Friday, 22 July 2011

Green Desert, Blue Skies and Silver Lining

I cycled alone.  I chose my own time schedule; when I was hungry, what I would do in my breaks, whatever length of time I wanted for my breaks.  These minor factors seemed very exciting, I felt free.
I made sure I crossed the border from Zambia to Namibia on my birthday just so someone could check the date and I could feel like I was twelve again giggling and making some stupid comments.   Unfortunately the numerous Happy Birthday tiaras Steve got me with the rule of forcing everyone in my path to wear them with me seemed very inappropriate at the immigration office.
My mind reflected on past birthdays and then I concentrated on my present safety issues.   My one aim was to find a small village with women and children.  It was a densely populated area and babies are always everywhere so this was an easy task.  I donated the stove to Steve because I was eager to follow the local people and make fires.  I soon carried out my routine of collecting firewood with everyone and cooked my food, the native people were very impressed.  There was no time for birthday emotions and I realised this was probably the main reason people get on with their lives and situations talking of hopes and dreams just to stay positive.  They have many jobs to accomplish to put food on the plate; there is no time to complain on their journey of survival.   My birthday treat was ice cold water.  The lady from the village was very proud to hand over the bottle of ice and with good reason.   This had been the only village I had stayed in on my whole trip down Africa to have a fridge, a porter loo and electricity. 

A cycling pace is very good for bird spotting and the Caprivi strip in Northern Namibia was the perfect location.  All species of birds with their beautiful colours were singing and dancing everywhere.
I also spotted a young girl with her little brother.  He carried a 5kg massive bag of maize.  I thought about what she must be telling him to entice him to carry the load.  “I’ll give you a sweetie”  “You’ll be stronger when you’re older, it’s very good training.”   This reminded me of what I have been told about Fraternities, social organisations that take place in USA Universities.  This is a very similar situation where the older guys control the activities of the younger naive new comers who have just started the University.  These debortuary activities then decide whether the newcomer is allowed to join the society/house or not.  I am learning a lot on my travels!!  I would like to thank my USA mates for informing me about the American society so I can make such comparisons to make me smile.
As Cape Town sets into winter the main direction of strong wind unfortunately headed from South to North following the warmer climate.  This was a new challenge and meeting two Swiss cyclists who then tell me about a man eating lion who killed a guy 10km from Kongola (the town I was heading to) did not help at all.   I persevered and cycled very slowly along a stretch through thick bush with warning signs of elephants.   This was the least of my worries, a lion was a challenge I would never be ready to face.  Luckily my chain broke just outside of Kongola and a man in a pick-up truck dropped my bike and I at God Cares Primary School.  I really appreciated the hot shower, food and sanitary things they gave me for on the road although I wasn’t too sure about what they were teaching the kids.
They went through the 5 F’s teaching the kids health education;
F - Food: Don’t eat bad food.
 I don’t like to waste food never mind what it looks like, if it tastes ok I will eat it.
As for my saucepan, I would be lucky if the chargrilled onion from yesterday’s meal unattached itself from the bottom. 
F - Filth: Keep yourself clean.
Unfortunately my plate is orange so the black dirt is quite obvious.
F - Flies: They carry disease.
They love my tasty salty skin, what can I say?
F - Faeces: The bacteria / worms can spread.
Watch out you find them in bushes (known as the African toilet).  If you’re lucky you might find a real toilet; either a hole or something more substantial possibly with a seat.
F - Fingers: Keep them clean.
My face gets dirty in 2 minutes and this dirt escalates from my fingers.  My nails are never clean so I like to keep them short.  I blame the chain!
Ha, I couldn’t laugh in there face but the 5 F morals go out of the window the moment I step on my bike. 

