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.