Believe it or not, I have friends. Like, a LOT. I don’t mean to brag or anything, but it’s more than Oscar Pistorius can count on all his toes. In fact, I recently wrote about going to the movies with some of them in an effort to prove that people actually choose to spend time with me (there will be an update to that post soon- Nu Metro has reached out to me and wants me to give them another chance, which I’m more than happy to do). Anyway, the point is, I’m incredibly popular and well-liked and humble.
About a year ago, my friend John asked if we’d be insane enough to go on a Namibian road trip with 4 other families. As I’ve mentioned before, I tend to make horrific life choices, so obviously I said yes. We tried to get to Namibia in 2018, but an incompetent South African border guard South Africa’d us and killed the whole trip. But we still wanted to go, and even more, we wanted a break from loadshedding.
Namibian Road Trip Part I: Namibgrens
On December 27th, we boarded a plane at exactly balls AM to take us to Windhoek, where we’d meet up with all the other families and begin our Namibian road trip. The plan was to rent bakkies (trucks, for the rest of the world) and drive aimlessly through the desert for 2 weeks in a convoy. My best-case scenario simply ended in us not becoming the Southern African version of the Donner Party. Anything else was icing on the cake. To be fair, John is a hilariously meticulous planner, and he spends an inordinate amount of time crafting insanely detailed spreadsheets, and then even more time lamenting the fact that nobody has read his spreadsheets. So what I’m saying here is, we had everything covered- from where we would be camping and eating, to a packing list, to the cleanest restrooms in a 600km radius from where we would be at any point in time. And I feel entirely comfortable mocking him because I’m pretty certain he doesn’t read my blog. And John, if you ARE reading this, just add it to your spreadsheet of all the times I’ve made fun of your spreadsheets.
We were the first family in Windhoek, with the rest opting for a flight at a more reasonable hour (with the exception of Richard and Jeanette, who arrived a few days earlier and were on their way back to Windhoek to meet us). We picked up our bakkie, got some groceries, and went to the guest house to relax and wait for everyone else arrive. We went for a team dinner at Joe’s Beerhouse (as dictated by John’s spreadsheet) as a final test to make sure we could stand each other’s company, and luckily, it was a success. Joe’s is a funky, sprawling restaurant with a great menu. And everything that’s ever died in the history of the universe has made its way to Joe’s walls.
We called it an early night so we could hit the road first thing the next morning. We consulted John’s spreadsheet to find the route we needed to go. Richard had never seen the spreadsheet before in his life, much to my amusement and John’s frustration, and because he’s French, he immediately disagreed with the chosen path. We all agreed that we’d meet at the nearest Engen gas station to argue about it as a group, and Richard and Jeannette and Molly and Laura immediately did exactly not that. As the rest of us were waiting at the nearest Engen, the others waited at an Engen several kilometers away.
By the time we figured out what was going on, Richard had given up on waiting (because he’s French) and decided to just meet us at our first destination. That was fine with the rest of us. We kind of just let him come along on the trip because his wife, Jeanette, is a lovely human being. And not French.
We left much later than we wanted and didn’t have enough time to take the route we had initially planned. Luckily, John’s spreadsheet had an alternate route mapped out, because of course it did. And this route led us right to a locked gate, causing us to take a third route. But it didn’t really matter- off we went to our first camp site: Namibgrens Mountain Camp.
It turns out the name was very fitting. There were mountains and a campsite. There was only one other family there, and I’m sure they were super duper excited when 5 trucks, 10 adults, and 11 kids rocked up to enhance their relaxing getaway. The campsite had a covered area for eating, a swimming pool, and outdoor toilets and showers that made me never want to be naked under a roof again as long as I live.
The kids quickly established a pecking order and went full Lord of the Flies within an hour of arriving. They spent their time collecting “gems” (chunks of quartz that were everywhere), and then fighting over them. We spent our time regretting having children.
There were lots of places to hike and a couple of scenic drives nearby. And Richard got the first flat tire in the group (because he’s French). I learned what curse words sound like in French, and he learned how to change a tire. John and Ken very helpfully drank beer nearby and watched.
My favourite part of this leg of the trip was when John, who had been mocking those of us who chose to rent trucks with rooftop tents instead of just pitching a normal tent, making daily drives much easier, somehow found the ONE water pipe running through the site with his tent peg. He was convinced someone kept peeing on the corner of his tent. But the truth revealed itself when he pulled the peg out as we were leaving, sending water gushing all over the desert ground. The rooftop tent people felt vindicated immediately.