The Swiss cyclists I met also explained I must hand around outside petrol stations in any town.  It is the best place where they have had generous people offering them a place to stay for the night.  I liked the idea it took me back to my teenage years, although I was never encouraged to hang around petrol stations!!  Unfortunately the idea did not work in slightly bigger towns; tried, tested and failed.
Namibia is not well equipped for backpackers but it does have some great picnic areas which generally spread every 10km on the main (tarmacked) roads.  The furnishings are painted in blue and white so it is like your own kitchen with tables, chairs and even a bin.  Some areas are in the state of a student house (the 2 or 4 legged animals have got to the bins) with rubbish sprawled everywhere, but most are clean and tidy. 
The picnic spots have also been very useful for camping.  It was always going to happen.  It completely makes sense using the kitchen facilities and adding our tent / home and stove /cooking facilities to make a good camping spot.

I loved travelling on my own.  I was more vulnerable and people were definitely more surprised than ever and this compilation brought some amazing characters that just wanted to look after me.  I was given a bed and ended up staying with the family as a guest for 5 days as their backyard /campsite was empty.  Thank you Hennie and Arinda.   I did help them with a few jobs (favour for a favour) including looking after their horses and building my first brick wall!  As an architect I persuaded them it would be easy to put theory to practice. 

Fun times on a bike
Goodwill comes in the hands that praise us
Nature revolves as humans find time to make way look after they
There is sin
Which is blown, taken in
From the truth as everybody likes to talk as you do
Especially about the fears / tears a story of having just escaped
A battle that made it, so I could say people but wait…
There were scary hard times but really without they
The people I would have given up a long time away
Nature does not always change
The flat bush stretches
My mind has to fetch
Something else…
Horses are bred charcoal is fed
The land now an industry well kept
Suddenly the miles give way
You feel good as the day
Isn’t yet over, salt molecules all over
What does this mean?
What does the evening bring?
You never know. 
The best bits will be remembered though.

Using in Otjivarongo was great.  I was not only given a bed but a 4X4 car!!  Thank you Anthony and Jules.  Suddenly Namibia was my oyster it was all too exciting.  This was the perfect time for Steve to catch up and meet me as there was a road trip ahead and I needed some company and of course a DJ!  We went to Etosha National Park, the animals were thriving.  I got out of the car to get the food and had lunch only to find three lions over the other side of the bush.  Thanks overlander guy for letting us know! This was good, I finally had my first experience of seeing lions in the wild.

It was a bonus to have my cycling partner back (Steve - ) on such flat monotonous roads and land.  Scanning the side of the road was as interesting as it got.  I saw many snakes and can now go to a pub and honestly say “Who would win between a baby puff adder battling a big lizard … the baby puff adder” and I even got photos to prove it. 
I am finally wearing lycra padded shorts now the temperature has dropped (they gave me heat rashes before).  I have also realised cycling gloves reduce vibrations on the handlebars, thank you Endura.  A strappy top is best for my tan and this top matches my cycling hat.  This hat has gone from being the most unused item in my expedition to a necessity to wear cycling through Namibia, it complies with road regulations.  Yes, there was a reason for bringing it – brilliant! 
So now I look like a true cyclist, it only took 7 ½ months!!!

Steve’s nature finds are getting dangerous.  There was an immediate halt as Steve spotted a puff adder on the road.  I flew into his bicycle and crashed sideways luckily landing on my hands.
We took the gravel / sand route from Omaruru to Spitzkoppe for a few days to reach the magnificent natural structures.  The feeling of accomplishment was great.  Rich beautiful surprisingly green scenery came with the off-road route; the land and concentration on cycling took the boredom factor from me.  I had fun getting the feel of my sturdy bicycle swaying and swooping everywhere like a ballet dance in the sediments.   There was a mighty feeling of success every time I nearly toppled unbalanced then picked myself up with another turn of the pedal to suddenly find graded gravel stable road.  Unfortunately I wasn’t successful all the time.         
Spitzkoppe view point stood tall in the middle of the soft layered desert which was all I could see for miles.  The desert was comprised of small collected mounds and then these huge rounded orange granite mountainous structures.  There is such thing as a mountain out of a mole hill!!

