First off, I want to clear some misconceptions of Namibia – specifically the east side when leaving Windhoek – No matter what any cyclist, driver, recreational person, police officer, whomever says about it being flat and all downhill – it’s pure lies. While it may seem like a steady drop in elevation, it is a healthy dose of ups and downs with such a gradual decline it doesn’t even feel like it is going downhill until the last 50km to reach the border of Botswana. It likely doesn’t help that the direction I am heading is also bring a constant headwind making riding a bit more challenging than usual, but that’s the route I chose and this is likely to be a common theme for oh say, the next 5 months.
The final day in Windhoek was strange, filled with attempts to find a hardware store that carried something as simple as a M5 screw with no success before heading over to the Desert Dash race to see the 450 some odd riders head over to Swakopmund. I ran into someone I had met a few days earlier, who was happy to have some Canadian support behind her after first trying to ride the race in 2006 and having her partner pass away mid race due to a heart attack, and a subsequent breaking of her back (no, not riding a bike) leaving her with lots of rehabilitation. I heard that she did remarkably well in the race with her riding partner and congratulate her on a job well done! I also read in the newspaper that the fastest single rider completed the race in 13 some odd hours, not beating last years record of 12 hours and 13 minutes – 340km in that short amount of time is just mind boggling on dirt roads. Also of note was the completion of the race by a couple on a tandem bicycle completing the race with the rear rider being blind. It’s the longest distance dirt race in the world and apparently people come from all over to attempt it. I’ve never seen so many people in jerseys, riding spotless bicycles with green liquid in the water bottles, and sleek and shiny legs. I tried to play a game to see how many men I could find with hairy legs, and I only found one. Is it really necessary?
Leaving Windhoek was a bit of a mess trying to navigate out of the city on a busy Friday afternoon, where it is known that the Christmas season is starting and everyone is trying to get out of town. I opted to stay at the Axis Dam about 7km outside of the city perimeter, struggling to find a proper spot as it was infested with ants that moved at breakneck speed, climbed all over you and your gear and took bites out of you in a matter of seconds. Eventually some flattened grass worked out well, and thankfully my hosts Thomas and Laure found me to return my wireless networking card and antenna that I had mistakenly left behind – very cool hosts and interesting people.
I made some friends with some boys hanging out at the Windhoek airport, they were bouncing soccerballs on their head, and wanted to show me their super dance moves, which I caught on video – I tried to teach them the art of headstands but it was a failure. The landscape changed from desert conditions into beautiful green shrubbery, trees and grass – cattle country. Along the way I found a coffee shop listed on my GPS but it turned out to be closed, so camped across the street in the rest stop. Brenna said she was leery about camping right in the driving area, so we moved over to the fence – it’s a good thing! There was a man driving a cart with some donkeys who for some reason was waiting by the corner of the highway from 6pm and all night. He came over to use my lighter a few times and I fed him the rest of my rice as I was going to explode from stuffing myself. I awoke to the sounds of a strange noise and looked outside my tent to see a car across the street that had driven into the fence! I asked the man the next morning as he magically appeared beside me as soon as I woke up for another light what had happened, and he said some drunk drivers went off the road and missed his donkeys by a few feet in very broken english. I never figured out what he was up to, but gave him my lighter when I left.
It’s a 200km ride over to the final city in Namibia – Gobabis (Ho-Bob-Iss) where on a sunny Sunday afternoon people were enjoying themselves in the sun, as I people watched across the street from a Gas Station. Men and Women started piling out of the back of a pickup truck all dressed up in suits, tuxedos, and the women wearing colourful large dresses with hats. Limosuines not regular tradition here obviously. I stopped to talk to them and noticed that the women were very curious as to when I would return to Canada, confused when I said in 5-10 years. Take me with you – I want to go – seemed to be a very common statement from this group of women, my response being that we’d need to get them some winter coats first as its cold. Further questions as to my status, how old I was were asked until they spotted Brenna appearing behind me on a bicycle, when the conversation stopped and they walked away. I didn’t think anything of it right away.
Trying to find a place to sleep in a city can be frustrating, with the parks being in a central location of town hence unsafe, the churches being closed and gated with electrical wire, and the pastor not answering the doorbell. Eventually I opted for the Police Station and asked politely inside if there was the possibility to pitch a tent on their land. They were unsure if I was able to, and said I must wait for the supervisor, but there were 3 other cyclists under a tree just around the corner. I took this as a yes to stay there without waiting for the supervisor and sure enough found 3 bicycles loaded with panniers spare tires, but no owners in sight. I set up the tent away from theirs not wanting to invade their space and partially because it was further away from the jail cells where someone was obviously having a bad day screaming well into the night.
