Surviving the Desert 101

Maun —> Shitewa —> D’kar —> Gobabis —> Windhoek

One thing that stood out to us as we left Maun, Botswana on the 510 mile stretch to Windhoek was the amount of dead animals we saw from the road. Most were roadkill – jackal, snakes, dogs – but we also saw bloated cows off the road, piles of bones, and even a family butchering a freshly-killed donkey. The new theme could have been a coincidence — or the result of high speed driving on a straight, flat stretch of road, OR an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease the Botswana government are trying to prevent??? — but we blamed the harsh, arid environment of the Kalahari desert.

Not surprisingly in this environment, the heat finally caught up with us. We only had a few hours each morning, before the sun started beating down around 9am. It scorched over 100 degrees F (+35C) in the afternoons. We were happy to take a half-day at a lodge run by the local San people, also known as bushmen, to do a bushwalk. It just meant pushing our bikes for an hour on a sand road to get there. We tried to convince ourselves that it’s sometimes worth it to get off the pavement for a cultural experience, but we were in a dark place when we arrived at the lodge exhausted and dripping with sweat. Thankfully, the bushwalk was extremely worth it, as we learned how native people survived on this land for centuries. They showed us what plants and nuts they eat – cooked and raw – how to build a fire using sticks and zebra poop. Most interesting to me was their use of ostrich eggs as vessels for carrying water, instead of pottery. If we were able to remember everything we learned, we’d be able to carry a much lighter load on the bikes!

We weren’t about to push our bikes back to the pavement after the bushwalk, so we waited around for a lift on a truck (4×4). The same sand road that took us one hour only took 10 minutes, not to mention all of the energy we saved. As we continued on to Namibia, we talked a lot about the different ways to travel in Africa. The method you choose is usually determined by three factors: time, money and autonomy.

  • By plane: If you have more money than time, you probably choose to fly from place to place, maybe even resort to resort?
  • Overlander self-drive: If you want the autonomy of driving yourself around, cooking your own meals, and camping on the roof of your car. We see these vehicles at most campsites we go to, especially in the 4×4 wheeling haven that is Botswana and Namibia. $120+ per day
  • Overlander tour: Think of it as a giant tour bus that takes you from campsite to campsite, or chalet if you upgrade, over one or multiple African countries and even into safari/game parks. We are assuming it is cheaper to book a tour like this instead of renting your own vehicle, unless you upgrade at each accommodation!
  • Motorcycle-touring: this method of travel is, in many ways, similar to a bicycle tour except the distances you can cover are greater, carrying weight is no longer an issue and the gradient of the road is easily overcome by the twist of your wrist.
  • Backpacking: Most packers pay for buses to get from one destination to the next, staying at affordable “backpacker” hostels/lodges along the way.
  • Hitchhiking: Very affordable, but may test your patience as you wait for someone to pick you up. Once they do, who knows where they’ll drop you off!
  • Cycle-touring: In theory, cycling should be as cheap as hitchhiking, but cycle-tourers save on accommodation by camping in government facilities and in the wild. It also takes longer to get from A to B. The upfront cost of the bicycle and gear can be as much or as little as you want it to be, depending on how many problems you’re willing to fix on the road!

We’ve now thought of a new category that fits somewhere between hitchhiking and cycling – we’re calling it hitch-BIKING! Riding in a truck for the sand-road felt so good we tried our luck again out on the pavement. We tried cycling with our thumbs out, but passing drivers just returned the thumbs up, good, good! We finally caught one lift by making a slow-down motion, almost like a one-armed bird. The drivers were making a delivery for a clinic, and probably thought they were keeping us out of the clinic by rescuing us from the heat. We doubled our distance that day and made it into Namibia! We had more luck as we got close to the capital city, Windhoek. The road was getting dangerously busy for a road with no hard shoulder. The owner of an airport transfer company offered to drive us the remaining 15 miles into town – no charge! Out of the 510 miles from Maun to Windhoek, we cycled 445 miles and hitched 65. We might be a fan of this type of travel, especially as we leave the pavement again and head towards Namibia’s famous red sand dunes. Before that, we’re taking a vacation from the bikes altogether. We’ll get a taste of another mode of transport as we rent a 4×4 vehicle to get to some off-route destinations: Etosha National Park, Twyfelfontein cave paintings, Cape Cross seal reserve, German colonial town Swakopmund, and more!

2 thoughts on “Surviving the Desert 101

  1. Wow we’re u just rode to Wintoek is bitumen when I did it we went through Kalahari Gemsbok National park all dirt The Coastline down Swakamond to WalvisBay teaming with fish It’s unreal n don’t forget to look at Fysch River Canyon better than Grand Canyon Love reading your Work I’m just remanising Keep Up the good work CheersXO PS and in Summer the luck of the Irish ☘️

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  2. The only thing ‘mo better’ than your magnificent journey is the professional job you are doing with this blog. We get to hitch along with you. Almost(!) feel guilty though-we have a fire going here.

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