Namibia – Switzerland

28th of March – 4th of April 2020:

Therefore, we were in the north of the country and our bicycles were in lockdown in Windhoek. Our goal was the organization of a place to stay for the next days, weeks or even months. The lockdown of the two regions including the capital was rather contra productive, since it was announced a few days in advance. In the evening before the lockdown started, thousands of people fled from the capital to other parts of the country and potentially spread the virus.

With the help of contacts in Namibia, we got the private number of the Swiss consul in Windhoek. We called him to feel the current situation. The consul, Urs Gamma, was rather calm and said that he was glad that we were fine in the north and we should stay there.

In the meantime, the repatriation flights from the Germans already brought back the first tourists to Germany. Apparently, there were still more than 1500 Germans and 50 Swiss in Namibia. The number of Swiss citizens was not enough to organize a flight to Switzerland, so they organized a cooperation with Germany.

After three nights in the tent on the beautiful campground, Nigel from the bicycle project helped us to ask the manager of the resort if we could switch to one of the apartments. We did not want to camp without a kitchen and even a chair for an unknown amount of days. The Swiss couple Regine and Walter got one of the amazing and state of the art flats for the price of the campground and we wanted to ask if we could share the flat with them. Nigel, with his gigantic network in Namibia, realized our wish and we could move to the extra room of the apartment on the same day. Already during the days before we spent a lot of time in the apartment to talk with Walter and Regine, to cook and to just relax on the sofas. Therefore, we created a flat-sharing community and we were all happy about this long-term solution. Finally, we had a place to stay for a while and could calm down.

Unfortunately, everything changed again, and a woman called Adrian using WhatsApp. She called with the number of the Swiss consul. Petra Illing, the coordinator of the repatriation flights of the stranded Swiss in Namibia was furious and bawled Adrian out during a few minutes! She said the holidays were finished and we should drive to Windhoek immediately. Not even the reason for the call was certain after five minutes on the telephone. During the third call, the obviously overwhelmed and unfriendly woman calmed down and we learned that Swiss people were flown home. They gave us a couple of hours to decide if we wanted to go home or eventually stay in Namibia for a long time.

Immediately, the tranquility in the new home was terminated abruptly and we discussed about the situation and which decision made most sense for us. Walter and Regina were convinced of going home as fast as possible. For us it was not clear yet and the call surprised us a lot and we expected a long stay in Namibia.

After a long discussion, we decided to go home, since we did not know how long this crisis would continue and how the situation in a third world country like Namibia will develop. In addition, South Africa had a strict curfew and was worse than Namibia. Since South Africa was the next country on our route, this did not really tune us optimistic.

A skin infection on Adrian’s leg inflamed during the last few days, so he got fever and took antibiotics. Due to that, we did not want to drive through the checkpoints unless the fever was completely gone, and Adrian felt like travelling again. A stay in a quarantine for two weeks was not on our to do list.

After a restless night and packing at short notice, Adrian tried to measure his temperature in the early morning, to be sure that there will be no complications on the way to the capital. The search for a thermometer was unsuccessful, but he felt much better and fit for the journey. We told this to Petra Illing as well and Urs Gamma and got green light for the trip.

We left the resort “Kupferquelle” with a bad conscience, since we could not even profit from the generosity of the owner, because we only stayed one night in the luxurious apartment.

The 430km until the capital, we could hitch in the campervan of Regine and Walter. Public transport in the direction of the capital was not working anymore and therefore it would have been difficult to even find a transport. So, we loaded all our equipment in the back of the vehicle, and we sat on the back seats. Normally, it would not be allowed to sit there, but we decided risk it in this emergency situation.

Without any traffic, Walter drove with about 90km/h southwards and made sure from time to time that we felt comfortable in the back of their home for the last weeks. During the ride, we were in contact with Petra and Urs, so we could all met at the checkpoint. There was another group of swiss tourists, which crossed the «border» at the same time.

At the checkpoint, the military already installed tents and the image reminded us of the many roadblocks in Nigeria. The men in uniform did not seem to be too motivated and stood around in large groups in the shade with their assault rifle in their hands. Of course, the mandatory distance was neglected and often people wore the masks around their necks.

While we were waiting in line for the check, we asked how we would proceed from here and if there are places in the flight for tomorrow. Urs Gamma told us that the flight from the next day was already full and it was not sure yet, when the next flights will leave for Europe. Disappointed, we drove the last kilometers until the city.

