Hitchhiking the Trans Kalahari Highway
Note: This was meant to post yesterday, July 11th. But of course I’m at the mercy of the internet in Namibia, and it just didn’t work out. Therefore, if you will kindly rewind and pretend it was yesterday, that’d be great!
July 11th. Seven eleven. Perhaps the greatest day ever. While it is the finals of the World Cup today between Spain and Holland, more importantly, it’s my birthday! I’m spending the day in Swakopmund, on the coast of Namibia. It was a rough couple of days in order to make it here, but with some determination, it all worked out.
The Bus That Didn’t Exist
Friday, July 9th, I left my hostel in Maun at 5:40am to get to the bus station by 6am. It turns out that contrary to what my hostel told me, there was actually no 6:30am bus to Ghanzi but rather an 8:30am bus. After taking this bus, I am to hitchhike to Windhoek, as there is no public transport once you reach the Namibian border for the first 100km. I sat bundled up in my sleeping bag for nearly two hours waiting for the bus to come. It showed up, and I couldn’t wait to seek warmth inside, however, the driver had misplaced the key to the boot so I had to stand outside for another 15 minutes with my bags waiting for the key search to conclude. I climbed on the bus and people-watched until we pulled away from the station. We hadn’t even made it out of town when I was passed out. I recall being woken up at the first stop we made to pick up other passengers but I had fallen back asleep before we even pulled away again. Camping in the freezing cold clearly has not treated me well. My seat buddy poked me awake again when we came to a Veterinary Control Point. These points are on all the major roads in Botswana, and you must exit the bus and have your bags searched for any cattle products (beef, milk, etc.) as they are trying to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease. You must then step through a puddle of water and board the bus on the other side of the puddle. I got back on the bus, and as you probably already guessed, I fell right back asleep. We got into Ghanzi at 1pm. I knew it was too late to hitchhike to Namibia, but I was living in denial so I had the taxi drop me off outside of town. After one hour with no success, I walked into a nearby market with my tail between my legs and asked the girl at the counter to call the taxi to come back and pick me up.
I checked in at the Kalahari Arms Hotel and set up my tent to camp for the night. While it is a nice hotel, don’t ever stay there. The owner is horrible to the workers and nearly as rude to the patrons as well, going so far as to lie to me so she didn’t have to get up out of her chair. Anyhow, I hit up the grocery, where I met a white farmer who came back to the hotel to have a drink with me. It was quite funny, as he’s lived in Botswana his entire life, and has barely traveled in Africa. ‘Aren’t you scared traveling alone?’ He was even shocked that I was hitchhiking in western Botswana, which is perhaps the safest place in Africa to do so. After this funny conversation I walked back to the camping area where I was greeted by a South African couple around my parents’ age. They were headed for a 24 day tour through Angola, and when I expressed to them that I had no idea Angola had tourist sites and asked what they were, they replied that they weren’t really sure either ☺ I sat down for a cup of tea with them, which led to a hearty dinner and good conversation.
Hitchhiking Botswana to Namibia
I didn’t sleep well as I nearly froze camping; my feet were like blocks of ice. That night was the final straw for me. There will be no more camping until I get a warmer blanket. I took a taxi to the hitching spot again and assumed I would have immediate luck, as everyone I had met who had hitched this area before made it out to be ‘so easy’. The minutes ticked by and more locals continued to show up for hitching. The traffic was slow, and it was mostly locals. By some miracle, I met another man who also was hitching to Windhoek, and he said we should hitch to The Junction 40km outside of town There, you will also find the traffic coming from South Africa so you’re much more likely to get a ride. We jumped in the back of a lorry at 9:45am. At The Junction, it was again, a small miracle. Botswana was conducting a Road Safety road block, by which every vehicle had to pull over and get out of the car for a briefing on road safety. Therefore, even truckers who may not normally stop for hitchers were having to stop. The first truck willing to pick us up was only going as far as the border. No good. The next truck wouldn’t take hitchers. Then, two trucks pulled up together with the address printed on the side as Windhoek, Namibia. They got their briefing and as one of them was stepping away I ran up to approach him before others could. “Are you by chance going to Windhoek today?” He said, “Yes” and I’m pretty sure you could see the glimmer of hope in my eyes. “Would it be possible for me to get a ride?” I asked. They wanted to know if I was alone. I explained that I was traveling alone, however, another man wanted to go to Windhoek too. “Well, we are not allowed to take passengers into Windhoek so we can take you as far as the border or maybe Gobabis.” “Gobabis sounds great,” I said, as I knew I could get public transport from there. I grabbed my bags and never looked back.
