PANAFRICAN CYCLE PROJECT

bicycle

Cheetah's last dance (Namibia)

26/07/2011 MAMUNO TO KEETMANSHOOP, NAMIBIA (Hannah)

 

- Distance: 640 km

- Cycling days: 7.5

- Average distance per day: 85 km

- Total distance since London: 13494 km

 

 

I wolfed down my service station hamburger. It was shockingly good. Namibia: land of unfailingly good meat, as we were soon to find out. We were tired. It was the sixth day of cycling without rest, three of which had us fighting against a vicious, freezing headwind. We decided to continue past the border along the Trans-Kalahari highway to the first campsite we found where we could spend a few days resting, washing, etc. We climbed a small hill, and found ourselves a mere 200m higher but now overlooking the vast and seemingly endless plains of the Kalahari. Classified as a desert due to the low levels of annual rainfall, the Kalahari looks anything but. Covered in dots of low-lying bushes and the occasional stretch of golden/silver wild grass, its colour scheme (at least in the season we were there) lies firmly in the green-to-khaki range. It hosts a huge variety of wildlife, including reptiles, scorpions as well as many varieties of birds and antelope. Some of its land is even farm-worthy.

 

Twenty kilometers on along the plateau, a road sign pointed towards what should be our haven for the next two days: Zelda's guestfarm. We took the gravel road 1km North, negotiated a few bends, followed signs to reception, and landed ourselves in... 1950's Germany (as I imagine it): frilly curtains, pastel colours (taupe for the furniture), doilies atop the bulky TV, and a collection of miniature porcelain animals displayed behind glass in cabinets along the walls. We met Jacko, a third-generation German Namibian (Namibian German?) who welcomed us and showed us to the campground. We gratefully took in the practical arrangement of our plot: tap (water on demand!), fireplace (for the braai de rigueur), table and chairs (o, to sit upright to eat!), a clothesline and washbasin (had they known that two dirty cyclists were coming?). Success. It looked like it would be an easy stop. We'd noted from the signs at the entrance that Zelda offers other attactions in addition to accommodation, namely animal feeding. We joined in on the evening feeding session, going around the smaller and larger pens to feed porcupine, cheetahs and leopard. Vaguely entertaining (if a little disturbing) on the first night, we became positively freaked out on the second. Jacko's helpers (young locals of Bushman origin) had been throwing the meat over the three-meter high fence into the cheetah's pen, but one of them didn't go for their piece. For some odd and unexplained reason, Jacko Wacko sent one of the boys (visibly trembling) to climb over the fence, into the pen, to pointlessly nudge the meat a meter or so further towards the hissing animal, supposedly to stimulate it. Perhaps, as we had been told, it was true that cheetahs are less of a threat to humans than other big cats, but such an unnecessary request was slightly reminiscent of the Romans sending gladiators into the arena.

 

The stop served its purpose though and we left with renewed energy, heading West towards Gobabis. A suitable introduction to the increasingly developed Southern Africa, it looked rather like a standard medium-sized European town. Here we stocked up on five days' worth of groceries, and after a discounted stay at the Goba lodge (thanks!!!), we left the tar behind for the rough but very well looked-after gravel roads of the Kalahari farmland south of Gobabis. It was a more exciting alternative to the safer, more predictable, sealed route which passed through Windhoek before heading Southwards. Some negative soul had warned us about "impassably soft and deep red sands", saying we'd be silly to attempt it, but we decided it was worth the risk, if only to prove the NoNoNo man wrong (which we eventually would). Progress was slower on the gravel, but we knew we’d be cutting 200km off the longer Windhoek route, and so enjoyed the more relaxed pace. That evening we stopped to greet local bushmen who kindly provided us with water to see us through the night. We set up camp then and there, by the side of the road. Nighttime temperatures had, if anything, dropped further since we first hit the serious cold in Botswana. Comfort was only achieved by staying a meter at most away from the campfire. We cooked rice and beans with a fancy poached egg in the bean sauce. We are getting pretty good at this. That night, when fast asleep, we both woke with a start. High-pitched yelping followed by grunting noises were getting increasingly louder. We’d heard the sound before; they had been identified by local men as originating from hyenas. Whatever it was, it sounded big, and was now pacing round our tent. Now fully alert, we sat upright and listened hard. On two separate occasions we’d been told stories of hyenas pulling people out of their tents by the neck: while a hyena is unlikely to attack a standing person, it is less intimidated by the supine one. “Don’t worry though, those people had said, it only happens if you leave your tent flap open.” We stared miserably at our open outer flap. (I like to be able to cast an eye on the bikes if I wake to a sound in the night.) It was quiet again. We strained our ears. Waited. Ten, then twenty minutes went by. Gingerly, I poked my arm out and slid the awkward outer zip down, which for once cooperated. Our pulse slowly returned to a normal rate, sleep took over again, but rarely had we been more grateful to see the first light of dawn.