All stranded Swiss were accommodated in an expensive hotel. For us the prices were too high, and we searched a cheaper alternative. We found a cozy room with a shared kitchen and a garden not far from the hotel.

We still had no prospect of a flight home and therefore we took the situation relaxed and brought our bicycles from the car rental during the first day. In addition, Nigel helped us organize bicycle boxes in an outdoor store to prepare the bicycles for the transport.

Finally, we learned that three more flights were allowed, and we were already on the waiting list for the first one. In the evening, we received the newest information in the hotel where all swiss tourists stayed. There, we could coordinate it in a way with Urs Gamma and Petra Illing that we could give priority to Regine and Walter, so we had one more day to pack our bicycles for the flight. In addition, our hope was that we would not be on the waiting list again for the next flight and get a fixed seat from the beginning. We wanted to omit the travel to the airport with the bicycles and the luggage and then back to Windhoek again if there was no space in the aircraft. Exactly this scenario was situation when on the waiting list.

In the hotel, we met other swiss travellers, who were travelling in Namibia for a few weeks and we exchanged our experiences and stories. Three men from Central Switzerland started in South Africa and cycled to Namibia. We had interesting conversations and made the best out of this inconvenient situation.

On the following day, we packed our bags and Fabian fit his bicycle in the too small box. This procedure took him around two hours, and he was obviously relieved when he closed the box with tape. In the meantime, Adrian found out that it did not make a difference how many pieces of luggage one had and how heavy they were. Furthermore, Adrian planned to bring his bicycle to the airport like it was, to wrap it there.

In the second last flight, we found a fixed seat and we were told that the bicycles could be transported without any problems. So, we informed our families and discussed where we would live after the journey home. Initially, we were not sure if it made sense to live with our parents or if we should isolate ourselves for a few days. The wire run hot for a few hours and all possible options were weighted and clarified. Finally, we decided that Fabian would stay with his sister Nadine for the time being on the farm. Adrian decided to stay with his parents for a while, since they are exposed through their work and therefore have a larger risk anyway.

We could organize a transport that picked us up at our accommodation and brought us to the airport in around 30 minutes. The airport was practically empty and seemed as if it was closed. When we waited for the check in, Adrian wrapped his bicycle in a plastic foil and pieces of cardboard. An employee, who normally works in a different department, helped him and earned some extra money.

It was a bit bizarre, since all people surrounding us waited for the same flight and the atmosphere was much more relaxed than we imagined. Almost nobody wore masks and the distance was not possible to keep, even if the passengers wanted to.

During check in, Adrian joked and asked if we would fly first class. The employee replied in a good mood: unfortunately, you only fly business class. The people around us laughed and for us it felt like a reward, since we managed to live without any luxury until now. Generally, we were surprised about the relaxed atmosphere of the locals at the airport, since all of them will probably lose their job in the next days, at least for a while and will have no more money available.

Just after sitting down in the business class, Adrian was moved to the back, since he received the seat of the flight engineer by mistake. Adrian accepted the degradation under the condition that he could keep his lunch box. Due to the exceptional situation, there was no service in the airplane and each passenger got a snack box and a bottle of water to reduce the contact between people.

After landing, the passengers could exit gradually to omit large gatherings of people. This idea did not really work out, since at the first escalator the different groups met again. At the passport control, Adrian could pass without any issues. When Fabian wanted to pass, the officials said he needs to wait in the transit area, since it was only allowed to leave the country the same day as arrival. Finally, he and other Swiss tourists could pass anyway, and we picked up our luggage. We already expected to miss the last trains, since our flight left Namibia later than scheduled. So, we had to sleep for one night at the airport. We searched a calm, dark corner and installed us with our mattresses and sleeping bags.

On the counter of the “Deutsche Bahn”, we asked about the fastest connection to Switzerland. The day before we read that a freight train went off the rails on the route to Freiburg im Breisgau and therefore this line was out of order for a few days. Therefore, the most efficient connection was via Offenburg and the Black Forrest to Konstanz. From there, we had to change trains once more to cross the border into Switzerland using a city train. Connections via Basel were too complicated under these circumstances and we would have to change trains six times, and this was not an option with our bicycles.

At the train station in Frankfurt, we met four other Swiss travellers coming from Bolivia. The two couples were already on the way home for four days and glad to be home soon.

Equipped with snacks and beer, the train ride seemed shorter than expected. We really liked the ride through the Black Forrest and a local gave us some information about the region. In Germany, nobody is checking the tickets anymore, but the trains were mostly empty anyway.

