Back in Namibia

From the ridiculous to the sublime:

After our median-strip camp north of Katwitwi on our last night in Angola, we were thrilled to find a campground in Rundu that had large grassy sites. And power! And a camp kitchen with a sink with running water! And an amenities block with hot water for showers! We felt like we’d landed in the lap of luxury.

The Sarusungu Lodge is about 3kms out of Rundu, on the Okavango River. We had river views and could see Angola on the other side. It was close enough to town that Greg rode his bike there a couple of times, once to buy some things and then to book Clancy in for a wheel alignment.

We spent the weekend at Sarusungu. Greg did some repairs to Clancy, with the assistance of one of the campground’s groundsmen, who offered to lend tools, suggestions and probably learnt a fair bit about fibreglass in the process. I wish I’d taken a photo of the 2 of them sitting together on our green camping mat, peering up at the hole in the wheelwell and figuring out how best to repair it.

Meanwhile, I did many, many loads of handwashing, and felt very lucky indeed to have a sink with cold, clean running water and not have to trudge up to 2kms to get that water from the nearest tank/river/creek/dam/puddle. And then to be able to hang it on a clothesline I’d strung between several trees. With pegs! Angolan women spread theirs out on sand or rocks or grass or fence posts … no pegs there. Everything dried quickly so by the end of the day we had lots of clean clothes and bedlinen.

We really noticed a difference in Rundu, compared with when we visited 4 years ago. Back then it was a dusty town with only a couple of sealed roads. This time, lots of the town’s streets have been sealed, there’s new housing, new shops, new businesses, even a private hospital!

The first time we drove through this part of the country, we thought it was all quite primitive, with the compounds of thatched huts made of sticks or mud. Now we think they are all so neat and tidy after some of the things we saw in Angola. Perspective.

Last night we stayed at another good campground, the Mobola River Lodge just a bit west of Divundu. Once again, it’s on the Okavango River with lovely grassy sites and excellent amenities – power, outdoor shower and camp kitchen at each campsite, and we can see across to Angola. Seems like we’re not quite ready to let Angola go. When we were at Sarusungu, I heard a baby cry over  in the Angolan village cross the river. It was the first Angolan baby I’d heard cry! They spend most of their early lives being carried on their mothers’ backs, so their needs can be met quickly while the mothers are doing other things -carrying water, looking after their older kids, working in fields. Extreme multi-tasking!

We’ve added a new appliance to our kitchen kit – a single electric hotplate so that we don’t have to use our gas stove when we camp in campgrounds. I cooked dinner on it last night and am currently ‘baking’ our frypan bread rolls on it and it’s good. I just need to get used to the slower response time of cooking with electricity, and the temperature control, but haven’t burnt anything … so far!

We’re heading south across the border to Botswana today, and will probably be offline until we get to Maun in a couple of days. I love Botswana and have been looking forward to spending some more time there, in part of the country we haven’t seen yet.

Camped at Sarusungu in Rundu Namibia
extending the wheel arch one side because I didn’t make it long enough. The wheel was bottoming out on the suspension and rubbing away the fibreglass in one spot.
Clancy getting wheel aligned in Rundu
Camped at Mobola River Lodge
The Okavango River from the campsite
Sunset over the Okavango

 

 

Leaving Angola

We did it! 3 weeks in Angola and we didn’t get sick, injured, arrested or robbed. We really enjoyed (most of) our time there, and feel like we got to see a good cross-section of the country and managed to keep away from the capital Luanda which doesn’t seem to have anything much to recommend it. The Scottish oil worker we met at Arco lives there and he told us not to bother.

We’ve spent the last few  days without internet, so let’s have a quick catch-up.

We thought that rather than just head back over the Santa Clara border, we’d see a bit more of the country and cross over further east at Katuitwi / Katwitwi. Greg had saved a trip report of someone’s Angola tag-along tour from a couple of years ago and he gave good information about places they had camped along the way, the condition of the road south to the border and how long it took the group of 15 at each border post. The Angolan post had been recently completed when the author crossed it in 2016, and it had taken the group 8 hours to drive the last 250-ish kms on an unsealed road. So, slow going but we’ve been used to that in Angola.

Blergh, big mistake! The road must have deteriorated since 2016 and it took us a day and a half to do what the tag along group had done in 8 hours. To any overlanders reading this, Don’t Do It! Cross over at Santa Clara or Ruacana.

