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Camel World  




Travel Diary - 2003
5 January | Senegal
22 January |Gambia
18 January |Guinea
9 February | Mali
22 February | Burkina Faso
3 March | Ghana
19 March | Togo
20 March | Benin
25 March | Niger
12 April | Chad
15 April | Cameroon
16 April | Nigeria
30 April | Congo
24 May | RDC
31 May | Angola
5 June | Namibia
27 June | South Africa
30 August | Lesotho
10 September | Swaziland
9 October | Botswana
17 October | Namibia
19 October |
29 October | Malawi
4 November |Mozambique
16 November | Tanzania
12 December | Rwanda
16 December | RDC
18 December | Uganda
24 December | Kenya

Travel Diary - 2004
9 January | Ethiopia
6 February | Sudan
21 February | Saudi Arabia
23 February | Jordan
3 March | Syria
5 March | Turkey
12 March | Greece
21 March | ...And Home


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17 months, 43 countries, and 2 vehicles


Namibia, Continued

Namibia is where the travelling ends and the tourism starts. We all agree that this is the end of the journey in so many ways. I arrive after Richard has already departed for the beaches of South East Africa, before returning for a date with twenty thousand people standing in a field (Glastonbury).

I spend two days in the quiet Sachsenhaus game ranch near Eastern Gate of Etosha National park where I acclimatise, and spend some time chatting with Paul Blackburn who has travelled down the East coast in a Camel Trophy Defender (P239 KAC) that was registered five vehicles after mine and also took part in the Mongolia competition. Gerd, our host, makes us very welcome, and I could easily have spent a week here chilling out (literally - it's getting pretty cold at night). However I head on to Tsumeb to meet Roxana for a bit of real tourism.

After sorting ourselves out at the relaxing Mousebird backpackers in Tsumeb (Tel 067 221777, GPS S19°14.76', E017°43.09', www.mousebird.com) we head South West towards the Brandberg mountains, where I finally get to see the so called White Lady - like Tom cruise, it was a lot smaller than I expected when I eventually saw it in the flesh, but it was well worth it all the same.

It was strange to be following such a well documented trail - the next stop (please try not to be late back to the bus as we have a lot of ground to cover....) are the petroglyphs at Twyfelfontein. I'm not saying that these 'attractions' aren't worth the effort, but it all seems so sanitised after trading  smiles with pygmies with filed teeth. Not very authentic by comparison, we joke. Next we head North into Damaraland and the roads start to deteriorate - the South Africans in their shiny 4x4s talk about the daunting route North - in Angola it would still be considered a motorway.

Our destination is Epupa, the falls on the Northern border with Angola, but the roads are ironically too good - we are going too fast for the sharp flints that can now pierce our worn tyres too easily, and we arrive with just four tyres left. At Epupa we meet Chris, a friend of Roxana's who it taking a group around the North. We share a few beers, and Roxana invents a whole new form of sacrilege by mixing the last of my fine malt whisky with the syrup from a tin of peaches. Surprisingly my Spirit Guardian from the Congo doesn't seem to be working. Lucky her, as I hate travelling with frogs.

Epupa itself is a truly beautiful spot - it's just inaccessible enough to retain its sense of isolation, and you can easily find a quiet spot along the western trail where you can watch the impressive cascades and contemplate life, the universe, and you belly button.

Our next destination is Etosha, but we take the indirect Northern approach as the roads are better, and we are running out of tyres. Our route takes us back to Epuwo to the South, and we arrive with three and a half tyres. An inner tube later we set off, and the tube lasts as far as the tarmac road - we pump it up several times and eventually park up for the night outside a small bar. I jack up the car and hook up the foot pump for the morning as the tubes have a habit of disappearing into the tyre. The next morning I pump up to a kilo or so, and we take the short drive on to the gas Station for more air, and then on to Trentyres at Oshakati where I bite the bullet and buy a new set of six tyres. I'd hoped to get to SA for these as they are more expensive here, but its hard to drive with three tyres. I'm a little concerned about the size - my old ones were 255x65x16, and the new ones are a lot bigger at 245x70x16. The manager assures me they are fine. And they are the only ones in stock that fit my rims...

Eventually we head off for Etosha, and return to Sachenheim which is a lot cheaper than camping in the Park. Etosha is a great park - after the pretty poor show of wild life in West Africa it's great to see such a variety of abundant wild life - even if my camera is refusing to play. in the end I have to use my eyes and brain - no substitute for digital gadgetry of course, but the resolution is better.

The camp sites are geared up to groups - you pay a flat fee for the site which accommodates a group of cars - must be part of the voortrekker mentality, but I noticed that lots of the other tourists travel in convoy. The standards here are high - we generally camp with free lighting, electrical socket, tap, and brie (BBQ) with optional honey badgers if you're lucky. The showers are hot, but this is necessary as it's getting pretty parky as we head farther South. Each camp site in Etosha has a floodlit water hole, which is horribly artificial, but at least you get to see rhinos... however entertaining it is I still find it's more satisfying when you just bump into animals in the middle of nowhere - my favourite animal encounter was with a bunch of curious ground squirrels who came over to say hi to the Big Yellow Ground Squirrel.

On our second morning in Etosha we meet up with Karl, who takes us up on an offer of a game drive, and we finally get to see a cat - a resting lion with ten attendant 4x4s - which is about as rewarding as watching a cardboard cut-out. Still, at least there are actually lions here.

We left Etosha at last light, and camped at a Cheetah sanctuary, where I found it far more rewarding to watch the cats fighting for a slab of meat - their enclosure may have been smaller than Etosha, but at least there were no other bloody tourists...

