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Roadtrip Across Namibia – a car full of bloggers

sossusvlei dunes NamibiaFollowing our trip to Egypt, which I’ll post more about later, we met some friends and took a roadtrip across Namibia. We are just now getting back to the US, and we’re just now getting back to internet. Thus, this was the longest I’ve gone without posting… in a very long time.

What a trip though! So I’ll go out of order here and post about Namibia while it’s all fresh on the mind.

It started a while back when either Stefan of Rapid Travel Chai, or Daraius of Million Mile Secrets suggested doing a trip together. Originally, we decided on Indonesia in early 2015… but as it got closer schedules just didn’t align.

Stefan, though, had been wanting to do this Namibia road trip, and thought he might be in Cape Town on Business. So after well over a year of saying we’d do a trip together, we actually did.

We flew into Cape Town, South Africa and out of Windhoek, Namibia. Only a week to do the entire route… but I can confirm, Stefan’s blog title – Rapid Travel Chai – is approprietly titled.

Get in late. Wake up early. Few very short stops.

The Trip

First, I want to take a second to say that Stefan planned this entire trip down to the minute. He told us the places we were staying the hour we would be arriving, and it was almost always accurate. In order to fit so much in, he had to do a lot of planning. And for that I am super grateful.

 

Day 0 – 1: Cape Town

We got into Cape Town a little earlier, and since Stefan was working Daraius, Carrie and I went sight seeing around the area. And wow. Cape Town is beautiful. Almost unreal to have the ocean, mountains, city and wildlife all so close together. One of the most beautiful cities I’ve seen.

Daraius got a car rental from Hertz, which he refuses to tell me any details about. Turns out the car had 14km on it. Brand new.

Why Hertz? On a one way rental to and though Namibia, they could’ve given us a dumpy car, but instead we got a brand new Toyota Corala.

We picked up Stefan at his conference around 2:30pm and we drove up to and across the Namibian border to a lodge thingy on the Orange River.

 

Day 2: More driving and Fish River Canyon

Fish River Canyon Namibia

We woke up at 7:30 am and since we got in so late, it was the first time we had actually seen the area. The lush green river was funneling into the totally dry canyon we would soon be visiting. Little did I know it would be the last time I’d see anything that could be described as “lush”.

first lodge namibia

More driving. The first couple days were the worst in terms of driving (I don’t like sitting), as we had to cover such long distances to even get into Namibia or up to a lot of the sites.

Finally we got to Fish River Canyon. I’ll be honest and say of all the amazing sites we saw, this was probably least interesting to me. Probably because every other site I could say, “I’ve never seen anything like this”, and with Fish River Canyon, it’s a lot like any Canyon in Arizona and Utah. A much smaller Grand Canyon.

But it was the only thing I knew of before hand besides Etosha and it felt like a must see.

After the canyon we saw one lodge that also had a restaurant. By default of being our only option, it was our best option.

We drove on and got to the next lodge/campground very late.

 

Day 3: Sand Dunes

Sossusvlai Dunes 2 Namibia

I wake up and walk outside the room and Stefan is standing on the other side of the car and says something about needing my help. What? He just repeats himself, and so I walk to the other side of the car.

Flat tire.

Luckily we had a spare and it didn’t take but a minute to change. However, the roads suck and based on our double flat tire in Kenya, I was a little paranoid that we’d get stranded in the desert.

The good news is that the flat was due to a nail. A hole like that can easily be filled and these countries get to be experts in tire repairs.

 

Namib-Naukluft National Park

After the morning drive (on our spare) we got to the Sand Dunes in the heat of the day. We were going into the desert as everyone was coming out.

Stefan made a usual clever quip, referring to an earlier comment I’d made about being afraid of group think – beleiving and doing because of the common opinions of those around you. Eerie as it was to be in the desert, surrounded by nothing but giant sand dunes, we’re a group for avoiding the crowd. Stefan was just pleased to get a photo of the dry salt lake without a single person in it.

