am on a moving motorcycle. And then it goes wrong.

While I am almost backwards on my bike to look at the cows crossing the road in front of the Land Cruiser behind me, I brake and hit the deep sand at the edge of the road. The front wheel turns and we fall to the ground. Normally I roll straight off but, but because I was sitting on my seat backwards my right foot gets stuck under on of the bags. The full weight of my bike is my foot. I cannot get out myself and call Peter to quickly lift my bike. My ankle hurts a lot and I can only think: “Broken. Journey is over.” Peter lifts my bike and I gently put some weight on my foot. That feels OK. I kick a few times, at first gently, but then quite hard. Land van uiterstenIt is not broken, bruised maybe. Motorcycle boots are a pain to wear went you want to go for a walk, but they are essential for these kinds of stunts!

The bike starts as usual and together we hit the road again. Via Kamanjab, where we refuel and do some shopping, we drive to Tandala Ridge Camp. A beautiful campsite on a farm where they keep wildebeest, hartebeest and oryx. From here it is only a short drive to the entrance of Etosha. During dinner we see from our chair how the oryx and wildebeests run through the bushes to the waterhole next to our tents. It is like the safari has already started. Now we look forward even more to Etosha.

Distance travelled to Tandala Ridge Camp: 28,936 km (17,979 miles)

Click here to see the pictures in this post.

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| Leonie | AFRICA, Namibia

6 Reacties (Comments) - Land of extremes

  1. Enrico en Jannie

    Peter en Leonie, fijne jaarwisseling. Veel geluk, gezondheid en voorspoed en dat er nog meer van jullie dromen en wensen mogen uitkomen. Die wij dan met zijn alle weer middels jullie “actie” site mogen bewonderen.

    Enrico en Jannie xxx

  2. Jan en Mariët

    Wat heerlijk he om je vader een poosje bij je te hebben! xx

  3. Marloes Arkesteijn

    We blijven genieten van jullie verhalen, heerlijk om Afrika nog een beetje opnieuw te beleven. Ook benieuwd naar jullie (plannen voor het) volgende continent!

    Marloes &MAurits

  4. Celine en Leon

    Wauw zeg, die kampeerplek bij die rots…prachtig! Een deel van jullie mooie foto’s heeft Dick twee weken geleden vertoond op groot scherm in de kroeg in Eemnes, prachtig en wat een verhalen erbij! Spannend ook die schorpioenen tijdens de afwas he?
    Gelukkig viel je val mee zeg, Leonie!
    We wensen jullie een prachtig en gezond 2015 toe met onvergetelijke avonturen, mooie zonsondergangen en veel gegraderde wegen 😉

    Liefs en een dikke, dikke knuffel,

    Leon en Celine

  5. Rein en Janny Rotte

    Hallo Leonie en Peter,,
    Vanuit Barneveld een hele fijne jaarwisseling en een heel goed 2015 toegewenst.
    Dat het maar net zo’n mooi reisjaar mag worden als 2014.

    gr Rein en janny

  6. Toine Berden

    Leonie en Peter,

    weer een prachtig verhaal en ben blij voor jullie dat het “ongelukje” met een sisser afgelopen is.
    Veel “gezondheid, geluk en wijsheid” toegewenst voor 2015 en dat er veel mooie verhalen uit mogen voortkomen.