 

We were following a dry riverbed South and as it wound this way and that, the countryside grew increasingly more beautiful – a shallow valley had been carved out of the plains over the years and we navigated our way round its bends, occasional ridges to our left and the silvery grass everywhere. We reached Leonardville that night, located just out of the valley. The only place in town open for a cold drink happened to be a small hotel just at the entrance of town. We’d have usually ignored such a place, not being able to afford a room in a country like Namibia. Luck was on our side though, when we met its owner, Beth. We chatted briefly about our trip – it turned out she had heard of us and was half-expecting us. In a no-nonsense fashion, she told us to forget our silly budget, we should have a room, and a warm meal as well. We were thrilled and surprised by this sudden offer, or rather, these instructions, and obeyingly followed her round to the back courtyard where she showed us to our room. Beth had come to Leonardville after retiring, but couldn’t bear to be inactive, and so took over the small town’s only hotel. Over the course of that evening, and the following day, she looked after us like a doting grandmother, even telling us when it was time to go to bed. We met her son Casper in the morning; he’d just returned from a weekend of game hunting. It was he who tempted us into staying an extra night. He was busy preparing fresh springbok. We had liver, heart and kidney fricasseed with onions and wine for lunch, a braai of ribs for dinner and biltong was on the go by bedtime. Beth, Casper and his wife Desiree made us feel like we had a second home in Namibia.

 

It was in Leonardville that we visited the Kalahari Wild Silk factory, an enterprise started by an Englishman as an income generating project for the local people, mainly women. The silk worms are naturally present in the Kalahari; they build their cocoons on the branches of the camel thorn tree and cause havoc among the sheep herds, who eat the plant, and, unable to digest the cocoons, become obstructed and die. Now the cocoons are picked, processed, spun and died using natural dies from onion skins, various roots and surprisingly, the endemic and bountiful truffle.

 

When we finally hit the road again, it was in the direction of Stampriet. Casper and Desiree surprised us on the road that evening, bringing us warm homemade soup, an extra blanket and chocolate for our dessert. That night was the coldest recorded – at minus 12 degrees Celsius. We were joined in camping by some travelling bushmen who were looking for work in the surrounding farms. Sat in a carriage pulled by two horses were two men, a woman, a little girl, a baby, a dog and a puppy. They had no tent, a few blankets, a small amount of water and no food. We shared ours with them and heated up their water on our fire for tea. Reality check: we had nothing to complain about, really.

 

Luck (or karma, whatever you want to call it) was just around the bend again the following day. Having passed through Stampriet, we realized we needn’t rush and could afford to stop before Mariental, which is what we’d first planned. We started looking for a farm where to ask for a piece of land for the night. They were spaced further apart that we thought. Cold and frustrated, we reached one farm’s gate which lay across the road from the entrance to a lodge. The gate was locked. We chatted a bit with the helpful guard at the lodge's gate. Their campsite was full and we couldn’t afford the rooms. Heading out of the drive, we crossed paths with the owner of the place. The next thing we knew, the guard was shouting after us, telling us to come back, we could stay in a room for free! Barely believing our luck, we made our way along the long drive to receive a warm welcome from the manager at reception. That night, after a warm shower, we met Manni Goldbeck, who, along with his wife, was the founder and owner of the whole chain of hotels, 12 in total, the Gondwana collection. We shared a dinner table with Manni and his family and told them of our adventure through Africa by bicycle. Manni was a great and enthusiastic listener – we have since met him again in Windhoek and are to stay at another two of his lodges by the Fish River Canyon (check out www.gondwana-collection.com).

 

We were to reach the tarmac again after a final 30km on the Kalahari dust roads. Mariental to Keetmanshoop – a flat, straight road through barren, haunting moon-like land. We pushed 150km to a town called Tses where we spent the night. A solely black community, Tses is one of those towns that doesn’t feature on a tourist’s guide to Namibia. A shantytown and an island in the middle of this desert, every house is built out of corrugated metal sheets of varying colours, the only exceptions being the three shops and the police station.

 

Reaching Keetmanshoop, the final hurdle on this stretch, was a breeze from there. We arrived at lunchtime and sought out a lodge we’d been recommended as somewhere to leave our bikes for two weeks (my parents were coming to visit!). Branded “the oldest German club in Namibia”, at 100 years old, we felt a distinct old man’s club vibe which didn’t necessarily match our own. It nevertheless provided us with somewhere to camp, shower and we still hope to find our bikes there in one piece when we return tomorrow.

