Experiences of a med student with an incurable travel bug.

…on a horse with no name – only it wasn’t a horse, it was a truck (not a bus!), and its name was Lennon. And there were a few tour guides to make sure we didn’t kill ourselves on the strychnine plants or the deadly scorpions. It was pretty fantastic, particularly as we all managed to make it back alive and relatively unharmed. Here’s the break down:


Day 1: Departed from Cape Town, driving north to the Cederberg Mountain Region. After one of our shortest bouts of driving of the trip we arrived at the backpackers lodge and set up camp. We were using tents, old-school canvas tents that were actually much roomier than I anticipated, and very easy to assemble. As it was blasted hot, we changed and walked through the citrus fields to the river for a swim. The river turned out to be a small, small stream, with a strip of sandy shore line, and it was perfect, nice and cool while the sand was scalding. We’d been hanging out there for a while when a group of boys, probably ~9-11 year olds, showed up to swim too. At first they didn’t seem to know what to think about a bunch of tourists invading their swimming hole, but they eventually warmed up to us, probably because some of us had brought inner tube that we let them use. They were adorable, skinny little black boys just being boys, racing each other across the river and doing handsprings and flips into the water.


Day 2: We continued our journey north in the trucks, camping that night on the shores of the Orange/Gariep River, which constitutes a large portion of the South Africa-Namibia border. Once again, it happened to be hot, so we decided to go for a swim. Only this time —


WE SWAM TO NAMIBIA.


Seriously. Not even 50 meters across the river, and we were standing on Namibian soil. I’m still amazed that we were legally able to do that; it’s not at all like the Rio Grande between the US and Mexico, where I’m fairly certain they don’t just let you swim across for fun. And here, there’s just no where to go after you make it across; there’s no one for miles in any direction in either country. That being said, I’m sure that people do come across the border here and in other places if they are able to make it to that point; the number of refugees in South Africa is astronomical, people fleeing from Darfur, Sudan, and everywhere in between. Having met a Darfur refugee, a doctor who was imprisoned and tortured for helping his people, who escaped and fled on foot from within Darfur, through jungles, and snuck across the South African border, I know that there are plenty of people who come to South Africa this way.

Day 3: In the morning we canoed 7ish kilometres on the Gariep/Orange River. Only it was more rafting than it was canoeing in this inflatable dingy (kinda like the rescue boat I spent most of last summer in, sans the motor); the river was absolutely still except for the 2 or 3 places that were kinda like small rapids if you used your imagination, so it actually took a bit of work to propel the boats through the water, whereas real canoes would have been super easy. It was really beautiful though.

That afternoon we officially crossed the border into Namibia, this time via truck. It may have been this day that the trucks just pulled over in the midst of all this crazy plants to tell us all about them. As it turns out, these bushes contained strychnine (in theory) – pronounced “strike-nine” if you’re African – and therefore incredibly deadly. Remarkably, we all resisted the urge to touch them, but Amanda and I did get a great picture of me restraining her from getting at the bush, which captured the theme of our relationship (“Amanda, that’ll kill you, please don’t!”). After setting up camp, we headed over to the Fish River Canyon, second in size only to the Grand Canyon, where we watched the sunset over the canyon.


Day 4: More driving. As we continued north the landscape got more and more sparse as we got closer to the heart of the Namib Desert. As can be expected in such an arid area with harsh conditions, the population density is extremely low; we’d drive for hours without seeing anyone, and the sighting of another vehicle brought on horn honking from both parties as everyone was just happy to see another soul. I think it was this day that at one point the trucks just stopped in the middle of nowhere, there was nothing around for miles except huge expanses of desert, and the guides told us to just go see what it was like to be in that huge empty space. We all took of running in different directions and just absorbed it; dead silence, nothing visible apart from barren desert for miles. Incredible. That evening we hiked around the Sesriem Canyon – or at least tried to. As it turns out, there was actually water in the base where we would have walked, so that interrupted the hike. We did find a cool cave in the side of the rock though, which we proceeded to crawl around in and attempt artsy pictures (with moderate success). Found deadly scorpion at dinner that night.


Day 5: Up before dawn to embark on a race to the sand dunes, attempting to beat everyone else there so our footprints could be the first on the fresh sand. At 6:00am sharp we were off, literally racing all the other cars that were trying to do the same thing, passing little cars in our beast of a truck as we rushed to Dune 45, one of the highest dunes in the Namib Desert. You might ask why it’s called Dune 45; our guides told us lots of reasons: it’s 45km from the campsite, it’s as high as a 45 story building, etc…all lies. Not the first, or the last, time they lied; if they didn’t know something (or even if they did), they’d just make something up for their own amusement. You’d have to with that job, fielding ridiculous questions from tourists all the time. By the end of the trip we were just pointing at things and asking them to tell us, no, to make something up, about the object in question, because we found it highly amusing as well. Oh, the real reason it’s called Dune 45? All of the dunes are numbered. No particular reason or pattern.


We weren’t quite the first people to the dune, but we were close. We began the trek up the side of the dune, which turned out to be a bit of a challenge; with every step you took you’d end up sliding down almost as far with the cascading sand. After a while though we made it and collapsed on the top ridge to watch the sunrise. There are a lot of minerals in the sand there, which has actually led to rusting in the sand, giving the dunes a beautiful reddish-orange hue, which changed by the second as the sun rose. It was positively gorgeous, and we did a regular senior-picture style photo shoot to try to capture it, even though you just can’t get that on camera.


After breakfast at the truck, we went to a place where some people went on a guided walk while the rest of us just played in the desert. We found a patch of parched ground that was most definitely the exact spot where Simba collapsed from dehydration and nearly died before being rescued by Timon and Pumba. Of course we re-enacted the scene.


That night was spent in Solitaire, supposedly the smallest town in Namibia with a population of ~32 and a mayor named Moose, who also ran the campground we were at. As Solitaire is famous for its apple pie (yeah, don’t ask) we finished off the night with a piece. Don’t worry, it was nothing compared to the homemade stuff back home, but still pretty good considering the lack of apples in the middle of the desert.


Day 6: Found deadly scorpion under Amanda and Stephanie’s tent, right next to ours when packing up in the morning. Meh. Drove to and arrived in Swakopmund, where we booked the next day’s activities with a group called Desert Explorers. As this company has hosted Brangelina in the past (Brad Pitt + Angelina Jolie for all the confused parents out there), how could we go wrong?


Day 7: SANDBOARDING! We did stand-up boarding, which was basically snowboarding except on the side of a sand dune. This also allowed us to do lie-down boarding, which was just like sledding down the dune on a bit of greased board. They clocked us going 60-80km per hour at the bottom! See pictures, and be amazed no one got seriously injured.


Day 8: On the bus by 4am to begin our long journey back, stopping in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, on the way through. We stayed just inside the South African boarder for the night at the same place we stayed on the second day where we swam to Namibia. ~16 hours of driving


Day 9: Left at 5 to finish the drive, arriving in Cape Town at 5pm. We had asked if they could let us out on the Main Road instead of driving us all the way back to campus as it would be closer to everyone’s houses and would cut the mountain out of our walk. As we drove in, wondering where they might decide to stop, they just happened to pull over right on the end of our street! It was amazing, we told Bernie, one of our guides, that we lived just a block away, and he responded, “I knew it, I could feel it in my bones!” hahahaha. From there they just kept stopping periodically along Main, letting everyone else off near their houses too. So nice.


So there ends my Namibian tour. While I can hardly do it justice in a blog and with photos, I hope you’ve enjoyed both, they were amazing!

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