The first route I want to cycle here in Namibia is along the Fish River Canyon. But at the moment it is hot here, brutally hot and good planning is essential. Carrying enough water of course, but even more important is the timing. After 12:00 I cannot be on the road anymore, under no circumstances. In the afternoon temperatures reach regularly up to 48º. So I always start before 6 in the morning. The first 20 minutes cycling with my flashlight, then there is enough light to see the potholes. These first hours in the morning are simply wonderful. Temperatures are still very nice and when the sun rises and it paints the whole landscape around me in bright orange it is just pure magic. Those colors oft the sandy desert and the barren mountain ranges are indescribable. I also can see a lot of game in those early hours: Springbok and Kudus. All to easy it would be to forget what kind of a hell it will be only a few hours later. Until 10:00 it is quite nice then it quickly starts to get hot. The most important of all is that I have to reach some place, a camping or a lodge, whatever it takes. Camping out here in the open desert with no shelter at all is simply not possible at the moment.
The first day when I ride to Ai Ais, this works quite well and I enjoy almost all afternoon in the beautiful pool of the hot springs here. Although cold springs is what I would certainly prefer at the moment. The 70km and 1000 meter climb on dirt tracks to Hobas I don't quite make in the planned time. A description of how I arrive there I spare you. More or less recovered I ride to the view points the next day where I can see this geological highlight in full size: the Fish River Canyon.
The vegetation is now very sparse here. It is mostly just some grass and hardly any trees anymore. But those trees that can actually live here are all the more beautiful. They are Quiver trees, actually not a tree but an Aloe plant. But they can grow to a few meters height and have a massive trunk. Around Keetmanshoop, the first town that I reach in Namibia, there are particularly many of those trees.
Of the 200km long paved road from Keetmanshoop west to Aus I will mostly remember the unmerciful head wind that annoyed me for two very long days. But then I leave the black tar band for quite some time to come. On a great dirt road I cycle through the Tiras mountains. I am now traveling north always along the edge of the Namib desert. And as soon as I see the first sand dune the color of the road turns as red as fire. Not good at all, for that means sand, very soft sand. Soon I have to start pushing the bike and with the additional 16 liters of water and food for 14 days my bicycle has definitely entered the heavy transporters league.
The color of the road soon changes back to gray and the surface to rock-hard corrugation. The landscape through which I cycle is simply gigantic. On one side the changing mountain ranges and on the other the red sand dunes. In between there is a wide plain with little grass. But best are the animals. Every day I can see literally hundreds: big herds of Springbok, Klipspringer, Oryx, Kudus, Ostriches, Jackals, Zebras. Simply outstanding, I can hardly get enough of it.
Well shaken, I reach Sesriem after 5 days. Here there is a road down to the sand dunes of the Namib desert. It is the only paved road for hundreds of kilometers around but I am not allowed to cycle it because it is in a National park. No worry, for once I park the bicycle at the camp site and make myself comfortable in the back seat of an air-conditioned rental car with a french pilot. At sunrise I climb to the high sand dunes at Sossusvlei and can only marvel at the world that now lies below me: As far as I can see red sand dunes that continue in elegant lines all the way to the horizon. Between the dunes there are salt flats with surreal looking dead trees.
Back in the world of (more or less) solid ground, I feel like a need to see water after all that sand and drought. I hear that in the Naukluft mountains there are some permanent water sources. Two days later I actually swim in a refreshing spring pool surrounded by beautiful mountains full of mountain zebras.
To get from the desert to Windhoek, there are several routes. every time I ask someone about the Spreetshoogte Pass they start throwing up their hands. No wonder, with a slope of 22% it is the second steepest pass of Namibia. Of course I cannot resist cycling it. Thanks to some cobble stones in the steepest sections I can actually cycle and not push up there.
If there is a clean and well organized town in Africa, it has to be Windhoek. The german past can't be denied. To my delight it also left behind a well signposted road network, bakeries, good beer und sausages.
After I already crossed the 10'000km mark I spend my bicycle a new propulsion (chain, cassette and chain wheel) and soon be back on the dirt tracks before my wheels get used to the town asphalt.
Over the Gamsberg Pass I get back down to the desert. So far I mostly traveled along the desert but now I go straight across it. 20 liters of water I somehow manage to pack in my panniers. In the middle, there is supposed to be a nice spot to camp. But that's 98km. 98km on a sandy track with headwind is far, too far actually. After 50km I already feel like my batteries are empty. But I keep going, no sense in putting up the tent now in the hot afternoon. The last 10km I definitely ride in the 'red range'. Only sugar can help now. A package of gummy bears is my rescue and then finally a rock emerges out of the sand. Wow, what a place! Some 50m above the desert with a fantastic view over the endless plain and under a 5m rock overhang where I put up my tent in the shadow.
On days like this even I ask myself, why? Why this desert, against the wind, in this heat. At night I make a huge campfire sit next to it and gaze out into the desert while the colors change at sunset until it is dark and this unbelievable starry sky appears - better than any movie. These moments, that is why I do it!
North of Swakopmund a prominent mountain shoots out of the savannah, the Grosse Spitzkoppe, sometimes also called the Matterhorn of Africa. Well, Matterhorn is a long shot, but the mountain that consists of a single granite rock just look stunning. A whole day I climb under and over those like giant marbles looking granite boulders, always discovering something new.
Something I have hardly seen yet here in Namibia is people! In the southern part where I travelled so far only fees white farmers live, no one else. Only now in the north small settlements turn up along the road. I cycle through the Damaraland. The Damara speak one of the strangest languages I have ever heard. It mostly consists of so called click-sounds, almost impossible to imitate.
Twyfelsfontein is one of the most impressive place for rock paintings on the African continent. Spread over several rocks there are many paintings mostly of animals, all between 4000 - 6000 years old.
All along the road I meet now tiny Himba villages. The Himba are a semi-nomadic people that live here in the Kaokovled and still do that like they have done for generations. The women make a mixture of butter, herbs and soil that they smear into their hair creating elaborate hair dressings, looking almost a bit like dreadlocks.
Time to say goodbye to the desert.The last days are challenging one more time. I cross some mountain ranges on rough roads and the heat is again a killer. Joubert Pass makes for a truly memorable finish mark. The climb is so steep that I have difficulty even pushing my bike up. After weeks in this dry, barren environment, the first bushes and tiny trees look to me like a thick deep-green forest.
When I reach Opuwo, my first thought is: now I have reached Africa! Everywhere there are people, loud music and all in a tumble. In the supermarket I am waiting in line with bare-breasted Himba women wearing only jewelry and a leather apron, Herero women in their elaborate costumes and modernly dressed in tight jeans - a truly unique mix! To my surprise I get an additional 90km of dirt roads as a bonus. But then I reach in Ruacana, just south of the border to Angola, the tarred roads again after more than 6 weeks and more than 2300km of dusty gravel roads.
As if there were arguments needed why to choose those bad roads I am confronted with plenty of those the following days: the 500km to Tsumeb are pretty much simply flat like a pancake, dead straight and rather boring.
Die road after Grootfontein is a simple straight line on the map. At its end, after 250km I reach the Okovango River, the first real river since the border river with South Africa! Alon its shore there are some beautiful camp sites where I relax. It is beautifully green here on the water and at night I can hear the Hippos in the river from my tent. At the Popa Falls I turn off the main road and cycle down to the border with Botswana.