Windhoek

I set off from Sesriem on a road which, rather to my surprise, was tarmac for the first 15km or so. A group of oryx were on the road, and panicked when they saw me. One charged at the fence and rather than jumping, simply crashed into it and basically summersaulted oved. Another tried the same thing and ended up stuck.

Pre-disaster

The fence consisted of mesh about a metre high, then three thick parallel wires. The oryx’s foot had gone between two of these wires. It was now on the ground, on its back, with a leg in the air. The weight of the oryx pulling down on the wires meant I wasn’t able to pull them apart.

I spent a while trying to free the oryx before deciding I wasn’t going to be able to. No cars had passed during this time so I started cycling back to a campsite a few kilometres back. I’d only gone a kilometre or so when I saw a car, so I flagged them down. They had some wire cutters on a multitool so we headed back to the oryx. Since it was on its back a fair distance from the road, it wasn’t really visible unless you already knew it was there.

The wirecutters didn’t have enough leverage to cut the thick wires around the oryx’s ankle, but I was able to use them to break one of the staples holding the wire to the fence post. This made it loose enough that we could pull it apart and the leg was freed. Thankfully the oryx seemed alright; it jumped up and ran away.

I rode on. Before I could see the end of the tarmac, I could see the clouds of sand and dust where cars drove on the dirt road. The surface was initially quite good, though it did get worse.

One passing vehicle stopped, and the driver got out to say hello. He was a swiss guy, travelling for a few weeks with his young daughter, perhaps 7 or so. He kindly offered to fill up my water and gave me a lovely cold coke.

In the heat of the afternoon, I approached the village of Solitaire. I was only a few hundred metres away when I got a puncture. I tried to just pump it up to get me to the village, but the leak was too fast. I had no choice but to sit there in the sun and work on it, with shade visible just a few hundred metres away.

When I did get to Solitaire, I stopped at the gas station – which is pretty much the entire village. There was a shop as well, where I bought some snacks and sat down to eat. While I was there, Sal and Ethan arrived. I’d been planning on riding on further but decided it’d be nice to spend some more time with them, so I joined them at the attached campsite – which offered a reduced rate for cyclists/motorcyclists! The restaurant offered steak and chips which we were very tempted by, but they were targeting the more upmarket travellers and it was a bit too expensive for us.

In the morning, after saying goodbye to Ethan and Sal, I set off cycling. Shortly I took a turnoff for a minor road. The road deteriorated significantly and signs warned heavy vehicles away due to the steep pass ahead.

It was slow going on the sandy road, made no faster by the puncture I got and repaired. After a few hours I reached the beginning of the climb up Speeetshoogte pass.

Before beginning the climb, I stopped for a break. I sat in a drain under the road to get out of the sun. I heard a vehicle stop above me, having seen my bike lying down next to the road. The drivers were concerned so I stood up to explain I hadn’t fallen and was just having a rest.

The climb itself was paved, a mark of how steep it is. The average gradient was about 12%, for the gain of about 400m. Since it was paved it was pretty easy. At the top of the climb a family had stopped for a picnic; they greeted me with applause which seemed quite out of proportion to the difficulty of the climb. They also gave me a pastry and some water!

The man there asked why my water bottles were stored upside down in the water holders. Until this day I don’t think I’ve been asked that question, though I’ve carried them that way for the last 70,000km or so. The remarkable thing was that I’d also been asked this as I left the campsite in the morning! (The answer is that because I use big water bottles, only the narrow top end fits in the cage.)

From here there were some rolling hills for a while before the road flattened out. Before long I reached a sign stating that I was back in the tropics.

I continued along the sandy road. I passed a farmhouse, and stopped to fill up my water bottles. When itt got dark, I made my way through an unlocked gate and set up camp. The ground was very hard so I had to use stones to secure the tent instead of pegs. Thankfully it wasn’t windy.

I saw several troops of baboons crossing the road in the morning. There had been a few animals in the distance the evening before that I hadn’t identified. Seeing these ones, I realised the others were baboons too.