 

Pah! Twenty-six days of fast ground coverage since Zambia. Done. Now we could relax. In perspective was a two week break from the saddle with my wondrous parents. We headed North to Windhoek on a minibus, met J&D at the airport the following day, picked up the 4x4 they rented, and headed Northwards to unexplored territories. Accompanied by Vincent, a Frenchman and seasoned Defender adventurer, for the first few days, and flying with our own wings after that, we packed in beautiful countrysides, flawless vistas, stunning sunsets, finger-rock mountains, skeleton coasts, ancient rock engravings, wild camping (the type that is off bounds to cycle-travelling), awesome aperitifs, yummy meals, lots of wine, saucisson sec, nighttime storytelling, gypsy jazz, roads to nowhere, wild animals, bush potato digging, bow and arrow hunting and sophisticated tongue-clicking language (mother of all languages) with the San, all into 12 perfect days. Cheers to the best two week holiday in a long time, Mom & Dad!

Long panoramic

our plot: tap (water on demand!), fireplace (for the braai de rigueur), table and chairs (o, to sit upright to eat!), a clothesline and washbasin (had they known that two dirty cyclists were coming?). Success. It looked like it would be an easy stop. We'd noted from the signs at the entrance that Zelda offers other attactions in addition to accommodation, namely animal feeding. We joined in on the evening feeding session, going around the smaller and larger pens to feed porcupine, cheetahs and leopard. Vaguely entertaining (if a little disturbing) on the first night, we became positively freaked out on the second. Jacko's helpers (young locals of Bushman origin) had been throwing the meat over the three-meter high fence into the cheetah's pen, but one of them didn't go for their piece. For some odd and unexplained reason, Jacko Wacko sent one of the boys (visibly trembling) to climb over the fence, into the pen, to pointlessly nudge the meat a meter or so further towards the hissing animal, supposedly to stimulate it. Perhaps, as we had been told, it was true that cheetahs are less of a threat to humans than other big cats, but such an unnecessary request was slightly reminiscent of the Romans sending gladiators into the arena.

 

The stop served its purpose though and we left with renewed energy, heading West towards Gobabis. A suitable introduction to the increasingly developed Southern Africa, it looked rather like a standard medium-sized European town. Here we stocked up on five days' worth of groceries, and after a discounted stay at the Goba lodge (thanks!!!), we left the tar behind for the rough but very well looked-after gravel roads of the Kalahari farmland south of Gobabis. It was a more exciting alternative to the safer, more predictable, sealed route which passed through Windhoek before heading Southwards. Some negative soul had warned us about "impassably soft and deep red sands", saying we'd be silly to attempt it, but we decided it was worth the risk, if only to prove the NoNoNo man wrong (which we eventually would). Progress was slower on the gravel, but we knew we’d be cutting 200km off the longer Windhoek route, and so enjoyed the more relaxed pace. That evening we stopped to greet local bushmen who kindly provided us with water to see us through the night. We set up camp then and there, by the side of the road. Nighttime temperatures had, if anything, dropped further since we first hit the serious cold in Botswana. Comfort was only achieved by staying a meter at most away from the campfire. We cooked rice and beans with a fancy poached egg in the bean sauce. We are getting pretty good at this. That night, when fast asleep, we both woke with a start. High-pitched yelping followed by grunting noises were getting increasingly louder. We’d heard the sound before; they had been identified by local men as originating from hyenas. Whatever it was, it sounded big, and was now pacing round our tent. Now fully alert, we sat upright and listened hard. On two separate occasions we’d been told stories of hyenas pulling people out of their tents by the neck: while a hyena is unlikely to attack a standing person, it is less intimidated by the supine one. “Don’t worry though, those people had said, it only happens if you leave your tent flap open.” We stared miserably at our open outer flap. (I like to be able to cast an eye on the bikes if I wake to a sound in the night.) It was quiet again. We strained our ears. Waited. Ten, then twenty minutes went by. Gingerly, I poked my arm out and slid the awkward outer zip down, which for once cooperated. Our pulse slowly returned to a normal rate, sleep took over again, but rarely had we been more grateful to see the first light of dawn.

 

We were following a dry riverbed South and as it wound this way and that, the countryside grew increasingly more beautiful – a shallow valley had been carved out of the plains over the years and we navigated our way round its bends, occasional ridges to our left and the silvery grass everywhere. We reached Leonardville that night, located just out of the valley. The only place in town open for a cold drink happened to be a small hotel just at the entrance of town. We’d have usually ignored such a place, not being able to afford a room in a country like Namibia. Luck was on our side though, when we met its owner, Beth. We chatted briefly about our trip – it turned out she had heard of us and was half-expecting us. In a no-nonsense fashion, she told us to forget our silly budget, we should have a room, and a warm meal as well. We were thrilled and surprised by this sudden offer, or rather, these instructions, and obeyingly followed her round to the back courtyard where she showed us to our room. Beth had come to Leonardville after retiring, but couldn’t bear to be inactive, and so took over the small town’s only hotel. Over the course of that evening, and the following day, she looked after us like a doting grandmother, even telling us when it was time to go to bed. We met her son Casper in the morning; he’d just returned from a weekend of game hunting. It was he who tempted us into staying an extra night. He was busy preparing fresh springbok. We had liver, heart and kidney fricasseed with onions and wine for lunch, a braai of ribs for dinner and biltong was on the go by bedtime. Beth, Casper and his wife Desiree made us feel like we had a second home in Namibia.

