Day 269: The Road To Namibia

Thur. 9th May 2013

The road goes ever on!We have one of our longer day’s driving ahead as we leave Citrusdal and continue heading north. Our destination is some 570km away just over the Namibian border. At first, as we head out of town we can see large orange groves on either side of the road – a dash of colour on a landscape that is increasingly dusty-green or dusty-brown. There isn’t much else to do but settle down and watch the landscape go by. Although the roads are tarmac, Janis is built for ruggedness rather than refinement and prolonged conversation is impossible over the noise of the engine and the high seat backs. I plug in my headphones and take it as an opportunity to catch up the audio edition of the Economist and my podcasts.

The church in SpringbokWe’re on the N7 road which is also known as the Namaqua Highway (after the original inhabitants of the area) or the Copper Highway (after the mining that was the original industry here). The road just rolls on and the scenery slowly changes – but is always barren, rocky and vast. Every couple of hours Zenzo stops and we all pile out of Janis to stretch our legs, take a few photos (for the record as much as the scenery) and to use the loo. We are starting to get a feel for the size of this country, though I suspect we still have much to learn.

Weaver bird nestsJanis is pretty much self-contained. Outside of the van and underneath our seating area are a set of lockers and storage spaces for food, chairs, tables and some big gas burners for cooking. This means we can pull into a picnic area set back from the road and quickly set up for salad and sandwiches for lunch. Once again, the location is chosen for convenience and to allow us to move on with the minimum of delay rather than for its scenic value – that will come later.

Rock garden & memorial to the Namaqualand uprisingSpringbok is the last significant town in South Africa, indeed the last town of any size we will see until we get to the wonderfully named Swakopmund in a few days time. Its also our final chance for a supermarket until then. Our priorities, as ever, are taking photos and buying water and beer. The main sights to see in town are the church (Dutch architecture again) and a rock garden that doubles as a memorial to the Namaqua uprising in the 18th Century.

Looking down the Orange RiverOne of the key skills of a tour leader is to under-promise and over-deliver – to ensure that we know what is coming up and to have a fighting chance that any surprises for us are pleasant ones. Zenso has done a pretty good job so far and once again he set our expectations low for the time and hassle involved with the border crossing. At first, his warning sounded well founded when the SA police said they wanted to see our laptop. However, they lost interest before we could get it out of the locker, and other than a little bit of a queue at both the SA and Namibian posts there was no hassle, no holdups, no baggage searches – no problem. I’m not confident that all of our African border crossings are going to be this easy.

Incredible backdrop to the swimming poolThe Orange River forms the natural boundary between SA and Namibia. We crossed the river as we entered Namibia and we must have followed the course of the river once in the country as it turns out that, Felix Unite, our stay for tonight is by the river. I had expected our accommodation to be pretty basic on this trip – we are in Africa, after all – and so Felix Unite is a really pleasant surprise. We are in wooden cabañas with straw roofs set along and above the banks of the river. As we arrive, the sun is just setting and providing a coppery glow to the mountains on either side of the river. Inside, they are clean and comfortable – and there’s even a fridge to keep our beer cold.Our cabanas at Felix Unite

The night sky from Felix Unite, Orange RiverAs we head out to join the others for supper, there is one final surprise for us – looking up we have the best night sky display since Lake Titicaca all those months ago. This time, its not 3 in the morning and I’m not half asleep! Janet’s reaction is exactly the same as mine back in Lake Titicaca – “wow”. So many stars and the Milky Way clearly visible like the river that the Incas believed it to be. We’re hoping for even better once we get out into the Namib desert, but we’ll settle for this right now. Welcome to Namibia!

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