After 3500 kilometers, two flat tires and 19 road days, we kick back at the Trans-Kalahari Inn outside of the capital city of Windhoek and await a 10-hour flight back to Europe. We had all kinds of road conditions including paved highways, graveled roads, 4-wheels tracks, stream-covered roads and sky high sand dunes. There were many road memories.
But I also had time to reflect on all the wonderful times we had experienced in Namibia. Here are a few gems.
The Young Ones. I am searching for a music store in downtown Swakopmund, a town along the Skeleton Coast. This should not be difficult because the place is compact and small. But it takes me several swings around the block to finally locate The Young Ones on Sam Nuyoma Avenue. It’s part musical instrument store and part record shop. I approach the middle-aged woman garbed in a long, colorful African-fabric dress. “I’m just traveling through, but want to take home some music from Namibia. Can you help me out?” “Do you want traditional or modern?” “I guess a little bit of both.” The lady goes through the Namibia music CDs and hands me a stack of ten. I see a sign on the countertop that says I need to pay a dollar deposit to listen to these. “Oh, don’t worry about that,” she says handing me some headphones. “That is not for you. Listen to these CDs and if you like something, just tell me.” The first two discs I hear are compilations of traditional Namibian music. I recognize some Herero music and a bunch of others that I like but have no clue who they are. I put those aside to buy.
Then I ask the lady to play a disc from Hishishi Papa. The first number just slays me. “Reggae in Africa? I ask. “Oh yes.” the lady smiles on my choice. “If you like reggae, you should try Hishishi Papa’s double album, Inner Effect. It has both reggae and traditional.” I take the woman’s advice and buy four CDs. If you get a chance, try some Hishishi Papa on You Tube.
Best Bathroom In Africa. We roll in to the Tsauchab River Camp, located on the edge of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. Owner and metal works master Johan Styn directs us to the Drogon Camp for the night. As we pull in, there is a bathroom nestled in between a cluster of trees, another artistic creation of Johan. It is built of river rock walls, tiled floors and incorporates the trunks of several living trees into the structure. The bathroom is complete with shower, sink and toilet. It even has hot water. Johan outdid himself this time. This is, without a doubt, the best bathroom in Africa.
Birds. During three weeks, we get to see 109 different bird species in Namibia. Seventy percent of those are new for us, ones that we didn’t see on our last trip to Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa. My hats off to our guides John, Ueera and Wayne, but there were a number of birds that we identified by ourselves. I don’t claim to be a birdwatcher. Those people are much more astute and dedicated than I am. But I do enjoy seeing interesting birds and when I encounter one, I try to learn a bit more about it. My very heavy field guide, Birds of Southern Africa, filled in the blanks wonderfully.
The Quiver Tree. The only place to see this strange, unusual tree is in the deserts of southern Nambia and northern South Africa. I thought it might have gotten its name because the tree’s leaves might shake in the wind, but then I saw my first one on the edge of the Naukluft Mountains.
No way is this tree going to shake for it has thick leaves of aloe, specifically Aloe dichotoma. Rather, the tree got its name from the bushmen who would carve out the soft insides of the tree’s branches and use them as quivers to hold their arrows. The IUCN has classified the Quiver Tree as a threatened species as their numbers are declining due to climate change.
Back at the Trans-Kalahari Inn I think back to warnings from friends and family before departing. There were trepidations; “Why the hell do you want to go there?” They cut off peoples’ heads!” “I hope you know what you are doing.”; and a few just said, “Hasta la vista, baby!”
But Hettie and I are veteran world travelers. It is what we do best. That is not to say shit can’t hit the fan at places far from home. But the calculated risks we take deliver so much in return. Africa gets a bad rap in the First World, especially in the media. They focus on the tragedy-the wars, the slaying of elephants, HIV, the list goes on. Yes, they all exist. But you don’t hear much about the smiles we received from people all over Namibia. Or the time I’m flat on my ass on a deserted road, changing a flat tire in the midday sun. Everyone that passed during that half hour -3 cars in total-stopped to see if they could help. Or how about the Himba boy who was admiring our camper, flashed a smile and said in perfect English, “Bed, kitchen, toilet—home on wheels!”
So I sit back with a cappuccino and salute our most recent adventure. I’m happy with our accomplishment, one that most of our acquaintances don’t quite understand. But then I strike up a conversation with two Belgians about the same age as I am. They, too, are waiting for the plane to Europe. I ask them where they have traveled. They started two and a half months ago on bicycles pedaling through South Africa and Namibia. The foam in my cappuccino suddenly deflates. Now that is crazy. It makes our motorized meanderings seem rather pedestrian. No matter. After all, just like the 1960’s Winston Cigarettes ad used to say, It’s not how long you make it. It’s how you make it long. And yeah, tramps like us, baby we were born to run.