Namibia: the adventure begins

We travel through endless miles of completely barren land with nothing but rocks and sand and the odd shrub surviving through sheer determination. The sky is so blue that it feels like a hand painted backdrop to the rocky landscape. We hardly encounter signs of human life. After passing a small Nama settlement of rickety huts by the road side just after the border, we drive for hours without seeing so much as another car. The gravel roads full of sharp rocks, sudden dips, slippery sandy patches and rivers crossing them are treacherous.

And yet, Namibia has a primal and addictive beauty. Its pristine land barely touched by man is what the world must have looked like a million years ago. The danger which lurks everywhere makes our senses more keenly aware of all the details of our environment. We carry 160L of petrol and ample water and food supplies with us because breaking down in the middle of nowhere could mean waiting seven days for the next vehicle to come by and rescue us. When we need to ford a river, one of us walks out to gauge the depth of the water, making sure there is no crocodile lurking in a deep pool. And we make it a point to shake our shoes before wearing them in case a scorpion has set up residence in them during the night.

(gravel) road to nowhere
before Adam and Eve, there was the Namib
depth sounding before we ford a river
someone’s got to do it
Starbucks time
well stocked car

Namibia: we cross the border

Crossing the Namibia border is a somewhat strange but fairly straightforward experience. After the town of Springbok where we spend a night, we drive for 118km through remote and barely inhabited landscape in South Africa. Then the Fiooldrif border post appears literally out of nowhere. A dusty holding area for trucks on the South African side with a general store and a few idlers hanging out around it. And…really nothing on the Namibian side for several miles until the (very) small town of Nordoewer (about ten houses + a petrol station).

We clear the South African border fairly quickly but spend an hour tackling the Namibian bureaucracy on the other side. As we’re almost finished an undercover customs’ agent parading as a “surveyor for the Namibian tourist authority” asks us a few questions on our purchases in South Africa and is promptly followed by a uniformed customs official who starts to check our boot and ask us questions about the value of various items. We had seriously stocked up on grocery items before leaving South Africa in anticipation of the many miles of desert driving in Namibia – so the inspection could have taken a fair amount of time. I get into a surreal conversation about the price of a four-pack of ice tea with the customs official. About $2, I say. No, it must be  at least $6, says he. We finally settle on $4. Satisfied that he was (more or less…) right, he lets us go on our way without further ado.

Our first few hours driving in Namibia are a complete culture shock. Namibia is empty, literally. As if some giant black hole had sucked all the (human) life out of it. With an area of 824,000sqkm and a population of just 2 million, it is one of the world’s least densely populated countries, mostly covered by two of the world’s great deserts, the Kalahari and the Namib, the world’s oldest desert.

a vast emptiness