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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Dunes and canyons

After spending a couple of days in Windhoek, basically doing nothing, i
left for Sossusvlei.
The route was very scenic with some nice (small) mountainpasses.
Meanwhile i am used to the gravel roads, but constant attention is
needed because the surface changes all the time.
In Solitaire i had a short stop and had apfelstrudel from the famous bakery.

When i arrived in Sesriem the weather had changed to cloudy and windy.
Sesriem is nothing more then a fuelstation and some accomodation for
tourists. The Sossusvlei is the main attraction in Namibia for its dunes
and scenery. The Sesriem campsite needs reservation because its fully
booked sometimes months in advance. Since i never booked anything in
advance, it appeared to be fully booked. Luckily they have an 'overflow'
campsite. So i could stay over at Sesriem which is within the national
park, meaning you get to go to the dunes as soon as sunrise. All i had
to do is find a lift, because bikes arent allowed in the park. At the
campsite next to me a guy in a car pulled up. He appeared to be Peter,
from Australia, and had no objection in me tagging along. He wanted to
be at the gate before it opened, so at 5:20 i had to be present. That
evening the wind picked up a bit more and it started to rain.

Luckily that morning it didnt rain, but it was cloudy. Peter and i
arrived second at the gate and they let us in at 5:30. From there it is
a 'race' to the first dune accessible for the public, Dune 45. That is
because it's 45km from the gate. Arriving at the dune it didnt seem that
high, so we started enthusiastic. Because of the rain, the top layer was
moist and packed sand, making the way up a bit easier, but still it was
a heavy hike. On the top we could see other people starting the hike up
and cars riding into the park in the distance. The view from the dune on
the landscape is spectacular. Most fun was the run down the dune though.
You can run full speed without falling, the sand breaks your steps.

Next stop was dead valley. You can only get there by 4x4, or walk, as we
did. The walk is scenic and worthwhile, but most people take 4x4 taxis
or drive themselves. Peter and i climbed another, higher dune. Measured
with GPS it was about 300m high. The hike up took 40 minutes. The run
down the 50/45 degree slope took 3:16. I filmed the run down holding the
camera in one hand. Sometimes i forgot to hold it and aim, to keep my
balance. Hopefully soon i can post it on Youtube.
Sossusvlei isnt the prime tourist attraction for nothing, the place is
one of the most beautiful i've ever seen!
Also with Peter i had good company.

The next day i left for Aus. The weather was a lot better riding south
from Sossusvlei. Very windy, warm and powerful sun during the day. I
stayed at a scenic and quiet campsite at Klein Aus Vista. At sundown i
climbed a nearby rock to have a view on the surroundings. The food at
the restaurant is very good at Klein Aus. In the morning i left very
early to do a boat tour at Lüderitz, a small harbour on the coast. The
tour is 2 hours and most of the time there's not much to see. It was
cold and windy. I did see some dolphins, penguins and silhouettes of
seals. Not everything can be spectacular in Namibia i guess.

The day after i rode through the Naukluft park, with a very scenic road.
Stopping for taking pictures wasnt fun though, because of some very
small flies swarming me. I stayed over at Noordoewer along the Orange
river at the border with South Africa. The next day i went to the FIsh
River canyon. Another wonder of the Namibian landscape. Being some 160km
long and hundreds of meters deep it's not nearly as big as the Grand
Canyon as i was pointed out by some Americans, but nonetheless it's
stunning in my book. The gravel roads in the park were in spots very
rocky or had some bad corrugations, making the ride less then comfortable.
At midday i arrived at the Canyon Roadhouse, a popular stopover because
of it's atmospheric bar. Dressed up with old cars and trucks, with a
kind of Route 66 feel. I had planned to stay over at the Roadhouse, but
found it too early to stop. There wasnt much to do there either. So i
rode on hoping to find some accomodation close to the border. But the
only campsite i found was fully booked. Getting close to sundown i
passed a car with two men waving. I stopped and they explained to be out
of gas. Since i'm happy when people help me out whenever i need it, i
decided to help them out. I gave one of the guys a ride on the back to
the nearest fuel station close to the border with South Africa. It was
an uncomfortable 30km. Short before the sun had set i had crossed the
border into South Africa. I planned to go as far as Upington, being the
first town across the border. Crossing the border the clock i skipped
into another timezone and by the time i arrived in Upington it was well
dark and about 20:00.

