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Roadtripping Namibia: Two girls and the open road

In November last year, my friend Lauren Fowler-Kierman and I were invited to experience a unique trip with Open Africa, a non-profit organisation that curates routes through Southern Africa. Their trips incorporate local businesses and small business owners, supporting the local tourism industry and promoting authentic and local experiences – two of the most important things I look for when I travel.

We were asked to keep an open mind, and given no clues as to where we were going until less than 12 hours before our flight. At 8pm on the night before we were due to set off on our journey, we were handed an envelope containing flight tickets to Namibia, some cash and an itinerary. We were also equipped with a bunch of travel essentials from Due South, including hiking boots, a headlamp and one of those emergency foil blankets! We couldn’t believe our luck.

A few short hours of frantic packing and what felt like hardly any sleep later, I woke up to Lauren banging and shouting at my front door. It was 5am and I had slept through my alarm and we were meant to have checked in already. Our Uber driver was given the instruction to drive recklessly and soon we were at Cape Town International Airport, passports stamped, boarding the flight to Namibia – a country neither of us had been to before.

We landed just after 8am and went over to the Hertz desk to pick up our car for the week. Naively, I was expecting a small little hatchback. I was handed a Toyota key and found my corresponding car in the parking lot: a huge, hulking Toyota Hilux. White, with automatic gears, a bluetooth radio and one of those cameras that helps you not to reverse into things. It was perfect. I signed some paperwork and launched myself into the car. I instantly totally got why people buy them.

I had a bad cold after flying back from Greece just the morning before, so we headed straight to Windhoek for some medication. Let me tell you, driving into Windhoek is like driving through a wormhole straight into the late 70’s. The architecture, colour palate…it all looks like it came straight from my baby pictures! Attention Hollywood, I’ve found the perfect location for your films set in the 70’s and 80’s.

So as I said, we had no idea what was in store for us. We had a Garmin and an itinerary and Gone Girl on audiobook and a lot of excitement. Driving through the desert, a couple of hours in, we looked at each other and were like, uh wow, we are just two girls, driving through the desert in a foreign country, anything could happen and this is totally epic! If I’d known a couple of days before we left that we were going to be driving over a thousand kilometres through the desert by ourselves with no cellphone reception, I might have had some time to start panicking a little.

Because even though I’ve been to India all by myself and travelled alone in the UK and Germany and I’m not normally a panicky traveller, there’s something about road tripping in Africa that’s slightly daunting. Which is ridiculous because, I mean, I am African. But Africa’s pretty wild, you know. Or it seems wild. So anyway, we were very stoked to have the opportunity to do this. With a pre-planned route and pre-booked accommodation. And of course we both felt really cool in our white Toyota Hilux, which I’m pretty sure is the national car of Namibia.

We drove for most of the day, focussing hard on not hitting pot holes or flipping the car on the dirt roads. The sky and the roads stretched as far as the eye could see. There was hardly anything to spot. Every now and then we would pass a flipped-over or burnt-out car and one of us would point. The road stretched on. We arrived at our first accommodation, the White Lady Lodge, just as the sun was setting. The sky was painted pink and orange as we drove towards the arid mountains. Literal wild horses rad ahead of us, kicking up dust that hung in the sunset like smoke after fireworks.
Exhausted, hot and hungry, we ate the first of what would be several portions of Oryx steak – a staple on the Namibian menu. Lauren and I were the only non-German’s in the dining room and as our waiter took our drinks order he smiled and asked “where are you from, Germany?”. It would not be last time we were asked that question.
The lodge had no cellphone reception or electrical plug points in the bedroom, so we both had cold showers and collapsed underneath our mosquito nets.
White Lady Lodge is known for its Elephants and named after the rock painting nearby, which was originally thought to be an actual white lady. Being 2000 years old, I thought it a bit of a stretch, but apparently the guy who discovered it was like “this is definitely a white woman from Crete in Greece!”. Years later it was decided that it is most definitely a medicine man from Africa, obviously. Awkward. Anyway, the name stuck.
It’s a five kilometre hike from the entry point of the protected area where the rock painting is located, and in the 40 degree celsius heat, it proved too much for my weak and ill body. Half way there I felt like James Franco in 127Hours and I turned back before the urge to cut my own arm off took hold. I went to lay in a shady spot and roll around feeling horrid while Lauren went to look at the ancient and culturally significant painting.
Back at White Lady Lodge, more of the staff asked us if we were German, while we drank beer shandies and hung out between the pool and the shade. As the sun started to set, the sky was painted candyfloss pink and I tried to catch it on camera instead of lying on the desert floor soaking it all up. That night we dined on Oryx steak and got to bed early because the next day we were off on another drive through the Namib desert.
The days of driving kind of blend into one, which I suppose is exactly what you can expect from the desert. I mean, just imagine those intrepid travellers who were hiking through the desert for days on end, getting all confused and dehydrated and walking in circles. I get it, intrepid travellers. I can relate. Except for being in a very powerful, air conditioned car with a GPS navigation system.
The next highlight on our trip was the Damara Living Museum in Twyfelfontein. Between gigantic boulders lies a small traditional village set up by a few members of the Damara tribe in order to preserve their culture and educate their young people as well as visitors about their customs. Our amazing guide Colin was dressed in traditional skins and showed us around the village, stopping off at the traditional pharmacy, “gambling casino” and brewery.
At the pharmacy we learned that burning and inhaling the smoke from elephant dung was used for a variety of ailments and to improve fertility in women. At the “casino” we tried to learn the basics of a complicated game involving small holes in the ground which could result in a chief relinquishing his power if he didn’t play his hand right. Of course, the games we played were a lot different to the ones we play at home. When you think about the lavish casinos we have and the online casino sites like https://www.best-casino.net/, small holes in the ground seem incomparable. To say it provided a stark contrast from the life we live would be an understatement. And everyone knows casino games can make you money, well, let’s just say you certainly wouldn’t win much money playing in this “casino”! My advice would be that if you’re looking to make money from gambling, it’s best to stick to playing online. You can learn how to win money online here. Nevertheless, it was interesting to learn about their casino games. Then, at the bar, we learnt about the beer. The traditional beer is brewed from grass seeds, stolen from the ants that harvest and store them.
When the tribe/museum staff got up and performed a traditional song, dance and drama routine I got a huge lump in my throat. To think that this tribe of people, this culture, is in danger of being lost made me feel both incredibly sad and incredibly grateful to be able to experience these people and their unique culture. I was humbled and a little bit shy but they were super friendly and wanted to be in about a hundred pictures with us.
Namibia is a special place, with a huge amount of historic sites, cultural influences, friendly smiles from locals and wildlife (up in Etosha park). We could easily have spent a month exploring the coastal region, the nightlife of Windhoek and Swakopmund and Etosha. But part of the experience is the driving – the nothingness and everythingness of this dry, hot, golden yellow and sky blue place. I’m so grateful that I got thrust into this adventure – the long drives, crazy roads, Oryx steaks and wide open skies. I would sign up for any one of Open Africa’s trips, and I really hope to do one of the Mozambique routes sometime this year.

One comment

  1. Natalie,
    Well done on these photos they are amazing! Especially the ones of people – so natural, as if you aren’t even there and the funny thing is that I can actually imagine you saying that “Just make like I’m not even here” click click.
    I was born in Namibia and have not been back since we moved when I was still a baby. This is so inspiring and how amazing that you got to share it with a close friend!
    Can’t wait to read more Mermaid Travels this year!

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