Friday, 19 August 2016

Namibia - visit 2 - 1

We were in Namibia around lunch time after getting through the border at break neck speed, only having to pay 250N$ for road tax (17N$ to the pound, same exchange rate as SA - both their economies are fairly codependent.. You can even pay in rand in Namibia which really confused me to begin with!). We wanted to stop fairly quickly, not wanting to drive all the way to Windhoek in one go, so the town of Gobabis just past the border was perfect to spend the night and unwind! We arrived at Gobabis Lodge just after lunch time, and settled in for the evening watching the ostriches, bonty-bokkies (type of antalope) and oryx in the area next to the site. Sitting at the bar we planned a vague route that would take us to South Namibia first, then back up to the Northern area - there were lots of places we wanted to visit so finding the most efficient route was both going to be time and cost effective. Plan established we went back to the car to spend the evening with our cheap box wine (cheap and rather nasty.. Oh well only 3 litres we had to drink... It did take us 3 sittings to get through it all!).

Windhoek, the capital, was Tuesday's destination about 250km away. We arrived at the Cardboard Box Backpackers and checked in for 2 nights, at 100N$ per person per night including breakfast, I felt it was pretty good value considering the breakfast cost was 45N$! The backpackers was in an ideal place, right in the middle of Windhoek, walking distance to everything we wanted to go and see... We quickly found the Mall had a wander around. For a Tuesday lunchtime it was heaving, students and shoppers everywhere, it was such a metropolitan place. People of all backgrounds interacting, having fun and socialising together - something I feel we haven't seen since leaving the UK. The sun was shining and it could have been anywhere in Europe - it had a great feel to it. We spent the end of the afternoon in the National Museum of Namibia, the staff at the entrance were really friendly and delighted we were spending around 6 weeks in their country.. They made sure we wrote in the visitors book and put where we came from! Such lovely people! The museum was really informative, lots of information about the animals in the country, including a large exhibit about rhino poaching - I have yet to see one so fingers crossed I will here! It also gave information about the local tribes and cultures in Namibia and also Botswana and SA. 

(Tribal shelters, the bottom one is the only constructed one in Namibia, it is thought it is too time consuming now to make and most people are living in modern accomodation)

The second day Charles did some maintenance on the car, after spending so long on dirt roads things had become loose - we were missing three bolts, possibly due to them coming loose or the mechanics in Malawi never putting them back on.. Who knows! By lunch we were off out again walking around the city. Stopping for lunch and lemonade, we enjoyed people watching playing guess which county the tourist is from! A silly game but fun never-the-less! 

We spent the remainder of the afternoon at the Parliament gardens and walking past all the Parliament buildings. Really chilled afternoon, the park reminded me a little of Hyde Park in London, but was nice again to see more of the city than just the commercial side. I really liked this city, yes it wasn't particularly African, but what is the definition of African? Many of the cities are like it, modern, bustling and full of people (Lagos, Luanda, Lusaka, Pretoria.. ). We loved it, it was more chilled than any other place, and we felt safer as well.. Lots of peole walking the streets and we were rarely hassled! 

(Meteorites in Windhoek city centre)

(Parliament buildings, Parliament garden and the RC church)

From Windhoek we wanted to head towards Luderitz, somewhere we really only needed to visit to get a permit for the Sperrgebiet National Park a diamond mining area open to the public recently and only in certain places - we wanted to visit the ghost town! First we had to do a tour of outer Windhoek to look for the three bolts we were missing .. After 3 different places we found a garage who supplied then readily without charging. Bonus!We decided to break up the journey in a few places. The first was Keetmanschoop, a small town half way along the route. We stopped off at a small campsite run by a local sculptor. Driving up the drive we were greeted by very odd metal sculptures, it was a little creepy but also very cool! They were of people driving lots of old vehicles - old bikes, cars, trucks and motor bikes! The landscape was bare, with huge rocks jutting out of the ground. We arrived settled at a site next to a 500 year old Quiver tree, chatting to the owner we found out that they are ideal for this desert landscape. They grow very slowly, 15mm a year, to preserve energy and water, but can hold up to 150 litres of water in their trunks! They can survive, flowering as well, for 2 years without water. We walked the 3 mile loop around the land and then watched the sunset from on top of the car with the box wine we had almost finished!
(Passing through the Tropic of Capricorn)

