SOUTH AFRICA TO NAMIBIA

IMG_4314DAY 1

“I’m originally from Springbok,” said Victus who owned a luxury camping tour company with tents that had showers, bathrooms and double beds. He had stopped for me in False Bay where I had said my final ‘goodbyes’ to Nikki, Stacey, her daughter Bella and Nooshka, her 13-year-old Great Dane.

My sign read ‘Malmesbury (pronounced ‘Moms-berry’) and N7, the Cape-Namibia highway that stretched from Cape Town to Namibia. I had 7 days to cross the border before my 3-month South African visa expired.

“Springbok is nice. Cold but nice,” he continued.

I was hoping to reach the tiny town, some 500 K’s north of my position, by the end of the day. Victus was kind enough to take me all the way to the N7 even though it wasn’t on his route. I hopped off at the turn off and hiked down to what seemed to be an appropriate place to try and hitch a ride. Of course, gas stations (known as ‘garages’ in SA) and truck stops would be the best place but when hitching you take what you can get.IMG_4315

It was 10:30 when I reached the N7. I gave myself until 12:30 before I’d hike my way to the nearest garage, wherever that may be.

At 12:30 I was pissed off. Not a single vehicle had stopped. I grabbed my packs and guitar and as I spun around in anger a bukky (ute or pick-up truck, depending which part of the world you’re from) was on the shoulder, waiting for me to approach it.

“We are going as far as Melkbosstrand,” said the driver who was stretching his fishing net over the back of the bukky, the strong smell of fish snaking its way into my nostrils.

“Cool,” I said. “How far is that?”

“Not far,” he shrugged, “20 kilometres. You’ll have a better chance hitching from there.”

“Thank you so much,” I said as I navigated my gear to somehow not lie on the smelly fishing net.

My sponsored 65 litre backpack, supplied by the South African company, North Ridge, didn’t need the extra scent. The passenger side was taken so I hopped in the back of the bukky.

I was dropped off at the intersection of Melkbosstrand and the N7. With rejuvenated energy from getting a long awaited lift, I set up a corner and stuck my thumb out with my sign to Malmesbury. After half an hour, an 80s algae-green VW Golf drove by but kept going.

I continued to try and hitch when after two minutes the VW was back.

“I asked my wife if it would be OK to take you,” explained Glance, a welder by trade.

I couldn’t believe these guys had U-turned just for me. Glance’s wife, Jenny, a nurse, sat in the front so I joined their 7-year-old daughter, Desmond, in the back.

IMG_4319They took me to the outskirts of Malmesbury where I thanked them and set up a corner. Looking at the watch on my phone I saw that it was 14:30.

I looked at the eucalyptus trees across the road and started to ponder whether I could string up my hammock should it come to it, even though the Ceres Mountain Range had snow covered peaks.

I stuck my thumb out and about an hour passed before another bukky stopped for me.

J.J. was heading to Koringberg where he had recently purchased an olive farm. “I own Hillcrest Wineries,” he said.

“Man,” I exclaimed, “you make some good shiraz!”

We talked the whole journey, discussing travels (he’d been to Europe and taught English in Argentina), why I was travelling the way I was and how he was about to launch a social network which would be, “Similar to Facebook except that instead of you telling the world what you had for dinner, this social network will be for charity and NGO organisations. Kind of like Linked In but specifically for those seeking an organisation where they can volunteer.”

“What are you calling it?” I asked.

“E1C – Every One is Connected.”

“Sounds awesome. And just what the internet needs.”

After a couple of hours of driving, with the sun hanging low in the blue sky, J.J. invited me to spend the night at his olive farm. “I live in a 107-year-old manor house. We can hike the mountain behind it and braai for dinner.”

“Dude, that sounds amazing!” I said gratefully as it was getting dark and Springbok was still some 480 K’s away. “I’ll cook and even bake fresh bread for us.”

We stopped in town to buy supplies which included wine, beer, meat, salad stuff and flour and yeast. We reached his beautiful property, a white building filled with old furniture, J.J’s paintings and Charlie, the trophy head of an Eland that J.J. had shot.

“My family has six game farms and we have to cull the animals when there are too many. So I shot this one, named him Charlie after he went down. That was almost 10 years ago.”

“What happens to the rest of the body?” I asked, staring up at the huge trophy head.

“Biltong,” J.J. grinned.