Windhoek was where Roxana and I said goodbye - first to her fleece and then - more distressing by far - to my beer. And then to each other. The Cardboard Box is a potentially great hostel, but they seem far too blasé about theft - Meindert and Ed were at Roof Over Africa which had a much better ambience, but is a real hike from the town centre.

After sorting out my laundry, I popped in to Trentyres because my tyres were rubbing against the radius arms. After a bit of prodding they agreed to replace them with a smaller size (235x70x16) - good on Jaco for sorting that out. Then it was off to Swakopmund for a bit of fun.

The C28 - the scenic route - it a beautiful drive. Namibia is amazing for the game that you see outside of the parks - and I saw most of the horned beasts on offer before camping in a pass which was surprisingly warm, and offered a spectacular sunrise the next day.

Roxana had recommended the Desert Sky Backpackers- a great choice for a bit of R&R. Swakopmund is a great place for trying out new sports - Sky diving, paragliding, taking to German chicks with a sense of humour - yes really! I took a morning up with dune boarding which was not as much fun as I'd hoped, but to make up for that you could lie down on a piece of hardboard and zoom down dunes at scary speeds - watch out for the bumps if you value your testicles...

The weather was bright and sunny - not normal for Swakopmund, but it made for a great trip up to Cape Cross with Ferhat, who I'd actually met briefly in Youndé. The great attraction is the seals - but what you don't expect is the stench of a few hundred thousand seals in one place (without adequate sanitation, of course).

The next day the wind picked up and a vicious sand storm hit town - no point in hanging around for paragliding then - so I popped over to Walvis bay for a look around and then headed past dune 7 (not a patch on the Col de Temet in Niger) towards Sesriem, and more desert. I arrived at eh gates after closing time - at the same time as another group, but we managed to get a camping spot of sorts, and as we were sharing it was cheap enough for me to afford. in the morning  Liezel, Marisa and Ian joined me for the drive to Sossusvlei. The last five kilomteres is 4WD only - and they were in a 4x2 so they were grateful for the ride - even so it was a fast run to get there in time for sunrise even with us getting up at 05:30. The last stretch was fun - new tyres and Sahara experience saw me roaring past loads of shiny new 4x4s bogged down in soft sand - the reward was a great sunrise amid the dunes.

The four of us agreed to team up for a trip to Lüderitz, and the very touristy, but still quite interesting town of Kolmanskop - the supposed ghost town. From there we headed on to the Fish River Canyon - A great view, but it's something I think you could only really appreciate by hiking down it for a few days.

The pace is now quite fast - that's the trouble with travelling with people who only get a few days of holiday - so after a hot swim at the spring at Ai-Ais we headed on to the Border

The border - amazingly open at 9pm - was where I failed miserably to claim back the VAT on my various purchases - apparently the goods have to be unused - so that cost me a packet on my new tyres - another black mark for the manager at Trentyres Oshakati. So with a stamp in the last free page of my passport it's on to the Augrabies falls.

The War Is Over

And so, like battle weary troops straggling in from the front, singly, or in small shell-shocked groups, we drifted across the border and stepped once more upon the firm ground of civilisation. Of the original dozen or so only a lucky few made it all the way to the end, and in many ways Namibia is the end, or at least the beginning of the end. R & R arrive first after a marathon non-stop journey by public transport. A few days later I arrive. Karl, Meindert and Ed are listed as MIA until, a week later Karl taps on our window in Etosha national Park. Shock of shock - they had only just managed to get across after taking a definitely ill-advised route through the interior. If you except the truck crew who made it safely through the war zone of the Chad Sudan border and are were last heard of in Kenya, only Piet remains unaccounted for. Then in Windhoek I get a mail from him - he is still in Congo trying to get a visa.

Apart from the common ordeal, those of us who made it out of Angola found the transition from Angola to Namibia to be a complete change of culture - one moment you are in the third world, and the next in the first world. And I finally know why we talk in terms of first and third world - there is no second world because the gulf is simply too great to accommodate one - Angola and Namibia are simply worlds apart. To talk about first and second world would imply a connection - a continuity from one to another one, and this simply isn't the case - an increment of just one world is not enough to describe the gulf.

It began in the immigration building - a structure that in itself was not unlike its counterpart on the Angolan side of the border. I enquired about vehicle insurance and was offered a visitors pack. In a furtive, almost feral gesture I grasped the wad of plastic encased paper - that would do nicely for starting a fire later, I was thinking. But it really hit me when I walked into my first supermarket. I didn't actually enter a shopping frenzy, but I had to consciously fight the urge to hoard - after all - when would I next find a jar or glace cherries? And I realised that people were looking at me - an hour ago I had blended in perfectly, but here was a different world where I was ragged and dirty - not in myself, but in my dress - tattered trousers, ragged and misshapen tee-shirts stained forever by the tenacious red dust of Central Africa. People were looking at me as I wandered in awe through electrical appliance and furniture shops, caressing the wares with my eyes, and theirs was a look of distrust, for I had clearly come from another world...

Some time in my first hour back in civilisation I realised that it is consumerism  that defines our culture - when historians look back at our civilisation they won't talk about the silicone age, or the age of liberal democracy; they will talk about the shopping age - we are of the species mall-man. That is the sum of our progress. Take all the advances in technology; the abundant economy, growth in GDP and personal wealth, and add a large dash of telecommunications and a good transport infrastructure, and you get the shopping experience - our unique achievement. And this is not a tongue in cheek criticism of where we are at - it's an acclamation from one who now appreciates the importance of this achievement - the choice and freedom that it represents - the social and physical mechanisms that make it possible - it represents the pinnacle of achievement; it is unique to our culture. It defines us.

Whoever said the the purpose of travel was to allow us to return to our home and see it thought the eyes of a stranger was spot on.


Windhoek, 18/06/03

I have arrived...