Big Brother’s African Brother #53: Uppington, South Africa to Tsumeb, Namibia via Windhoek

Uppington, South Africa to Tsumeb, Namibia via Windhoek

Arid, barren, fly-infested and windy spring to mind when I try to conjure up images of Namibia. Not to mention being caught speeding by the Namibian police who were thankfully not armed with AK47s.
October 2002

Tom’s birthday was not a day to relish as we covered 1020km to reach Windhoek before dark. To achieve this mammoth task, we were awake at 4:30am, arriving at the Namibian border at 6:30am. Another stamp was added to the growing collection in my passport and we parted with N$80 for road tax.

The immigration officer asked us if we could do him a favour and give his friend a lift to Karasburg; we could hardly refuse when his stamp was hovering above the pages of our passports. The woman in question worked at the border post but her English was limited. This led to an uncomfortable 75 minutes of driving until we could drop her off. All we could establish was that she was from the Ovambo tribe in Oshakati.

Namibia can be summed up in three words: barren, arid and windy. Hardly surprising when you discover that 22% of the country’s surface is desert and 58% is savannah type vegetation. It is the most arid country south of the Sahara and one of the most sparsely populated in Africa (population of 1.7 million).

The landscape parallel to the B1 was unchanging, the heat haze mesmerising, the temperature in the car crept up to a scorching 45�C and the endless, straight, empty roads were mind-numbing. To keep our minds on the job, we thought we would listen to the radio. Unfortunately, nothing quite prepares you for Namibian radio stations. They haven’t really progressed beyond German accordion folk music, German eighties pop (we all remember that the world sighed in relief when David Hasselhof abandoned his pop career for Baywatch), tedious phone-ins conducted over fuzzy phone lines and my personal favourite, household hints and tips. In a voice that never wavered from its monotone, we were treated to invaluable advice on how to keep children’s rooms tidy including such gems as: removing stickers from walls, washing stuffed animals (presumably the cuddly toys rather than taxidermy), and packing wooden bricks away into boxes so that the little lambs don’t trip over them.

We refuelled in Keetmanshoop, a town whose claim to fame is having more petrol stations per capita than any other town in Namibia. As in South Africa, fuel must be paid for in cash and price per litre is never advertised.

As the afternoon wore on, I was finding it harder and harder to keep awake either in the passenger seat or driving – did I forget to tell you that you sponge down stuffed animals if they are not machine washable? I barely made it to the Roof of Africa Backpackers in Windhoek without being on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I could tell they were impressed by my sweat drenched appearance, even my wick away shorts and blouse couldn’t cope with the heat. I wasn’t impressed by their hostel: unsuitable camping on sand and gravel that resembled a building site, a noisy bar area and it was frequented by overland trucks. I inwardly cringe whenever I encounter one.

Even though I was exhausted, Tom urged me to drive onto Puccini Hostel and I’m so glad we did. This was a home away from home: a grassy lawn, chilled lounge area and a wonderful welcome from four Jack Russells. For N$80, we got breakfast thrown in. We met two British girls, one of which was working for VSO and the other studying baboons for 12 hours a day in the intense heat. There was only one weird guy who could manage answers of one syllable to any question posed. Instantly I found this preferable to being told that Armageddon was just around the corner.

After a leisurely breakfast where I observed the strange eating habits of our resident weird guy, we decided to venture into Namibia’s only city, Windhoek (windy corner). I was hypnotised into watching him fill his bowl with cereal and then pour milk to the brim just a millisecond before the milk would have overflowed onto the tablecloth. Leaving his coco pops to soak for a good five minutes, he would pop his bread into the toaster and slurp his tea in the most disgusting manner.

Not wanting to watch his encore performance of picking his nose, we dawdled around Windhoek. Namibia’s German influence was derived from a relatively short period of time, 1884 – 1915, when it was proclaimed a German protectorate. This has left a permanent imprint on the country, yet the only evidence I saw of this in Windhoek was German sausage and German style bakeries.

We decided on a trip out to Daan Viljoen Game Park, a small sanctuary for klipspringer, gemsbok, eland, wildebeest, hartebeest and baboon. The 9km Rooibos hike appealed to us that climbs over rolling hills of savannah scrub and along a dried river bed. We spotted the odd eland and wildebeest sheltering from the heat of the day under stunted trees. We had the trail to ourselves which was just as well as I was nursing my mosquito bite on the end of my nose that had turned septic. Oozing puss, my nose was a highly unattractive feature that caused unsuspecting members of the public to stare at my face, their eyes drawn to the yellow, weeping encrustation. I also guessed that the other reason why the trail was deserted was that most sane people don’t go hiking in temperatures of 30�C plus.

The trail was well signposted until it stopped at the end of the river bed. We guessed at the direction we should go, climbing an agonisingly steep hill that seemed to go nowhere. We retraced our steps to a dirt track and flagged down an approaching vehicle. We asked the park ranger which way we should go and I was disheartened to learn that it was back up the hill.

We ate lunch at a peaceful, bird populated waterhole and followed this with an off-road 6.5km drive that afforded excellent views but few animals. It reminded me of our former tour leader’s mantra of “it’s not a zoo.”

My only criticism of the park was that it had a rubbish problem that could easily be rectified if its staff could be bothered to collect the tin cans, plastic bas and ice cream wrappers being blown all over the place. The park was crawling with rangers that were clearly suffering from garbage apathy.

From Windhoek, we headed for Tsumeb passing through Okahandja. Just outside this town, we crossed a bridge that was signposted with an 80kmph speed limit. Thinking that the speed limit only applied to the bridge, Tom accelerated away only to be flagged down by the Namibian police. And we weren’t the only ones, every alternate car was pulled over for speeding providing a nice little money spinner for the police. Having exceeded the speed limit by 23kmph, we were fined N$150 and instructed to pay at the nearest police station. It was an expensive lesson in misinterpreting Namibian speed zones. The problem is that the speed limit signs or lack of them are hopelessly placed, never giving any indication of where one zone starts and another finishes.

At the police station in town, a group of giggling girls behind the desk directed an aggrieved Tom to the magistrate’s office next door. After coughing up the fine, he received a receipt titled ‘Admission of Guilt’. He was not a happy bunny for the rest of the day.

The next 40km on the B1 were a tortuous affair. We encountered a collection of roadworks where the maximum speed limit was 60kmph. After being caught once, we stuck rigidly to the speed limit – it felt as if we were driving in slow motion and the vehicles behind overtook us.

We were relieved to reach Tsumeb, the jumping off point for visiting Etosha National Park. We chose to camp at the sedate Mousebird Backpackers for N$70 including a two egg breakfast and no overland trucks. Next stop would be our own self-drive safari in Etosha with its unique floodlit water holes.

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