IMG_4326I set my gear down in one of the guest bedrooms and we hiked up the small mountain behind his property. The view was astounding, the majestic Ceres mountains spread out around the valleys of wheat fields, sheep grazing on the grass.

We hiked back to the manor and while J.J. lit the braai fire, I made the dough for the bread, chopped the vegetables for the pomegranate salad and made the honey-mustard dressing while we drank Heinekens, a Darling brew, tequila, wine and jammed on his Fender acoustic pick-up.

The hot water shower had pressure that could have planted you into the ground; water so hot you could melt mercury with it. We ate dinner, drinking wine, discussing the whole god concept, J.J.’s bout with brain cancer (two operations to remove the tumor), women and relationships and books that we liked.

“Take this one,” J.J. gave me Stephen Hawkins book, The Grand Design.

“You sure?” I asked.

“Yeah, take it.”

“Thanks,” I grinned.

It was getting late so I excused myself to bed. I had a long day the morrow and needed to rest up.

DAY 2

At about 09:30 J.J. set us off to Clanwilliam, a small town in the citrus community. He was taking some timeout to relax over the upcoming weekend. The landscape was breathtaking – majestic mountains of the Ceres range and the Cederberg mountain range stood over colourful valleys of fields with citrus orchards and vineyards; a river peacefully flowing towards the Atlantic as we drove north.

We stopped by a lookout where, in the right conditions, para-gliders launch themselves to view the green landscape, spread out like a warm quilt a couple of hundred feet below us.

A few driving hours later we reached Clanwilliam where we parted ways with a man-hug and I proceeded to use my thumb. As traffic was light, I found I had time to read, The Psychopath Test,  by Jon Ronson who wrote The Men Who Stare At Goats (which is also a satirical film starring George Clooney).

The book was all about how to identify a psychopath using a specially devised checklist created by the renowned psychologist, Bob Hare.

After 40 minutes of reading, a blue Daihatsu with a cracked windscreen stopped. In it were three ladies and a 2-year-old boy.

“Almost 3,” said Evelyn, the older of the three ladies.

Rowina, the driver, was an administrator for the ANC party (who were leading the country) and I can’t remember the name of the girl in the passenger seat. They took me about 80 K’s down the road to Claver where I grabbed some lunch at Wimpy’s before heading back to the highway.

It was about 27 degrees, hot enough to pack away my hiking boots that had kept my feet warm and use the Source sandals I was supplied with by Source Outdoor and Hydration Systems, an Israeli-based company that was kind enough to sponsor me. Known internationally as ‘Jesus Sandals’ (I call them ‘Hebrew Sandals’), Source guarantees a lifetime warranty when you purchase a pair as long as the green dot on the sole is visible. They were no stranger to me. I’d had a pair of Source sandals for 12 years.

Yeah. 12 years. But they were stolen in Madagascar. OK, so they weren’t targeted. They were in the wrong place (San Miguel’s dinghy) at the wrong time (late night, we were drunk on rum and forgot to hoist the dinghy to the deck. I hope the thieving bastards get Athletes Foot or some other form of foot fungus. It might be hard though as I don’t suffer from any alignments in the toe department. But still).

With my feet breathing, I thwarted off the beggings of a beggar, claiming he was on his way to Cape Town with 3 girls. I suspected he was full of shit not just because of the smell he emanated, but because to hitch to Cape Town he and the girls needed to be on the other side of the road.

And actually hitching.

A white SUV with a mountain bike on the back pulled up.

“We’re only going a hundred K’s down the road,” said Helen in the passenger side. “We can drop you off in Bitter Fontien.”

“Perfect,” I said as Helen tuned the beggar an earful at his annoying persistence.

Her husband, Greg, is a mountain bike enthusiast. “I’ll be the first biker to complete all 128 passes in the Western Cape,” he said.

We exchanged website details (check out http://www.gregscycletour.co.za/) as we drove through what appeared to be a carbon copy of the Australian Outback.

“This looks exactly like the Outback,” I said in awe. “Except you have no kangaroos and no road kills. Or road trains.”

“You see this bridge up ahead?” Greg played tour guide.

I looked to the horizon. “Yeah?”

“Only one train goes on that bridge. That train is the longest train in Africa. It carries the iron ore from the mines in the east to the ships in Cape Town.” He grinned at me through the rear view mirror. “It’s 3 kilometres long. Two engines in the front, one in the middle and two in the back.”