Stefan just took off across the dry lake, I had no idea what he was doing, so Dariaus and I just kept talking. Caroline, perhaps more afraid of missing out on a hike or seeing the other side, ran to catch up with Stefan.

Daraius and I kept sitting and talking… and roasting, and we noted how it had been an hour.

Then, looking up on the closest sand dune we saw two figures. “Could that be them?” we wondered. And eventually the two dots would move along the ridge to the tallest of the sand dunes.

Apparently walking along the ridges the sand was packed, and when you stepped off you sank a foot or so.

Once they made it to the top they took the Rapid Travel way down and just slid down the side of the mountainous sand dune.

Later when recalling our favorite moments, everyone listed the sand dunes. Although Caroline and Stefan could one up us and glote about the incredible view from the top.

 

About the tire…

Right outside the park was a gas station where we got some snacks, and while there wasn’t anything around, Stefan got out and asked if they fix tires. Sure enough the gas station is also a tire center. In 30 minutes we had a tire that was as good as new for a little over $10.

That night we drove all the way to Walvis Bay to eat, and then up a little to our hotel.

 

Day 4: Thousands of seals

seals namibia

This would by far be the easiest day of the trip. Shortest drive and most leisure time. Which I was guessing would be torture to Stefan to have slow travels, but apparently he needs sleep too.

We had an easy morning and enjoyed internet fast enough that I could actually check my email when standing in the lobby.

Then we drove up the coast to Cape Cross where our hotel would be, and also the largest seal colony I’d ever heard of.

Before pulling up I had mentioned that peir 39 in San Fran (or whichever one it is) starts to smell super bad even with just a few dozen seals… I can’t imagine what thousands of seals would smell like…

Then the doors open and even from the parking lot it was as bad as I feared.

There was a fenced in wooden walkway along the beach, and seals as far as the eye could see. Tons and tons of seals on the beach and in the water.

Despite the smell, we stayed for a while to see them fight, swim, yell, and depressingly, even saw some of the young ones who clearly weren’t going to make it. As sad as it is, the death contributes a lot to the smell. In fact, when later going on a “romantic” beach walk from the lodge we had to turn around simply because the smell was horrofic. Even away from the colony the dead ones wash up… and reak.

 

The lodge was seriously the most leisurely part of the trip. There was nothing to do but go to bed early and eat. At dinner while debating Uber as usual, a jackel sat outside the window. The seals and the jackel, plus two hours of driving made it the easiest day of the trip. And well timed, as it was half way through the trip.

 

Day 5: The Skeleton Coast

Shipwreck on Skeletons Coast Namibia

Another driving day, but perhaps it’s the best way to see the Skeleton Coast. Perhaps the only way.

Named the Skeleton Coast because of the shipwrecks that used to occur in the area due to deceiving sandbars and coral, I couldn’t help but notice that there were a lot of animal skeletons, and nothing lively about the area.

Not just animal skeletons and boats, but old mining shafts and an oil rig.

We stopped at the old oil rig’s rusty skeleton and after walking through it, I thought the beems looked sturdy enough to climb. Daraius nervously joined me (and neither one of us got tetanus).

Then as we were getting to the north side of the park we started to cross the migrating sand dunes. I don’t konw what you actually call it, but basically there were little wind streams that would cary sand like flowing water.

You’d see the sand crossing the road and when you drive through it, nothing happens, except you hear the sound of the sand pelting the car.

Again, it’s eerie to be truly in the middle of nowhere. Some of the areas you don’t see cars or people and you just wonder how long you’d wait if the car broke down.

abandoned mine 2 namibia

 

Speaking of which…

On the way out of the park the roads were so bad that the car was just bouncing around and I couldn’t hear either in the front talking. Carrie leaned over and asked if it sounded like a tire was off, I agreed and we stopped the car. But when I got out and looked at the tire, no one believed me at first when I said the tire was indeed flat.

We had driven on it a little and it was absolutely destroyed, no repairing this one. Also, the hubcap was missing.

