S: Overlanding in northern South Africa and southern Namibia
Mar 24, 2004
It's been a bit over a week since our last entry and it so much has happened in such a short amount of time.
Dana and I are now headed across southern Africa as part of an "overland" trip run by a company named Nomad Expeditions. Dana booked this from the U.S. via the internet. We climbed aboard our Starship Desertprise and have been traveling in search of scenery, nature, snapshots, stories, adventure and beer.
Overlanding is a popular backpacker way to travel throughout eastern and southern Africa where bus, train, and car travel can be either difficult, impossible or sometimes dangerous. It's basically a chartered bus (which we must call a 'truck' in respect for the vehicle) with a driver/guide and a cook/guide.
Here's the cast of characters on our current rig:
Lambert - Driver/Guide. South African Afrikaaner with a wild streak.
David - Cook/Guide. From Johannesburg, South Africa.
Nadine - 20 yrs. old from Germany. Student.
Marita - 19 yrs. old from Holland. Just finished high school.
Mr "Q" (actual name is Quirijn which befundles my tongue to pronounce) - 19 from Holland. Student.
Magdalena - 30 yrs. old from Poland originally but now living in the U.K. Runs a cleaning service in the U.K.
Soichi - 28 yrs. old from Japan. Works at a hotel in Japan and used to work at Honda Motor factory.
Dana and Snow
As of yesterday, we were also joined by:
Sam - from Malawi originally but now living in South Africa
Robert - Hungarian.
Sam and Robert both work for Princess cruise lines and are between cruises. They're a couple and met aboard a cruise ship.
The truck (this vehicle deserves its own paragraph, trust me on this one):
Each overland company customizes and converts their own trucks for the task at hand. The Nomad vehicle is built on a Mercedes diesel commercial truck platform. It's designed for 24 tourists in the back with Greyhound bus style seating, foam mattress storage above our heads, and metal lockers in the rear of the truck for our packs and sleeping bags. The lower outside of the truck has storage compartments for tents, folding camp chairs, and cooking pots/pans/utensils, etc. There's even a pull out serving/cooking prep table and a fold out gas burner table. Although all that sheet metal rattles like a Yugo stuffed full of empty Campbell's soup cans, it's quite a nice setup. In fact, I asked Dana to get me one for my next birthday for a little road trip. It's an RV on steroids only with fewer cushions and no "Good Sam's Club" bumper sticker.
A day in the life:
There's not a standard routine but here's a rough idea of what we've been doing with our days.
7-8 am: Wake up, stumble to the campsite showers, debate the age-old question "to shave, or not to shave?" Pack the tent. Eat a breakfast of Nescafe instant coffee and bowl of corn flakes.
8 am - 12 pm: Aboard the truck touring the countryside. The South African and Namibian countryside is quite scenic. Much more so than I ever would have imagined. At times, it looks very much like various places in the American southwest. It can look like southern Utah, Nevada, or Arizona or New Mexico. There's often long, long stretches of desert, open road with an occasional tree or shrub. Then we'll head through craggy canyonland. It looks like glaciers came through and gave the ground a good scraping and tumble, then topped it off with a coat of sand.
Lunch: David spreads out the cold cuts for sandwiches or the leftovers from last night's dinner. Sometimes a rice or pasta concoction. Very tasty for the most part. I've also rediscovered the virtues of PB&J. As I always say, "when in doubt, PB&J it".
Afternoon: We usually drive the rest of the way to our next campsite and stop along the way for a scenic overlook or two, or other point of interest such as a little town. Keep in mind, throughout the drive, the scenery is often mindblowingly dramatic. Roads that go forever, sand swept plains ending in mountainous hillsides. And an occasional springbok, oryx, (both deer-like), or an ostrich.
2 -3 pm: Arrive at our destination and explore the sites. Many of our destinations have had swimming opportunities including swimming in the Orange River on the South African/Namibian border. In fact, Dana swam across the river long enough to say she'd been to Namibia before dinner, then swam back. Only a cow was there to check her passport. Turns out is was a mean border patrol cow so Dana swam back.
6-7 pm: Dinner at the campsite. David cooks it on a gas camp stove and sometimes a BBQ. We've had curry rice dishes, pasta with red sauce, T-bone steaks and the occasional dinner PB&J. And I've also rediscovered my love of garlic bread.
9 - 10 pm: Sit around the campfire, tell stories, I sometimes strum a few tunes on my travel guitar, and then we go to bed. All the world loves the Eagles' "Hotel California".
A bit on where we've been:
Orange River: This was a nice campsite on the northern border of South Africa with Namibia. The open air bamboo shower stalls faced the river so you could see across the river to Namibia as you showered. There were two other overland trucks at the campgrounds while we were there so it was a lively camp and bar. One truck was a Dutch company catering to slightly older clientele (30s- 50s). The other truck was Acacia, which is a very similar to Nomad. We swam in the river, went for a raft trip down the slow and calm river, and generally enjoyed some idle hours in a pretty spot.
Fish River Canyon: We arrived here just before sunset. It reminded me a lot like the Grand Canyon. Spectacular sunset over a deep and winding river canyon. We had chips n dip, "a cold one", and watched the sun set in the distance while the blueish starlings eagerly surrounded us pecking for chips. We've been drinking "Carlsbad Black Label" beer which claims to be a "lusty, lively American beer". Apparently I haven't had enough yet to verify the tall "lusty and lively" claim.
Sesreim Canyon: Very close to Fish River Canyon, Sesreim didn't look like much from the surface but was quite interesting to walk through from within. See the pic of the group walking through this one.
We just completed 2 days in Swakopmund, Namibia which was one giant adrenaline rush in the desert dunes. Unlike the Namib Desert (dune 45), the dunes just outside the town are on the ocean and stay cooler and benefit from amazing ocean views. For us, it was a massive playground.
We went out with ~30 other ATV 4 wheelers on a tour of the dunes. Wow, that was some serious fun. The dunes are like being in a giant, endless skaterboarding halfpipe only you are riding a ATV bike. The row of ATVs was like a giant snake sliding up the side of one dune and then falling back to the gulley to rise up the facing dune's side. Snow Rating: 5 star adrenaline junky fun. Course, turns out my wimpy automatic transmission ATV was a bit small for me as is evidenced in the video where "hardcore sand Snow" appears to be riding a golf cart across the dunes. But it felt wild!
Today we went on a similar tour of the dunes only this time we were in a rattling dune buggy with a VW bug engine and transmission. Also ridiculously fun. The guides in the lead buggy kept reminding me of Cheech and Chong from the little known film "Cheech and Chong Smoked in Namibia". Cheech loved to look back through the cloud of sand and give us the thumbs up. Dana proved to very good at "just flooring it" in 2nd gear and clearing the dunes with a little air underneath. Hilarious good fun.
Lastly, I feel it's worth mentioning that I know we're being tourists on this overland trip. In other words, we aren't seeing how the locals live or learning much about local culture and customs. We're definitely seeing the nature beauty of southern Africa and snapping many, many photos. Perhaps on another trip, we'll do it differently to spend time learning how the locals live. The overland is a wonderful, efficient way to cover a lot of ground quickly but not the way to experience how the majority of Africans live. Hopefully, later in our global adventure, we'll be less the tourists and more the travelers.
Over and out,