3 K’s long? “3 K’s long?” I said, dumbstruck. I’ve walked 3 K’s but something that physically moves at that length? “3 K’s long?” I repeated.

Greg and Helen laughed. “Yup.”

IMG_4354I stared in awe at the red earth, the shrubbery spread out like a fungus growth on a two-week old pasta dish left in the sink. Before long we had reached Bitter Fontien (which means Bitter Fountain), named for the brackish water in the region. Greg and Helen knew of a woman who ran a guest house who might be able to help me out for the night.

As we parted ways, Greg shook my hand, slipping me 200 Rand. “Our donation to your travels,” he said warmly. “Good luck.”

I tried to refuse but it was forced on me. I was taken aback as I waved ‘goodbye’ to them.

After explaining my story to Maretha, she was happy to let me spend the night at her guesthouse in exchange for a review.

“There are 41 white people in Bitter Fontein,” she explained as she showed me around. “And about a thousand coloured (The South African population is divided into three categories: Whites, blacks and coloured. All terms are used openly. Coloured basically means folks with light-brown skin who look like islanders from Mauritius and aren’t part of tribes such as Zulu, Tootsie or Xhosa).”

“When’s the best time of year to visit here?” I asked.

“August to September,” she answered. “That’s when the flowers are blooming and the town becomes quite busy.”

We pulled up to a clay house with a healthy looking cactus garden, rusty old fridges and washing machines serving as garden gnomes.

“I like to horde things,” Maretha grinned. “There are also a couple of birds that nest here,” she pointed at the nest hanging above her door. “And a cat that sometimes comes around”.

That evening we went to the local hotel which housed the only bar in the tiny town. There were 5 people in attendance including Ice, the owner. I bartered a few songs on the guitar for a beer and two glasses of something the locals called wine which could have powered a diesel engine.

I played pool against Maretha, losing twice.

“Are you hustling me?” I joked. “You said you weren’t very good.”

“I’m just having a lucky night,” she said, pocketing the black ball for her second win.

We partnered up to play against a nurse (who grew up in Mossel Bay) and her friend who had a 6-month old daughter that, “Loves the sound of the harmonica,” said the mother. So I belted out a tune on the harp as the little toddler stared at me with big wondering eyes.

By 22:00 I was in bed but with an almost full moon and my inability to sleep properly under a full lunar satellite, I was awake by 04:00, waiting for the sun to rise until it dawned on me.

DAY 3

IMG_4366At 07:30 Maretha had placed me back on the N7. We hugged before she drove off to start her day. My goal was to reach Springbok by the evening, just under 400 K’s away. As I waited for vehicles to come round the bend, I read my book.

The rumblings of a truck echoed throughout the valley. I stuck my thumb out for the approaching 18-wheeler. I was excited as I heard the shifting of gears, the driver’s foot getting lighter on the accelerator as he slowed down to pull over.

“Hello,” I smiled at him and his co-pilot. “Are you going to Springbok?”

“Yes,” he eyed me with suspicion. “How much can you pay?”

Pay?

“I don’t have money,” I explained. “That’s why I’m hitching. If I had money I’d take the bus.” I flashed him a smile.

“No money, no ride,” he said bluntly.

“No worries,” I said, shaking his hand. “Thanks for stopping. Safe travels.”

He hit the road and left me to my book as I waited for another opportunity. Not two pages had been read when the rumblings of another 18-wheeler echoed around the valley. I was excited as I heard the shifting of gears, the driver’s foot getting lighter on the accelerator as he slowed down to pull over.

“Hello,” I smiled at him and his co-pilot. “Are you going to Springbok?”

“Yes,” he eyed me with suspicion. “How much can you pay?”

Pay? Was this how it was going to play out?

“I don’t have money,” I explained. “That’s why I’m hitching. If I had money I’d take the bus.” I paused. “Or a train.” I flashed him a smile.

“No money, no ride,” the driver said bluntly.

“No worries,” I said, shaking his hand. “Thanks for stopping. Safe travels.”

He hit the road and I returned to my book, reading patiently, holding out for another opportunity. It wasn’t long before a pick-up truck pulled up.

“Hello,” I smiled at the lone driver. “Are you going to Springbok?”

“Yes,” he eyed me with suspicion. “How much can you pay?”

Really?

