Namibia is turning out to be my dream destination – desert wilderness, starry skies and not a lot of tourists. Unlike Cape Town and the beautiful 'Garden Route' (which were packed solid) I get the feeling that a lot of the people I met in South Africa don't find the idea of barren landscapes that appealing. They want sandy beaches, good fish restaurants, picturesque vineyards, cultural attractions and a thriving bar scene. And you can't get that here. Namibia is a destination you choose if you don't mind roughing it, because you aren't a fussy eater, and when spending time alone doesn't fill you with trepidation and despair. In short it's my kind of place.
But all good things come to an end and I've got to start moving if I want to make it to Zimbabwe this side of spring. I've been travelling with three Swedish girls - we teamed up down in the south - and last week we rented a car together, splitting all expenses heading north to Etosha National Park. Etosha is an enormous salt pan (coloured white) covering 120 kms by 50 kms and actually visible from space (or so they say). It also has a large number of springs and water holes, making it a great venue for Big Game watching and in the last few days we've seen all kinds of wildlife, including giraffes, zebras, springboks, black-faced impalas and lions. It's also a mecca for hundreds of species of birds and reptiles, so I'm glued to my binoculars for several hours a day.
In the end. we end up spending several days there and I'm in my element. We've splashed out on a 'Bush Chalet' at the Okaukuejo Rest Camp; it has a thatched roof, real beds and a fully-stocked kitchenette. After almost two weeks of camping, getting under real sheets at night is a serious luxury. There is also (dare I admit it!) a swimming pool in the camp, so between game viewings, I'm splashing around happily. I wouldn't call myself spoilt, but this is the closest I've come to comfort since leaving Cape Town.
After my intrepid hitching adventures and nights under the stars, I feel I'm due a few days of it. In the evenings, after cooking, we head off to the nearby floodlit waterhole, complete with observation platform, and one night are rewarded by the sight of an elephant and her baby arriving to quench their thirsts. My only 'complaint' is that I don't get to spy a black rhino but, other than that, it is too marvellous for words...
So it is with a heavy heart that, this morning, I part company with the girls, who are driving back to Windhoek to catch an evening flight home to chilly Stockholm. Rather than return with them to the capital (which is in the opposite direction to Zimbabwe) I've decided to chance my luck one last time and thumb it to the border, via a sliver of land named the Caprivi Strip.
It's a panhandle, surrounded by four rivers (including the mighty Zambezi) and shares borders with Angola, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe which means it's home to wetlands and wildlife galore. It's is also home to at least six different tribes (who, I'm told, all communicate through the Zambian dialect Lozu). There is a 'capital' of sorts, going by the name of Katima Mulilo, but what interests me more are the endless villages along the route. For this, I will sacrifice a bed and a swimming pool, not to mention a cold beer at 7pm!
The girls drop me at Tsumeb, named 'The Gateway to the North...' They're more nervous than I am about my hitching and beg me to write them a postcard. once I've make it safely to the Victoria Falls. I tell them not to worry, that all will be well, and then after one more hug goodbye I wave hard until they're out of sight.
I sit down and the side of the road feeling (and not without good reason, I suppose) a little isolated. I know there's a road that leads to Zimbabwe but, other than that, I'm clueless. On my map, the Strip's shape is odd and juts out like a pointed finger. It's almost as if its waggling at me an accusatory fashion, scolding me, chiding me, sending me ominous messages, like: “How dare you not take me seriously?” and “What about the heavy rains, the water-logged roads, the dangerous animals and rampant malaria...?” and “Proceed with caution.”
But, of course, I am not deterred. For better or worse, I am not an overly trepidatious person but, even if I were, it's too late now....the girls have driven away. I'm back on my own, with a dusty backpack, a stash of biscuits, plenty of water and a floppy hat. It's onwards and upwards, literally, towards Victoria Falls and the mighty Zambezi...