Amidst the descending desert road there is suddenly a hidden German town by the coast.  Swakopmund is great and we were very lucky to be staying with a family who took great care of us.  I met this lady for a few minutes while Steve sorted out the visas on the Zambia border.  We have been very lucky to meet great people, fellow travellers who understand our circumstances and have invited us in.  There is nothing like a family home.  I also stayed with a great French family when I was injured.  They are travelling the world in a fire truck!!  (  Thank you all.
Namibia is the second most scarcely populated country in the world.  It is uninhabitable because of the desert.  It is empty and beautiful.   I appreciated Steve at this point to get back into our wild camping.  I still could never find the guts to rough camp on my own.  My extra strong protector was back, I was safe.

There were some amazing camping spots.  One I specifically recall was the highest camping point we had ever reached on our bicycles.  With a steep rock facade in front of us there was only one way for it, we had to push the bikes and ourselves up the mountain; “We will get there for another spectacular African sunset”.  Time was of the essence.

We took the very rough off - road desert route from Swakopmund to Sossus Vlei.  Bumpy and tedious.  The pace and movements was excruciating.  My bumps affected my arse and my bike, the gravel was very unpredictable.  It reminded me of trampolining.  There is a game I played when I was small. Everyone crosses their legs and holds their toes while one person jumps.  The object of the game is to hold your balance and not fall over; if you topple you are out.  So I sat upright clenching my toes and holding the position to stay strong.   Suddenly there are heavy jerks across the trampoline.  I had no control I felt vulnerable, I tried so hard to stay in position and then I toppled. 
These roads stepped through some stunning landscapes.  The extra sweat and effort was worth it, the nature was beautiful.  As the sun goes down the light becomes darker and creates some beautiful hazy streams scattered all over the rolling hills.  There are stunning green undulating valley hills with mountains that go on forever until the view drops off the face of the earth.
The scenery, light and cool wind increased and hammered energy into me.  It was a real sensation.

So with the cycling attire; lycra and tight tops also came confidence, cockiness and of course daydreaming.   Not a great mixture!  Accidents had been surprisingly rare.  I might have been looking at the landscape...   I was collecting speed as usual heading down a slope with all my weight on my feet to push myself and my home up the next hill.  I have learnt to just keep arms wide on the handlebars to hold a good balance. This time this didn’t work as my bike dug into the dipped sandpit and swerved taking me completely by surprise and my bike sideways.  I was thrown over and caught my inner thigh on the handlebars.  Pain.  I had two days off.

All my confidence cycling through sandpits has fizzled out.  I am more careful now and even more slow.  The final off-road corner was long, much longer than I would have hoped and it was so rough.  It was like the locals had picked out stones to ensure there was a smooth tarmac road ahead.   The cars all came the road was suddenly busy.  The gravel and dust all rose into my mouth and lenses.  I was trying to close my eyes but realised I had to squint as I needed to see the boulders in the road.  The huge holes were not helping my arse.  This was the last hurdle, the last gravel, slowly slowly.  There is always a test of energy or patience and then suddenly it was smooth.
Steve and I both easily agreed and made a great decision to cut sideways across back onto the main tarmac road, from there to the border our speed finally increased.  I say increased, we hit the record of furthest distance in one day - 210km.  This was due to the general downhill gradient, the almighty wind and of course our fitness levels which were now rocketing sky high.