The change of trains from Konstanz to Kreuzlingen was not worth it, since the two stations were only about a kilometre apart from each other. Adrian’s mom Rita welcomed us happy and visibly relieved at the train station. Just like that, we were in our home country again and immediately, we tried to determine differences during the trip home.

Interesting enough, we were not checked at the airport in Windhoek, Frankfurt or at the border in Switzerland. They did not even ask us about our health condition. We expected fever measurements and questioning and even longer waiting times. Nothing was the case and we did not even have to search our documents from the swiss embassy in our luggage.

Instead of driving to Buchrain, we were surprised in Römerswil at Fabians sisters place by a welcoming committee. We enjoyed the delicious grilled meat and the family time under consideration of the recommended distance, before our ways separated for the first time in a long time.

Our time in Namibia was eventful and will be in our memories forever. The highlight was surely the visit of the Etosha national park as one of the only tourists that day. In addition, we enjoyed the luxury of the lodges, which we seldomly experienced during our trip. Unfortunately, we could not share the Namibian experience with Adrian’s family, but this should not mean that we will never be able to that…

For sure is that our goal is the continuation of the journey as soon as the circumstances allow it. Nobody knows how long this worldwide crisis will last and in which state Namibia and South Africa will find themselves after this historic event.

In any case, we hope that you remain loyal and we will keep you posted regarding our plans and the situation in Africa.

Windhoek/Discover Namibia by Rental Car

20th of March – 27th of March 2020:

Adrian’s parents booked a room in a hostel in Windhoek. Sadly, their flight was cancelled and therefore we could profit from this nice room for two nights. In the hostel were many travelers and we met nice people. The majority was from Germany and already waiting or organizing a flight back home. The atmosphere was rather stressed and many people already panicked, since they were afraid to reach their destination later than anticipated.

Currently, there are only a couple of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Namibia, but nobody knows if the numbers are correct and how many people were tested so far. From other cyclists who are in Africa at the moment, we heard that people call them “corona”, since the locals know that white people from Europe or Chinese imported the disease to Africa. Due to that fact, many cyclists already left Africa and flew home and therefore terminated their journey. Many commercial flights were cancelled in the last days and therefore many travelers are stranded.

Namibia celebrated its independence exactly 30 years ago. Unfortunately, the celebration for the anniversary had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. The inauguration of the president happened anyway and many heads of state from other African countries came for a visit and ignored the risk of an infection.

Approximately 20% of the total population of 2.1 million lives in Windhoek. The area of Namibia is around 20 times larger than Switzerland. The population density of Namibia is after Mongolia the second smallest in the World.

Most car rentals were already closed or did not rent cars anymore. Finally, we found a small car hire company where we could rent a Nissan 4×4 for a fair price. We even bargained that a fridge, chairs, a camping table and a gas stove was included in the rental price. Due to the insecurity of the events, we only rented the car for a week with an option to extend.

While eating breakfast, we met Marie, a German student and offered her to join us. Spontaneously, Marie decided to travel with us for a while.

On the way to the Waterberg Wilderness Lodge on the edge of the Waterberg Plateau Park, we planned to stay for two nights and wanted explore the surroundings. A friend of Adrian is the daughter of the owner of this and two other lodges and therefore the family offered us generously the opportunity to enjoy the seldom luxury. The lodge offered a stunning view on the surrounding escarpments and the nature.

The stay in the lodge came with a delicious breakfast buffet, coffee and cake in the afternoon and an imposing 4 course meal in the evening. In short, we were spoiled and could finally distance ourselves from the corona-stress a bit.

Around the lodges, there were several hiking trails for exploring. In the park, there are giraffes, rhinos, monkeys and many types of antelopes. Together, we walked the challenging trail, which was covered with tall grass due to the rain in the last weeks. At the source, which supplies the whole valley and the lodges with water, we saw more than a dozen of baboons, which observed us calmly.

In one of the many swimming pools, we cooled down and relaxed in the shade. We talked about travels and the current situation in Africa and how this pandemic could progress in the future.

Marie left us and found a couple that could give her a lift to Windhoek. Before we continued our journey, we walked along a trail describing the tragic history of a local tribe during the German occupation period. In a brutal way, the people were suppressed, persecuted and put in work camps for many years.

On small, less frequented gravel roads, we drove to the Ghaub Lodge. On the way, we passed a beautiful valley called “Tiger valley” and soon after, we reached the second lodge of the family of Adrian’s friend Dominique.