Stefan immeditely started walking backwards to look for the hubcap, and within a minute he was over the hill and out of site.

Caroline wanted to try to fix the flat by herself based on having watched me do it two days before, and after watching me change a stranger’s the day before that. She jacked up the car while Daraius and I joked that it’s a good thing no one can see two guys letting her, who is not even 5 feet tall, do all the work.

Not but a minute or two after putting the old tire back in the trunck a truck pulls up with Stefan in the passenger seat, and a hubcap in hand. Some farmer saw him and offered him a lift back to the car.

That evening we made it to a hotel/campground that had dinner prepared for us.

flat tire namibia

 

Day 6: Etosha National Park

After breakfast, Stefan and I drove down the road to get a new tire for the spare and fill up on gas. With a new tire, Daraius took advantage of the paved roads to fly up to Etosha National Park.

A self drive safari in a Toyota Corolla.

The paved road ends and we went from watering hole to watering hole within the park. On our map, the road goes along a giant lake… but the giant lake had no water in it. None. Instead there were watering holes. This makes dry season a decent way to see wildlife since they gather in one place.

elephant and lion etosha namibia

There were two big highlights.

First, I should note that Caroline and I have done a self-drive safari in 4 different national parks in Africa, this would be our 5th. Daraius had done one in Kruger, and Stefan in Botswana. Which is to say, we weren’t excited by zebras and impala, which there is always a ton of.

Stefan had a strict “don’t slow down for the low scoring animals” rule, half joking. The first giraffe got a picture, but most anything that resembled a deer or a horse, we weren’t slowing down for. If you’ve never done a safari, it may sound weird, but seeing a zebra isn’t the goal. The goal is to spot the cats or something new. Zebras are around every corner.

So we dashed from watering hole to watering hole.

Finally we made it to a watering hole where a ton of animals were. Dozens of elephants in the water, as well as giraffes and all the regulars.

Our attention quickly changed to the other side of the watering hole, which is where all the animals were looking too. Two big male lions were chilling by the water. Seeing lions is always a big score, and I believe it was both of their first lion sightings.

After waiting a bit, all of a sudden we see a deer running at the opposite end of the lake- a female lion chasing it. It was incredible. That deer was running for its life and the lion was catching up. And when it ran it looked like it was flying, as its paws would stretch so far out with each leap.

But when the deer ran through the water the lion looked more like it was swimming than flying. The lion’s shorter legs slowed her down as its meal went away.

Pretty amazing but tense moment. The entire area stood still, and there wasn’t a pair of eyeballs that didn’t see the chase.

After lunch we had a little less successful drive and came back to the watering hole just outside the lodge. Many of the lodge’s guests were in the fenced in seating area overlookng a watering hole that had a rino. We had just seen a rino driving back with a baby, but seeing it up close and out of the car is a new experience.

The rhino disappeared for a minute and then came back with a second one kind of chasing it. Given how close they were, I thought something was about to happen, but didn’t predict it would be a fight.

One rhino kept annoying the other one until it just charged the annoying one. Then they dueled for a minute.

rhino etosha 2 namibia

The night safari

The last time Caroline and I did a guided safari in a safari truck was in Sri Lanka in early 2012. In Africa it’s always been more economical just to use the rental, and it’s a lot of luck anyways. But Daraius was interested in a night safari, and I agree that it’s something you can’t do without the equiptment. You aren’t allowed to drive on the roads at night unless you’re with a tour guide, and they have spot lights.

I knew we were heading for a boring night when the driver looked at the empty waterhole that we drove 10km/hr to get to, and then got out his laser pointer to start talking about constolations.

The guide then pointed out a wild house cat for 10 minutes.

It’s just how a safari goes, it’s always a bit of luck.

After nearly 3 hours in the pitch black, except for a red tinted spot light that panned the fields, he saw three pairs of eyes. He somehow new they were chettahs from a mile away, and then he took off the required red tint and shined the normal spot light.