Namibian Road Trip Part II: Sossusvlei
After 3 nights, we packed everything up and headed to Little Sossus Campsite, putting us within striking distance of Sossusvlei and its legendary dunes. We drove a very short distance to Solitaire, which is less a town and more of a gas station. But it had some of the best apple pie I’ve had on this side of the world. According to DJ, it was just OK, but DJ is painfully wrong.
Just outside Solitaire, we saw a few giraffes hanging out and thought it was going to be a beautiful day.
And then Richard promptly got another flat tire (because he’s French).
After several more French profanities, we were on our way. And the next campsite was in view when Ken got a flat tire (he’s not French, but he IS a capitalist and several other unsavoury things).
I told Ken I was just going to go get my family and his girls settled at the campsite, then I’d be back to help him. Once everyone was happily in the pool, I took my time, drank a Raddler while taking in the desert view, then decided Ken should pretty much be done by the time I was back. I bought a couple of drinks because changing a tire in the desert heat is tough work, and so is killing time so you don’t have to help somebody change a tire in the desert heat. Luckily, he was just finishing up when I returned, so I didn’t have to do anything, which is one of my favourite things to do.
The next morning we left at 5am to make it on time for a tour we booked with the Sossusvlei Lodge Adventure Centre. You can totally drive through Namib-Naukluft Park on your own, and many people do, but the number of vehicles we saw stuck in the sand affirmed our decision to pay for a guided tour.
Our first stop was just inside the park, where our guides dug in the sand to find a dancing white lady spider.
Luckily, before the guides could unearth any other hell beasts, we piled back into the trucks to go see some sand.
The first 60km of the road into the park is paved, then the last 5km to Sossusvlei and the surrounding dunes is nothing but sand. And oryx. Nothing but sand and oryx.
After stopping for some lunch, we hiked up a dune called Big Daddy (or at least part way up) and slid down the dune into Deadvlei, which is a salt pan dotted with very old, very dead camel thorn trees. It looks way cooler than it sounds.
We were told not to touch the trees at the bottom because, like old people, old trees are very fragile and will try to give you stale peppermints out of their linty pockets if you get too close.
By the time we were done hiking back to the trucks, we were all pretty much exhausted. We made our way back to the campsite and brought in the New Year in the middle of the desert, looking at the stars and making fun of Richard (because he’s French).
The next day we decided to take it easy because we were all superhero tired. And by take it easy, I mean we drove back to Namib-Naukluft Park to go on a hike through Sesriem Canyon in the sweltering heat.
After everybody had melted, we decided to drive back out to Dune 45 to get a closer look. The day before, we had stopped only briefly. And more importantly, we all needed some time driving with the air conditioner on.
Dune 45 is one of the most photographed dunes in the world, and it’s easy to see why. We weren’t there at a “good” time to take pictures (sunrise/sunset), but it was still worth the trip.
And it wouldn’t be a Namibian road trip post without an obligatory empty highway picture, so here:
This part of the trip was definitely my favourite. The dunes were like nothing I’d ever seen in my life, and the solitude of our campsite was amazing. We all loved sitting outside at night watching the impossibly huge, star-filled sky as we got blootered enough to sleep, because it was really, really hot.
And then on the last day of this leg of the trip, I got a flat tire. John assumed his usual position of helpful watcher, and Richard came over just as I was finishing and said he would have helped out, but he didn’t realise I was changing the tire, which wasn’t that helpful (because he’s French).
Namibian Road Trip Part 3: Swakopmund
We were sad to leave Little Sossus Campsite, but we were equally excited to drive to our last stop on the trip- Swakopmund. My family left a little earlier than the others to get the flat fixed in Sesriem, and then we were all on our way.
Until Molly and Laura got a flat. By this point, Richard was a pro at changing tires, and even though he’s French, he jumped right in and got the job done. Not wanting to break with tradition, John and Ken drank beer and watched. Apparently the one thing John’s spreadsheet didn’t contain was instructions on how to change a tire.
The rest of the trip went without incident, and we all rejoiced a little bit (or a lot bit) when we finally hit tar roads again.
We spent the last several days in and around Swakopmund. First up was quad biking with Daredevil Adventures. The Potato was incredibly excited that he was old enough to drive his own bike, while I was really excited that he was old enough for me to pay full price for him.
While we didn’t really go as fast as I would have liked, it was still a lot of fun, and I was surprised at how easy it would have been to become hopelessly lost. I quickly picked which kid I would eat first if we couldn’t find our way back for a couple of hours and had to resort to cannibalism. Don’t judge. Veal is delicious. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that, and I arrived back at our campsite hungry.
