#29 – The last round
Suddenly I had not one, but two cycle companions. Fabien, the French guy I met at the hostel, wanted to join me and Els on our way South. We left Windhoek behind us and started to follow the endless yellow line on the tarmac.
When cycling together for the first time, it’s always the question if everyone has a similar rhythm. Soon it became clear that I was the snail of the group, especially when going uphill. But it gave me also strength knowing that there were two people waiting for me every now and then.
After saying goodbye to the tarmac, which we might not see for over 2 entire weeks, we ended up at a camping near a reservoir. With Fabien in our team, we were now able to cook with ethanol in his genius self made beer can burners.
As the sun started to shine its rays of light onto the lake we were staying at, we slowly woke up, packed our tents and pushes away the last few messages via the weak wifi signal around.
The road was a big mixture of horrible corrugated and doable flat parts. Continuously we searched for the best tracks of the 15 m wide gravel path, and struggled with our balance as we switched from left to right. The empty lands, the friendly blue-white sky and the vast mountains on both sides were a pleasure to see on the other hand.
Suddenly a small village popped up. It was no problem to camp in the garden of a closed liquor shop, where we became happy as kids when we took a shower from the water hose.
When our shadows were still long, we departed into unknown territory. We stopped at a village the size of one family to drink a coffee. The owner called Kosie shared us his corona concers, the way politics over here and the details of the road ahead of us.
Almost every impulse my eyes send to my brains, got turned into satisfaction. The mountainous area was truly epic, wherever I looked, it amazed me. It was such an idealistic day which I could have pictured myself before I started my trip. A blown tyre and a swim in a cold water reservoir in the middle of the melting rocky landscape, were the right ingredients of today’s ride.
Slightly tired, we arrived at Solitaire, a cowboy like village. The only campsite available has a policy to let cyclers camp for free, of which we gratefully profited. We cooked our only recipe – spaghetti with (Indian) curry and tuna – once again and saw the sun making place for a starry sky.
3 cyclers making their way through the desert. For ourselves it doesn’t sound strange anymore, nothing more than a little odd at least. But the many thumbs and waves from the people that passed us by car, hinted that they might think we are either crazy or brave. Or both.
Seen the road that lay in front of us, the part crazy might have applied best. A badly corrugated road for the entire stretch of 80+ km until the next town made us become angry on the road. As we all dealt with this feeling in our own way, we slowly made progress. Fabien got far ahead of us, Els lifted the last part with a car, and I moved forward in my own rhythm.
Fabien even cycled back to me the last 2 km, to give me a cold drink and some mental support, as I was fighting the strong and warm headwind. We made it to a campsite, where we were able to watch the thousands of stars from our tents.
Our neighbours Sally and Rodney from Australia had a car, and didn’t mind to bring us to Sossuvlei, a place in the desert we couldn’t reach by bicycle. Cramped in the back of the four wheel drive, we took off to one of Namibia’s major sights.
Sossusvlei is known for its enormous red-orange colored sand dunes. And somewhere inbetween some of the worlds highest dunes, there was a flat layer of clay, hosting a few dozen 900 year old dead acacia trees. This surrealistic location is called Deadvlei, for a reason.
“See you in a few days”, Fabien said, and he turned right where we turned left. His phone broke down and headed to a city 300 km away, to buy a new one.
The road was though, like chewing on old chicken meat. The loose sand made us walk quite some times. And after we lost both 1 hour because Els took the wrong road and I searched for my crashed drone, we were getting late for an appointment.
Via via we came to know about a contact in the middle of the desert, whom I called yesterday about our plans. If we wouldn’t arrive at that place before 5 pm, they would pick us up, and that’s what happened. We were brought to the house of the park ranger and enjoyed the luxury of a private lodge in exchange for a donation.
Sun, flies and dust is what made me covering my entire face during most of the day. Especially the flies can be cruel, as they land in my nose or on my lip, while I’m balancing on the difficult tracks.
At some points, the only man made item I saw was the road. There was not a single fence to be spotted, and some wild animals such as oryx, ostriches, jackals and zebras could be seen hunting for the scarce food that was around in the desert.
The sweet scent of my sweaty body must have reached great distances, as many oryxes started to run away as I was approaching. The grey coated animal, with black and white accents and straight horns, is the national symbol of Namibia, and I was honoured to see so many wandering around freely.
