Home > Uncategorized > Travels with a motorbike – Part 3 – Springbok to Mariental

Travels with a motorbike – Part 3 – Springbok to Mariental

Thursday morning, it is early. Well, what are you going to do? You are excited. You have some distance to go.  How long will it take? How far will you ride? Where will you stop? The day is uncertain. Taking a long leisurely breakfast is out of the question especially when all you have to eat is a box of rusks and some tea. I am sorry, even I am not going to tuck into a bowl of Pot Noodles at 06.30. So now you have it. After a shower, a cup of tea, a rusk, teeth brushed, packed, I am on the road. It is cold. First port of call is the garage, or gas station for all my American readers. My fuel tank holds 24 litres.  In theory. We are metric here. Work it out. I have not been brave enough to ride until there is only one litre left in the tank. It becomes a game. How far can I ride at a reasonable speed before I need to fill up?  What is my fuel efficiency? 16 km/l? 18? 20? 380, 400, 430 km. Will I run out before I get to the next fuel pump? Sexy.

I am riding along on a quiet empty road. There is a smile on my face. Life is good. And cold. Fifteen minutes later, the sun has risen, but it is no warmer. That little gap between my trouser cuff and my boot is letting in the chill-factored air. I am going to stop. Its not that I am a wimp, its just that it is silly not to get oneself totally sorted when one is riding across a continent. Right, my gloves cover my wrists and my boots overlap my trousers. My lapels are covered by my helmet.  I have about 90 minutes to ride until the border. Maybe less. The world becomes gradually alight. Hillocks are the geographical feature of the day. Small shrubs, are there big shrubs, are scattered across the veld on either side of the road. Tussocks of yellow grass sit listlessly in the still air, belying the speed at which I am travelling. I am not speeding. Well not so as you would accuse me of being a hooligan, though possibly I am breaking the speed limit. I am heading north. The road is empty and straight and flat. The rising sun is somewhere in front of me. Who is anal enough to remember exactly where the sun is at any given time?

The border is getting closer. The hillocks give way to hills. Understandably perhaps, tussocks do not give way to tusks. Signs denote my pending arrival. I slow down as buildings appear and directions point me to the border. The Orange River. Have you ever wondered about the connection between the Dutch House of Orange and the fruit that gave name to the colour, or the colour to the name? So have I.

Park the bike. Show my passport. A Khoi San woman is not comfortable with the computer that she needs to enter my details. Her colleague shows her what keys to press. She logs in. Her colleague calls me to the next booth. The Khoi San lady picks her nose and sits down. Cultural diversity and jobs for all. Yay.

Across the Orange River into Namibia. Name, address, passport, some tax or other. Time change. It is one hour earlier here. Back on my steed and head for the first fuel stop on the outskirts of town. A town that rejoices under the name of Vioolsdrif. Only 8 litres. A cup of coffee and I am back on the road. The B1 towards Windhoek.

We all know that Alaska is covered in ice. Norway, as Douglas Adams explained, is a land of fjords. Brazil is all jungle. Sweden is full of nude models, some of them female. Those are comfortable truisms. Namibia has always been one vast desert as far as I was concerned. The maps always made it clear that this was the case. No need to question. But let me tell you just how stark the comparison is between South Africa and its northern neighbour on either side of the river. Namibia is completely and utterly barren. A wastescape from an obscure planet. It is flat. There are no Lawrencesque sand dunes. No camels or any sign of life. Just a few rocks scattered here and there and then dull, flat earth. Sandy coloured but no sand. I did not need a map at all. A sheet of sand paper would have been just as useful.

The road is flat and straight and smooth. My plan for the day is to view the Fish River Canyon. If it appeals, I will find a camp site and spend the night there. I have a choice. The shorter route, appears according to the map, to be gravel road. The longer route involves gravel too, but less of it. I decide on the latter option. If I find the going too tough on gravel, I will at least have made progress towards Windhoek if I have to turn back. Mile after mile. The road is so straight and flat. Not a car to be seen. Strangely, I see a pedestrian. A tribesman walking placidly along the seemingly endless strip of macadam. Going where, coming from where, I cannot imagine. The world is desolate.

An hour and a half later, a sign appears. Turn left. Stop. Breath in, breath out. You are now leaving civilization, ha, the irony, and entering the unknown. Any form of accident could have serious repercussions, for nobody other than me. It’s a gravel road. 90 km on gravel. How will I manage? What happens if it gets really bad after 60 km? Will I turn back? Right boys, lets go for it. 30kph. Not too bad. 40 kph. Ok, I can do this. 60, 70, 80. Oops, bit of a wobble through that bit of sand. Need to be careful. 80 is ok. I will hit habitation in an hour or so.

Ai Ais is marked. Signs of life appear. A car passes me. Namibian Parks. I must surely pay a fee. Nothing in Africa is free, especially if God given. There is a gate, but no attendant. There are few buildings with cars parked outside. The sign indicates the direction to the Fish River Canyon. Am I supposed to check in? Others appear to be doing so, but nobody is directing me. Oh well, I need to stop for a pee, I may as well go and pay and check that I all is ok. I pay my N$50, or whatever the fee is. The Khoi San man is not really bovvered.

I set off again, Damn, the road is suddenly seriously corrugated. I am bumping along like you cannot imagine. Try going slowly. No good. Speed up better, but it can’t be good. Oh what the heck. Go fast. Suddely the corrugations are gone and I am flying down the road. I can see the look out point.

The Canyon is big. It is the second largest canyon in the world. Some people ‘walk it’. I just looked at it. After 5 minutes there is not much left to do, so I got back on my motorbike and drove to my next destination.

2009-09-24 008

But seriously folks, as I keep saying, its all about the journey. I find a place to fill up. Families, German tourists, with loaded up 4x4s lounged around as their vehicles consumed litre after litre of fuel while I waited my turn. The road goes straight, to the left of and parallel to a railway track. Then zig and zag. Cross the track and now I am riding to the right and parallel to it. Tar road ahead. Turn right and head back towards Keetmanshoop and the B1.

At Keetmanshoop, I feel that I have achieved something magnificent. I have travelled over difficult terrain in a dangerous environment towards a specific destination, thereby fulfilling an ambition and I have made it back to civilization. Not quite as you might know it mind, but we are talking in relative terms here.

The last stretch is only another 300 km towards Hardap where I will camp for the night. There is a dam in Hardap with a pretty camp site. It has been recommended to me. But I take the view that it is getting late and I wont be sitting around enjoying the view, so I stop just short at a place called Mariental.

The camp site is modest but adequate. I am the only person there when I arrive at about 5 pm. I erect my tent in solitude, which is important when you are not completely confident about what goes where. It is damn embarrassing when others watch you struggle to stick the correct rod through the wrong orifice. Tents seem to have far too many orifices.

After a shower, a meal of the most delicious pot noodles and a glass of whiskey, I am ready for bed. Two other vehicles have pulled in. One of the campers is a tour operator who has just dropped off a group of Norwegians in Cape Town and is heading back to his base in Windhoek. He had been in Zimbabwe. It turns out we knew some people in common.

Into my tent, sleeping bag with two liners. Balaclava on my head. I know it is going to be cold. It is.

6 Across:  Capture vagrant, male to be put away (4)

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