(Quiver tree - 500 years old)

Packing up the next morning we had 200km to drive to Aus, the second small town before our end destination of Luderitz. We had wanted to stop here to see the Prisoner of War memorial on the outskirts of the town, it was a small memorial and you could walk around the old and ruined buildings built by the German POWs captured by the South Africans during WW1. It was really interesting and we were also surprised to see the local herd of wild horses roaming around the site! We stopped for the night at Aus, a small bustling town with a steady flow of travellers stopping for food, drinks and fuel. Driving and walking through was interesting, a very Swiss looking place just a lot hotter! The local hotel/bar was aptly named Bahnhoff Hotel which incidentally had the Swiss flag hanging up outside! The railway going through the town connected the main towns along the line together, but was once used for diamond transport. We spent a sunny afternoon sitting at the hotel on their balcony, watching the Overlanders pass through, eating cheese cake and drinking beer! Perfect Friday really!
Saturday we had a lazy-ish morning, we met two German girls who were also in a Landrover Discovery, who had turned up late the night before.. Soon enough Charles was roped into helping them sort out their wheels along with offering them some advice with their suspension which had been cracking.. They were doing 6 weeks in Namibia but we heading off in a different direction to us unfortunately. We headed towards Kelmanschop, an old diamond mining town. It is open to the public, however behind the fence is still prime diamond mining country and the public are not allowed! The town was established by the Germans cashing in on the high concentration of diamonds in the area.. A huge area 100km in from the coast and all the way down to the Orange River. The town had everything, doctors, schools, shops, a bakery, a butchery and an ice making shop to provide the means to keep food longer and fresher! Sadly, as the other mine further down south became more lucrative, the inhabitants upped and left. It is an amazing place, some original furniture has survived, in places the wall paper, the bowling alley still had bottles in and in other places it was very derelict. The sand in places had taken over, coming into buildings through windows and cracks, baths were lying out on the streets! Such a great day out, our guide was fascinating and really gave us an idea of what life might have been like back when it was bustling! 

From there we drove into Luderitz, a small sea side town, which has also profited from diamond mining and diamond diving! We camped at Shark Island, a site right on the edge of the peninsula - the site was right next to the crashing waves but also very windy! Having a little money left for the day in our budget we decided to go for a walk and find a drink, the sun was shining and the town quiet - all shops were shut from 1pm. We decided to forgo the rather posh looking wine bar for what seemed a cheaper option, the yacht club. We bought a couple of drinks and were minding our own business until we heard a bell ring and two jeiger shots were brought out to us..that was at 3pm. Warily we took them, drank them and we soon joined by some locals who were the ones providing the shots - the bell kept ringing, and the shots kept coming. By the time we got driven home at 8pm, it was safe to say we were slightly merry.. Putting up the tent in the dark and wind was amusing, and later on coming out of the toilet block I went over on my ankle, which until the morning didn't hurt! We woke up Sunday and decided it might be a good idea to stay another night on Shark Island - my ankle was swollen and throbbing, and we wanted to actually enjoy and take in the sights on the peninsula! It was a quiet day but one that was needed!