The author had also very helpfully mentioned a couple of quarries they had camped at along the way, and we stayed at them too, but as we realised the last section would take us more than a day, we had to find somewhere to camp about 60kms north of the border post. In this still-heavily landmined area we couldn’t risk just going off-road and finding something, and there were no convenient tracks for us to just head down, so we ended up on a narrow piece of land between 2 tracks where vehicles had driven to get from one to another. Basically, we camped on a median strip!

The border crossing at both the Angolan and Namibian posts was pretty easy, once we actually found where to go at the spiffy newish mostly unused Angolan post. There were 3 entry booths and an enormous commercial building, a bit like the one at Santa Clara,but it was all sitting empty and overgrown with weeds. No signage, so we just drove until we were stopped by a string across the road, then had to be shown where to find the single immigration desk hidden at the back of a building. It all went smoothly but we were a bit baffled that the customs lady insisted on inspecting nearly all our storage boxes. Um, we’re leaving, what could be in any of those boxes that might be of interest? Anyway, her English was good so I gave her my 2 Women’s Weekly mags. It’s such a quiet post, I thought she might need something to do to keep occupied.

The Namibian side was fine, but Greg had to show the Customs lady there how to fill in our carnet as they don’t get many of them. I noticed on the Immigration officer’s daily log that we were number 4 & 5 to pass through, at about 10.30am. And then when the policeman was checking our paperwork, Greg noticed that ours was the first vehicle for the day. For some reason, even though we had paid our road tax when we entered from South Africa and it was valid for 3 months, we had to pay it again because we were entering from Angola.

And then we were back in Namibia, driving on the left hand side of the road, on a sealed road with line markings and street signs and all that stuff were used to. It was bliss!

This is getting a bit long, so I’ll just add a few general comments about Angola – everyone we met, spoke to and even drove past seems happy and friendly. As a nation the population has a lovely disposition despite, or maybe because of, the incredible hardship of that long civil war and the ongoing poverty amongst the majority.

One of the saddest things we saw were small patches of shredded casava/manioc/yucca being dried on the margin of the main sealed road south before it became a rutted nightmare – what the South Africans call the ‘yellow lane’, the safety or breakdown lane. Better-off locals would dry it in flat baskets or on large squares of fabric within their compound. The poorest people just dried it direct on the bitumen and hope that no vehicle drives over it. When the manioc is dried, it is scraped up, pounded to flour and then mixed with water to make a grey porridgey gloopy mass that is consumed at breakfast, lunch and dinner with small amounts of spice, meat and vegetables. Maize is treated in a similar way.

We saw so many abandoned or incomplete projects, buildings, roads, bridges, multi-storey hotels. This is not a poor country, thanks to its oil, but mismanagement, waste and probably corruption is on a scale we have never seen before.

Would we recommend Angola as a travel destination? Unless you’re an experienced Overlander and have visited other African countries … no. But if you are an Overlander .. absolutely. We’ll remember those 3 weeks for the rest of our lives.

casava/manioc/yucca being dried on the margin of the road
The terrible road to the Namibian border
One of the many abandoned buildings along the road
One of the few vehicles plying this road, a 6 wheel drive truck – broken down
The eroded sandy road to the border
Filling up the tanks with water from the Kubango / Okavango River

 

Getting water from the Kubango / Okavango River
One of the abandoned businesses that failed because the road building never finished
Abandoned construction equipment including a D6 Caterpillar and a abandoned road construction camp
Shower time at the sand quarry where we camped
Charcoal burning
Every cellphone tower had a guard. They usually lived in a grass hut, next to the latest in 21st century technology.
A frog that sheltered under our steps at the quarry campsite
Camped on a median strip, the last night in Angola
Our route in Angola
Camped at Rundu, the first camping ground after 21 days

 

 

A Day of Firsts

We had a few ‘first experiences’ yesterday before our encounter with the local cops last night, which was another ‘first’ for us, well in this country anyway.

We’ve seen our fair share of police stations and other official offices in our travels. There was the ‘we got deported from Russia‘ story that we still dine out on, 6 years later. Long before that, in 2001, there was the time we were cycling in Vietnam and staying in a small town about 30kms out of Hanoi. Not at all touristy, and apparently by midnight word had got around about the 2 white people on a ze dap hai noi noi bicycle for 2 people. I still remember that phrase, although my spelling is probably incorrect. The owner of the hotel knocked on our door at midnight and told us we had to go to the police. So the 3 of us all hopped on his Honda Wave motorbike and rode in the rain to the local police station, where the cops examined our passports and visas and wrote a heap of stuff in a big book. Then the 3 of us went back to the hotel on the motorbike in the rain. No helmets of course.