I found a nice place called Libby's lodge costing way more then i
usually pay for camping, but it was worth it. I needed a good warm
shower and comfortable bed after a long days ride (8:00-20:00).

It felt good to be back in South Africa. I was going to Pretoria to stay
at 1322 backpackers, a place i really enjoyed before. Also the bike was
in dire need of some maintenance, which could be done at Off Road Cycles
in Pretoria aswell. I wanted the bike to be in top shape again by the
third of september, as i had to pick my girl from the airport.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The bike is back!

Today I picked up the bike after a service at the shop. It looks brand spankin new and I'm very happy. Without the bike I'm a bit handicapped...
Excellent service from Off road cycles in Pretoria!

I let them put on a big luggage plate, this should make 2up riding easier when my girlfriend joins me...



Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Namibia photos online!

I've uploaded photos from Namibia. Especially the Sossusvlei/Sesriem photos are worthwhile watching. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Namibia can be so German

Namibia has been great, but a few things are different.

-The indiginous people are often very light of colour, less dark then other parts of Africa.
- it's very clean and tidy. No filled to the brim smoking minibuses or ramshackle shops everywhere.
- you can see lots of South African influences. Afrikaans is also spoken a lot, even between black people.
- The accomodations are of good quality, German quality. The choice of music is very bad though, ranging from Afrikaans slager, to funked up classical music to elevator music.
- a lot of the Africans don't understand why one would travel alone. In other countries its the bike they don't get.
-they scenery and nature isn't like anything else i've seen so far, like a different planet

I understand now when travellers say Namibia doesn't feel like Africa. I do think they are wrong though...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Swak in Swakopmund

Aba Huab campsite was a bit different, not compared to the rest of
Africa but to the high standards of Namibia. It is situated next to a
dry riverbed, kind of like an oasis in a very dry landscape. The staff
is friendly but not over exited to have you. When i enquired about the
dinner, being a fixed menu (or a la carte) the lady just laughed at me
straight to my face. It was a fixed menu, but i still dont get why my
question was so weird.
The breakfast didnt work that well for me. I left to go to Swakopmund a
coastal city. The last 70 km to the coast the landscape changed. It went
downhill from say 600m to sealevel and also the temperature dropped
considerably and a cold wind picked up. About 30km of the coast it
started being cloudy aswell. At the coast i arrived at Henties Bay.
Because of the weather it didnt look appealing. Nobody in the streets,
most houses were locked down, hatches to the windows closed. Hopefully
Swakopmund would be a bit more appealing.

The road was solid, but slippery in places when wet because of the fog
or sea. Along with the cold i started to feel a bit sick, probably the
breakfast in combination with the cold. I had hoped for a sunny beach
resort but it turned out a bit different.

Swakopmund is like a very modern western coastal town. It doesnt look
African at all. Because of the lousy weather (cold, foggy, windy, no
sunshine) it didnt appeal to me that much. For two days i didnt feel
well because of the Aba Huab breakfast, that didnt help either. At the
backpacker Desert Sky Lodge i met Dan. A fellow biker from the UK who
rode down via the west coast of Africa. In Namibia he broke hos
collarbone and had to recover for at least 4 weeks. We killed time
talking about bikes, travelling, bikes and Africa.
In Swakopmund there's loads of activities to do, but because of the
weather and my health status i didnt feal like doing anything. I had
planned on doing some quad riding in the desert and skydiving, but i
guess it saved me a lot of money. So i went on with my trip to Windhoek.

