This was Namibia, the undefeated champion of the gravel road to nowhere. We had a great time driving along these straight, gravelly, hypnotising roads to nowhere, spotting funny little waystation cities along the way.
The road to Keetmanshoop was a dead-straight line that pointed to the horizon. It was a mesmerising sight. After an hour (of what felt like shaking the car until all the panels fell off) on the gravel, the road mercifully turned to tarmac and we were finally able to reach highway speeds.
We were in a good mood so early in the morning, and eager to gain some ground. We were debating our route and border crossing into Botswana; We could drive to the far north, and pass through the Caprivi strip into northern Botswana. The alternative was to cut into Botswana from the East, giving us more time to spend in the Okavango Delta.
Our first stop of the day was a petrol station just on the outskirts of Keetsmanshoop. Jeff walked inside to find a bathroom, Wessel went to buy hamburgers from the Wimpy fast food restaurant, and I stayed at the car, stretching my legs.
The attendant ran up to the car enthusiastically and started pumping petrol. It seemed so luxurious, having petrol pumped for us, while we just relaxed. Tank full. Pay. Tip. He started cleaning millions of splatters off the windscreen as Jeff and Wessel returned, bringing a bag full of hamburgers.
We pulled out of the petrol station and gasped at what a difference a clean windscreen made. We had amassed quite a dead insect collection.
We pulled over in the main street of Keetmanshoop and parked outside a bank, our vehicle not entirely inconspicuous among the dusty old pick up trucks and beat-up sedans. I wondered if many ‘adventure vehicles’ passed through this way and if the locals were used to the sight of the fully-loaded white 4WD.
I looked around me. Keetmanshoop was a collection of squat houses, shops and the occasional church, loosely speckled around a grid of sandy asphalt roads. There was no much around.
Wessel pressed his face against the window of the bank’s front door, shielding his eyes from the glaring sun.
It was closed.
He wandered away to find an ATM a few blocks away. Jeff decided to explore the nearby market. I stayed by the car, looking at the map and trying to decide which highway to take going forward.
Jeff returned from the market with a new grandpa-style peaked cap, which he would wear almost every day from then on. Wessel appeared a few minutes later thumbing a wad of Namibian dollars.
In the car again, we discussed our next stop and decided to try and reach a campsite at Buitepos, a small town near the border to Botswana where we knew there was a campsite. We had decided to cut into Botswana from the East to cut a few days off the journey and give ourselves allow ourselves more time to reach Zanzibar.
Mariental and Stampkriet
I was beginning to love these weird welcome signs to each town. Somewhere between Mariental and Stampkriet, we stopped at a street sign indicating kudu in the area, a species of antelope with stunning spiral-shaped antlers.
Out came the tripod, and we soon had our first animal road sign. A tradition was born, and we would go on to collect photos of all kinds of animal road signs, from hippos to warthogs to giraffes.
We instantly made a friend in Mariental. A young boy, opportunistic and savvy, he offered to ‘guard’ our car while we were in the supermarket (for a small price, of course). We bought bread, chips, soft drink and beers. We came back to the car and the kid came running back. He wasn’t guarding our car, but doing business with another car. We gave him a few Namibian dollars for the effort.
Since we had begun driving we noticed the right rear tyre (a heavy-duty offroad tyre) was constantly in need of pumping. In Mariental, we checked it again. This time we located the huge tear in the tread, and was completely flat. It shouldn’t be; this tyre was designed for punishment and we hadn’t even done tough offroad driving yet.
A piece of sharp metal must have done the damage. Wessel and I changed the tyre and Jeff took photos, as the stretch of highway we had stopped on was quite photogenic. We hung the spare on the back and I stuck a bandaid on the tear, to mark where the hole was to later patch it (but mostly for comic effect).
Leonardville (tropic of Capricorn)
I could barely see the road to Botswana, so choked with dust it was. Driving behind any other vehicle was suicidal, and a blind overtake was the only way to get out of their dust storm. We spotted our first wildlife here as a herd of zebra daintily skipped across the road.
We eventually reached tiny, deserted Leonardville, and although we didn’t realise at the time, we were on bang on the Tropic of Capricorn. We stopped next to a rusty car graveyard and an abandoned petrol station, and took photos of the derelict cars.
A passer-by walked up to Jeff, seemingly the only occupant of Leonardville, and asked for money. We gave him a few coins and off he went. I wondered where he was headed, and I wondered who he thought we were.
Down the road was a small convenience shop in the form of a mud brick hut. We bought lollies, water and camp food, and gave some of the lollies to the curious children who were steadily gathering around us.
I liked this place in the world very much.