Later the 3 cyclists appeared, hailing from Spain. Sunburnt and skinny with minimal body fat on them we talked about their route from Nairobi to Namibia – issues with water, health and safety and exchanged information for contact in the future. They were all very surprised that I had still fat on my body and I figured it was simply due to good eating. Really – Namibia and South Africa may be a part of Africa but this hasn’t really even started yet. Grocery stores, food, water all exist even though they may be of some distance apart – Crossing into Botswana today proved it immediately – just when you think you have something licked another set of variables get thrown in to alter your way of life. New Language (that I don’t understand in the slightest), New Currency (Namibia and South African Rand are not accepted here), new Climate (Hotter than hell, heavy doses of wind), New insects (the size of your hand, flying at high speed into your face when riding!), New mindsets (I have yet to get a good grasp on how the locals will treat a white bicycle traveler) all have changed things drastically. Instead of gated fences to keep animals in, horses, goats, cattle all roam freely through the roads, stores, police stations doing their own thing. Soon will bring the elephants, buffalo and lions which are in the area – a helpful tip I received from someone in Namibia was to never pitch a tent where I don’t see cattle – I generally like to not pitch a tent near cattle as they tend to keep me awake at night and make horrendous noises that sound like they are being tortured at 4am pissing me off but the man has a point – Where there is cattle, there is no lions. So perhaps I’ll have to stuff 2 sets of earplugs in from now on.
Many of my encounters with women have all revolved about when I will finish my trip and what will I do in Canada, do I have a wife, a girlfriend, etc. It’s obvious they are looking to see if I will become their partner to take them to a better life away from Africa. This is sad to think about this, where I am specifically separating myself from the North American way of living due to pent up frustration with greed, capitalism, disregard for social equality and the fast paced loop from paycheque to paycheque. The grass is always greener on the other side we might say? Strangely enough, it’s not just the women who have asked. Sleeping in the first village to be found in Botswana brought me again to a Police Station, where the Officer in Charge (the boss) asked me repeatedly about how to get to Canada, how he wanted to start a new life, leaving the Police Force after 30 years of work, even going to the length of inviting his wife and child over to meet me, in hopes of being able to come over to Canada. He has a dream of moving and starting a farm, knowing that life would be better for him. When I explained certain areas of Canada, the growth it has seen over the past few decades, the prosperity, and even the potential of him being able to work on a farm for a few months with shelter and food taken care of you could see in his eyes that this was a very happy moment of him. Explaining he has wanted to go to Canada for many years he said it was one of the best things to happen to him to have this connection opened up. Never in my life did I think I would be slouching in the comfortable chair in a Police Station, let alone the Chief’s room talking about potential ways to immigrate into Canada. He may have thought I could pull some strings, wanting to give me his passport and other documentation, thinking this may increase his potential for success. I offered to keep in touch with him once he finds an email address (Internet exists at the Post Office only, likely where this will be sent out) and sends a hello over to me and offered to give him information on places and maybe even a contact in my home country. It’s not the American Dream they seem to be after, as the consensus I’m gathering from them is that the USA is a dangerous place with too much crime and corruption. Strange however, I heard that the general idea of Africans going over to North America to seek a new life will be met with all sorts of danger, with the white man taking them and only feeding them food forcing them into slavery. Funny – In North America we’ve been fooled to think that we wouldn’t last a day in Africa without being robbed, killed, raped, beaten, and here it’s been told we’re savages looking for cheap labour – is this true or is it manufactured fear. Likely a bit of both I would think.
People so far in Botswana have been very friendly, to the point of being all out excited recognizing the flag of Canada. Requests for pictures and Facebook username swaps are regular, and many helpful people are quick to offer information about upcoming roads, villages, and animal dangers. There’s the looming issue of Malaria which I’ll be talking about next posting that I’ve got to take some action on in short order for prevention and upcoming route changes that will delay my entrance into Zimbabwe for a few more weeks but so far everything seems pretty good from a far. Botswana has the reputation of being the least corrupt country in all of Africa, and after discussions with police officers, little to no horrendous crimes occur, no guns are available, and the country is at peace and has a high level of tolerance for different walks of life. The country has been devastated by AIDS in the last few decades, with 1 in 4 people living with the disease, one of the highest rates in the entire world – paired with a very proactive and progressive prevention program that is hailed around the world. Posters hang on walls of stores to remind the countries residents, and faded red wood ribbons stating “AIDS IS REAL” could be found on the way out of Namibia. Lack of treatment, misunderstanding of how infection is caused has caused so much destruction to human lives in Africa here, with only minor progress.
I finally cracked the 100km a day mark, not once but two days in a row! I don’t expect a prize for it, but was quite interesting to see after 48 days of riding finally getting up to a level of riding that was seen in Canada and USA. I’ll try to keep it up if the winds work in my favour. Happy Holidays all.