In Windhoek i stayed for 5 nights, mainly relaxing and doing some
maintenance on the bike. In Swakopmund the bike started rusting at a
real bad rate. Luckily because of the wind and dust, some of the rusty
parts got sanded away. The rust did weaken the luggagerack on the right,
so it snapped. I got it welded at a place recommended by the Yamaha
dealer. They also touched up the black paint that had worn of and
started rusting.
At the Chameleon Backpackers i met a guy from France, Morgan. There were
also a couple of South Africans staying because of tax purposes. If
they're out of the country for more then 183 days, with at least one
consecutive period of 60 days, it saves them a lot of tax. So they have
some forced holidays.
At the pool table there was a rule that if you beat the other with more
then 5 balls left on the table, they had to strip down to their
underwear and run around the table.
I played together with Neil and he was very good, so despite my awkward
shots, we managed to make the others run around the pool table. Good fun!

The scenery in Namibia is very beautiful. A diverse landscape, good
quality roads, either being gravel or tar (mostly gravel though). It is
arid, but has wildlife (mostly elephants) wandering around in certain
areas. It's main attraction is riding through the country for the views.
The wildlife i've running around seen so far is elephants, oryx,
springbok, kudu, eland, jackal, baboon, big lizard, wild cat, warthogs
and wild horses. Not too shabby eh?

It attracts a different type of tourist compared to the countries i have
been before, partially because it's lacks good public transportation. So
less backpackers, more people renting cars (4x4 pickups with tented
roofs) and a higher average age. Loads of Germans, Italians, South
Africans and of course Dutch. But in general i really like it although
it lacks some of the African feel, Namibia is just unique!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Entering Namibia

From Livingstone to Namibia is about 200km. The border is formed
naturally by a river, but nowadays has a bridge. More and more bridges
in Africa, replacing the ferries. I had agreed with myself that i would
wave off any fixers or unwanted 'help'. But arriving at the border, it
was small and harmless. I asked an official and he showed me the way. He
placed a stamp and let me do the paperwork (filling in the details of me
and my bike in some big books). Usually the officials do this...
It took just 10 minutes and i was out. Changing my last Kwacha and off
to the Namibian side. Arriving there it became clear what was waiting
for me there, and what i've been warned about: German influences.

The border was neat, clean and all offices were clearly signposted. The
process was quick and efficient so in 15 minutes i was on the bike. All
i had to do besides getting my passport stamped, was buying road tax for
140 N$ (14 €).
At the Namibian side there's a town called Katima Mulilo. All looked
organized and neat, with white sand lining the roads. Shops and banks
everywhere with a European look, instead of African. First i went for
some money at the ATM and then a SIM card for my phone. Two of the three
shops i tried were Chinese owned and run. They barely speak English and
dont appear very friendly. There was a Chinese man though speaking OK
English and he was polite and showed a bit interest in my trip aswell.

As soon as i had the SIM card i called a contact, Simone, i had found on
the Horizon Unlimited Bulletin Board (the HUBB) website. I knew he was
Italian and managing a new lodge not far, border a national park. As
soon as i said that he gave his details on the HUBB he sounded
enthusiastic and wanted to meet and have a beer. He suggested a campsite
nearby, his lodge is a tented safari camp.
There's a gravel/dried mud road leading towards the camp. The road
appeared to be very good and level, with some sandy bits. At the turnoff
to the village Sangwali, the roads became a bit more sandy. At the
village they pointed me into what appeared wetlands. Crossing to
handmade wooden bridges and following a 4x4 track. I knew i might see
some elephants, but as the roads were narrow and in spots loose sand, i
didnt mind if i didnt spot any ellies.
The ride was a bit challenging in spots, nearly dropping the bike at an
unexpected sandy section. The campsite was very small and simple, and
run by Linus. A very nice guy. I explained that i was going to visit the
Nkasa Lupala camp and eat there. He gave his number and said to call if
i had any problems. If someone offers their number in a place like this,
you better take it. I asked about wildlife and he replied buffalo and
elephants. So i asked about hippo's because were in the middle of
wetlands and my tent is about 15m from the water. Yes, also hippo's he
said. I wasnt worried for my camping spot, because i couldnt spot any
nearby hippo tracks. But meeting one along the way isnt what i wanted.
Well the ride to Nkasa Lupala was very sandy in spots and i had to step
the bike through and some soft sandy spots. Hmm, that might be fun,
riding back in the dark after dinner...