Like a house cat following a laser pointer, the cheetahs ran across the field directly to us. Very odd. Right up in front of the car.

The driver said he’d never seen that before, not sure I believe him. As soon as he took off the rent tint they came.

My end conclusion on night safaris is that it’s not worth it. You can see a lot of the night hunting animals in the evening as well. And I’ve seen a cheetah at a similar distance in daylight and it’s a much different experience.

With a spot light you can only see parts of the animal and it’s always shaded in an odd way that doesn’t happen during the day. Plus, you can only see where the spot light shines.

Of course, it doesn’t help that we had poor luck. Daraius said the Cheetahs were the only redeeming part, and Stefan quickly replied that it wasn’t enough to save it. 3+ hours of sitting in the dark doing nothing. I joked that it was the most expensive nap he’s had.

We got back in at 11:30 and we agreed to meet in the morning, all packed by 6am.

 

Day 7: The car, the flight

Somehow we were all able to wake up on time.

We knew that it was at least an hour to get out of the park from the lodge, 4 hours to Windhoek (where we’d get lunch), and then another half an hour to the airport. Our flight was at 3pm.

The only thing we sat and watched on our drive out was an odd scene of a rino chasing an Oryx across a field. The Oryx was barely running, and the rino looked as though it was running out of breath, but it just kept chasing the Oryx. We laughed and moved on, otherwise not stopping.

We grabbed lunch in Windhoek, on the pedestrian mall area and went to return the car… something we were all curious about. We got to the airport around 1:30.

Now the car rental was brand new but you could say we left it a little dirty…

The agents were so caught up on sticking Daraius with details on how dusty the car was, and Daraius agreed to pay the cleaning fee. But it was later that they hunted down Daraius on the air side! Kid you not, he was at the gate and a Hertz agent shows up and had additional marks.

I’ll leave that story for Daraius, assuming he gets around to blogging about it at MillionMileSecrets, and assuming it gets resolved. I’m curious.

 

What I’ll really remember

Traveling as a group was awesome, and almost always is. Both Daraius and Stefan are great people. And as Stefan said, there’s such a camaraderie of traveling as a group. I’d add, especially where you have big goals, like seeing all of Namibia in a week.

It’s funny, because most people might assume that being miles and points bloggers is what we most have in common, but with both of those guys we have much more in common. Sure, we talk about China, India, travel, and all that, but we spend more time talking about values, or philanthropy, or whatever is on our minds.

We’ve spent some time with Daraius before, and see both of them at events a few times a year. But you really get to know someone when you’re trapped in a car together nearly 24/7. And somehow, we didn’t kill each other.

In fact, Daraius and I tried to come up with hot topics that we’d all disagree on, and to Daraius’ disappointment, we all generally agreed. Except on Uber (I’m pro Uber).

 

I confirmed what I knew, that they are both kind people, like most people I suppose. But if that’s your conclusion after that much time together… that’s a good sign.

Both are easy to get along with and try to be good people.

Our biggest differences are that Caroline and I are super extraverted and just want to talk all the time, and they are both introverted. I’d argue that Daraius is way more socially introverted. But, if you’re talking about something he’s really interested in, he can go on forever.

 

Conclusion

Desert Variety Namibia

Namibia was fantastic travel because it’s so unique. As I said, many places were totally unique and I continually thought, “I’ve never seen one of these before”.

The other super interesting thing we were constantly commenting on, is that the landscape is always changing.

We drove up through a more lush area, into a dry Fish “River” Canyon, then into a dry mountainous area. And all that was our first day in Namibia.

Then from the mountains to the sand dunes, then to the bush (where you’d see some wildlife), to the coast. And even going up the coast the scenery changes.

But even when it wasn’t going from mountains to sand dunes, it was still changing. Like in one area the rolling hills up close were made of layers of jagged rock. A hard phenomenon to describe, but again, it was constantly changing to different types of rocks and different colors.

Daraius constantly said that he would return, but let me put it like this…

Are the amazing sand dunes worth seeing? Yes, totally! Would I want to spend a week there? No, not really.