Anyway, yesterday …

We stopped and bought bananas from a roadside seller. Small and tasty, according to Greg. A couple of dozen cost 50c. I also bought a bunch of aromatic herbs from a woman sitting nearby for 25c. I didn’t really know what to do with them, but she was delighted to sell them to me.

Not far up the road, 3 young men were doing some informal road repairs – filling in potholes with dirt. We’d seen this before and just driven past – in our defence, the first time we were very preoccupied with keeping all 4 tyres intact until we could get to the next town. But this time, we stopped and handed over a small amount of money to say ‘thanks’.

And then we passed a real cafe, with a verandah, chairs, tables and real tablecloths. So we turned around, stopped and had the first drinks that hadn’t come out of Clancy’s kitchen or bar since we arrived in Angola. We were the only ones there, but it was 10am so hopefully things got a bit busier later in the day. Greg had a Coke Zero, I had a very good short black coffee and the owner gave us a plate of peanuts as well. When we first arrived, he was playing music videos of Smashing Pumpkins, then switched to a telenovella soap opera, I think. They sound the same in every language.

One more thing on our Angolan wishlist was to visit a local market and we did that too. Greg stayed with the car, I wandered around a couple of rows of sellers in the used clothes / fabric / cheap Chinese crap section. I’d thought maybe I’d buy some fabric to take home, but realised that, of course, it’s all made in China and while it looks great on the women here, it will just look like cheap Chinese fabric when I take it out of context and get it home.

We keep finding these Tuk-tuk type 3 wheel motobikes on the road. There is the “keweseki” version and the “kawisiki” version
At some local markets
Kids taking their chairs home from school. We didn’t see this in southern Angola, it seems they are too poor to afford chairs to take.
Angolan coffee at the Roadside Cafe
The incredibly rare roadside cafe on a remote rural road.
Camped the previous night, which was much more successful. We camped on a small track between villages.
This was a small field opposite our campsite. There are lots of small fields like this, in what seems could be an incredibly productive agriculture area.

Binga Bay to Benguela and Lobito

Pictures of traveling between Binga Bay and Lobito, March 11 and 12 2019

Truck off the road between Binga bay and Benguela
Crawling along the track heading to wards Benguela
Yes another unfinished bridge on the road to Benguela
The road blockages along the road to Benguela
Filling up the solar hot water tank. We constructed it from plumbing parts.
The Church on the outskirts of Benguela, which is the top tourist destination mentioned in the Angola guide.
cactus(?) flowers
Parked at the Shoprite Supermarket Benguela. The car park is nearly empty, yet outside the car park are lots and lots of people. Only the rich people shop at Shoprite, and the many security guards keep everyone else out.
People waiting for fresh Baguettes at Shoprite supermarket Benguela
The pretty clean beach at Benguela

 

 

 

Tyres

Throughout our travels, tyre problems have been an intermittent but irritating companion. Something to do with the places we go to and the ways we get there, I guess. We’ve also returned a few rental cars with their batteries in much worse condition than when we first got them, but that’s another story for another time.

In mid-2001, 6 months after we met, Greg and I took a tandem bike to Viet Nam, back in the day when there was one ATM in Hanoi and one KFC in Saigon. We planned to ride from Hanoi to Sapa, but that plan came badly undone when we wrecked the inner tubes we’d brought with us and had loads of trouble finding replacements. Despite that, we had a great trip and … well, we’re still together 18 years later, and still travelling in unorthodox ways to off-the-beaten-track places.

Then there was the time a couple of years later when we drove to Broome via the Tanami Desert with our kids, Greg’s parents and his niece. We had so much trouble with tyres on the Tanami that I bought a new set at Hall’s Creek. They were eye-wateringly expensive but worth it – it was a great trip and when I remember the trip, the last thing I think of is the cost of those tyres which ended up lasting a long time and took us on other camping trips within Australia – Simpson Desert, Innamincka, across the Nullarbor to Esperance & Israelite Bay.

And then more recently there was the Swedish rental car that got a hole in a sidewall of a tyre in Oslo and we just couldn’t find a replacement, so Avis replaced the whole car for us. And the time we ‘did’ 2 tyres within 24 hours in Namibia.

Which brings us to our latest adventure. 4 punctures and 2 blowouts. I’m not even going to add ‘so far’, because I think that’s quite enough. We’ve had to spend a couple of nights pretty much camping wherever we could find to stop because of a puncture. Always in the right rear tyre. We’re using spilt rims and the tyres themselves are all good, it’s the inner tubes that are our problem.

Yesterday was a really trying day. We ended up on the side of the road to Namibe, a sort-of resort town on the west coast, about 10 kms south of where we’d camped the previous night, with our 2nd blown inner tube of the trip and rapidly dwindling options. It happened on a stretch of road where there was barely enough space to pull off, but thank heavens it WAS the right tyre in this country where they drive on the right side of the road. Changing a tyre right beside traffic wizzing past would be deathly.

Part our emergency kit is 2 hazard triangles and I put them out about 50m on either side of Clancy, to warn oncoming traffic. Trucks were decent and slowed down & drove on the other side of the road, most cars didn’t even adjust their speed although a couple did stop and offer to help. A tow truck drove the 50kms out from Namibe to see if we needed his services but we declined with thanks. At that stage we still only had 3 wheels on Clancy, so getting him on the back of the truck would have been tricky. We think someone must have just sent him out ‘on spec’.

We do have 2 spares, but by then we were down to: 2 wrecked inner tubes, one that had been patched and 3 remaining decent tyres. So Greg hopped online and found a really good piece of advice on the Beadell Tours page which suggested using talcum powder between the inner tube and the tyre to stop friction. We have talcum powder because Greg uses it when he makes fibreglass. Definitely worth a try. So, we limped into Namibe doing 40km/hr and with me watching the Tyredog tyre pressure monitor the whole time.

Then how do find a tyre place? We drove around a few streets in the centre of town without success, then Greg had the excellent idea of asking a policeman. There were a few gathered around a modest building which turned out to be the police station. One of them in plain clothes offered to go with Greg to show him where to go, while I waited inside the station. First place had none, but recommended another place where Greg bought the shop’s entire stock of 2 inner tubes.

Greg fixing inner tubes by the side of the road. He tried using a patch from a burst tube … unsuccessfully. Note the rock in the top rhs of the pic, holding the guy rope of the shelter in place.


By this time we’d moved back to a spot just off the road where there was more room to work
Camped south of Caraculco fixing tyres

We’re now heading south-east to Virei to visit Tchitundo-Hulo – petroglyphs and rock paintings. Last night we pulled off the road about 15kms south of Namibe and drove over a sand dune to be partially protected from the impending thunderstorm which hit about 5 minutes after we stopped. Honestly, the best thing about yesterday was standing naked in the rain, washing off the grime of the day

 

Dawn – camped in the Namibe desert south of Caraculo
Judy negotiating to get our Jerry cans filled at the Puma station. Note the Armed guard carrying an AK-47. There were 2 armed guards at all the Puma stations we visited. They were friendly and polite.
Camped again in the Naimbe desert 15km south-west of Naimbe.

 

 

 

 

Continuous Quality Improvement

Sounds so much better than figuring stuff out as we go along, right? We’re still settling into camper life – adding bits, moving things, tweaking how we do things. It’s all going well, though. Clancy is comfortable to sleep in and fairly sound-proof. We’re in Windhoek tonight, the capital of Namibia, staying in the campground section of Arebbusch Travel Lodge. We’re close to the airport on one side and a main road on the other, but so far it’s not too noisy.

We’re learning stuff too – when we were changing the flat tyre a couple of days ago, I put the wheel nuts on the ground and the threads got all sandy, and needed to be washed thoroughly, otherwise  even just one grain of sand would have wrecked the thread. Greg already knew that. Now I do too.

Then yesterday we came very close to running out of fuel because we trusted our stupid GPS to tell us where the next servo was … but it had closed down. We must have been running on diesel fumes for the last couple of kms because when we filled up, we put 69.68 litres in the 70 litre fuel tank!  The lesson here is to only trust the GPS if our printed map also says there’s a servo.

Camped at Bastion Farms camping area. Very nice with an ensuite for every campsite
Making a new Andersson plug lead for the electrical system. Soldering on a new plug to fix a design problem in the electrical system
Crossing into the Tropics
Scanning and editing documents (and printing) for the Angolan e-visa
Stopped in Windhoek, outside the shopping centre because we don’t fit under the 2400mm height limits
We have all these devices attached to our wall in the camper
Camped in Windhoek at Arebbusch Travel Lodge

 

 

Crossing into Nambia

We crossed out of South Africa and into Nambia. The border crossing took about an hour, with many offices visited to get the Carnet processed. After a puncture in a front tyre only 2km from our destination, we are now camped at “The White House” camping area about 20km north of Grunau, Namibia.