(Where it all went wrong)
(Shark island campsite)

After an early night, we woke up on Monday morning ready to hit the road towards Fish River Canyon. We knew it would be a long day travelling, but with Harry Potter and healthy snacks we were all set! Stocking up on food and fuel we travelled back to Keepmanschoop, filling up with fuel again, then down towards Hobas, the entrance to the canyon. Unbelievably we did 630km, arriving at 6pm in the dark, just outside the National Park. Paying our entrance fees the next morning we drove the extra 10km towards the Canyon. Again we were rewarded with amazing scenery and sights, bare, dry landscape with a huge gorge in the middle, the rocks in all different colours of reds and blues. We met Sarah and Scott whilst there, two cyclists who have been travelling down the East Coast of Africa for 3 years, we were rather awestruck at their trip and their experiences (read their blog online at

Travelling on we headed for the Ai-Ais Hot Springs 40km away. The camp site there was massive, we settled in and spent the rest of the afternoon in their naturally hot pool! Was rather nice after travelling in dust for the last few days! We had decided to spend 2 nights here, mainly to chill and slow down a bit but also to save a bit of cash.. Having paid for a tank and a half of fuel to get down, money was running short once again after the expensive campsites were added in. Whilst I don't resent having to pay for nice camp sites (this one had kitchens with ovens, immaculate toilet facilities and obviously the pool), it is a shame when money becomes tight because you feel you can't go to the bar or spend money there.. It would have been great to have a meal or a drink but the daily budget had been spent already plus the braai was pretty fine! At least by staying two nights, by day two we had accumulated some budget for a drink (plus they had the Olympics on.. anyone who knows me knows my obsession with it, it has been killing me that I can't watch it!). 

Leaving here we moved back up, aiming to drive up the Western side to go to Duwisib Castle and up to Soussiflai in the desert. The castle was great, a beautiful stone building in the middle of nowhere completely restored to include some original furniture. It also doubled up as a very luxurious hotel which we nosed around.. How the other half live! We had wanted to stay at the castle for the night (camping, not in the luxurious rooms), but, like the Ai-Ais Springs it was run by the NWR who seem to over charge massively for accomodation (they wanted 370N$ for a basic camp site..) so we drove to Batta petrol station where there was a really nice cafe and amazing campsite with all facilities and for a fraction of the price! Lots of people seemed to have the same idea, go to the castle in the day and then stop over there! We suffered another blow whilst there, our fridge decided to pack up. We have very few real luxuries in the car, and the fridge is one of them so we were slightly put out that it was now steadily increasing in temperature even though it was plugged into the mains! Charles attempted for a few hours to dismantle it, clean the dust from it and put back together, however it was not to be.. He diagnosed that the gases were leaking or something along those lines, so it is now an expensive cool box.. We will try and get it fixed once we are in a major city as it is a life line for us, having one means we can stock up in places that are cheap instead of buying in 'tourist' shops along the way where everything is double the price! 

(Duswisib castle)

Leaving our little petrol station campsite we headed towards Sessriem and another NWR site (where money disappears!). We arrived around lunch time, and headed towards the site run by them. Now you may think why did we not just camp outside the park somewhere cheaper and then pay to go in he next day, this was because if you stay in their over priced andunder equipped site you can enter the park at 5.30am and get to the Sossusvlei dunes at sunrise. As typical tourists we got caught in the trap and for that extra hour in the morning, we decided to stay in their campsite. As we arrived we were told the main camp site was full but we could camp in their overflow site and take the last available camp site spot! Fantastic we replied and took it, the people behind and after us were turned away -- as a slight side note, by the time the gates were shut at 6.30om, neither the main or overflow campsite were full, ours had 3 spaces at least. I think people reserve sites then never show which to me seems stupid as they were turning away willing and paying customers earlier on in the day.. Perhaps they should start charging on reservation! Our campsite was a fair walk to the showers and toilets but the water was hot and once it was dark we could sneak behind a bush, th damage was 320N$ for the night, plus the 160N$ for the park fees for that day and the next. The park fees I think are really reasonable.. Charles pays 60 with his SA passport and I pay 80, which I think is good, and they go by how many nights you are there. We had a quick lunch in the baking sun and drove to the Sessriem Canyon, a huge rift in the ground. You could climb down it, and then walk the length of it which was like being on another planet! The rocks either side of the canyon were shaped and mounded from the water once flowing through with different colours and types of rock at random intervals. Charles took great delight in making a travellers tower, something which always fascinates me. You place stones of different sizes and shapes to make an abstract looking tower. He finds it so easy, it is amazing to see him working out which stones will fit and at what point they reach a balance point - I have no real awareness or talent at this so it is always fun watching him!