Is the Skeleton Coast super interesting and worth seeing? Yes, totally! Would I want to spend a week there? No, not me.

In general, the places I end up returning to aren’t dry peopleless areas. That’s definitely my bias. But I’ve noticed I like people/culture first. Stefan, on the other hand, says one of his favorite parts of travel is landscape.

Unique to see, for sure, and  it’s the perfect country to road trip with friends. Returning to one place for a week? Nah, it’s a road trip country.

But there are so many other countries even in Africa that I’d love to visit.

As far as traveling with friends, we always love. But it’s always hard to line up schedules, I’m continually trying to line up travel with friends and it’s just hard to make it work. It usually doesn’t pan out. But if we get the chance to travel with them again, that would be awesome.

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30 Comments

  1. Sounds like you had a great time! I was in Namibia in May, and I had a great time as well. I was constantly hoping my next road would be paved, but after the trip, I kept thinking how the place would be crawling with tourists if all of the roads were paved.

    Reply
    • Constantly hoping the next road would be paved. So true! Hah.

      Reply
  2. Great read! Thanks for sharing it with us. We’re really looking forward to our trip there in 2 months!

    Reply
    • Apparently it will be “rainy” season then too. So might even have more color.

      Reply
  3. Drew’s finally back!!!

    Reply
    • And as much as I love traveling and Africa… It’s fantastic to be in the US, and with internet again. 😀

      Reply
  4. It’s all subjective, but I thought Namibia was fantastic after spending two weeks there. Your trip was way too fast for such a vast landscape with so many things to see. We often drove 6 hours or more without seeing another car, so you really need to be self-sufficient on all levels. The dunes are best seen and climbed at sunrise, and even then, there aren’t a lot of people around–in fact, we never encountered many tourists. The heat of the day for the dunes? Not the best time, so not a good idea. But you touched on some of the highlights, so maybe that’s all you needed to see. I’d easily go back, stunning landscapes and interesting country; we met and spent time with local people, including the San Bushmen.

    Reply
  5. Awesome. My wife and i took a similar road trip last December and had a wonderful, memorable time, also complete with flat tire adventures.

    For us one of the highlights was eating dinner at joes beerhouse in Windhoek. They do the communal seating thing so we got to eat and drink with locals and tourists from other parts of Africa.

    Reply
    • Seems the flat tire part isn’t optional. But yes, twas memorable.

      Reply
  6. What an awesome trip! Namibia is on my “next African trip” list alog with Zambia, Ethiopia & Uganda. I’d like to hear more about the lodge you guys stayed at. We prefer self-drive safaris supplemented by guided night safaris which is what we did in Kruger last year.

    I had much the same experience with Hertz trying to nail us on a cleaning charge in Perth and later in Brisbane. In Perth they caught us by surprise but Ina & I cleaned the car the best we could. It’s the red dust you get when you drive through the Outback, we weren’t off-roading or anything like that. In Brisbane we also rented a compact SUV as there were others with us, too many for my personal car but this time we gave the SUV a thorough cleaning at my house before returning it. I insisted on Hertz giving a complete inspection when we returned it and they passed it. A couple months later a “cleaning charge” showed up on my credit card. I complained to Hertz and successfully got it reversed. I wonder if this is a Hertz thing or other car rental companies also try to nail you for cleaning charges?

    I’m still debating on hiring a car in Ecuador to see some national parks in the southern area and the Mindo region near Quito.

    Reply
    • Looks like we have similar “next African trip” lists. Plus I’d like to get to Tanzania.

      The lodges were all just beds to me, but comfy beds, hot water, no wifi. Also no heat, but plenty of blankets. The most unique was the first, on the river. Most basic too.

      I’ve never seen a cleaning fee ever… but I’ve never had a rental car nearly as dirty. For sure. But honestly, if it had rained for 10 minutes we coulda have avoided the entire cleaning fee. They’d still be cleaning it, but it wouldn’t look as obvious. Seems stupid silly.

