This morning in the desert of the remote Sesriem is dedicated to bike maintenance. It’s not because I am so close to my goal now, with the hardest adventure and worst roads behind me, that I should relax and skip it. I still have 2000 km to cycle and it would be still annoy me to break something. Severe breakdowns always follow a lazy maintenance scheme, so I’m taking advantage of having water and power at my luxurious camp site to dismount and oil everything.
I’m pretty sure I have a slow leak on the rear tube, so patching is on the list too. And I finally give time to my bar-end mirror. I’ve broken it at least five times, and glued it back each time. When on the kick stand, it happens that my bicycle falls down because of the wind or just wrong balance. And if it falls on the side of the bar-end mirror, it just breaks the plastic articulation. It happened for the first time in Gabon.
This time, I won’t use glue but try something more robust: I have a hacksaw blade, so I can shape the plastic bits and screw them back into the handlebar tube. With this, I hope I won’t be mirrorless again.
It’s already twelve when I go on for more cycling. The next town (like in a place with more than 2 families) is in more than 300 kilometers.
I leave on my fresh bike and on the fresh road. The tourists having in general no time to go further south, it will be very quiet riding days.
The road is pretty bad, because the gravel is loose, and making me go very slow. If I don’t have the luck of passing soon after the road grader, and use a remote road during a peak of traffic (for example, at the top of the tourist season, just like now), then the Namibian road network doesn’t look as good as usual.
On the other hand, so as to kill time during my slow progression, there are a lot of gemsbok (oryx) to watch grazing on both sides of the road.
Further on that road, I pass by the least probable structure in this kind of landscape: a castle.
This castle is a luxury lodge and spa, called Le mirage. It’s about 20 km from the tourist spot of Sesriem, but there almost nothing around this lodge (hmm, that’s a sentence that applies to most of Namibia anyway). A few kilometers ahead, there is kind of a nice farm-like building, maybe for the managers. And a kilometer after, on the other side of the road, there are a few shacks and dilapidated houses, for the lodge employees (as it is often). That’s where I refill my water bottles, just in case I see no houses tomorrow, and the people there tell me the lodge-castle is full. It is then a successful example of how making nonsense with tourism can work.
The road I follow, the C27, turns right, still going south. If I head straight, I would join the C19 and reach Maltahöhe 140 km later, the biggest town of the area with 6000 inhabitants.
The sun is now setting and I still don’t have a suitable camping spot. Fences are everywhere, and mountains are close, but the sand/gravel of the land is too lose to push my bicycle there within a reasonable time. Even on the road itself, I can’t go faster than 10 km/h, as the gravel surface resembles more sand than laterite. Luckily, in the last minutes of daylight, I find an old concrete water tank just behind a broken fence, so it’s perfect for hiding my tent from the road.
The evening is very silent, but I can hear cars and a very soft buzz afar. It’s probably the generators of the nearest farmhouses, as I know see a few lights afar, about 4 km away according to my relief map of the region. When it’s that quiet, and without any wind, small noise can travel really far. While eating my spaghetti with sweet and sour sauce (hmmmm!), a long “Huuuuuuuuuuuuuu” escapes from the hill just near me.
Another hill, opposite, replies with another “Huuuuuuuuuuuuuuu“. For over a minute, many strong and eerie howls (like this one) will fill up the silence. It must be jackals, as they are plenty in the region. They can attack a calf, but they would never attack humans. I was told that if one gets close to me, without being scared, then it might have rabies. Well, overall, I’m less worried with jackals than with hyenas. But I will keep the tent closed just in case …
I had the tent flysheet flapping in the wind all night long, and the strong wind is still here when I wake up. It was much warmer than the other nights though, as if temperatures can change at the same elevation within 20 km.
From now on, the land around me is finally fence-less! And it does look better. Farms in this area are so big and can sustain only a few animals, so these fences looked useless anyway. There are no fences during most of my day because I am crossing the NamibRand nature reserve. It’s a private nature reserve, the largest in Southern Africa, founded by a handful of farmers who joined their land together and removed the fences. It is now over 2000 km2, almost the size of Luxembourg. And the C27 passes right into it.
The road is still bad for cycling, with loose gravel and corrugations, but the views are splendid. There are even red dunes of soft earth.
I have been hearing a suspect noise in my rear wheel for a while now, and it’s not the gravel. When I stop to inspect it, I realize I had lost a screw on the rear rack! That same screw at the bottom right of the rack that almost came off on the very bad roads of the Ring Road in Northern Cameroon. This time it is gone, but fortunately I have many spares: these 5mm allen screws are needed all over my bike.
During the entire day, there is only one farm close enough to the road, 2 km on my left. I visit it to fetch water, which I get despite no one showing up. There is a massive solar panel installation though. It’s OK, I probably won’t get the chance to speak to anyone today.
There are many oryx crossing my road. Locals often say it’s the best meat. And it’s also easily available, since they are wild animals, but come now and then on the farms to get shot and transformed into biltong.
The road improves towards the end, like if it has been recently graded, and at sunset, having had enough of my own time in my thousands of square kilometers, I check in at the first farm by the road, Werelend, which happens to also run a campsite.
This is not a luxury campsite, and I doubt people ever stop here, but, camping just behind the owner’s house, I enjoy a hot shower and set up my sheltered from the wind. It’s now time to play with that pet oryx.
Oryx are not supposed to be pets.They are wild, just like warthogs and meerkats, yet I have seen a domesticated version of each, previously on Namibian farms. Actually they are gemsboks, a species of the genus oryx.