It was just a few KM and there was Nkasa Lupala. I was welcomed by Laura
and the staff. She expected me and gave me a warm welcome. She gave a
tour of the brand new camp. It looked beautiful and thought out well
with attention to detail. It's an eco lodge, but not like many saying it
for marketing purposes. From construction to design, electricity, (warm)
water and waste disposal was all thought of with enviroment in mind.
With the development and employment they involve the local community.
They had just opened and had a italian family as guests. Simone was out
with them on the boat in the wetlands to fish. Laura told me about the
wildlife they had seen or heard at the camp, among which cats like
lions, hyenas and leopards. Suddenly riding back in the dark didnt sound
so appealing. So she offered me to stay in one of the luxery tents as
their guest. A very kind offer!
Later i met Simone. He showed me some good rides in Namibia which i
added to my route. Before dinner the staff introduced walking up to the
dining singing and dancing. It was very original and welcoming i
thought. The dinner was very good. The best tasting dinner i had in a
while.
That night i slept in a very good bed. During the night i could here the
wildlife walk around/under my tent on poles. It was cold and i was tired
so i didnt check out what animals i heard. The next morning i left after
breakfast. We pushstarted Simones bike, so he could ride with me till
the first turnoff. We took a picture and said goodbye.
I certainly hope they will do well with their lodge and keep up the good
work!

At the campsite i found the other campers, being Andy and Marvin. Andy
makes documentaries and Marvin presents. They were making a documentary
of the Caprivi region and it's national parks and game. After a good
chat i packed my things and rode off.

My next stop was at the end of the Caprivi strip. Along the way of the
straight road through the strip (for 200km) i saw some whild elephants.
I stayed at Popa Falls, a camping run by the government. I was about the
only guest and it seemed to have had it's best days. The falls also were
more like rapids. There was wildlife though, hippos and crocs in the
river, so swimming is out of the question. The next day i went on until
Roy's Camp close to Grootfontein.
This is a very nice campsite with good facilities, admospheric bar and
restaurant. The buffet breakfast and dinner were very good (compared to
European standards). So far i had taken tarmac, but from this moment on
i would switch to gravel roads, being more scenic, shorter distances,
adventurous and some parts you cant reach on tar roads. Gravel roads in
Namibia are in general very well kept and most probably driveable in a
normal car.

Most of the way the gravel was in good shape. The roads lead through
farms and occasionally i had to stop to open/close a gate. That whole
ride i had seen just 4 vehicles and some locals roaming around but most
of the time your by yourself.

My goal had been the Etosha national park. Since i cant enter the park
with the bike (and staying there is above my budget) i had to pick a
camp outside the park. Etosha Safari Camp proved to be a very good place.
Service and friendliness of staff is superb. Everything is clean, works
(if not, mention it at the reception and it is fixed the same day). At
the buffet dinner the staff comes and sings for who ever has his/her
birthday mixing it up with clapping, yelling, grunting and rumbling,
much to the enjoyment of the audience. The bar and restaurant were also
decorated in a very admospheric 'vintage' way.

