To Windhoek - By Hook Or Crook

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Windhoek, Namibia
Thursday, February 7, 2013

The full import of our about turn decision in Bulawayo to go west hit us when it was time to move on from Botswana to Namibia. The route was a straightforward paved road of some 800 km to Windhoek. The problem was that buses connecting the two countries ceased operations several years ago. One can get on Botswana public buses to the town of Charleshill which is 8 km from the border in Mamuno. We heard that one can request the driver to drive to the border post. From then on, one has to hitchhike or self-drive. We had made a far more difficult crossing earlier in this trip (Karamyk crossing from Tajikistan to Kyrgyzstan) and had hitched a ride on a private vehicle on our return from Jeti Oguz, so this would not be the first time. However, we are not completely comfortable hitchhiking and so were anxious to get to Windhoek quickly. We learnt that there was a Rest Camp on the Namibian side of the border (Buitepos) in case we get stranded at night. We inquired at our Backpackers Lodge and found no one else bound for the border except for our South Korean friend on the Mokoro trip. She had first contemplated boarding the Victoria Falls-Windhoek bus that passes through Botswana but is not allowed to disembark any passengers. We were not clear if it was even legal to board that bus in Botswana. The modus operandi seemed to be to wait at a particular petrol station where the bus normally stopped for a few minutes. She gave up that idea and opted to hitch by herself. 

The half-eight (8:30 am) bus from Maun to Ghanzi (Haan-sie) got us part way by lunch time, but we only had 20 minutes to hop on to the Mamuno bus (we were happy that the name of the border post was on the bus, so we did not have to make a special request). We managed to get a few quick eats in the supermarket situated at the bus terminal. After a few turnoffs on the mostly deserted desert highway and one "foot and mouth" stop that required everyone to walk over a wet patch of land, the ride was mostly uneventful. The crew who sold us the tickets started collecting back the tickets from passengers in exchange for a few coins. We could not figure the rationale behind this and asked them but could not comprehend their reply. We insisted on holding on to our tickets as souvenirs. We asked a few fellow passengers about the border crossing but none of them had any idea. It appeared that we were the only ones headed for the border. It was amusing to hear the loud groans of protest when the driver sped past the Charleshill turnoff and headed straight for the border. Sure, it meant an extra 16 km for everyone on the bus, but it meant that we got that extra daylight to find room in a passing car.

It was an extreme contrast at the Botswana exit post compared to our ordeal at Ramokgwebana, just 5 days ago. There were only a few others but we noted that they had their own vehicle and it was packed full. It started raining on the 200m path between the border posts and we managed to walk across before it came down too hard, even managing to get photos of the signs on the border. After getting stamped into Namibia, we came out of the building looking to see if there were any vehicles heading into Namibia. We did not see any but we recognized a couple of men sitting on the steps outside who had come with us on the bus and asked what they were planning. They mentioned that they will take a taxi to Gobabis (115 km) for N$50, a very reasonable amount given the distance and paucity of other options. But does such a taxi service exist or is it just a fantasy? It turned out to be a very real service as we were approached by a driver of one as we were speaking to them. Within minutes we had gone from cluelessly waiting to comfortably sitting in the back of a Mazda 323 heading off into the empty horizon on a beautifully paved road. Dark rain bearing clouds loomed large enhancing the beauty of the stark landscape. We waved cheerfully at the Rest Camp just outside the border post that could have been our sleeping quarters for the night.

Halfway into our ride the car exhibited signs of discomfort, lurching forward inelegantly. Any traveler through Africa is taught the TIA (This is Africa) mantra and is taught to use this to calm one's nerves when adversity strikes. But our driver's reaction was anything but TIA. He was clearly puzzled "What is the matter today?". He smartly figured that it was a dirty fuel filter and after applying some vacuum suction therapy on the ailing part, he was able to restore it to working condition. A few km later, smoke appeared from behind the windshield forcing another stoppage. Even this was rectified in a few minutes and we continued on our wobbly way on the lonely highway. The stops gave us the chance to photograph the spectacular Namibian horizon.

The sun was on its way down the horizon as we neared Gobabis and we wondered if we should try and push on to Windhoek (another 200 km away) tonight or find a place to stay in Gobabis for the night. We were not sure if there would be any public transport heading for the capital at this time of the day. We asked the taxi driver if it was possible and his response was that he was heading for Windhoek tonight and for an additional N$110 per person, we could go with him. Despite its two recent breakdowns, the Mazda seemed to be holding up well and the thought of simply staying put for another 200 km was very inviting and so we agreed.

There was still the small matter of acquiring Namibian dollars and we lost no time in doing so at an ATM in town. The driver stopped outside a supermarket for us to get some refreshments. When we came out, he informed us that he had decided to get his vehicle looked at in Gobabis tomorrow but had found another driver heading for Windhoek. So we moved our bags to the other vehicle. We still had to wait in Gobabis till he filled up the car with 2 more persons bound for Windhoek. A smartly dressed young woman took up the first spot. After waiting a half-hour, he gave up and started driving towards Windhoek with only 3, just as the horizon turned pink in the dying daylight with the lightning and thunder in the distance.

The young woman, Natasha, revealed to us that she was headed to Windhoek to appear for a scholarship interview at the Indian consulate the next morning for a possible seat at one of three Indian unversities. Her choice of major varied between management and computer technology. She had been encouraged to do so by a Namibian Indian whom she texted right away excitedly announcing that she was with a couple of Indian natives. A series of rapid texts followed with the usual questions coming from her mentor. He offered that he was the only sardar in all of Windhoek. 

Natasha's father was Herero and her mother was originally from Angola. Her mother's family moved to Namibia in an effort to escape widespread troubles in that country. She spoke at length about her family and how they were incredulous of her decision to leave Namibia for a period of time to pursue educational opportunities in India.  
She was anxious to do well in her interview and we offered to do a mock interview for her in the taxi. We grilled her for the next few minutes (How do you make Masala Dosa? Who is Mithun Chakraborthy? How come you are applying for both management and computer technology? etc.) and even suggested "smart" answers to a few questions. She gave us her email address so we can check the status of her application, but unfortunately it bounced. We hope she got what she was looking for.

It was past 9 pm when we arrived at Windhoek. It was drizzling a little as we drove past Sam Nujoma Drive (we saw that every Namibian town had one such named after their first head of state post-Independence) in a very South African looking city with a strong German flavor with street names ending in strasse and hof and berg. Clean roads with bright lane markings and speeding cars. We got to our first choice backpackers hostel and were relieved to see that they had room. Even though it was quad room, the staff member agreed to give it to us for two nights for the price of a double. They had a self-catering kitchen and we made quick work of 2 Maggi Noodles (Cape Chutney flavor!) before winding down to sleep after our manic 800 km trek in a single day across Southern Africa. Welcome to Namibia! Lets see what tomorrow brings!

Google Maps Link



Wow - what a trek. Although compared to some of your border crossings in the stans, this almost seems like a piece of cake for you seasoned journeyers.

Ha Ha on your mock interview with the lady. Hope she got in.

Can't wait to hear about Namibia. Other than Frankie Fredricks, I know nothing about that country. Its huge, has very few people and I now know there is one Sardar :) From Ramesh, on Mar 3, 2013 at 04:54PM

Pictures & Video

Botswana to Namibia
Botswana to Namibia
Vehicle breakdown on the way to Gobabis
Vehicle breakdown on the way to Gobabis
Route Map - Maun to Windhoek (813 km)
Route Map - Maun to Windhoek (813 km)
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