Namibia – Part 1

Namibia is a remarkably diverse country with landscapes that are hard to come by. It is split into deserts, the likes of the Middle East, and savannah, which most imagine when thinking of Africa. It has an eerily empty coast and mountains in the middle of nowhere. This, along with the fact that it is a country larger in size than Spain but has only 2.3 million people (Spain has 47 million), really sparked the interest of my husband.

He is intrigued in the most remote, geographically different and sparsely populated countries, so when we found flights too good to pass up, we booked immediately. That’s one thing about isolated areas; they tend to be difficult to get to in terms of flights available and cost, but if you read my previous post you’d see we happened to live in a convenient place in Europe for cheap flights (Barcelona).

Not many companies fly to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. In fact, Qatar Airways, with whom we flew, is one of six airlines that make the trip and it has only recently added Windhoek as one of its destinations. Qatar Airways is also the official sponsor of Barcelona Football Club so they have flights daily out of Barcelona. With only one layover in Doha, Qatar, we made it to Windhoek, Namibia.

Given Namibia is such a large country, you absolutely must rent a car. Public transportation may get you to the towns but to see the most remarkable places, you’ll need a car. Plus, it provides you with much more freedom. Namibian roads are about 50% paved and 50% unpaved from our experience and there are plenty situations where a 4×4 would be a must as well. Having known all that, we began our search for a truck a couple of weeks before taking off.

Turns out most people going to Namibia must have a lot of money because the rental car options were so expensive! We even contemplated renting the cheapest car available, which was a tiny car. Luckily, we came across a screaming deal for a bakkie (Afrikaans word for small pickup truck) through Dollar Thrifty and renting it for a whole month including all the gas we would use to drive 7 000 km (4 300 miles) totaled to less than renting any of the other vehicles available! Major win! The deal was so good that we hardly believed it until we arrived and found out there were no hidden costs.

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After getting our bakkie at the airport we headed to Windhoek (40 km from the airport), stocked up on food, purchased some last-minute camping items and topped up our gas tank. Important! In Namibia there are few gas stations. Every time you spot one you have to fill up because it could be more than 500 kilometers (300 miles) until you come across another.

In order to know where the gas stations are, I recommend getting an app called OsmAnd because it can be used offline and you’re able to select Points of Interest (POIs) that are useful for you, such as gas stations, tourist spots, springs, and food. Google Maps has such little information on Namibia that we had printed Google Earth images on large paper to have maps but OsmAnd made it so that we needed no other resource! It really made our trip possible because we free camp (wherever we can in a relatively hidden area) and it’s only when you have a detailed map that you can plan on where you’ll camp.

Anyways! We left Windhoek and spent the first night at the Friedenau Dam, which is a bit over an hour outside of Windhoek. Interesting to note that from any direction in/out of Windhoek, you’ll be stopped at a road block by police who ask to see your driver’s license, your passport, search your car, or really anything else. Sometimes they don’t ask to see anything and they wave you on but other times the cop may take 5-10 minutes.

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The Friedenau Dam wasn’t much but a bit of water, enough to clean up because we hadn’t showered in 3 days.

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We parked the bakkie just outside the gates, cleaned up, had dinner and went to bed, but it wasn’t long before a farmer who was headed to his home stopped by and wanted to see if we were all right. Apparently no one camps the way we do.

The next day the farmer checked on us once more to see if we were alive. It was a funny first impression of Namibians and we were happy for the encounter. We then headed towards Rooiklip, an area with immense canyons.

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We stayed a day and wondered how all the zebra in the area survived with no sign of water for hundreds of kilometers.

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We found out how soon after, but I’ll tell you more about that in a bit.

We made our way down to Sossusvlei, which is a popular tourist destination. Sossusvlei is an oasis in the middle of the Namib Desert and it leads to Deadvlei, another oasis that is now dead but has remnants of once being alive.

The road to Sossusvlei is paved but turns to sand for the remaining 5 kilometers (3 miles) to Deadvlei. We were going to attempt the drive through the sand ourselves but immediately got stuck within the first several meters. A tour guide saw us and drove our car to the shade. (They really know how to handle the sand and are used to helping tourists get unstuck.) He offered to take us in his truck that is specially suited for the sand for about 10 USD each so we jumped on and made it to Deadvlei.

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The ride got us as close as possible but even the specialized trucks cannot make it up the dunes so we had to walk the remaining kilometer in BURNING hot sand. I was wearing sandals without socks, which is a huge mistake. I thought I’d have blisters by the time I finished the climb to the top of the dune.

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We would recommend making the trip to Sossusvlei though it’s more touristic than we like and has strict rules such as “no sledding down the dunes” and “must leave by 7 PM”. But remember to wear socks.

From there we went towards Walvis Bay and Swakopmund, two towns along the coast. But before we arrived we decided to stop once more at an oasis that we had found on our way to Sossusvlei. It was here that we understood how the surrounding animals (zebra, kudu, springbuck, etc.) survived. This little oasis hasn’t evaporated because all of water in the surrounding area runs towards it, as it is the lowest point. It sustains the animals until the rainy season.

 

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The oasis is about half way between Sossusvlei and Walvis Bay so it makes for a perfect place to clean up and have lunch. That was our plan until, well… we got stuck in the sand.

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The previous time we stopped at the oasis we had absolutely no problem but this time, we were stuck from the moment we drove in. We thought, “at least we have a 4×4 that is supposed to handle the sand!” It didn’t, and for an entire day, tirelessly removing sand from underneath the truck for 8 hours, getting sunburnt and even hurting my husband’s back, there we remained overnight.

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It was such a perplexing predicament because we couldn’t understand why the front wheels were not turning, the whole point of a 4×4, of course. Later on we found out that with our particular car, you have to manually turn the caps on the wheels so it becomes a 4×4. So, for all those looking to rent a truck, be sure to understand how to properly put it into four-wheel drive.

Although upsetting, we cleaned up in the oasis and got into our tent by sunset. We thought to seek help in the morning by going to the road with a sign. Remember how I was curious about how the animals could survive without any sign of water for hundreds of kilometers? Well, not more than 20 minutes had passed since sunset and already zebra and other animals were scuttling down the canyon toward the water, right next to where we were camped. All night we heard hooves and it is still one of my favorite experiences from Namibia, particularly because so much frustration led to such a unique experience.

The next day we walked a kilometer to the main road and with our “Help! Stuck in Sand” sign we got the first car to stop and help us. A Swiss couple, with lots of experience driving in snow, was quickly (within 10 minutes) able to get us out of the deep sand pit we had made. We couldn’t believe it! We couldn’t have been happier either.

Happily on the road again, we made it to Walvis Bay, Longbeach and Swakopmund. Walvis Bay is the only port of Namibia so it is an industrial working town. Longbeach has dream houses, some the likes of those of the richest people in the world but at a fraction of the cost. We know; we looked at all of the realtor signs.

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And Swakopmund is a relaxed and quaint German town.

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We only spent a day driving through the towns and yet it was a great break from being out in the middle of nowhere for the past week. We needed to stock up on groceries anyway and pig out on some pizza! We found the perfect place in Swakopmund called Napolitana and their signature pizza was too good. From there we headed inland to some mountains but that’ll have to wait for my next entry!

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