When you hear 'Namibia', maybe you think "that's that African country with a lot of sand". Or maybe you think, "the Germans colonised that, right?" or perhaps "Oh, yes, of course, Namibia, that is a totally different country to Nigeria, I know my African countries so well." Maybe you are very well informed and think "that's the country with the president who's first name and surname I don't know how to pronounce", or "I hear the Namibian dollar is pegged to the rand, poor thing". Perhaps you are a fellow cycle-tourist, and when you hear 'Namibia' you think "I hope those silly Phillips's aren't there at this time of year - fools, the absolute fools!" If you thought that last thing, you would be spot on regarding your assessment of us, although you could at least pretend to be a bit sympathetic. After a few long days of cycling from Lusaka (where the last post ended off) through to Livingstone and then across to the beginning of the Caprivi Strip (now called the Zambezi Region) we finally crossed the Namibian border into Katima Malilo. And so began heat like we have never known heat.
Luckily, to compensate for having to exist and moderately exert ourselves in a virtual sauna, the adventure gods gave us some tailwinds (ok, tail-gales) and nice flat roads to cycle on. And by flat, I mean the most our bicycles changed altitude the whole way were those few instances where we accidentally rode over big specimens of roadkill, which happened rarely anyway. Because of these favourable conditions, we kind of accidentally ended up riding 200km on our first day of the strip. It was accidental because we had already done 130 by lunchtime and had nothing to do so we just cycled some more until it was time to wild camp.
The day after our 200km, we rode another 140, partly because we had nice winds again, but mainly because we met some people who had seen some elephant and buffalo on the road ahead of us and we just wanted to get out of ellie-zone before the adventure gods got any funny ideas. The thing with wild animals is that they aren't particularly active when it's hot, but in the mornings and evenings when it's cool they like to go do wild animal stuff (like scaring little children and certain big children), usually near to water sources. So theoretically the safest time to ride each day would be from about 9am - 4pm. Unfortunately, we humans learned that we also don't like to be particularly active when it's hot, in fact we would ideally prefer to cycle at any time besides 9am - 4pm. This dilemma made for some interesting family debates around our imaginary campfire in the evenings.
Then we left the Caprivi Strip and ellie-land and we were very happy (some of us, anyway). And we wondered whether the adventure gods (whose job it is to provide interesting material for this blog) would notice that things were now going quite smoothly, except for the heat, or whether they would take pity on us and give us a few weeks of easy riding.
And so the winds began to change. Literally.
With the hills and the lovely headwinds that had appeared for apparently no reason except to be irritating, we found that we were having to be on the road by 6am (first light) and ride throughout the day in order to cover enough distance to get to safe water supplies at least every two or three days. This meant a lot of physical exertion in up to 40 degree weather, with very little moisture in the air, so that when you sweat the moisture evaporates so quickly that you don't even realise you are sweating until you collapse of dehydration. One day I got a touch of heat stroke. Blood pressure increase, a high fever, shivering and shaking, a pounding headache - these were just a few of the symptoms suffered by my mother due to her worrying about me and my mild temperature (which was sorted out by some painkillers).
After the little heat stroke incident, we were given strict instructions by some credible local authorities that in order to stay well-hydrated, we each needed to consume at least one beer per day. Preferably more. Mom, concerned as ever for the health of her young daughters, took this rule quite seriously.
And so we continued to make our way across Namibia, staying in some lovely campsites where we could and burning away our skin, layer by layer. I actually had to wear sunblock underneath my long pants. As we began to near the coast, where we heard that it is a bit cooler, we became increasingly excited, so much so that we decided to skip our planned campsite on our second last day and ride on, accidentally forgetting that we had only three small bottles of water between us and would not be able to get any for another 100km or so, the next day. So that was our last little survival adventure. Unless almost being blown off our bicycles by the strongest headwind we've ever faced riding into the little seaside town of Swakopmund on the last day counts as a survival adventure.
And now, perhaps, you're thinking, "At least you guys could reward yourselves with a nice swim in the sea to cool off after riding in desert heat for a month." Well, friend, in Swakopmund we have found ourselves the coldest we have been in eight months of travelling - I write this wearing no fewer than three jackets. I don't know how the adventure gods managed to get that right, but they are sneaky chaps. On the bright side, we have found ourselves in coffee shop heaven. This place, sometimes referred to as 'Little Germany', has approximately 32 coffee shops per square kilometer and we are living off an average of 7,8 plate-sized pastries per person per day.
That is all for now, tomorrow we head to Walvis Bay and from there we take a long dirt road towards South Africa. Will we make it before our visas expire? We have no idea (nervous laugh). Will we stop at every single padstal along the way? Most certainly.
PS The account above is not to be taken too seriously in any way by any person or person-like-creature - despite the heat and the odd tough day we have actually had a wonderful time in this beautiful, spread-out country. Namibia wins the award for best sunrises/sunsets so far and we've met many kind people on the road who have stopped to give us support in various ways (like cold cokes!). We have also spent many a rest day lying by the side of a campsite pool, and will be recommending it as a cycle-touring destination for the winter months.
PPS The government did not ask me to say that.
PPPSSPS (?) Regarding concerns about Axel drawing us all to resemble potatoes and how it is possible for us to be so round after cycling for so long, I refer you to my comment above regarding 7,8 pastries per person per day.