Day 9 to Day 12 - June 6th–9th

We left Swakopmund on the Atlantic coast of Namibia andheaded north along the “Skeleton Coast,” named for all the shipwrecks that pepper the beach. There was heavy fog, and the road was wet and covered with salt, making it slippery.

The coastal town of Swakopmund was not much of a party town. Clubbing in Namibia is much different than a pub crawl in Soho or Rush Street in Chicago. The clubbing here occurs along the coast, where locals descend on seal colonies and club to death the young pups. Clubbing is used so the pelt will not be scarred. This sounds grisly and that’s why we did not want to see it. But on the whole, Namibia is very environmentally conscious and eco-tourism contributes significantly to their employment. This is extremely important, because unemployment here is 40%.

Chunks of salt are used as road markers:

The Atlantic shoreline is almost entirely uninhabited with only a few signs of fishermen.

The sand was hard by the water, and we were tempted to take our bikes and ride right down the beach, but we were in a hurry to reach the Rhino Camp coast road. We didn’t want to risk having to turn back if the sand loosened up. This was a good decision, because as we headed north, the desert began to bleed right into the beach.

We ended up at the Rhino camp, which marks the beginning of the road we had been fearing the most. The camp is dedicated to saving rhinos and features an interesting museum that indicates the rhinos are down to less than 5% of their original population, all due to the aphrodisiac market in Yemen and the Far East. I think this is entirely the fault of Pfizer and Eli Lilly and Company. If they did a better job promoting Viagra, we would have a lot more rhinos than we do now.

Our plan was to camp at the other end of the road, perhaps four hours away, but this sign was discouraging:

The road into the mountains was deeply rutted, dotted with big sharp rocks, areas of deep sand, and steep climbs and descents:

Early in the ride, I must have hit a rock that pulled part of the skid plate off my motorcycle. We wired it back on and will wait until we get to a city to get some fasteners that will last for the remainder of the trip.

Along the way, we saw a fascinating show of honesty at a roadside stand. One is encouraged to take a pretty stone from a basket as a souvenir and make a donation as payment. Being curious, we checked in the donation cup and there was the equivalent of nearly $20 out in the open, unguarded—this in a country with 40% unemployment and a daily wage of $1-$2.

For me, the first part of the trip was easy, but something happened to change that. I fell a few times and completely lost my confidence, which caused me to fall many times. I have not had hard falls, but clearly I have dramatically lost my touch. I think part of it was fatigue, part of it dehydration, but mainly I lost confidence and was focusing on the immediate obstacles – sharp rocks, ruts, deep sand – instead of focusing on ways through the obstacles. This reminds me of the best way to get through a burly mogul run, like Highline at Vail, where you have to be looking forward to next three turns you’ll make even as you as you’re in the process of carving one out.

We camped and had an excellent dinner using Roger’s jet boiler, which can boil nearly a half-quart of water in 3 minutes:

The next morning, we went to a living museum where a group of locals have recreated the way a Bushmen community looked and functioned. Helge is discussing the program with the handler, describing what we wanted to see.

Here, I am being taught how to make fire with only a hard stick and another stick with a hole drilled in it. Sand is put in the hole and the stick is spun. Donkey dung is added and when the donkey dung begins to smoke, it is placed in straw. With ample air, a flame emerges. The Native American approach, using a bow, starts a fire faster.

We met the chief:

And we were treated to some authentic traditional dances. We recognized some hairdos that are coming back.

Helge handed the tribe copies of pictures he had taken on his last visit.

We got a lesson in tribal pharmacy. This plant helps treat earaches:

A piece of elephant dung boiled in water is the perfect medicine for arthritis:

There is plentiful iron ore in Namibia. The tribes were early producers of iron – melting the rock, refining it, and making tools.

Roger is a real charmer.

That evening we spent the night in Otjivaronga at a wonderful guesthouse. We had a long conversation with some South Africans about some of the differences between Namibia and South Africa. The violence against women that is prevalent in South Africa is unique to South Africa – Namibia is different for several reasons. They said that the tribes in South Africa, such as the Zulus, were more warlike, masculine and domineering, more reminiscent of our Comanche or Apache Indians. The men have many wives, and view women more as chattel.

The next morning, we visited a cheetah conservatory started by Laurie Marker, who is a contemporary and good friend of Steve Taylor, the Director of the MetroParks Zoo in Cleveland.

The tour featured a segment called Running the Cheetahs. They used a cord that is propelled around a large square with a rag tied to the end of it. The cord can be run back and forth by a joystick – teasing the cheetah to chase the rag. The rag can move at approximately 40 mph, a little more than half the maximum speed of a cheetah. A cheetah can accelerate from 0-60 mph in two seconds – faster than Bernie Morino’s fastest Porsche.

We walked into the fields where the cheetahs were lounging around. They realized that their hunt was about to begin. The chase is on!

Inevitably they catch the rag, which is traded for a piece of meat. Each of their 50 cheetahs eat approximately 2.2 kilos of meat per day.

The cheetah museum featured a skeleton of a cheetah. You can see how long the ankle is, which is what allows them to achieve such high speeds. It almost looks like a rabbit’s hindquarters.

The group here also raises Anatolian Shepherd dogs from Turkey.

These dogs help farmers to guard and protect their sheep and livestock from cheetah attacks. The dogs position themselves between the cheetah and the flock, barking to get the cheetah to go after other game.

They also showed us a material called bush block, which is artificial firewood made from burning thorn bushes. These bushes are taking over the savannah since the elephants and rhinos are gone. The bush is cut down, dried, chipped, and then, using steam and sometimes starch, the chips are pressed into a block that is long-burning. If charcoaled, it can be used for barbequing.

We got back to our lodge, packed our motorcycles, and drove 300 kilometers to Rundu, arriving there at sunset. Rundu is on the northern border of Namibia, just across the Okavango River from Angola.

Namibia: Swakopmund to Rundu
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