 

It was in Leonardville that we visited the Kalahari Wild Silk factory, an enterprise started by an Englishman as an income generating project for the local people, mainly women. The silk worms are naturally present in the Kalahari; they build their cocoons on the branches of the camel thorn tree and cause havoc among the sheep herds, who eat the plant, and, unable to digest the cocoons, become obstructed and die. Now the cocoons are picked, processed, spun and died using natural dies from onion skins, various roots and surprisingly, the endemic and bountiful truffle.

 

When we finally hit the road again, it was in the direction of Stampriet. Casper and Desiree surprised us on the road that evening, bringing us warm homemade soup, an extra blanket and chocolate for our dessert. That night was the coldest recorded – at minus 12 degrees Celsius. We were joined in camping by some travelling bushmen who were looking for work in the surrounding farms. Sat in a carriage pulled by two horses were two men, a woman, a little girl, a baby, a dog and a puppy. They had no tent, a few blankets, a small amount of water and no food. We shared ours with them and heated up their water on our fire for tea. Reality check: we had nothing to complain about, really.

 

Luck (or karma, whatever you want to call it) was just around the bend again the following day. Having passed through Stampriet, we realized we needn’t rush and could afford to stop before Mariental, which is what we’d first planned. We started looking for a farm where to ask for a piece of land for the night. They were spaced further apart that we thought. Cold and frustrated, we reached one farm’s gate which lay across the road from the entrance to a lodge. The gate was locked. We chatted a bit with the helpful guard at the lodge's gate. Their campsite was full and we couldn’t afford the rooms. Heading out of the drive, we crossed paths with the owner of the place. The next thing we knew, the guard was shouting after us, telling us to come back, we could stay in a room for free! Barely believing our luck, we made our way along the long drive to receive a warm welcome from the manager at reception. That night, after a warm shower, we met Manni Goldbeck, who, along with his wife, was the founder and owner of the whole chain of hotels, 12 in total, the Gondwana collection. We shared a dinner table with Manni and his family and told them of our adventure through Africa by bicycle. Manni was a great and enthusiastic listener – we have since met him again in Windhoek and are to stay at another two of his lodges by the Fish River Canyon (check out www.gondwana-collection.com).

 

We were to reach the tarmac again after a final 30km on the Kalahari dust roads. Mariental to Keetmanshoop – a flat, straight road through barren, haunting moon-like land. We pushed 150km to a town called Tses where we spent the night. A solely black community, Tses is one of those towns that doesn’t feature on a tourist’s guide to Namibia. A shantytown and an island in the middle of this desert, every house is built out of corrugated metal sheets of varying colours, the only exceptions being the three shops and the police station.

 

Reaching Keetmanshoop, the final hurdle on this stretch, was a breeze from there. We arrived at lunchtime and sought out a lodge we’d been recommended as somewhere to leave our bikes for two weeks (my parents were coming to visit!). Branded “the oldest German club in Namibia”, at 100 years old, we felt a distinct old man’s club vibe which didn’t necessarily match our own. It nevertheless provided us with somewhere to camp, shower and we still hope to find our bikes there in one piece when we return tomorrow.

 

Pah! Twenty-six days of fast ground coverage since Zambia. Done. Now we could relax. In perspective was a two week break from the saddle with my wondrous parents. We headed North to Windhoek on a minibus, met J&D at the airport the following day, picked up the 4x4 they rented, and headed Northwards to unexplored territories. Accompanied by Vincent, a Frenchman and seasoned Defender adventurer, for the first few days, and flying with our own wings after that, we packed in beautiful countrysides, flawless vistas, stunning sunsets, finger-rock mountains, skeleton coasts, ancient rock engravings, wild camping (the type that is off bounds to cycle-travelling), awesome aperitifs, yummy meals, lots of wine, saucisson sec, nighttime storytelling, gypsy jazz, roads to nowhere, wild animals, bush potato digging, bow and arrow hunting and sophisticated tongue-clicking language (mother of all languages) with the San, all into 12 perfect days. Cheers to the best two week holiday in a long time, Mom & Dad!

 

 

 

We are now heading back South to pick up our bikes for... the FINAL leg of our London to Cape Town trip.