Climbing into the giant rig, I was amused by the built-in shocks on the seats. They bounced up and down at every bump in the road, and I was like “Wow this is so cool.” Yes, I know, probably not the ‘cool’ thing to say. I again got lucky because my driver was really normal while his friend who was driving the truck behind us was a bit of a sleeze. My driver said, “That one, he is very naughty. He drinks a lot. And he really likes women. I don’t know why. But he can’t just see a woman without talking to her.” I had a good laugh at this, but when we made our first stop for gas, the other driver climbed up to the cab where I was sitting and told me about these ‘beautiful Canadian women’ he had once picked up hitching. As I was telling the driver how I wanted to make it to Swakopmund that night in time for my birthday, he said, “Well maybe I can take you all the way to Windhoek. Otherwise, you won’t make it,” I practically leapt out of the seat to hug him, and for the first time that day, I think the knots in my stomach went away.
The border crossing was fine, we just had to wait about 20 minutes on Namibia’s side for the trucker to declare his goods. He stopped at a shop after the border so I could change my money, and then we were back on the road. We had a nice conversation most of the way, and when we got into Windhoek 7 hours later, he drove me out of his way to the shared taxi station. He parked his rig at a gas station and walked me to the taxis to make sure I could still get a ride to Swakopmund that night. I am forever grateful for this driver who picked me up. He wished me a Happy Birthday, I thanked him again, and was almost sad to say good-bye.
I climbed into the shared taxi, which by the way is a great idea. It’s essentially a mini-bus of people heading in the same direction but you don’t pick up people along the way. The ride was about 4-1/2 hours to Swakopmund. The driver said he knew the hostel Desert Sky where I wanted to stay but instead pulled up to a place called Desert Adventures, or something like that. We drove around and asked directions, and when we did find the hostel, it was dark out front. Grreeat. We rang the bell and a woman came out who I’ve clearly woken up. They are full. Although I said I wouldn’t camp again, I was desperate. Also full. I tell the driver I’ll be fine, and he starts to get back in the van. I pull out my map to search for another place. It’s dark and the streets are empty. Ten seconds later the driver gets out, picks up my bags, and puts them back in the car. It’s 11pm at night, there are still 4 more people in the minibus waiting to be taken to Walvis Bay, but he wants to makes sure I have a place to stay. We drive around town to three other places until we come upon a hostel with an outrageously loud bar above it. By this point I’m desperate and as the minutes pass, I feel so guilty making the other passengers wait. The bouncer says that they have a room, and I jump for joy. I run out to get my stuff but the driver is still worried that he’s leaving me at some bar and not a hostel, so he walks me back to the reception. I thank him a million times over and then check into my dorm room. Although the bar is raging since Germany just won the game over Uruguay (and Swakopmund is a German settlement), I shower, fall into bed, and sleep more soundly than I have in weeks.
It’s my party and I’ll (insert word here) if I want to!
My transportation issues were practically pure dumb luck. I am so thankful for meeting a man who told me about The Junction, for my truck driver who took me 500km to Windhoek, and for my taxi driver who refused to leave me stranded at 11pm at night. The forces aligned, and now I’m in Swakopmund for perhaps one of the best birthday celebrations thus far (and an adrenaline rush that I’m sure not to forget)!