For Etosha i booked a full day game drive. In the morning there was lots
of wildlife to see, lions, elephants, jackal, giraffe. The afternoon was
a bit boring unfortunatly. Half day morning would have been enough, but
i am happy i saw lions and close.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Livingstone & Victoria Falls

Livingstone promised to be a touristy and adventurous destination. I
ended up staying 5 nights in Livingstone, at the Victoria Falls. Across
the bridge over the Zambezi river is Zimbabwe, with a town build for
tourism called Victoria Falls. I didnt go into Zimbabwe, officially that
is. Crossing into Zimbabwe meant i would have to buy a visa for Zim AND
Zam. My visa for Zambia was single entry... After the falls the Zambezi
continues through a deep gorge, of about 110m deep. A bridge connects
Zimbabwe on one side and Zambia on the other. Halfway the bridge across
the Zambezi river is a line, representing the border. So i have been in
Zimbabwe when i was on the bridge to watch the bungee.
I've been staying at Jollyboys backpackers. It's the best backpackers
i've been so far in Africa. Partially this is of it's location. There's
so much to do and see. Jollyboys is popular and at a certain moment at
least 40 guests. Among them lots of fellow country(wo)men.

At Victoria Falls all is set up for a great time for the tourists. But
because it's more spread out, it isnt anything like the Costas in Spain.
There's activities like microlight or helicopter ride through the gorge
and over the falls, rafting, tour of Livingstone Island, bushwalks with
lions or elephants, cultural things, bungee, swings, you name it. The
price has a Western level and is all quoted in dollars.

One thing i was looking forward to, because of the good stories i heard,
was the rafting. I've done rafting one time before in Thailand, which
was a very exiting experience. The Zambezi is one of the prime locations
for wild water rafting, but is also very much depending on the
waterlevel. The waterlevel was too high for rapids 1-10. 11-25 were
'open'. This provided half a day, 1-25 is a full day.

There are two rafting companies, luckily i picked the right one.
Everything was done very professional. The guides were skilled and had a
good sense of humour. Overall i had a wonderful day, thanks to being
well organised, stunning scenery, rafting through the gorge, big waves
and whirlpools at times.
During the trip we came past a group from Zimbabwe. THey had a girl who
fell out in one of the rapids and got sucked down into a whirlpool.
When you fall out and submerge during rafting, usually you are not under
for long. But the adrenaline and fear make you think it's ages and one
probably doesnt hold his breath at the right moment. So you start to
drink the Zambezi, instead of waiting a bit longer. That's what happened
to the girl. To be sure, they called in a helicopter. Which came flying
over in the gorge, an amazing view.

After the rafting there was the booze cruise/sunset cruise on the
Zambezi. It's a cruise were you can drink/eat all you want. The ship
goes upstream on the Zambezi before the falls. On both sides of the
river is a national park. We saw elephants and hippo's during the
cruise. In the sun, on the deck at the bar, it was so relaxed, the
drinks and food tasted good. So two days later i decided to go again.
This time in good company of Peter from Holland. He's here for the
kayaking. He said it's the best location in the world for it, and he
trained for years to be able to come here.
I had some good conversations with Peter. The next morning we took a
nice walk through town, in the quiet suburbs.

Of course i visited the falls. To enter the falls you have to enter the
national park, costing $20. But because i was by myself, the guards at
the entrybuilding didnt pay much attention to me. Trucks, busses and
cars filled with tourists stop and unload tourists. Just 10 meters
further is a big gate. So i walked up to the gate, continued and turned
left, and bingo, i was in the park, without paying!

The falls are huge, indescribable. Standing at the edge of the gorge,
where the water is thundering down, it is wet. The falls are a couple
hundred meters wide. The water that drops, has such a volume and force,
that is pushes the air up on the other side of the gorge. This results
in small and big drops being pushed upward, much higher then the falls
itself. One one point the water has to come down again. This results in
rain going down and up. Miraculous. Some drops are so big, they dont
rise, but float around in mid-air. In the park, there's baboons walking
around. Keeping an eye out for them is advisable. They steel. I saw them
steel a bottle from a bagpack of two guys. It just sat in front of the
guys, opened the bottle and drank. It wasnt impressed by a fake charge,
it just screamed. And i heard a lady being robbed of her purse. Luckily
for them a guard was around. He used his slingshot to scare off the
monkeys, so the bag could be returned to the lady.

I didnt see the falls from the Zimbabwe side, nor from the sky, but it
sure is one of the most beautiful spots on earth!