The weather has been on our side, there is always Blue Skies.  The cold came for a few nights although winter but only in the night.  In Africa the sun returns every day and heat is once again spread across the land it is great.   I was never afraid of getting too cold. This was also due to my amazing 3 season sleeping bag - Thanks to Kathmandu I was always snug in the night time.   
There were many South African and Namibian tourists on the same road as us; this was a special time of year.  Due to the very long wet rainy season this was the first time in ten years that there was a Green Desert with vegetation and water in the Sossus Vlei (salt and clay pan surrounded by red dunes) .  What luck, what an adventure.
Although it was a long rainy season it was obvious it was over.  We cycled past many dry river beds waiting for the next rainy season.  This would be like waiting for Christmas.  When it comes the water glisten’s like stars and provides gifts of life and health to all.
For me Namibia was all about the peace and quiet and of course the landscapes. 
Changing Landscapes
Not a sound just a mountain
The only one in sight
So high had to climb
To sleep closer to the stars
The streams or natural paths
Overtaken by misty morning fog
The sea line now outstretched
Slowly making a bed
Covering all

A sheltered spot between green mountains
The bottom of the valley
Steel quiet river
Soft mushroom hills
Cold front pushing
Rock shadows rising
Bouncing between eachother
Wild grass blowing with the wind
Sparkling gold wild shoots flowing
Stopped abruptly by falling pieces formed together
Cages cliffs pieces overturned
Natural high walls vast tall as fairytales
These heavens untouched
Only for creatures that can call like beasts
Vegetation envelopes all
The mountains shine
Brown to red, gold, green, yellow
The land and shadows dance in the dunes
Purple, blue
Changing colours
A reminder of reality
In a painting swept away by sand
Blowing fresh strong winds
Into the valley of dead trees
Gold pastures
Mountains dunes
A valley with water
Mountains rocks

Between the farms of the rich there were strange old torn away towns.  The South of Namibia had almost been forgotten.  This area had many blacks and coloured people displaced by the South Africans.  Namibia became independent only 20 years ago and since then there has still been no hope or prosperity for some towns.  From a rocky past the people just sit and do nothing, they have given up hope.  They depend on the farms around the small town to provide food.  Although Namibia is now seen as being better off there is a huge difference between the rich and the poor.  Robbery and crime are very high in these places of extreme poverty.

As always we were told of the danger but remained safe wild camping and being invited into farmhouses.  Many people gave us phone numbers incase we had any trouble but there was none. Generous Namibians gave treats; jumpers for the cold further south, food, water on the road.  People were again hospitable and extra friendly.
The best quirky campsite I had stayed in in Namibia was Garas Park 2km off the B1 which was the main road we were cycling down.  It was in the middle of a Quiver tree forest.  There were sculptures, facilities and furnishings all made out of scrap objects and this unique wood.   We stayed in a thatched Rondavel both the walls and roof was thatched.  This is a style of housing I have often researched about and found in Africa.  This was the type of architecture I have been looking into and teaching myself throughout Africa.  African villages are all constructed by the local people using local materials.   I was in my own dream.
It was funny to see the owners face though when we asked about the hot showers.  “Erm showers erm yes erm hot what now?”  We had heard this before, we had seen this face before!!!  In Namibia most houses use a ‘donkey’ which is a steel cyclinder / oven which has a flume at the top.  Wood is burned at the bottom to then use the energy to heat the water.  Luckily I had seen and used these things before – the moral of the story is never use paraffin it will scold you!
Of course we have seen a whole new selection of road kill.  Although many locals were shocked we found the bones of a brown hyena in a rather populated area (for Namibia).


I am surprised I have seen more armoured crickets alive than dead.  These big insects love crossing the main road.  They look like they’re tip toeing along the road with ballet shoes on.  Suddenly I whoosh past on my bike.   I hope they know how lucky they are for not yet being squashed.  They hold their ballerina feet onto the road like they are in sticky honey and let the force of the wind and bike move their body.  It is great to watch.   
On the final speedy 210km day we hit the Namibian border town in great spirits, this was also my final country to cycle through.  The comforts of home were in reach there was a Silver Lining.  The distant landscape looked as if I was looking through an aeroplane window.  The glare of faded light blended all the mountains and land into a similar faint glow.  This was the perfect sundown and shady mountain scenery descending down to the border; A perfect finish to Namibia.