The only place on my map where I thought I could get water was several kilometres off the road. I was quite glad, then, to suddenly see a house. A worker there let me fill up my bottles.

The road trended gradually upwards, and I slowly worked my way through the sands. St last it levelled out then headed more steeply downhill.

The base of the descent marked a return to tarmac for the last few kilometres to Windhoek, the capital. I rode into the city and made my way to a hostel, and set up my tent there. There was a friendly cat there, a big plus in my book.

The next day was Easter Friday. I tried going to the embassy of the Republic of Congo, but they were closed – and wouldn’t be open until Tuesday. I moved over to what seemed to be some sort of student accommodation that I found on booking.com. It was about £10 a night, cheaper than most hostels in Windhoek.

I went to visit one of these hostels. Another cyclist, Chris, had recently had an accident and posted on the group WhatsApp that he’d appreciate any visits while he recovered. He’s not sure exactly what happened (he blacked out) but he thinks he lost control in the sand on the road I rode in on. He woke up in hospital with a broken collarbone and will have to spend some months recovering.

Chris and I chatted for a couple of hours about the various things cyclists usually chat about. We spoke about how few cyclists there are in Africa compared to other places we’ve been. He asked if I take many side trips; he tends to ride more direct routes.

An example of this he gave was when he was in Nepal. There were lots of cyclists in the city of Pokhara and a group of them went off to ride the Annapurna circuit, but he continued heading east. “Wait a minute,” I said. “When exactly were you in Nepal?” He looked through his phone for a photo he’d taken of these cyclists and there I was, second from the right! It turned out we met briefly back in 2019.

When Tuesday came around, I returned to the embassy. I’d brought the papers that iOverlander entries had mentioned, but they asked for a hotel booking as well. The guys in the embassy were friendly and one gave surprisingly good directions to a print shop. When I left to go there, I found a thorn in my tyre which caused an unfortunate hissing when removed. I think this may be my first time getting a puncture in a country (Congo) without cycling there!

Wednesday evening I received a call asking me to bring in an itinerary, detailing how I was going to get to/leave Congo. They were just about to close, so I made my way over in the morning with the requested paperwork. The guys in the embassy were quite apologetic – apparently the consul, who usually deals with visas, is on holiday. The ambassador was doing them instead and she’d asked for the extra documents. A few hours later I received a call to say my visa was ready, and I went to collect it.

With that visa in hand, I made my way to another embassy – Congo again, this time the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The DRC doesn’t give tourist visas, only transit ones – but their transit visas allow for a stay of a month, beginning any time within three months of being issued. So a tourist visa in all but name.

The woman working here was quite slow and unhelpful, as several commenters had stated on iOverlander. She made various contradictory statements – including saying that the passport was going to be posted to the DRC and back – and insisted for a while that the visa was going to take two weeks. In the end she agreed it wouldn’t, and gave me her number so I could check on the progress.

Several people had said that their visas had been entered in their passports the day they’d deposited them, but this woman delays letting people know – and then asks for “gifts” for doing it sooner than two weeks. I decided to try going in early on Monday morning (she’s habitually late) but unfortunately she was the only one with the key to the room where the passports are kept. She asked for some extra information – a bank statement – and told me I could collect the visa the next morning, mentioning that she was the one who put the visas in the passport. So they don’t get sent to the DRC, eh.

Tuesday morning I picked up my passport with my second Congo visa. I spent the rest of the day finishing up a few jobs. I exchanged some Namibian dollars for US dollars and picked up something I’d forgotten to get at the bike shop. I also posted back my old tent – I’d been carrying two since receiving the new one in South Africa.

Each of the visas took three working days, which isn’t bad. But with Easter and a weekend it was almost two weeks since I’d arrived in Windhoek, so I was more than ready to return to cycling. I packed up my things so that I’d be ready to set off the next morning.

Apr 13: 107 km

Apr 14: 116 km

3 thoughts on “Windhoek

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