“I don’t have money,” I explained. “That’s why I’m hitching. If I had money I’d take the bus. Or a train.” I paused. “Or a taxi.” I flashed him a smile.

“No money, no ride,” he said bluntly.

“No worries,” I said. “Thanks for stopping. Safe travels.”

Evidently, it was going to be on one of those days. The sun had finally risen over the hill top and was heating the blue-skied day as a 6-wheeler pulled up.

“Hello,” I smiled at the driver and his co-pilot. “Are you going to Springbok?”

“Yes,” he eyed me with suspicion. “How much can you pay?”

Sigh. I fought the urge to bang my forehead against his door.

“I don’t have money,” I explained. “That’s why I’m hitching. If I had money I’d take the bus. Or a train. Or a taxi.” I paused. “Or a bike.” I flashed him a smile.

“No money, huh?” the driver seemed curious. He was cuing me to continue so I explained my mode of travel and why I was doing what I was doing.

“Cool,” he said. “Hop on.”

Yes! I internally yelped. I introduced myself and stuck my hand out to shake his.

“James,” he said, offering a limp hand, as though paralysed. His face was completely expressionless with vacant eyes, as though he wasn’t all there.

“Omri,” said Omri from the bunk. He had a firm grip.

“I don’t suppose you’re headed to Namibia?” I asked as we rumbled along.

“Yes,” James said.

“I don’t suppose I can ride with you to Namibia?” I queried hopefully.

“You play guitar?” James asked, ignoring my question as he eyed my baby.

“Yes,” I said.

“Play something for me. It’s my birthday,” he stared at me with those haunting eyes. “But don’t play ‘Happy Birthday.’ I hate that song.”

I nodded in agreement as I pulled out Ol’ Red and jammed in the cab of the rig (a first for me. I had once played guitar in the back of a ‘68 VW Beetle on the way to Cape Town from Mossel Bay). A couple of tunes later I carefully put Red away.

James put on something he called music but I would never honour it with such a title. He played it at a volume that most clubs wouldn’t dare rise too to avoid blowing their speakers. I plugged my left ear with my index finger to save myself from going deaf by the left speaker.

“Do you dance?” he asked, turning down the volume to be heard.

“Yeah…” I said slowly, wondering where this was going.

“Show me how you dance,” he demanded with dead eyes.

OK, I thought. Another first. I moved my shoulders and arms to what I hoped to be some form of interpretive dance.

“What is your surname?” he then asked, satisfied by my moves.

I told him and asked for his.

“Hitler,” he said.

I blinked, trying not to stare.

Hitler? Did he just say Hitler?

“Hitler?” I repeated.

“Hitler.”

Had I already gone deaf? “Hitler?”

“Hitler.” Complete dead-pan, his eyes seemed to lack the ability to convey any emotion. I began to wonder whether James might be a psychopath. According to the book I was reading, he was ticking quite a few boxes on Bob Hare’s checklist.

I glanced over at Omri, asleep on the bunk. A change of subject was needed.

“So can I ride with you to Namibia?” I asked.

“I’ll think about it,” he said turning up the volume as we trundled on and I plugged my left ear again.IMG_4375

The Outback scenery quickly changed to that of a desert, resembling the southern deserts of Israel, completely barren, an alien landscape accompanied by another beautiful day with blue, cloudless skies and a warm sun.

“It’s beautiful here,” I yelled over the music. James looked at me and then at the landscape. And then back at me before focusing his attention to the road. I figured it was best to keep quiet.

The hum of the diesel engine was making me nod off but I didn’t feel comfortable enough to sleep in the cab. But you can’t fight the hum of an engine and I was knocked out within minutes. I awoke just as we sped by Springbok.

Looks like I’m going to Namibia, I grinned to myself.

By half past noon we had made it to the 24-hour border control in Vioolsdrift.

“Thanks,” I said sticking my hand out to shake James’ and Omri’s. James offered another limp hand.

IMG_4385 I gathered my gear and trekked over to the border, waving at the truck drivers that had wanted money from me. I stamped out of South Africa and entered Namibia, crossing the bridge over the Orange River. A 3-month visa was granted at no cost and I sat by the exit gate with Gideon, a chatty police officer who couldn’t believe my story as I shared my last bag of biltong with him.

A car pulled up. “Where are you going?” Gideon asked him.

“Luderitz. But I’m spending the night in Aus,” the Spanish accented driver said.

