Installment 5: Namibia
1840 km of riding, about 750 km unpaved roads.
I think most of us were looking forward to Namibia with a combination of excitement and dread. We knew that we were going to be in the 2nd least densely populated country in the world with some challenging road conditions. Namibia unpaved roads range from smooth hardpack to sand traps, usually lying somewhere in between with washboard, medium sized rock and many exposed and hidden hazards. That and the sheer isolation of the stark Namibia countryside inspire and humble.
Well, that plus the fact we knew other riders had "pitched it" into the loose gravel/sand of Namibia on more than one occasion.
But luckily first there was the paved 310 km from the Botswana border to the capital of Windhoek (vint-hoo-k) and a rest day coming up. Currency also wasn't a problem as Namibia takes the South African rand at par.
The first thing I noticed on the road in Namibia? FENCES !!!! No domestic animals on the road or in the ditch!!
First Namibian stop was in Gobabis for some fluids. While there a family of Herero
were travelling through. The mother was wearing the traditional Victorian style dress and "horned" headdress.
The history of the Namibian cultures Namibia peoples
is fascinating reading.
The last part of the ride into Windhoek actually had some hills and curves (for a change). Windhoek was the first major city we had travelled through and required some attention to traffic. But once at our accommodation (Klein Windhoek Guesthouse), we could relax and enjoy a beer (or two).
The next day we spent looking around Windhoek and shopping. This would be our last chance for the next 7-10 days to shop at something as basic as a drug store.
Also, one of our riders didn't really have the best pants for the unpaved roads coming up so we went to some of the local stores of interest:
Followed by a trip to the Windhoek Industrial and Agricultural Show taking place at a large exhibition grounds. We tried some local foods, shopped tractors, combines and trinkets and I bought a SIM card for the major Namibia carrier.
Pre-paid SIM cards are incredibly inexpensive in Africa. I think I got 30 days of International texting and 1 Gb of data for about $8 US. Of course 75% of the time I had no service, but it is Africa.
And there was a craft fair at the Agricultural Show where we shopped for a new BOS, but didn't find anything appropriate.
From there we went downtown to do some bartering at an open market. Various groups were demonstrating their handiwork including some Himba women that would let you take their picture if you bought some of their carvings, jewelry, pottery or weaving:
European-like espresso. Even a decent affogato !
A little bit above the gleaming glass and metal towers of the business core of Windhoek was the circa 1910 Christuskirche
That evening we went to the very popular Joes Beerhouse
for supper. Windhoek is on the infamous Cairo-to-Cape Town Overland route and abandoned vehicles seem to be frequently used for decorations at Namibian restaurants, gas bars and accommodations.
Up for an early start the next day we left the pavement behind after filling up with gas in Rehoboth about an hour south of Windhoek.
We also removed the side case frame on one of the 1200s that was broken and rattling.
Rene gave us his briefing before we set off.
If you don't recognize the name, Rene Cormier is the author of "The University of Gravel Roads". From 2003 to 2008 he put about 150,000 km on a BMW F650GS travelling the unpaved roads of the Americas, Asia and Africa. But he (and, in fact other around-the-world motorcyclists like Ted Simon) has two unusual approaches. First of all they sit on the bike almost all the time, even on unpaved roads. And second they feel strongly that flats occur less with more air pressure in the tires.
If you have ridden gravel on a full-size motorcycle with your tires at "normal" pressure you know that the bike is definitely more "active" than if the tire pressure is down 10-15 PSI. And it gets pretty squirrelly on looser surfaces like sand or fine gravel.
The group settled into a pattern moving along at first at 50-70 kph while getting used to the alternating hardpack and then sand- filled hollows in the road.
But after the first 30-45 minutes one of the riders asked to trailer his bike after one particularly bad stretch. Probably better that than pitch the bike once you get overwhelmed.
Our lunch stop occurred on Spreetshoogte Pass
, which offered excellent photo opportunities.
Interestingly they had redone the steeper surface on the north-west side of the pass with paving stones:
Our next stop was Solitaire for both gas and "World Famous Apple Pie" .
Note the repeated theme of abandoned vehicles as decorations.
Approaching Solitaire was one of those WTF moments. Miles of not much but sand & rock with sparse vegetation. Then a gas station, restaurant and guest farm. Surrounded by desert.
And a couple of vehicles looking for repairs. Flat tires and "dropped parts" were pretty common in Namibia.
Back on the road we were headed for our accommodations for the next 2 nights.
On one particularly bad section of road there were some exposed rock outcrops at the crest of a couple of ridges and shortly after that I felt my front wheel go very soft. Our first flat! A quick bike change (since we were within 30 minutes of our destination) and we were soon turning off to the approach road to the Zebra River Lodge.
Having not seen another vehicle in over an hour we already felt like we were in the middle or nowhere. Going down the approach road to the Zebra River Lodge we were now 20 km past the middle of nowhere.
If you look closely you will notice there is one measly wire on those telephone poles.
I was always impressed by the dedication of the owners of these lodges and inns. They were hundreds of km from supplies and yet kept these places functional, comfortable and well stocked with food and beverages.
The flat on my bike was taken care of quickly by Piet & Mike.
The cold beer was particularly appreciated after a 360 km day with 270+km of unpaved road.
Next up - Sossusvlei & the dunes of the Namib desert