Namibia Road Trip
In March of 2013, I embarked on a road trip with some friends to Namibia. Where’s Namibia you might ask? Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. Although I had already been living in South Africa for a few months, Namibia was but a blip on my radar. I knew next to nothing of the country, other than it was due north of Cape Town, was known for its sand dunes, and Anthony Bourdain ate ostrich eggs there once. I didn’t even know that I wanted to go to Namibia. What’s in Namibia? This trip represented my first real adventure into the unknown.
Driving to Namibia
My friend Zach, who was also living in South Africa, though on the other side of the country, messaged me quite out of the blue and asked if I’d be interested in a road trip to Namibia. Not really knowing what I was agreeing to, I said “sure, why not!” Zach’s instructions for me were rather sparse, with a simple “be in Johannesburg by this day and we will pick you up.” So with little expectations, I grabbed my friend Christian and we embarked on a 24 hour bus trip (the InterCape) to JoBurg. That bus trip was an adventure in itself, and I don’t recommend for anyone. Drive yourself or fly.
A quick stay in Melville, Johannesburg, and Zach arrived with his Italian girlfriend (now wife) Laura and their Swiss friend Toby. Quite the United Nations of a road trip – U.S., Italy, Switzerland, and Gibraltar. Our road trip started out with a major detour to avoid some construction, a terribly pot-hole filled road, and finally entering the Kalahari of northern South Africa. We passed through some wonderfully rural towns such as Kuruman, and ultimately camped outside of Upington.
Fish River Canyon, Namibia
I could tell you all day about everything that Fish River Canyon, and the other sites we visited, have to offer, but instead I’ll stick to the more “adventurous” (or foolish) aspects of our trip. After a night in Upington, we found ourselves hitting the road, bound for the desert as we drove into the unknown. We didn’t know where we would be camping, only that we were to visit Fish River Canyon that day. After taking many pictures and a wonderful meal at Cañon lodge, we drove off into the unknown yet again, with the sun quickly setting. We knew that our next destination was the dunes of Sesriem and Dead Vlei, but we had no idea the route that lay ahead.
Did I mention that all five of us and our gear were crammed into a VW Polo hatchback? Several hours in, completely in the dark, and low on water (in the desert mind you), we found ourselves utterly isolated, the nearest town an unknown distance ahead, and entirely out of fuel. We resorted to driving 25 mph to ensure we didn’t burn too much gas, and Zach and I began debating who should be sent ahead to run to the next town if we were to run out of fuel. In our ignorance, we had no idea that the distances between towns was so great in Namibia, nor that what may appear to be a town on a map may in fact be nothing at all. Most towns consisted of a single petrol station and maybe a convenience store. We drove for hours without passing another traveller.
Finally arriving in the town of Bethanien after 11 pm, our next problem was finding the petrol station closed, and having no idea where to camp. Luckily, a man in a 4×4 appeared out of nowhere, woke the gas station attendant for us, and found us accommodation. It was here that we had our first run-in with the giant Afrikaaner family – more on that to come.
The next day, fresh and a car full of petrol, we embarked yet again towards the dunes of Sesriem. Again paving our own way and ever somewhat lost, we stumbled upon the quaint town of Maltahöhe, where we stopped for a wonderful lunch at a backpacker. The owner of the backpacker was the most relaxed person I have ever met in my life, and he immediately put us all at ease. Full from a fantastic ham, cheese, and tomato toasted sandwich (minus the tomatoes, he ran out), we finally arrived at Sesriem, and our next encounter with the Afrikaaner family. They were a bit of a raucous and large group, and we found out that they were in fact all road tripping to Swakopmund, as two in the group were an engaged couple. Their family has a tradition of packing everyone up in vans and driving to a destination in Africa for weddings, endlessly partying along the way. After several drinks at our campsite, we were extended an invitation to join them at the pre-wedding party in Swakopmund.
The Desert Drive
The drive between Sesriem and Swakopmund is one of my all time favorites. The varied landscapes are utterly beautiful, including the final several hours completely straight stretch across the Namib to the coast. Upon arriving in Swakopmund, we were shocked to find civilization, as everything we had encountered thus far in Namibia barely registered on the map. We stayed a few nights in Swakopmund, even enjoying the nightlife and partying with the Afrikaaner family, who ultimately invited us to the wedding (regrettably, we were unable to attend).
Etosha and Beyond
Although our trip culminated in game driving through Etosha and my first sightings of African animals in the wild, my first road trip through Namibia represented so much more. I experienced such a freedom, in a place that felt utterly wild to me. Although I now realize that Namibia is not quite the frontier I initially thought it was, I will still never forget that feeling. Driving through the desert at night not knowing what lay ahead, if anything, was a completely freeing experience. I enjoyed my time so much in Namibia that I even brought Leeann (who was just my girlfriend at the time) there as soon as she came to Africa.
It is essential that everyone experience a trip such as this in their lifetime. The details don’t matter. What is important is that you experience that feeling of being “off the beaten path.” It is entirely liberating, and one of a kind. I had always been infected by the travel bug, but this is where it presented itself, front and center.
Please enjoy some of my pictures from this epic trip below, none of which truly do it justice. And remember, do yourself a favor and don’t take the InterCape Bus.