Our alarm went of at 4.45am to pack the tent away in the cold and dark, there was even frost on the bonnet, and I think poor Charles' hands were icicles once he had folded the tent away! By 5.20am we were in the rather impatient queue waiting for the gates to open to the campsite users (the amount of people, mainly in Toyota renta cars jostling and over taking was hilarious!). The gates opened and we were off, it was 64km on tar to get to the dunes. It is safe to say that if we had kept to the speed limit to get there (60km/hour) we would have reached the dunes around the time the sun was a hot ball in the sky.. Luckily, much like everyone else, we had a slightly healthy disregard for it and managed to get to Sossusvlei (including 2km on sand where for once we actually overtook 2 Toyotas.. Minor victories) just as the sun was creeping up over the dunes. Wrapped up in coats, head bands and trousers we hiked up to the top just as the sun was coming over the horizon. It was magical, the red sand glistening in the sun as the surrounding landscape became apparent. All irritation of the money we had spent slipped away! After watching the sun for an hour or so we slid down the shadowed side of the dune (on our bottoms!), to walk to the salt pan which again was other worldly. White, cracked and hard earth surrounded by the red sand from the dunes, dead trees stood creating odd sculptures in the middle! It was so worth the getting up early, and money spent to do it! For another exorbitant fee, you could go up in a hot air balloon for a champagne breakfast which would have also been amazing.. Ah well another thing to add to the bucket list!

Our next major stop was Walvis Bay and then Swakobmund, two rather notoriously popular cities in Namibia. We were really getting fed up of long drives (as was the budget and the car which had sprung another crack in the chassy!), so we made one stop in Solitaire, a small 'hamlet' in the middle of nowhere for the night. Again we were astonished at the camp fees (300N$), this was compounded on top of spending almost our daily budget on fuel and I was beginning to get fed up of spending so much money! After 10 minutes of self pity and wallowing in my own anger, I decided that if they were going to charge so much for camping I would do all our washing and use the facilities to the maximum (shame the showers were cold... Expensive campsite and cold showers, who would have thought!). At about 2 pm after getting my irritation out on our now already dry washing (very hot and very windy!), Charles and I took a walk to the bakery next door to spend more of our tightening budget on the areas most famous Apple pie. Food/pie always makes things better and 20 minutes later my sugar high had accounted for the earlier dark mood! Oh well, we decided, we can just spend less tomorrow!  

Our second stop along the road was in the Namib section of the Namib Naukluft Park. To get to our final destination we had to drive along the C14 to get there which is a public road, however to go off the road and onto the 4x4 sections, or camp in one of their rest points you had to buy a permit (160N$ for us both, the same as going to the dunes). In my wisdom we had done this at Sessriem already two nights before from a very grumpy NWR assistant! It was 160N$ for the permit, and when I asked him about how much it was to camp he was really very vague.. After looking on the internet I was convinced we would we swindled out of more money to stay on a site, however we turned up at Vogelfedderberg Camp site and with no one in sight, and a sign saying permit only (that we already had), it was safe to say we had finally found a good value site! It was basic.. A long drop toilet, but for one night it was acceptable! In return the views were phenomenal, we camped about 50m up (charles did some rock driving), under an overhanging rock face - a real room with a view! Spending the afternoon reading and drinking coffee right at the top of the rocks in the sun with an amazing 360 degree view topped it all off! What an amazing (and good value) surprise!