The only other guests were a sympathetic German couple, who travelled since several months around the world. Those two registered themselves with the German embassy as well for the repatriation flights and drove back to Windhoek, hoping to get on a plane back home.

Unfortunately, news reached us that the Namibian president decided that two regions will be on a lockdown starting in a few days to limit the spread of the virus. Due to that, we knew that our time with the rental car was limited and we would not be able to move around freely rather sooner than later.

We relaxed on the calm surroundings of the lodges and enjoyed the luxury. Adrian explored the hilly region running and returned on time for coffee and cake. Achim, the brother of Dominique promised us an excursion to see the rhinos. He did not even want money from us for the normally quite expensive tour and we were looking forward to the trip like small kids. In the beginning, we saw many kinds of antelopes and dozens of warthogs. Shortly before Achim wanted to give up, we tried our luck on foot close to some waterholes. Suddenly, Fabian saw a male white rhinoceros just a few meters from us. Quickly, we secured ourselves, since these impressive animals can weight more than three tones and despite their immense weight, they are able to run 40 km/h easily. Therefore, we could tick off the second animal from the “Big Five”.

In the restaurant, we talked to some of the workers and heard that already many people were let go. Apparently, 10% of the Namibians lost their jobs due to the missing tourists in the country.

After enjoying the luxurious breakfast buffet, we drove to our next destination, the Etosha National Park. Definitely one of the highlights in Namibia and therefore all travelers recommended the park to us. First, we did a short stop in Tsumeb to visit Nigel. The bubbly former professional cyclist and Tour de France finisher gave us a few spare parts for our bicycles and we exchanged our information about the current situation in the country.

Afterwards, we visited the Swiss couple Regine and Walter, who we met a few days ago on the campground. The retired couple was still on the campground and enjoyed the calmness and the comfort at that location.

After refueling the car, we drove to one of the lakes in the region. The impressive Lake Guinas was created due to a collapse of a cave system and is therefore 130m deep. An approaching thunderstorm made our swimming experience a bit shorter than imagined. On a side road close to the entrance of the park, we found a spot where we could pitch our tent.

At 7AM, much earlier than usual, we were already on the way to the park entrance and witnessed the sunrise. After passing the fence, we saw giraffes on the road and we were happy about our early luck.

After paying the moderate entry fee, we decided to do a detour around a relatively large lake. Shortly after, we already saw many blue wildebeests, plains zebras, oryx, kudus and other kinds of antelopes. From far away we saw an animal, which we could not recognize at first. But when the animal approached, we realized our luck, since it was a mighty lion. He proudly walked across the road and lay down under a bush in its shade not far from us.  We really did not expect to see a lion, since there are not many in the National Park and during the rainy season it is rather difficult to spot them.

The Etosha-National Park is half the size of Switzerland and therefore the second largest wildlife reserve in Africa. During the continuation, we saw not many “new” animals and the waterholes were not populated or less busy due to the current amount of precipitation. The salt pan of the park is immense and impressive. It looks like a sea without an end and offers no basis of life for most animals.

While relaxing in the shade, we talked to our car rental company on the phone and found out that we had to return the car already the same day in Windhoek. The reason was the planned lockdown of the capital. Since we knew about the lockdown, we were in contact with the car rental company and they were extremely relaxed about the current situation. Now, suddenly everything had to be done quickly (as usual in Africa) and we had no choice, except to cooperate. At least we could bargain that we could return the car in the middle, so only 250km instead of 450km southwards.

Therefore, we drove directly to the arranged meeting point and delivered the car to a driver, who travelled there with a bus form Windhoek. Afterwards, we initially wanted to travel to the Ghaub farm of Achim, to wait out the pandemic. Unfortunately, he declined on a short notice and said the whole farm was already close and all the employees were dismissed.

After we thought about what would be best to do at this point, we decided to travel north again, since we at least knew Nigel from the bicycle project and the Swiss couple (Regine and Walter). We asked several people where they plan to drive, but nobody could take us for a decent price. Finally, a couple drove us to a service station where we found a transport in about one minute to Tsumeb.

In the car, we met a police officer who invited us to his home after we told him our situation, if we would not find another place in the next weeks. In the radio we heard that there were already several deadly accidents on the road to Windhoek, since all the people wanted to travel somewhere before the lockdown was in place. Shortly before midnight we finally reached the familiar campground and pitched our tent.