We did several things that aren’t exactly picture worthy, but we did have an incredible dinner at The Tug, which is an old tugboat that isn’t quite seaworthy anymore, primarily because it’s been turned into a restaurant. Everything from the service to the appetizers, mains, and desserts were top notch, and I’d recommend it without reservation.
Richard left that night with his family to head back to South Africa (because he’s French), and so did Ken and Caroline (because he Frenched Richard. Probably).
With our group now down to 12 people, we decided we didn’t have enough stink in our lives, so we drove a couple hours to Cape Cross, which is home to one of the biggest cape fur seal colonies on the planet. I don’t think any of us were quite prepared for what awaited us. I think we were all expecting a lot of this:
And to be fair, there were a LOT of baby seals. We just didn’t think so many of them would be, well, super duper dead. Do you know how adorable dead baby seals are? They’re about as charming as an orphanage fire. And they were EVERYWHERE! What nobody seems to mention is about 1/4 of all the baby seals die. And when they die, they don’t move much. “Gingerly stepping over rotting baby seal carcasses” wasn’t really on my bucket list, but I can definitely say I’ve done it now.
Most of the group didn’t last more than 3 minutes, which is still 2 more minutes than Richard typically lasts (because he’s French). And I have to admit, the smell WAS pretty pungent. It was kind of as if the aromas of dirty diapers, despair, and the olfactory manifestation of the collective thoughts of the entire Kardashian clan joined forces and punched you directly in the nose with a stink fist.
Still, pretty cool. The Potato and I managed to stay and take pictures until I was sure my wife was going to leave me.
After we finished smelling the seals, John’s spreadsheet told us there was a place to swim nearby called the Dead Sea. It’s an old abandoned mine that has filled with enough salt water to emulate the bigger Dead Sea, and locals claim it has healing properties.
We drove on roads and not roads for what seemed like forever and finally jumped in. And then we jumped right back out because kids are awful and ruin everything. It was a really cool sensation to float in the water- you couldn’t sink even if you tried, but apparently if you get any on your face, your eyes melt and you die a slow, painful death. OK, maybe not THAT bad, but the kids hated it.
What we didn’t anticipate is being completely covered in salt once the water evaporated. There were obviously no showers anywhere nearby, so we used a few bottles of water to rinse off as much salt as we could. Then we got back into the trucks to keep driving, because apparently this was a good day to drive forever to spend 5 minutes hating our destinations.
We made one more stop to take a quick picture of a ship wreck, but it didn’t really do anything, so we just went back to the campground.
The next day everybody just wanted to relax. But I’m super ADHD and relaxing isn’t really my thing, so Molly and I took our boys fishing. We had high hopes of bringing back an enormous fish for dinner.
Instead we settled for a bunch of catfish we caught, which DJ cooked for us because she’s an amazing human being.
Swakopmund is a beautiful little city, and we enjoyed walking around and spending way too much time at Fachwerk Biergarten, which had mouthwatering eisbein and everything else German.
We were fast approaching the end of our vacation, but we definitely didn’t want our Namibian road trip to end without a chance to go see the creepy crawlies in the desert. There are several companies that offer tours, but we went with Batis Birding Safaris, who offered a tour that stressed minimal impact to the environment (some of the tours allow guests to handle the wildlife found in the desert, but Batis doesn’t, which we liked).
The Kraken REALLY wanted to see a rainbow lizard. I told her not to get her hopes up, and then…boom. Flippin rainbow lizard. OK, the PROPER name is the palmato gecko, and its vibrant colours occur because the thing is pretty much see through and you can see its internal organs and stuff. Just…look:
We spent the morning learning about the plants and animals that live in such an unforgiving landscape and were fortunate enough to see a scorpion, a couple of jackals, a Peringuey’s adder (sidewinder), and two chameleons. The kids also had fun running around the dunes, and we had fun considering leaving them there.
And then, just like that, our Namibian road trip was over. It was time to drive back to Windhoek, drop off our bakkies, and fly back home.
Which is exactly what we did. And ran smack back into loadshedding. I guess if everything functioned the way it’s supposed to, you wouldn’t appreciate vacations quite as much. And I know I appreciated the living heck out of mine.
Thanks John, for all your meticulous planning and spreadsheets that nobody looked at. And thanks to DJ, Laura, Molly, Caroline, Ken, Jeanette, and Richard (even though you’re French) for being amazing travel companions and bringing your incredible, lovable kids with you. Wherever we all end up, we need to do something this crazy again.
And obviously thank you to Vicki, the Potato, and the Kraken. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather adventure with.
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