Arriving in Walvis Bay, with 3G, free wifi, electricity, warm showers and food shops was definitely a change of scenery compared to the previous night in the park! That is part of what I love about travelling through Africa.. Within 50km you can be in two very different places with differences along the route! Walvis bay is obviously a well-to-do place, our camp site was nestled amongst some amazing mansions! Each house different, and some uniquely so! We spent 3 nights here - We were going out on a boat to dolphin spot on Thursday, and Charles was going to get the fridge fixed as we didn't want to be living off tinned meat again which (as I am sure most other travellers, mainly Mandy and Rob will understand!), is not something we want to be doing again for a long long time! 

Going out on the boat was awsem, despite the cold we managed to see seals, two Beguela dolphins and numerous Pelicans who even came up onto the boat! I managed to feed a seal which was also pretty cool! Food and drinks were included, the prosecco and Namibian oysters fresh from the ocean that morning were a real treat! It was really nice to do something completely different, spending our money on enjoying the area! 


The fridge company came back without good news.. Initially they thought it was a gas leak somewhere in the fridge however on closer inspection they realised the compressor was not pumping meaning we would need a new one. This was fine until we were told the price £211 excluding VAT, on hearing our reaction was, lets just use it as a glorified cooler box! We debated it and realised we just couldn't afford or justify the expense for the last few months of our trip.. The company called us back later saying they would buy it off of us for £189 which did set off alarm bells, it seemed like they were very quick to jump to the buying it off you route! We decided just to pick it up still broken and pay for the work they had already done (slightly frustrating but you win some you loose some!), phone around other companies now we knew what was wrong with it and go from there. In the mean time we would buy ice!

(Hundreds of flamingos at Walvis Bay)

Our time in Walvis Bay had come to an end, we picked up the fridge and headed the 36km to Swakobmund, another popular tourist destination. Much like Walvis Bay the houses were amazing, with lots of hotels and guest houses everywhere! We got settled in at the Skeleton Beach Backpackers and went off for a walk. The town itself was busy, full of shops and cafes.. Stopping off for a coffee was a bit of a luxury, and also stopping off on the way back for some fresh fish and chips at a bus cafe on the side of the road - it almost compared to British fish and chips! We will stay here for a few nights, spend some time walking around the centre and also hopefully sand boarding! Watch this space! 

We have really enjoyed Namibia so far, what I have liked about it has been the ever changing landscapes. Within one journey you can go from green, to desert, to rocky canyon and back to green trees which provides intersting viewing (whilst listening to HP.. We are storming through with all these kilometres we are doing and are on book 6!). I have liked the fact that there is lots to see and visit, the castle, hot springs the dunes, keeping us active and moving about. Whilst I love going to the nature reserves it does mean a lot of sitting down.. Places like Botswana I felt that was all we were doing. We have yet to reach the infamous Etosha, but once we do it will be a novelty again to see animals. It is great to be in a country with a bit of everything! Sadly, much like Zambia, we are struggling to stay under budget even on days where we are not doing anything 'extravagant'. The mere fact it is such a large country and, much like Botswana, there are huge distances between attractions means we burn a lot of diesel! One week we filled up every other day which adds up! We could move slower and do less distance however we have a short time period and currently Namibia is not one of the countries I am desperate to visit again in the near future. Secondly, there is a huge discrepancy in the campsite quality and price.. For example the camp site in the middle of nowhere at the petrol station with electricity, braais, running water, raised varandas and seating areas for each site as well as nice facilities cost us 200N$ per night, whereas we have paid up to 360N$ for campsites with less.. Most of the time they are run by the NWR (Namibian Wildlife resort) who seem to think they can charge extortionate rates because they are a nationwide Govermental scheme. Last week (week42) we spent most of our budget on food, fuel and accomodation.. Drinks about £10 at the most! We are hoping as we slow down a bit in the North we may find it easier! I feel I have whined a lot about money and budgets this blog, however as we come to the last few months of our trip (I have booked my flight home on 28th December from Cape Town, Charles will join me later once the car is sorted out), we need a certain amount to get us there so every penny counts! 

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