‘I’m planning to go to the Otjiwarongo Karneval on Friday night. It’s a German Festival. On Saturday I’m participating in the Ugab Terrace MTB race near Otju. I’ll take you along,’ read the What’s App message from my couch surfer host, Jens, who I was hitching to from Swakopmund. He’s based some 600 K’s north-east in Tsumeb, just an hour’s drive south-east of the Etosha National Park.
It sounded different and another experience to experience so we agreed that I’d hitch up to Otjiwarongo (which was between Swakopmund and Tsumeb) and he’ll meet me there in the evening.
So at 08:00 on a foggy Friday morning I approached a woman walking her Jack Russell terrier. “Excuse me,” I said, “how do I get to the Sam Nujoma Road?”
“It’s one street over,” she replied, eyeing my backpack and guitar. “The best place for you to hitch hike from will be the service station over the bridge.”
Thanking her I hiked through the thick fog that had blanketed Swakopmund, the town that gave me an incredible two weeks where I had accomplished more things than I could ever have expected. Of course, my philosophy is ‘Expect nothing, always get something’ but Swako’ was good to me in ways that are hard to define in words.
From my hosts and new friends that accommodated me, the hotels that supported my way of life, sandboarding, exploring the creatures that live in the dunes, horse-riding in the Moon Landscape. And the big step for me in my writing ways, getting published in the Travel News Namibia magazine and becoming a regular contributor while I’m traveling through Namibia.
It was with these happy thoughts that I trekked along the palm-tree studded Sam Nujoma Road that would later connect to the B2 highway. I stopped by the bridge that crossed over the train tracks. The fog was too thick to walk the bridge safely as the shoulder lane was none-existent. I stuck my thumb out when I heard a loud rumble. Through the fog on my right a train, barely visible, cut through the low-lying cloud.
I waved off taxis as I patiently waited for a ride when a white bukky pulled up.
“G’day,” I grinned at the driver.
“Hello,” he said. “I noticed your sign. Are you going to Otjiwarongo?”
“Yes. Are you?” I asked with hope.
“No – ” damn it – “but I’ve just phoned a friend to see if she knows of anyone heading up there.”
The kindness of strangers still blows my mind. This guy could easily have just kept driving and gone to work. Instead, he not only pulled over to talk with me but he’s phoned a friend to see if he can help me out.
Meanwhile, a taxi pulled over. The driver stepped out, “Where are you going?” he asked.
“It’s OK,” I smiled. “I don’t have money.” I turned back to the bukky driver who had received a phone call.
“But where are you going?” persisted the cabbie. “Maybe I can help you.”
I held up my sign with the shortened name of Otjiwarongo – Otji.
“It is better for you to hitch from the petrol station across the bridge,” he said. “Come, I will take you.”
“Thanks,” I said, brushing him off. “But I don’t have money.” I returned my attention to the bukky driver who was still on the phone.
“It’s OK,” said the taxi driver. “I am happy to help you.”
I frowned. Taxi drivers are rare when it comes to helping for no monetary gain. I waited until the bukky driver finished his phone call. “Sorry, no rides at the moment.”
“That’s OK,” I said and explained to him the cab driver’s offer of assistance. He called the driver over and spoke to him harshly in Afrikaans.
I gathered from the tone of voice and the immediate look of fear that covered the cabbie’s face that the bukky driver said something along the lines of, ‘If you fuck him over and try to demand money from him I will find you and I will kill you.’
I thanked the bukky driver and the cabbie helped load my gear into his trunk before we drove off. “What’s your name?” I asked him.
“Moses,” he said, shaking my hand.
It was a short two-minute ride as we crossed the bridge and pulled into the service station. The car had barely pulled to a stop when we were swarmed by other taxi drivers. Two immediately opened the boot and began to take my bags out. I stepped out and one trapped me against the car.
“Are you going to Windhoek?” he said. “You come with me. Windhoek, yes? Let’s go. This way.” He reached to grab my arm.
Too many things were happening at once and I felt cornered and like any animal that gets cornered and feels threatened, I had to lash out.
“STOP!” I yelled.
They immediately stopped, dropping my bags, looking at me with confusion.
“Back away from my gear,” I said slowly, reaching for my bags. “Back away from the car, back away from me.” I turned to Moses and shook his hand. “Thank you, Moses. You are good people and kind. I appreciate your help.” I turned to the driver wanting to kidnap me to Windhoek. “I’m not going to Windhoek.” I turned to the other drivers, slightly calmer. “I’m not going to where any of you are going. I’m going over there – ” I pointed to the main road – “to hitch hike so just back away and have a good day. Thank you.”
With shoulders slumped in defeat, they made room for me as I threw my 65L Nomad North Ridge pack on my back, my day pack on my chest and grabbed my guitar case which had ripped at the bottom.
Great, I thought. Now I’ll have to find a seamstress.
I hiked over to the highway and chuckled at the sign that signaled, ‘No hitch hiking’, a right thumbs up painted on it. I put my gear under it and stood by the road, sticking out my left thumb (which would be my defence if a cop even bothered to try to book me).
A few cars stopped and, as was the norm, demanded money, laughing in my face when I explained that I was travelling without before they drove off. A truck bellowed by. I made eye-contact with the driver who had a dark goatee. He raised his arms up as though to say, ‘I wish I could but I can’t.’ I gave them the, ‘I understand and appreciate the thought’ nod when a car behind him pulled up.
“We are only going 60 K’s up the road,” explained the driver.
“That’s cool,” I said. “If I can come with you that’d really help but I don’t have money.”
The driver seemed to consult this alien information with his wife after I explained my travel methods. “OK, we still take you.”
I beamed. “Thank you so much. I’ll grab my gear.” I jogged down to the where my packs were when a white SUV pulled over.
“Excuse me,” said the young man in the passenger-side, “can you please tell us how to get to the B2?”
“You’re on the B2,” I grinned. “Where are you guys going?”
“Omaruru. Where are you going?” I detected a German accent on him.
Omaruru was a 3-hour drive and would put me much closer to, “Otjiwarongo. Would you be able to take me as far as Omaruru?”
“Sure,” he said after getting the approval from his mother behind the wheel and his younger brother in the backseat.
I signalled to the first car that I was going to ride with these guys and waved them a ‘Thank you’ before we somehow managed to squeeze my gear in with theirs.
The family were German tourists travelling around Namibia on a family holiday. I told them my stories and we discussed the philosophy of life, the need to pursue happiness which money can’t give you and some political points of views.
They offered me a sandwich and some water. I offered them carrots that I had but they declined. Three hours later I was dropped off in the center of Omaruru even though they were staying a few K’s outside of the town. We hugged ‘goodbye’ and the mother gave me another sandwich.
“For your lunch,” she smiled as I grinned and thanked her.
I gathered my things and hiked down to the service station. I set up a hitching corner and stuck my thumb out when I noticed a local approaching me.
Here we go, I thought, knowing exactly what he was going to say. He’ll probably begin with, “Where are you going?” he asked.
I knew it.
“Otjiwarongo,” I answered and before he could offer I added, “I don’t have money that’s why I’m hitching.”
“No money?” he looked at me disappointingly. It was obvious he was going to add, “You see, I have problem with fuel.”
I should offer mind-reading services. “I understand,” I said. “I don’t like money that’s why I don’t’ use it. But I appreciate your offer to help.”
He looked me up and down. “If I get enough people, I will help you,” he finally said before walking back to the service station.
Within 10 minutes two cars had pulled over asking money for a ride. I declined politely and that’s when the truck came by. I waved with a grin at the driver who I recognised by his goatee. He stared at me in disbelief and waved at me to, ‘Come on’. I grabbed my packs and ran to where he had pulled over, some 300 meters down the road. Huffing and puffing like the unfit cat that I was, I stood, heaving for air under his passenger-side door.
“Where too?” asked the young face peering out of the window.
“Otjiwarongo,” I puffed, embarrassed that I had let myself reach this level of physical incompetence. The head disappeared, seeming to consult with the goatee driver before re-appearing. “Come on up,” he said.
Two minutes later we were on the road. “I’m Joshua,” the goatee driver introduced himself. “This is my nephew, Jason,” he referred to the young kid that now had to share the bunk with my gear. “He’s visiting from J’burg.”
We talked about the ways of the world, I shared some travel stories, my love for Namibia and we laughed as Joshua blasted the truck’s horn to scatter the warthogs off the road. As in every truck ride, I quickly fell into a deep slumber (I only do this once I feel comfortable enough with the driver, a gut instinct telling me he won’t be cutting me up and selling my organs).
I startled to awake when Josh blasted some Afrikaans music. It must have been comedy songs as he laughed every now and again, repeating the punchline. He dropped me off in Otjiwarango a few hours later.
“Just be careful,” he warned me. “This place is well-known for the grab-and-run. They’ll grab your bag and run.”
I grinned at him. “My packs are too heavy. Besides, they can take the bags but if they touch my guitar, I will find them and I will kill them.”
We shook hands and I thanked them for the ride as I made my way over to Kari’s Restaurant to wait for Jens (pronounced, ‘Yens’), the couch surfer host who was hosting me and invited me to the festival and bike ride.
But I was really looking forward to joining him on Sunday’s trip to the Etosha National park to see the real Africa, in all its glory.
Hopefully, I’d be a little fitter by the then.