I spent a lot of time trying to figure out transportation for my Southern Africa travels. Many of the tourist attractions lie outside the reach of any public transportation. In fact, in some parts, there is not much private transportation either!
In all Southern Africa, people drive on the left. On some unpaved Namibian roads, the right side sometimes looked like it was in better condition, so I would drive on the right for tens of kilometres before eventually moving to the left at the very distant sight of an oncoming vehicle. When told there is no public transportation available, a friend of mine and avid traveller always answers: “OK, so how do the locals get there?”. He is usually right, although sometimes it involves strange methods, such as when he and I took a bus in Syria all the way to the last stop, and then essentially transformed the public transportation into private transportation with the help of a generous “tip”. Anyways, places like Fish River Canyon have no locals. No villages, nothing. People who work in the lodges also live there (as they do at the Grand Canyon, by the way).
My intention was to travel North from Cape Town through Namibia and Botswana and make my way to Zambia for an onward flight. Unfortunately, one-way car rentals to Zambia from South Africa are not possible. Furthermore, the problem with the Victoria Falls area is that within a few tens of kilometres, you have the borders of Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Crossing the borders with the car is another problem and adds to the cost. I looked at flying from point to point and renting cars in different cities, but in the end, I decided to drive a car from Cape Town to Johannesburg, through Namibia and Botswana. I got dinged with a R1000 one-way penalty and two R500 border crossing fees (about $230 in total, not too much on a 28 day rental).
The itinerary, well over 5000 km!
The Northwestern part of South Africa is one of its least populated area. While I am sure there are many things to do, I just drove through it, stopping in Springbok for the night to cut the drive to Namibia in half. There, I met this group of Italians travelling in a convoy of three modified 4×4 (sorry for the through-window picture). Quite the set-up, but common in this part of the World. Parked next to their convoy, you can see my convoy, composed of one Kia Picanto. As is often the case in countries like Namibia, you see the same tourists time and time over, as you both make your way to the same sights along the same routes. I must have seen them 5 or 6 times in three different “cities”, including once, when they were changing a flat tire. Pretty much everyone I talked to had at least one flat and travel guides recommend travelling with two spares, as you can be a very long way from a garage when you do get that flat. As I am writing this after 20 days on the road, the Picanto has yet to have one. I’m guessing it just doesn’t weight enough to drive a pointy thing through the tire!
As I said, this is a sparsely populated area. I realize I probably shouldn’t take pictures while driving, I could get distracted and hit the oncoming car that appears every hour. Actually, I did manage to hit a little bird that flew right in front of the car. This “accident” was so improbable, my formal investigation arrived at the conclusion it was a suicide.
This was a little dumb. I wanted to know how precise the fuel gauge of the Picanto was (and I knew where the gas stations were, with a map, a GPS and everything). As I suspected, it’s not precise at all, it will go 250 km on the first “quarter” and less than that on the rest.
I made it in time and luckily, the gas station was well stocked, allowing me to purchase all the rabbits I would require for my onward travels (and a good deal, at only $3 a rabbit)!
As I crossed into Namibia, the scenery got quite spectacular and the population density remained steady at around 0.0 people per square kilometre.
“Watch for the train”, warns this sign. You know what? Don’t. I know there is no gate or blinking red lights or anything, but the odds of being on the tracks the instant before the weekly train arrives are so fantastically remote that if it happens, just accept that it was your time to go. Avoiding it will just cause the Universe to come up with an even more ridiculous way of killing you.
I got to a very funky lodge called the Canyon Roadhouse and told them I wanted to hike around the lodge at sunset and see the canyon at sunrise, or vice-versa. They recommended the canyon at sunset. The person making the recommendation was clearly not into photography and I got there just in time to stand on the Eastern edge, with the Sun nicely in my eyes. These two shots were the best I could manage under theses conditions.
The canyon is the second largest in the World and is famous for a 5 day hike you can do along the bottom. Unfortunately, too many ill-prepared fools had to go and die at the bottom and the hike is now only allowed until September (before it gets too hot). That’s a reality of long-term travel, you’ll hit some dates right, but you won’t hit them all.
Time to leave, as it was a 50 km drive to the lodge on an unpaved road, and I don’t think driving at night in the park is allowed. I camped at the lodge and the next morning, I got-up before sunrise to go hiking. I was fiddling with the trunk of the car and the alarm went off – right in the camping area! It took me a good ten seconds to find the keys in the dark and turn it off.
This is a rare mishap but believe it or not, it was not the first time it happened to me. Since it is so embarrassing, I clearly remember the previous time. It was not a camping ground, but a motel-style affair, next to the Grand Canyon, also at the crack of dawn. I can now proudly say that I accidentally woke-up everyone, at dawn, with a car alarm, next the largest and second largest canyons in the World!
The lodge is car themed, in a big way.
It just doesn’t stop…
The lodge has a four or five km hiking route around it. Quite nice and very, very well indicated!
I saw a lot of springbok and during the hight, I heard them munching on some kind of nuts that fell from the trees near my tent. Actually, one came so close I could see the shadow of its head on my tent. They seem to walk along paths at night, although these could be tracks from other animals, of course.
The area had several crazy trees like this one, but in my half awoken slumber, I only managed to snap one decent picture.
And then I was off to Luderitz, hundreds of km away, on the South Atlantic Coast.
Disclaimer: the picture taken while driving was taken by a professional driver on a close circuit. Do not attempt at home. And if you see rails crossing a road, always stop your car, get out and run in the opposite direction until you can safely call your lawyer for advice (if you are over the age of 10, consult your physician before running).