I don’t recall its full story, but it sounded like this: a baby oryx was found abandoned on the farm land, and taken care of into the farm. It grew up with the dog. Although the oryx was supposed to be in the farm only until he was big enough to be out in the wild on his own, playing with the dog got it a horn broken.
And with a broken horn, it’s almost obvious that a male oryx cannot join a herd. He would be bullied and rejected by the competition. So the oryx with the broken horn, looking like a unicorn with an earring, is still hanging today by the farm, on the other side of the fence. I don’t know if it wants receive food, all I know is that it won’t eat spaghetti, and that it tries to hit me with its non-existent horn.
From now on, there seems to be more civilization than near Sesriem. On my paper tourist maps, there are several circles between here and Aus, the tar road.
The trick is that the paper tourist maps print a circle of the same size for a farm of 5 inhabitants and a town of 20’000, like Tsumeb. How deceiving! Yet, the situation is slightly better than around Sesriem or the Khomas Highland, where all the farms are very remote, and many into luxury tourism. From now on, the farms seem more “social”, in a way that they are located at crossroads of national dirt roads, and not at the end of 10 km of private road. And if they are represented with a circle on the map, it is possible they operate a small shop or a campsite.
But first, after saying goodbye to the gemsbok, I’ll have to brave the elements. Luckily, the wind is not slowing me down, and even helping a little. The road is good again and I’m just cruising in a fantastic scenery (I must be repeating myself, but that’s just how Namibia is).
If they took the pain to signalize the wind and sand, it must be getting pretty bad sometimes.
I’ve seen too often electric lines along the road, abandoned, or slightly broken. For sure, not maintained. From what I heard, I would say it’s because many farmers have switched to an all-solar-power generation, the investment being quickly much more advantageous than paying NamPower to maintain cables in the middle of nowhere for the sake of a few farms.
The first farm-at-a-crossroads I meet, and the last for the day, is called Betta. It has a circle on the maps just like a big city (by Namibian standards),and it’s maybe because it provides for everything someone stranded there would need: petrol station, bakkie and tyre repair, small shop, café, camping, rooms, phone signal, and even a few souvenirs! I take there a long break and refill on food with half a kilo of droëwors, the most useful way to carry meat on a bicycle in Namibia.
It’s still too early to sleep here, but it might be wiser to leave in the morning with a complete stock of water. Indeed, what’s coming next is the mighty D707. I have heard enough about this road, and that’s where I am heading to. It has been described as the most scenic road of Namibia, but also as the toughest by Dave: lots of sand and no water. From Betta to Aus, the D707 lasts for almost 200 km.
Since I know how Namibia can make the unprepared traveler feel very powerless and stupid, I’d rather play it safe. But there is a label on my GPS indicating something 20 km further. After confirming with several people that there’s water there, I get back on the saddle and cycle a bit more until the Spes Bona farm.
It’s almost night and there are several houses there. There will be no problem for me to get water, so it makes a nice place to camp before engaging on the D707. I just have to announce myself to the owner.
I roam around the complex, trying to find someone. The three or four nice houses are fenced and a very angry dog does its job at keeping me away. On the other side of the road, there are much simpler houses and shacks, with chicken and other animals running in between. That’s for the workers. One of them tells me the boss will come back shortly, so I keep roaming around the empty nice houses. It’s now night time.
Suddenly, the boss comes back with a rifle in one hand. It looks quite cliché so far, but I can’t help it, that how it is. The rifle is not for me, he’s probably back from hunting. As usual, I explain my story, cycling, blah blah blah, and he coldly answers that I can camp anywhere.
Basically, I’m just looking for one or two walls to be sheltered from the wind. I thought wind stops during the night, but it’s not always true. I finally set up my tent behind his second house, empty, which looks like a little palace. Almost anywhere in West Africa, I would be answered “I can’t let you sleep outside, you’re my guest!“, but I don’t complain, as I just need water and a spot to build my tent. It seems also true that generally, the more people have, the less they share.
Well, in the case of Namibia, things are more complicated. White people cycling in the bush are not sent by God and tourists sleeping in their tents are already plenty, and everyone knows they do it on purpose. I can’t really state generalities about the White farmers of Namibia, but from my experience, I could say that half are very friendly, inviting and smiling, while the other half remains very cold.
For sure, life in such a remote and arid place is not fun. These people must have arrived here from Germany and South Africa,and took a huge piece of land where nothing grows and where no one would want to go. They ended up with 5 or 10 or 15 thousand hectares of sand and gravel where it barely rains and had to survive with it, building everything from scratch, with no help from anyone else.
And now, they have a farm, cattle and workers, and considering the price of the land they own and the house they built, they are easily multimillionaires (in €). A good million or two for the land, plus the cattle, and mini palaces. Of course, they are only a minority among the 8% of Whites that make up the Namibian population (and I’m sure there is a fair amount of farm owners, rich in assets, but making just enough cash). What I wonder is how weird it must feel to still be doing the farming hard work, when, alongside, tourists are willing to pay a lot of euros just to sleep there, enjoy the desert and the stars, and eat a bit of meat.
The transition seems pretty simple: put a “luxury lodge” sign on the farm, clean your rooms, receive tourists, and stop working in the fields. In the desert, it looks like half the cattle farms along the roads are now campsites or luxury lodges. Campsites especially look like easy money. On the other hand, I’ve met one who thinks that cattle and Black workers are easier to manage than tourists, because they never complain. Some have both (i.e. cattle and a campsite), still doing the farming -> tourism transition. Tourism looks like easy money indeed, but it may be even less reliable than the weather.
Anyhow, I focus on that D707 road. The next three days will be dry and tough!