Windhoek to Okaukuejo – Etosha National Park

In preparing for our road trip to Etosha National Park it occurred to all three of us motorcycle travelers that we’d be afforded a few luxuries that we don’t get when traveling by bike. First, we could bring a cooler and keep food, drinks and wine cool from the scorching heat of the harsh Namibian deserts. Second, we could all talk to each other though this could be a liability, too! Third, we had a CD player. Sure, I can listen to my iPod Shuffle but in the car it’s different. And finally, we had space. And as such, we took advantage of nearly all of it.

We each did our share of preparations. Of course, I had made a run to Pick N’ Pay to stock up on a few bottles of wine and a handful of tupperware-like food storage containers before picking up our Toyota from Value Car & 4×4 Rental in Windhoek which included a small cooler. Jules and Grant picked up a handful of supplies and we loaded our worldly possessions and camping gear into the back of the Condor relishing in the luxu ry of spreading out our gear for easy access.

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Traveling by car – a new twist to the WorldRider journey.

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Grant snoozes on a nearby bench while Jules is armed and ready to catch wildlife in action with her new Canon digital camera.

Sitting shotgun while I handled the right-hand drive and left hand stick-shift 5-speed that transferred the 3.0 liter power-plant to the wheels, stocky and medium height, Grant talks with a slight harmonic overtone which I’m guessing comes from the fact he’s nearly deaf in one ear. In the back seat, Jules spread out and often would hand treats and snacks to the forward cabin as be barreled down the straight tar road north toward Etosha. Proud of his decision and the research he did prior to settling on a Suzuki VStrom for his two-up round-the-world motorcycle tour, Grant tends to get defensive when other motorcyclists question or mock this decision or his bike. Seems travelers he’s met from Panama to Chile to Argentina to South Africa seem to pick on the poor little Suzuki.

“You can’t ride that bike on Ruta 40,” one KLR rider told him when they were visiting rock paintings just off Ruta 40. “I hope you’re not planning on riding that in South America,” another rider warned, “you should only ride a BMW down there – a boxer BMW.” And in South Africa a pair of BMW riders ganged up on the poor guy ridiculing the low ground clearance and bike geometry. “Why didn’t you get a BMW?” Still others told him a KTM would be better. This topic dominated our conversation for the first 150 km as we headed to Otjiwarongo. Understanding more about marketing and the influence of brand loyalty and customer relationships, in the end it doesn’t really matter what anyone rides on a motorcycle tour – whether across town or transcontinental. If it gets the job done, you’re happy and problems and hassles are minimized, you’ve got the right steed. I’ve heard of a guy who rode a 50cc moped from Alaska to Argentina. Still another made the journey on a Vespa Scooter. Some prefer self-powered vehicles. My advice to Grant was the next time someone wanted to have this conversation to just tell them “Yeah. You’re right. Next time I’ll choose a different ride.” That will shut them up.

Spending time around anyone passionate, whether it be motorcycles, airplanes, wine, mountain climbing, music or cars, conversations tend to go on and on and on about that passion. And everybody has an opinion and talk about gear can go on and on until you’re sick of it. Grant is comfortable around motorcycles as he’s been riding since a kid. He’s spent a good part of his life either working in mines in Australia and Papau New Guinea or in workshops of all sorts. He’s trained in occupational safety but was disillusioned with the head-butting that goes on between government and business in his native land. And while he is extremely passionate about his VStrom and the work and maintenance he performs, he is always thinking and is a bundle of curiosity. “Have you ever thought of ….” or “I’ve often wondered…” Oddly, Grant is a self-stated fan of science fiction yet he loathes computers. “Hate them. Don’t want to touch them. Don’t want to use them.” He sits behind Julie at internet cafés and dictates e-mails while Jules drives the keyboard. And when she accidentally dropped the cell phone they finally bought after two and half years on the road, Grant sternly warned, “that’s the last one we’re buying.”

Jules, the daughter of evangelical followers of Jehovah Witness’s is several years younger than Grant’s youthful fifty years. Always cheerful and happy around their camp kitchen in the morning and night, I always have a warm cup of coffee when I emerge from my room or tent when traveling with them. Bright and extremely knowledgeable about flora and fauna she sports a witty and sardonic sense of humor that is a welcomed complement to mine, and to Grant’s. Married for nearly fifteen years she’d mildly tempered and easily handles Grant’s sometimes opinionated if not stubborn thinking — and mine, too.

The three of us balance and travel well together. They’ve been two and half years on the road and me nearly two. We’re all in a groove and each our own rhythm. When thrown together the balance can get thrown and with other travelers this can be challenging. For us our uniquely matched sense of humor and ability to draw on miles and months of travel experience makes for a good team. And with this notion we set out to find Grant a bottle of gin after stocking up on groceries at the Super Spar in Otjiwarongo.

Liquor laws in Namibia and South Africa remind me of the Blue Laws I grew up with in Connecticut. That is, on Saturday there is no liquor or beer sold after 7pm and absolutely no liquor sales on Sunday. Most liquor is sold through “bottle stores”. Some grocery stores will sell beer, wine but rarely distilled spirits. And on Saturday most bottle stores are closed after 2pm — especially in the small remote towns of Namibia. This was not different. Due to a sensitive stomach that requires a watchful diet, Grant is one of the few people I’ve met in my life who is really allergic to beer — the yeast and hops, I guess. He can drink wine, but after a couple days of decidedly bad quality wine and morning headaches, he had decided that wine would not be on the menu for the Etosha Adventure — it would be gin and tonics after a long day of wildlife viewing and dusty gravel roads.

The bottle store we were first referred to seemed to take up the whole block. People were milling or loitering about. Some kicked soccer balls, others were dressed in traditional African attire and women carried children in a sash on their backs. Harmless enough. But we couldn’t find an entrance, or an open door. We were then referred to the Indila Liquor Den next to Big Daddy’s Fashion. Driving in front of the bar that also sells booze, all we could see into the cavernous strip mall building where the bright sun contrasted heavily against the wide open doors were a couple pool tables. Beyond it was darker and blacker than a movie theater. Julie who had been hopping out of the car looking for Grant’s Gin passed on entering this shady establishment. So Grant disappeared into the darkness. I wondered how long I should wait until I call for support. But five minutes later Grant emerged with two half pints of Gin: Old Buck. That’s when I warned him. “I’m not sure I’d drink that stuff,” I said while looking at the bottle. “This could kill you.

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Grant contemplating his adventure into the Indila Liquor Den in Otjiwarongo.

With a bottle of gin on board, we journeyed forward to Etosha and Okaukuejo as the the terrain changed from arid desert to thicker bush and taller trees. Pulling into Etosha we secured out campsite and while at the local shop picking up firewood Grant spotted a bottle of Gordon’s Gin. Saved.

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Arriving in Okakuejo just as the sunset and the giraffes make their way to the water hole.


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