“Can you take this Aussie with you?”

“Sure.”

 

I thanked Gideon, piled in my gear and introduced myself to Javier who was a supervisor for a Spanish company that installs solar panels in South Africa. I supplied some music off my USB as we hit the C13 highway that snaked through the desert of the Karas region. The road stretched along the Orange River (which wasn’t orange at all), IMG_4382passed by tiny huts made from straw and alongside vast vineyards leading to a national park where the road turned to dirt. The sights were amazing as both Javier and I stared all around us at the rising mountains of rock with strange looking trees sprouting between the cracks.

“There is nothing here,” he said repeatedly, blown away by the vastness. “Nothing like this in Spain.”

I looked around and concluded that deserts and oceans were quite similar. Both are large bodies of vastness, teeming with life that isn’t always visible but you know is there. And when you’re in the middle of either vastness, you feel tiny and realise how remote you are. The major difference being that oceans are wet and blue while deserts are dry and yellow.

Or red.

We spotted red-arsed baboons who did not look friendly and we stopped every few minutes to take photos. By sunset we had added jackals and a small herd of onyx to our animal sightings before we reached Aus.

“Mucho gracias,” I shook hands with Javier who gave me a bottle of water for the road.

I decided to try my luck at the Bafnha Hotel to get a free bed for the night.

“Hi,” I smiled at the receptionist. “I’m an adventure travel writer,” I handed her my card. “I’m bartering my way around the world without flying. I was wondering, if it’s possible, could I perhaps barter my musical talents in exchange for a bed for the night? I’d be happy with floor space as I have a sleeping bag. And of course, I’ll write about the hotel on my website.”

The lady smiled and called Bernard, the manager, to who I repeated my offer.

“Unfortunately, I cannot authorise such a request as I’ve only been here two months,” he said with genuine sadness. “But you can sleep at the police station.” He pointed to the lights on the hill. “And let me help you out with something else.”

He disappeared and returned with a black coffee and a slice of carrot cake in a take away container. I was humbled and firmly shook his hand, thanking him.

“Is it safe to walk around at night?” I asked.

In South Africa, even in small towns like Bitter Fontein it is highly recommended to not walk around at night.

“Very safe,” Bernard said. “This isn’t South Africa.”

IMG_4394Grinning, I set off to the police station accompanied by the full moon rising over the mountains. It was Friday the 13th. The next time there’d be a full moon on the superstitious date would be in 2049.

There were three officers hanging around the front garden of the cop-shop. I introduced myself, shaking hands with Clemence, Emmanuel and Jonas.

“Sure, no problem,” said Clemence when I asked if they could accommodate me for the night. He showed me to a small room with some blankets on the ground to use as a mattress. I set down my gear and, upon request, pulled Ol’ Red out and jammed with the cops for the next few hours.

We shared a Windhoek beer and red wine mixed with cola (I know, right?).

At about 21:30 I was taken to a local bar. Namibians must have bad hearing (and taste in music) because this bar, which was more like an empty living room – white tiles, no furniture except for the pool table and the bar itself resembling a kitchen counter – was trying to break the record for sound volume .A pregnant woman was drunk off her ovaries and dancing around along with a few other drunk locals.

Huh, I thought. That baby’s gonna have some issues.

Every one smiled at me, waved, shaking my hand as Jonas bought me a Windhoek beer. A drunk local urged me to try some sweet liquor called Zombrich (I think) and yet another had bought a bottle of J & B whiskey, offering me a couple of glasses mixed with tonic water and ice.

I danced around; played pool against the station’s commanding officer, losing with thrree balls on the table (I was not having luck with pool games lately). I sat back next to Jonas who showed me an update of the World Cup on his phone.

Spain 1, Holland 5.

“What?!?” I almost screamed. “Spain lost 5-1 to the Dutch?!?”

Jonas laughed as he nodded.

It was a hell of a revenge. Spain had beaten Holland in the 2010 finals of the South African World Cup, losing only one match during that tournament (to the Swiss of all nations). Now it seemed the Dutch were off to a great start.

By 01:00 Jonas drove us back to the station for a peaceful sleep.

I lay down with a smile. Namibia, I thought. Here we go.

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Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Namibia, South Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “SOUTH AFRICA TO NAMIBIA

  1. Pingback: HITCHING IN NAMIBIA – PART I | The Nomadic Diaries

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