      Reply
  7. Don’t leave me hanging about the rental car!

    Reply
    • Daraius told me the bill settled and then he got an email saying they were opening a claim. Seems odd since it was already signed. But still waiting on details.

      Reply
  8. Being stuck for hours cooped up with that gang of a-holes sounds like my idea of hell on earth. You couldn’t pay me enough to suffer time spent with those creeps. Ewwww.

    Reply
    • Who died?

      Reply
    • I think for RapidTravelChai, the name calling is uncalled for. For MMS, it’s totally deserved.

      Reply
  9. Ah, the vanished one has re-surfaced. Dr. Livingstone I presume.

    Ah, seriously, what a group! :-) What a journey!

    (and I still want to hear more about Egypt too. :-) )

    Reply
    • Hah 😀
      Egypt recount is coming soonish.

      Reply
  10. This sounds amazing. Please tell me about the next blogger road trip so I can come too!

    Reply
    • We’re always passing each other Caroline. We just need to make it happen!

      Reply
  11. The next blogger road trip should be across Syria. Maybe have some sort of blogger seminar/circle jerk there.

    Reply
  12. Pier 39 San Francisco is inhabited primarily by California sea lions. The fur seals in Namibia are actually a sea lion species and more closely related to sea lions than harbor seals. The ears are a primary distinguishing feature for sea lions compared to true seals.

    Looks like an adventurous journey.

    Reply
    • I typed into google “sea lions” and it autofilled “vs seals”.
      Seeing pictures and seeing one have legs also makes me feel a little silly. lol.

      Yea man. Every trip in Africa that involves changing tires is an adventure. 😀

      Reply
  13. So, who got to ride shotgun? How was the border crossing and how much did the car rental cost? I wish I had done this myself last year when I was in Cape Town!!!!

    Reply
    • Daraius did most of the driving and we were int he back… so Stefan was mostly shotgun, but he drove a bit.

      Crossing the border was easy. Just parked and went inside and stamped.
      Only thing not perfect was the roads, and they weren’t filled with potholes like other countries.

      Reply
  14. Love the write up, especially the Car related aspects… Its one of the most important parts when planning a trip- Getting from Point A to Point B efficiently… And most people I think have a lot of fears when driving abroad. Flat tires and possibly theft especially.
    Our car in Costa Rica has no front or rear plates because it was new, which I thought was odd. We returned it super dirty to Dollar Rental with no problem. I always dread that ‘final inspection’ judgement at the end of a trip.

    Reply
    • I guess you’re right about the fears of driving abroad. People often are shocked when we do self-driving safaris. They perhaps don’t know there are roads, or think you need special skills to drive with animals. In fact, in many places the tour guides are the crazies chasing after elephants with the trucks.

      I will say Latin America traffic/roads have been stressful for me, like in Costa Rica… but it always turns out well.

      Reply
  15. This and the Egypt articles, along with volunteer placements in Tanzania and Uganda I’m trying for (such a pain to contact people directly to avoid ginormous overhead fees by volunteer companies) are making me consider a few weeks in Africa before heading back to the US (trying to hack the Appalachian trail, lol). I found a decent article here http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2010/aug/21/africa-for-beginners-backpacking on some itineraries and budget ideas.

    Did you guys think about doing the Fish River Canyon hike, or was it just lack of time? It looks pretty cool and is cheap enough (according to an article I read it’s around 160 Namibian for entry/hike, about $11. Certainly cheap enough for 5 days! (Not sure if camping is extra though).

    I think biggest problem in Africa budget travel starts before you even get started with expensive visas. East African visa is one solution (3 countries/$100), I hope more take notice.

    Reply
  16. socially introverted :)

    Reply
  17. Was it really 7 days?

    Reply

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We have spent the majority of our marriage traveling full time, living out of hotels.   All the while, we list our expenses publicly, budgeting $25,000 a year for our nomadic life while still staying in mostly 4 or 5 star hotels across ~20 countries a year.
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