Life on the slow road

28 Jul

Mandy here as a guest writer, hello blog followers!

As most of you probably already know, we have made it to our work destination Katima Mulilo in the Caprivi region of Namibia.

We have been so fortunate to receive all the assistance that we did leading up to and including our arrival here in Katima, and we thank all of you for your support.

Since Hap has already taken you through the first part of our cycling journey from Rundu to Katima, he wanted me to fill in the gaps and tell a story or two about the remainder of our cycling trip.

This was the part that I was a bit apprehensive about: cycling through the 190km of Bwabwata National Park. This area has been made into a game reserve, so the native tribes and others are obviously no longer allowed to hunt the animals within this area, therefore creating a higher concentration of wildlife. Great if you’re on a safari, but not the best if you are planning to go through it on two wheels!

The B8 highway that we took during our entire journey literally bisects the park in two, so we were surrounded on both sides by game reserve. Additionally, the game reserve starts and ends either side of two different rivers, the Okovango and the Kwando, which means 50km or so on either end there should be an even higher density of wildlife as animals tend to not stray too far from a water source.

Judging by what everyone had told us, we were expecting to see elephants, not only on the side of the road, but in the middle of the road. We had read about, searched on google and cross referenced with everyone we met how to avoid being charged by an elephant. There are signs every 10-20km with exclamation! Elephants! 80km! Warning motorists to slow down and be aware.

In the end it was all a bit anti climatic! We spotted a few majestic giants from afar, but they were deep enough in the bush that we don’t even have a photo to prove it!

Our first day of part II of the trip was a big day for us, 80km to the first town we could stay at: we didn’t want to get caught having to camp on the side of the road! Once again the friendly Peace Corp train came through for us and we had smiling hosts awaiting us at Omega upon our arrival.

As soon as we wheeled our bikes up the main road of Omega and met our hosts, we knew we’d have to stay a couple nights.

Not only were we greeted with friendly faces eager to show us the most generous hospitality, but we were somewhat put under a spell by Omega’s unique existence and we had to have a day to explore.

Street lights with no running electricity in Omega.

We had been to quite a few villages and seen pretty much the same thing: thatched huts, mud huts, some concrete buildings. Usually there was one water pump for the smaller communities to share, and fences made of natural materials.

Omega is utterly and completely a different place.

Omega feels like a more western style town with all the power lines, water towers, brick buildings and leafy trees for shade. I guess ghost town might be a more accurate description. In the 70s this place was actually an army base, and you can imagine how it once was, it it’s prime.

I will not go into history of the war, but I can give you the general gist of what I know: Once this place was abandoned by the army, this village was given to some of the local tribes. Most of these tribes were hunter/gatherer people who depended on the abundance of wildlife in the area for survival and traditional ceremonies.

Once the Namibian government proclaimed the area a National Park, these people were prohibited from hunting or living there, and therefore were given this area to live. Since they could no longer go about their traditional ways, the government also had to start providing provisions for them on a regular basis. One of the volunteers we were staying with likened the situation somewhat to the Native Americans of North America and the ‘reservations’ of land that were given to them by the government there. The similarity of a traditional people being relocated and as a result becoming entirely dependent on the government is undeniable.

As a result these are the types of things you see in Omega: house after house of roofless, abandoned buildings; homes with zinc roofing as fences; giant warehouses that used to be the ‘supermarket’ of the army base, now housing a mini market of basics in what used to be the cleaning closet, leaving the rest of the gigantic building empty; swimming pools ¼ full with a toxic mix of stagnant water and rubbish; water towers that are either rusted out, leaking or just not working; electricity lines running all through the town, but not one person with power that does not come from a generator (and most don’t even have that, but have to rely on poaching power from the few generators that are in town).

It was a one of a kind experience to stay in this town and hear the stories about how dysfunctional things had become. There is literally an amazing, beautiful, wood burning oven next to the abandoned mess hall that could be used, but no one can be bothered. Maybe I’ll go back and start up a pizza restaurant!

The best part of staying in Omega was the warm dose of hospitality we received from Gretchen and Paul, both US Peace Corp volunteers, and the Romanian volunteer, Lucas. We joined their simple existence for a couple of days and relished in the experience. On our first night we were offered hot water off the fire for washing up, which was amazing! Even though they have no running water or electricity, there was no complaining. Everything just got done a little slower. Every morning and every evening a fire must be made to heat water and cook food. This is how most people live that we have come into contact with. It’s just part of the daily routine.

After two nights at Omega, Hap and I were ready to take on the rest of the game reserve. We slept our next night near the police station in neighbouring Omega III (just your average village with a school, water pump and some huts), and then made the long haul the next day for the Kongola area, signalling the end of the national park. We were happy to see water again, and even happier to get to the shop at the petrol station where they had fresh bread that was still warm! I think we both ate ourselves into a coma that day!

After visiting another bike workshop in neighboring village, Singalamwe, we were on a mission to get to Katima before the weekend. We wanted to have a bit of time to rest and get in touch with our contacts in Katima before starting the project on the Monday. After three days in a row of at least 70km, we were ready to arrive at our destination!

As recommended by people we met, as well as the Lonely Planet, we set up shop at the Protea Hotel campground, right on the Zambezi river. That was a welcomed sight after all our hard work getting there. Couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful spot……and they even had HOT showers! Amazing!

I never thought I would even ride my bike more than, oh, say 30km in one day. I guess I never really thought about it before, and when Hap suggested that we travel Africa on bikes, it took more than a little encouragement for me to get used to the idea.

The more I researched cycle touring, the more I realized how common and how easy it is to do, even for a true beginner. I have always enjoyed riding a bike, but am far from a serious cyclist. Hap’s the same! The 10-20km we would ride daily in Melbourne was the most either of us had ever ridden a bike.

Now that I have cycled 600km across northern Namibia, I feel like I could definitely do more. There are so many advantages to travelling by bike: less money spent on transport, the freedom to stop when you want, the luxury of setting up camp (pretty much) wherever you’d like to sleep, and an instant conversation starter, should you want to engage with the people you encounter. One aspect that can be a good thing or a bad thing is that you have no choice but to interact with your environment. However, if you choose the right gear, time of year, and time of day to ride, you can usually make it a pleasant experience.

6 Responses to “Life on the slow road”

  1. Ngaire at 8:35 am #

    Great stories Mandy!!!!! you guys rock 🙂 xxxx

  2. Cristal at 12:40 pm #

    Mandy Mandy! So good to hear from you! I’m thinking of you out there, in the wild. Melbourne is so freezing right now that I can’t even bring myself to ride in to work most mornings! I’ve never been a fair weather rider…until now! You two put me to shame!

    x cristal

  3. Pauline at 3:36 pm #

    Hi Mandy and Hap

    Mandy you always were a great story teller…job well done! Love to you and Hap!

  4. S.Regunathan at 6:47 pm #

    hi Hap,

    so good to see ur trip.come to india once and similar to africa even in india we have millions who r under the poverty line.but u know that u have rich culture and awesome places to see.visit whole india but i tell u to visit tamilnadu a state in south india as i belong here.

    • Hap at 10:57 pm #

      Cheers Regu,
      India is on the list. Hope you are well, thank you for the comment.


      • S.Regunathan at 5:11 pm #

        Actually i was searching about information about mining industry in australia.i got ur blog.even i refered ur website to many of my friends and all r excited.u r doing a wonderful job.keep going and take care of ur health while travelling.

Leave a Reply to S.Regunathan Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: