Sun, Jun 28/15
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Marathon # 376 – Country # 125
Now where were we? Oh yes – we were just leaving Victoria Falls on Air Namibia and heading to Windhoek, Namibia. Our flight arrived about 1 hour late and then we lost another hour in the airport going through immigration, etc. and waiting for a rental car. I was concerned about the police tactics in Zimbabwe so I asked the Avis rep if we would encounter such problems in Namibia and he (falsely) stated ‘No’! Then I encountered a bigger problem. The ATMs in the airport would not accept my ATM card? I figured it was simply a problem with those machines so I exchanged $120 US at a currency exchange with the expectation of getting more money as needed from ATMs in the city. Our guide book indicated that only Namibian $$ and South African Rand were accepted as currency.
Thus it was almost 4pm when we left the airport and I was forced to take a quick refresher course on driving a right-hand drive car with a stick shift on the wrong side of the road! The first 100Km through Windhoek and then south toward South Africa on a two-lane paved hwy went OK – except for one police road block on the outskirts of the city. However the police just looked at the rental car sticker and waived us on. At Rehoboth I stopped to purchase water and a few cokes before we turned off the paved road on to dirt roads. All we had to navigate with was a tourist map of Namibia provided by Avis that indicated another 200Km of dirt road through the Namib Desert. The map was correct! Oh Boy! Was it ever correct! As we turned on to a dirt road the sun set and we still had 200 Km to drive on dirt roads – basically just desert sand and dirt that had been graded – in total darkness. There were no homes, lights, service or cars for the next 200Km! There were few road signs or directions. A few times I would go screaming over a hill to find a 90 degree turn? After fishtailing in the sand for a few hundred meters and listening to Nicole’s screams I would get the car back under control and continue on. I figured that if we went off the road or broke down we would be stuck in the car all night until traffic came by in the morning? There was no place to stop and overnight even if we wanted to! We missed a few turns and had to go back and find the right road but eventually – after 3 hours of hellish driving – we arrived in Solitaire. Solitaire had a gas station (closed) and a motel and restaurant. I stopped at the motel to ask for directions to our lodge. Thankfully it was only another 27Km farther down the Hellish dirt road.
We found the gates/entrance to the Namib Desert Lodge but there was a wee problem. The gates were closed and locked! I figured we had 3 options: 1) drive back to the motel in Solitaire to ask them to phone our lodge 2) walk around the gates and walk about 3Km to the lodge to ask them to open the gates and 3) break the lock and open the gates! I decided on option #3. Luckily as I started to force the gate and lock I discovered that the lock was not really locked and I was able to force the gate open and drive the final 3Km to the lodge. When we arrived at the front entrance, the desk staff were outside to greet us. They were shocked to see a guest arrive at 8:45 pm! Nobody is crazy enough to drive the desert roads in the dark! They informed us that the resort closed down at 9pm so they escorted us directly to the restaurant so that we could eat dinner and enjoy a few much-needed drinks to relax and unwind. The bar stayed open so we could enjoy a few more drinks after dinner – I needed a lot of unwinding!
We slept late the next day and finally after a late breakfast decided it was time to visit Namib Desert Park. We drove another 35Km into Sesriem where there was another gas station, the Park entrance, a restaurant and a motel – the closest motel to the Park. To our surprise, there is a paved road from the Park entrance that runs 60Km to a parking lot where all 2WD cars have to be parked. Red sand dunes and mountains run along both sides of the entire paved road. There are a few viewpoints such as Dune 45 (at KM 45) where many visitors stop and some climb the dunes. Surprisingly there was a lot of wildlife- oryx, zebra & ostrich – along the road? We parked our car and hired a 4WD shuttle to take us the final 5Km into Sossusvlei. This 5Km path is across the red sand and requires a ‘real’ 4WD vehicle with bull-low to navigate! We saw a lot of ‘fake’ 4WD (only AWD) trucks stuck in the sand. We visited Deadvlei (Dead Lake) on our way to the base of ‘Big Daddy’ – the highest sand dune in the Park at 350m/1050ft. We didn’t try to climb the dune because it is a 3-hour trip. This section of the Park is the most rugged and the scenery is awesome!
We returned to the Park entrance and enjoyed a cold beer at the restaurant before making a quick trip to Sesriem Canyon in the Naukluft Mountains. And then we returned to our resort to enjoy some of the amenities –especially the bar and the Internet in the lobby. The Namib Desert Lodge is quite luxurious and the food and service is excellent!
On our last day we decided not to make the long drive back into the Park. There was no point unless we were going to hike or climb some of the dunes? Instead we stayed at the resort and enjoyed a 4Km hike around the fossilized red sand dune behind the resort. It was quite interesting and would have been enjoyable except for the desert flies! We quickly learned the ‘African wave’ to keep them away from our face. That evening we enjoyed a 4WD tour through the 3,000 acres owned by the resort that took us through the desert and up into the mountains overlooking the fossilized sand dune. The sand dune was quite spectacular in the light of the sunset!
Fortunately we were able to charge everything to our room and pay with a credit card to preserve our limited cash. But I had to use most of that cash to fill the gas tank in Solitaire before we departed early Sat morning for Swakopmund – a 360Km drive! And yes - 360Km through the desert on dirt roads- although we had to climb through two mountain passes. But the dirt roads are much easier and less hectic to drive in the day time!
We arrived in Swakopmund around 1 pm to discover that the town closed down and rolled up the sidewalks at Noon on Sat and didn’t open again until Mon! After checking into our hotel overlooking the Atlantic Ocean we walked downtown to try the ATMs. We needed cash! No luck! Four different banks rejected my ATM card (I learned after returning home that our bank had blocked the ATM card after the initial failures at the airport – I am still extremely pissed off at our bank since I notified them in advance of our trip so that such problems would not happen). But what to do? All the shops & businesses, including the currency exchanges, were closed! Our ‘luxury’ (?) hotel refused to exchange currency in spite of my pleas. We needed cash to get back to the airport! Finally a porter guided me to a few ‘unofficial’ exchanges and the 3rd one agreed to exchange $120 US for 33% commission! I had no choice!
Now that we had cash and a credit card that worked we could enjoy the rest of our stay. We explored the city that was established by Germans and looks like a small German town. The majority of the white population (and tourists) are Germans and German is a common language in Namibia. We even found a few souvenir shops ignoring the ‘closed down’ trend and were able to buy our mandatory souvenirs. Our hotel warned us that it was necessary to make a reservation for dinner since all restaurants in town are booked for Sat & Sun dinners. The Hotel restaurant was closed for the weekend? We wanted to eat at the best seafood restaurant in town – it was already booked! However we later walked over to the Tug restaurant and sat at the bar during happy hour and they agreed to serve us dinner at the bar? We enjoyed a great seafood dinner with drinks and a bottle of wine for less than $50 US!
On Sun it was foggy and cold in the morning so we drove north along the coast for about 50Km. It was boring – only desert and ocean so we turned around and drove south to Walvis Bay where we saw a colony of flamingos. We asked our hotel to book dinner at a restaurant that specialized in Namibian game. Smart/lucky because the restaurant was completely booked and they turned away dozens of people while we were enjoying Springbok fillet. I was amazed at their business strategy? The restaurants are only open from 6pm to 9pm and only take one reservation per table for the entire evening? Tables sit empty until the party shows up and stay empty after a party leaves? I guess they never heard of flipping a table two or three times per meal? Prices in Africa are really good for restaurant meals & booze- a wild game dinner for two with a good bottle of SA wine costs $50 including tip!
We left early Mon to make sure we arrived at the airport in Windhoek in plenty of time for our flight to JoBurg. The entire route had paved roads! We stopped in Windhoek to fill the gas tank – the station would only accept cash! We got stopped twice by police road blocks but both times they waved us on.
A friend, Gillian, who lives in JoBurg met us in the arrivals lounge in JoBurg. Once again my ATM card was rejected and I was forced to exchange our last remaining US $ for SA Rand so we would have pocket money in JoBurg. Gillian invited us to join her and her daughter Chana and a few (running) friends at an ‘African’ restaurant to enjoy some wild game. It was a fun evening and the food –and company- was great!
On Tue morning – our final day in Africa – Gillian asked a friend who is a tour guide to guide us around some of the important tourist and cultural sites of JoBurg. We stopped in Soweto to visit the Hector Pieterson Museum and Mandela’s House/Museum. Then we stopped for a snack and tour at the Voortrekker Monument. Our final stop in our short and quick tour was the Union Buildings and the new statue of Mandela. Gillian was such a gracious host! We truly enjoyed the short visit we had with her and her family and friends!
Now we are back home and the painful memory of the marathon is starting to fade and I am starting to look at another race and a new country. The problem is that if I run another race – country #126 – then I will want to round out the total to 130 countries? What should I do? What will I do?