Crossing into Namibia, about to enter the Namibian border post. Greg is wearing his special Border Crossing shirt
The wide flat plains of Southern Namibia (click on the pic for a bigger version)
Camped at “The White House”, close to dark because we got held up by our flat tyre
Almost full moon

 

African Overlanders

As soon as we got our Clancy, we switched from Airbnb mode to camping mode, so we headed to African Overlanders. Located on a farm about 30kms north-east of Cape Town (with a great view of Table Mountain to the west and the Hottentots Holland Mountains to the east), and not far from the Airbnbs we stayed at when we first arrived here, it is a haven for Overlanders needing vehicle or motorbike storage, mechanical assistance, advice or a place to stay – either camping in their own vehicle, tent or in one of the straw-bale rooms. Duncan can also organise shipping.

We spent 4 nights there getting organised to head off into the wilderness. Greg was busy doing big tasks including fibreglassing a storage box onto Clancy’s roof, bolting a solar panel onto the roof, putting his pushbike together and other important things. I kept busy doing little stuff like washing, cooking and moving piles of stuff from one place to another, then somewhere else then back to the original place. Well, that’s how it felt anyway. We’re still figuring out where to store stuff, but that’s always a work in progress.

Anna, Henry and Judy jammed together in Clancy

While we were at African Overlanders, we met fellow travellers and exchanged stories. Most had been on the road for a while, travelling from north to south via various routes. It was good to hear their advice, tips and tales. The second night we were there, 8 of us shared a meal – someone had leftover curry sauce and rice from the previous night, I added the chicken sosaties skewers I’d planned to cook for our dinner, someone else had a baguette and salad ingredients and with all that we had heaps of food with seconds for everyone. We ate off Meakin  English bone china plates, which are part of the very well-equipped camp kitchen that’s located in a 40ft shipping container. The bathrooms are in a 20ft shipping container.

African Overlanders is fairly close to the shopping centres we visited when we were Airbnb-ing, so we went back to familiar places to do our shopping. Greg also rode the 5 or 6kms on his bike a few times to go to local shops to get some food and hardware bits, because it was much easier than packing up the camper to drive there. Also, the camper had to stay stationary for 24 hours or so while the fibreglass on the roof dried. So it was handy having the bike for running errands.

We said goodbye to Anna and Henry on Friday – they were meeting friends for the weekend. We’ll miss them and will follow their adventures with great interest. As they are planning on spending a year in Africa, I’m sure we’ll get some good ideas from them on where we should travel on our subsequent trips within and around Africa.

And then by early Saturday afternoon we were finally organised and packed up to get going. First stop was Food Lovers, our favourite fresh food shop, where we bought lots of new potatoes for Greg and 3 punnets of raspberries at the bargain price of $2.50 for all 3! As a comparison, at home I occasionally buy one punnet when raspberries are on special for under AUD$5.00. We bought some other food too. We spent our first ‘proper’ night in Clancy – sleeping in the camper rather than in a tent – at a lovely campground at Kardoesie, grassy sites, lovely views, quiet and not crowded. All went well and we feel like our set-up is working well for us.

Yesterday, Sunday, we drove further north and stopped at Springbok Caravan Park for the night. Another nice place with grassy sites and a swimming pool. Springbok is very much like Alice Sprince – low mountain range going through the town, very similar terrain and even some hills in the middle of town, like Anzac Hill in Alice.

The Namibian border is only about 100kms north of here, so today will be our first border crossing in our own vehicle, and we’ll get to use our Carnet for the first time.

Some of the many vehicles in storage at African Overlanders
More vehicles in storage plus motorbikes at Africa Overlanders
Discussing how to forge documents and cross borders with other overlanders
Trying to repack and organise at African Overlanders
Fibreglassing brackets for the solar panel
Attaching the roof box
Panel and roof box attached

Leaving African Overlanders on our first journey
Camped on the nice grass at Kardoesie
Looking down to the pass at Kardoesie
Camped at Springbok
Unloading the bike at Springbok
Springbok town centre with very Alice Springs like hills
Soap behind the spare tyre mount so we can wash our hands with the water from the onboard tanks