(and what was gained)
What happens when you combine three blond Finnish girls, a strange welsh man, a temperamental 4x4 called Imogen, and a gay Zambian alcoholic albino giraffe (inflatable)? A four-and -a-half week road trip across Namibia, of course. Duh.
I hitchhiked to Windhoek from Livingstone with a broken finger, Fred, and two apples for lunch. Nineteen hours,1500 kilometres and two drunk Zambian truck drivers later, I got to see the first city lights in over six months. It was worth it.
After celebrating Rich's 30th in a Cuban bar and generally being drunk for a few days, we walked across every suburb in Windhoek looking for the rental company where we would pick up our first car, little blue Edith, who would be our mobile home for the next two weeks. Oh the excitement- suddenly, I was not confined to the motorways and bus schedules, but we were free to go anywhere- anywhere!
We ended up driving back and forth to the airport nine times over the next few weeks. Oh, joy of freedom.
Hanna had sprained her ankle, and as she was arriving a few days late, Rich and I needed something to keep us busy for the initial days without taking us too far from the delights of Windhoek airport. So we drove to Usakos, where Nick lives, a Peace Corps guy we met in Windhoek, and who promised to lend us his tent, and he kindly let us camp on his backyard for our first and last night of the trip. Nick, in turn, set us up with his volunteer friend Eric in Marienthal, and Eric then set us up with Paddy and Jacob in Luderitz- so it went, and I slept on more Peace Corps sofas than I'd set out to. Fantastic.
Rich and I drove to Harnas animal sanctuary, east of Windhoek, truly off the backpacker track, and it is (seriously) one of my highlights ever. I got to cuddle one-month old baby lion cubs and play with their slightly older mates. I needed to be dragged out kicking and screaming. At each animal-related stop Rich checked to see how many baby animals I'd stowed in the boot. He still hasn't found the baby cheetah in my bag.
Hanna arrived, sans bags, so we drove back to the airport again to pick up her stuff the next day. By then, I was well and truly ready to leave Windhoek as far behind as possible, and so we headed south, with no particular plan, intending to stop before the South African border. Or maybe not.
Too many wonderful and fabulous things have happened to actually list them all, but the highlights (and lowlights) have been plenty. A lot of sitting in a hot car, listening to random German-sounding radio stations, writing journals with wobbly handwriting, resting our eyes and playing car-related games, staring blankly ahead, lost in thoughts, making mustard sandwiches on bumpy roads that are not even listed on maps, getting stuck in mud, getting lost, getting stuck in sand, getting stuck in small towns called Solitaire or Hardap (which, by the way, means nipple in Nama language) and meeting new friends, all of whom have been photographed with our inflatable giraffe, Fred.
Susanne arrived two weeks into the trip, and we returned Edith and picked up the four-wheel, Imogen, and headed west and then north. We camped at Sossusvlei, and I got to photograph my heart out in Dead Vlei, a strange pan in the middle of the desert with dead tree trunks and lots of orange sand and blue sky. We did extreme sports in Swakopmund, camped in the middle of nowhere in a place with no name (simply mapped out as “Mile 108”) on a windy beach, drove through the remote skeleton coast with nothing but shipwrecks and seals. We saw ancient cave paintings in Twyfelfontein, and crossed the border into Angola illegally (OK, only for a few minutes or so...) after watching the huge, impressive Ruacana falls right by the edge, with no one else around. We introduced the inflatable giraffe to live ones in Etosha National Park and watched a lion pass our car by, non-plussed and magnificent.
The moment I nearly ripped my lonely planet into tiny pieces- when we drove an entire day to the middle of nowhere to look at “famous hot springs”, the Ai-Ai's- It was the size of a child's paddling pool with a squirt of hot water. Letdown of the year.
The moment when I felt a bit breathless- when we drove from Aus to Luderitz, on an empty road through the desert, with purple mountains in the hazy horizon and wild horses grazing along the side of the road, in a fairytale setting.
The moment when I actually was breathless- when Susanne and I jumped out of an airplane in Swakopmund, into the vast desert, aiming for the circular rainbow below us.
The moment when I couldn't stop laughing- when we stayed at Quiver Tree forest in Keetmanshop, and I rode Fred on a trampoline, in a slightly timburton-ish strange spiky forest, watching a sunset so orange no photo-shopped picture could ever match it.
The oddest thing- watching sunset over the huge Fish River Canyon, drinking a glass of red wine with Hanna, and getting strangely tipsy so that we giggled the whole way to the campsite, and Rich threatened to leave us in the desert for the hyenas.
The scariest moment in Namibia- when we went to the bottle shop in Windhoek on Saturday afternoon and were told we couldn't buy beer until Monday- sales for alcohol closed at 1pm.
The last few nights have been spent in Tsumeb, eating pizza and not doing much else, and back in Usakos, where we returned the tent to Nick. Back here in Windhoek, it feels like the end of something, and a bit sad, although we are all needing our own space now, and heading to different directions- Susanne back home to Finland, Hanna to Mozambique, Rich and I to watch the Kuomboka ceremony in Zambia. But there's still time to get the inflatable giraffe drunk, one more time. There is always time to get an inflatable gay Zambian albino giraffe drunk.
Oh, and what was lost in the desert? Any desire, intention or need to go back to Europe for another 9-5 recruitment job, for over-priced flats, wineglass coasters, dinner parties, queuing, late-train announcements, high heels or office Christmas parties. And so I'm not really coming back, not really, not for longer than I have to- I want to be back in Africa by September/October, and then go somewhere else, anywhere else. It's amazing what a good sunset can do to you