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Somewhere Under the Namibian Rainbow

Namibia 1st-11th of March

Windhoek. We needed to leave asap the only place in the world where the names of Nelson Mandela and Robert Mugabe meet at the same crossroads. After all, we had come only to collect a visa (done!), and to locate a friendly garage and supplier for spares to do some maintenance work on our Yamaha (postponed). The only shopping we could afford was a set of Heidenau K60 Scout. Looking quite solid, hopefully these are the last we shave on African roads. One front caliper rubber is broken, so I cleaned the caliper boots, something that needs to be done more regularly from now on. It was also imperative to change the oil, and the only option at that time was the Yamaha dealership. Huge prices there, all I’ll say is that since I put on the Bel Ray 20W50, the clutch started to slip.

Windhoek, where Mugabe + Mandela = L.O.V.E.

The only somewhat affordable accommodation in Windhoek was this backpackers joint. We paid two beds, but of course we cuddled in one, happy that at least we had a decent wifi connection. 

I am having some work done in the hostel yard. 

TKC80, done

We had had a pretty intense week: Ana’s b-day party, not in Cape Town, as planned, but among lovely people. We had also encountered 3 German dudes and their dog, determined to bicycle from Cape Town to Berlin in 4 months. Ahead of us, the rainy season was cooling off, epic cloudscapes still threatening with thunder, but already too week to spread their rainbows downy to the earth. Dry season was nearing, and we were loving the news.

Beer, wine, braai and two joyful girls (Melissa and Ana)

South African Merlot

Meeting our fellow nomads, Daniel 1, Daniel 2 and Pirco

Important health and visa information was exchanged… 

Clouds stretched a fading rainbow above… 

We pitched out nomad home under the stars and at 9 p.m. a full moon cast shadows over the veld 

The little used road that links Windhoek to the southern part of Namib Naukluft was supposedly beautiful, but the ride exceeded our expectations. The gravel swirled up across a breathtaking succession of passes, hairpins cut through golden veld punctuated by wind-powered water pumps, travelled by families of thick furred baboons. Wild flowers were putting kuler to shame and quartz filtered the last rays of the day.

I spotted a breach in this alpine bungee, in the monotonous horizontal of wire fencing, a chance, an opportunity. So I took it, and found another stunning wild camp.

Translucent boulders scattered 

Months of wild camping paid off: we had become pretty good at smelling a good spot

Another sunset… 

Another moonrise!

We gathered near a fire, then the strong cold wind forced us inside. The spartan morning was fast, wind still blowing untamed, but luckily the air got hotter as we descent down to the desert. Our first stop was at the Tropic of Capricorn signpost. We were preparing to take the compulsory photo, when a guy on a BMW F 650 Dakar passed by. Minutes later Reiner, original from Cape Town and just returning from a 3 week solo ride through the region, came back. It was the beginning of a fun 3 and a half day marathon to the Mother Town; sometimes we rode together, sometimes we separated, only to meet again for a pie in Solitaire, a beer in Sesriem, or a chat about how we could not afford the ridiculous price for a safari in the famous Dead Vlei (another park forbidden to motorbikes). The gravel roads were excellent, wide and empty, only vast herds of hundreds of zebras, springboks, oryx, giraffes and ostriches shared them with us.

Far from the Ecuator, memories of Sahara also lingered

Riders understand each other: the gravel was fair, the sky deep, the rain threatened to come. But we rev our bikes into the black eye of the storm, confident that we would find over the next horizon a quiet place to camp.

The smell of dry desert lingered, but the real drama was unfolding above; we needed to stop before the last 590 kilometers to the canyon and we knew had found the right spot, under yet another epic rainbow.  

After the fabulous show of the sunset, the morning felt calm and clear: we rode along the scarlet dunes of the desert, born thousands of miles away, in the Drakensberg mountains, from where the Orange River sweeps ochre sand into the cold Benguela current. The massive dunes – one of the most extreme and inhospitable ecosystems in the world – are stingily covered with detritus. This fragile layer of dry and dead plant and animal debris is the basis of food web in the desert. After a good night of fog, it can contain up to 60% of its weight in water, and as low as 2-4% during the day.

Reiner

A few hours of non-stop riding later we had arrived at the last turn towards our last Namibian target. Which we celebrated with the last couple of beers with Reiner.

Crisp Windhoek Lager, another tank filled and another stretch of gravel to the second largest canyon in the world and the largest in Africa. Fish River Canyon opened below into a gigantic dolomite ravine, some 160 km long, up to 27 km wide and 550 metres deep. The river, 650 million years old, cuts intermittently into the dry, stony plateau, sparsely covered with drought-resistant plants. But it was the end of summer, so only a few long narrow pools still lingered.

We spend a bit too much time gazing into the canyon, witting for the sun to set, snacking on a brief dinner. Setting off in the already deep darkness, we knew it was too late to reach our meeting point with Reiner. Riding at low visibility avoiding the wildlife proved quite demanding, so soon after we could exit the protected area we stopped to set camp. 

A lonely, romantic place, only the jackals kept calling into the night

The last sunrise in Namibia. The next one would happen on South African territory, where we were about to proudly set a record, driving the first motorbike from Bucharest to Cape Town.

Kilometer by kilometer the sheer rock faded away into an infinite moonscape. It was the end of the world. Blue, flat, an artificial-looking sky floated upon an even stranger papier-mâché of sand and brittle gravel. Was that the right way? How could that surreal nothingness become something again? 

But suddenly we saw the tarmac snake, a cruel, perfect cut across the desert, leading straight to one of the most important borders, the one that separates black, vernacular Africa from the African America.

We had butterflies in our stomach: we would soon cross, after nine months as intense as nine lives, into South Africa. After the fundamental Mauritania – Mali, Benin – Nigeria and DRC Zambia frontiers, we ventured again, full throttle, into the unknown.   

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