A corrugated road suddenly sounded like a good deal – as long as we didn’t have to walk. Even though some part were bad, most of the road felt like a smooth surface, and we the tailwind glided us over the gravel.
In the far distance we saw something moving. First one spot, then another, and finally a third one. We’d only seen one car in the past 4 hours, so our best guess was on oryx. But it seemed to be reflections of ourselves, only it were thee Swiss guys going the opposite direction.
When we arrived at out first option for camping, it was still too early. When we arrived at the second option 20 km further, the place seemed to be closed due to the virus. The third and last option we passed, was a wonderfull sheep farm, where we enjoyed a cold shower and cooked our spaghetti on a braai.
Having been offline for 2 entire days, the development of the corona preventions hit us straight in the face: South Africa will be in lockdown. Just 5 days in front of the border, our plans were now forced to change.
We cancelled our long ride today, and did do some research on the possibilities we still have left. The official flights are either fully booked or cancelled, which leaves us being locked in Namibia, or we should get repatriated by the Dutch government.
Exciting times lay in front of us, but we’re still trying to enjoy every minute we’re able to cycle freely. The owner of the campsite we stayed gave us a show with his shotgun, as we spotted a cobra. We camped next to a rocky dry riverbed, almost off the grid, gazing at the Milkyway to wonder what the near future is going to hold for me.
After cycling 70 km today, there came an end to 9 days of cycling on gravel, as the tarmac suddenly emerged from the dust. And it almost surely also meant the end of my trip, untill the corona crisis will pass by. We received a message from the Dutch consulate to come as quickly as possible to Windhoek, before a lockdown won’t allow us to come near the main airport.
The one and only campsite in the small village showed a big sign “CLOSED”. In the previous village we passed yesterday, we tried to make sure if this place could host us. A little desperate we rang the bell, and to our surprise a man let us in.
We spent the better part of the afternoon trying to inform ourselves about the situation. We have a little more than 24 hours to go back 700 km to the capital. The Dutch consulate has proven their capability by guiding us through a bureaucratic process.
At the coldest and darkest moment of the night we opened our eyes, rolled up the tents, and set foot into the back of a 4×4. We had to reach the capital today in order to avoid being locked out.
From a small desert village, we arrived in a larger city called Keetmanshoop, where we got reunited with Fabien. With some loud music about Jesus boosting out of the speakers and a bus compacted with people, the 6 hour ride that followed was quite debilitating.
Eventually we arrived back at the same hostel as we’ve been before in Windhoek, and it felt a little bit as homecoming, as we met some people we knew.
“You’re flying tomorrow”, another person tells me. “It’s your name on the list right?”, he added. The Dutch consulate worked closely together with the German embassy, who have arranged 4 repatriating flights to Germany, spread over 4 days.
With the new coming in the afternoon, our moods changed from relaxed to be in a slight hurry. In the pouring rain we relocated our tents under a roof. One last time we spend some time with the people we’ve met, and afterwards I crawl in my tent for the last time.
I walk a few circles around my bike and lines of tape follow my movement. At the aiport we downsize the bike and make sure nothing will fall off. “The bike should be in a box, but in this situation we can make an exception”, the cargo manager reassures us.
The airplane crew are all equiped with masks, and for me it’s one of the first times to see such strange actions as taken measurements to the corona virus. I start to wonder how it’s going to be back home, where I come back in an unfamiliar circumstances.
From the airport in Munchen, we set up the bikes and rush to the train station. We got refused at our aimed train, as we couldn’t bring our bikes in the very empty cabins of the ICE. It was not the warmest welcome, as we now had to spend the night at the cold waiting area.
Not prepared for a late European winter, my body was shaking severe from the biting cold that was around the Munich train station. Having only one pair of socks and one pair of footwear, I looked like a lost tourist in a changed world.
Despite all the sad disadvantages that this evolving life, there was a huge advantage for us, as we were allowed to travel in the train in Germany for free. As the peaceful German landscapes smoothly shifted beyond the edge of the window, I tried to get a glimpse of what different life was waiting for me.
Me, Els and Henk – a 70 year old Dutch cycler who cycled from Morocco to Windhoek – all saw our plans changed very rapidly the last few days, and we all had to bend our dreams for a more important thing.