Swakopmund to Walvis Bay
Distance – 52km
Total distance – 800km
We bid Matt and Wendy farewell after a great 3 days to reboot, see a little of Swakopmund and surrounds and give a couple of school presentations. Elago arrived, as planned, at about 8am having set off at 4am from Windhoek. John, who is from Swakopmund, has joined the team for three days, driving the second vehicle. He will then be replaced by Simon, a specialist for the area we are about to traverse, on 7 June.
On the way out of town, we diverted to the DRC (Democratic Resettlement Community) area – Kas had visited there on his own yesterday and met some local people. A local leader, Mamieke agreed to meet us and organise a gathering with some of the DRC inhabitants.
It was a cold, foggy, dank morning, apt conditions for the story we were to hear. Mamieke took us to meet a group representative of the DRC. There were young mothers, men, women and children of all ages. No one had a job and the mood was one of desperation. They were looking for hope, much more than we could give.
They wanted to show us what life was like for them. All were unemployed, several had come there from different parts of the country in the early 2000s when the informal settlement began, looking for work. Houses were made from whatever materials they could salvage. From what we saw, they lived in squalor. One gentleman described how he ate food from rubbish bins. Disease was rife. We were told that a new strain of hepatitis, hepatitis E was prevalent, contracted from poor hygiene. Their children didn’t have enough warm clothes or food. There were open outdoor toilets and filth everywhere, no electricity and they had to pay for water. Some of the group however, were very articulate, they just needed opportunities.
I felt pretty helpless and was careful not to promise what I could not give. I was presented with a letter that makes difficult reading.
Leaving the slum, I continued down Henties Road, also known as ‘apartheid road’ as it represented the division between white and black or coloured under South African rule. I continued past the pristine town centre and out over the Swakop River bridge. It was only a short journey to Walvis Bay, though the road was extremely busy and too narrow for the volume of heavy traffic. The route tracked the ocean on one side and large sand dunes on the other. Entering Walvis Bay, the avenue was lined with palm trees for several kilometres.
Walvis Bay seemed a busier place, more industrial because it is the main port for Namibia. It was so valuable during colonial times that the British annexed the port as theirs whereas Germany claimed the rest of the country. Besides the harbour facilities, the whole shoreline is protected by a large, shallow lagoon, the habitat of many varieties wading birds, including flamingoes.
I have been receiving some good press in the Namibian newspaper and, cycling down the foreshore on the way to the campground, a lady called out my name. She had been waiting for me to cycle past. Then a couple of others asked to meet me.
Walvis Bay to Sandwich Harbour
Distance – 62km
Total distance – 862km
Out of Walvis Bay on a cold, foggy morning, I first crossed a vast salt mining area that cover the southern end of the lagoon. Flamingoes were out in force, heads down, feeding off the shallows of the bay.
After 16km I reached the end of the salt road and started cycling down the beach. I suddenly felt free and enjoyed riding along the sand after dealing with heavy traffic and long days on made roads. The fog soon cleared and the wind was negligible. I was able to pedal down the firm beach with the tide out at between 12 and 14km/hr. There were a fair few vehicle tracks – from fishermen and tourist trips (to Sandwich Harbour).
I had done almost 50km by midday, but then Elago noticed that John hadn’t caught us. I continued slowly while the other doubled back to find John who had a tyre blowout. I lost about 90 minutes, which normally wouldn’t be an issue, but while I waited, the tide was coming in fast and the headwinds started to strengthen.
There was a stunning 5km section where vehicles could not pass during high tide, but we just managed to get through in time. Lunch was spent in a small enclave beside the wreck of a fisherman’s hut. The views were stunning; huge walls of sand dunes, deep blue sea and, just as we were enjoying lunch, a pod of dolphins began frolicking in the waves right beside the shore.
The last couple of hours were tough; the tide was in and I was forced to ride on the soft sand. Sandwich Harbour is really just a huge protected lagoon with a great deal of birdlife. Encasing the swampy shallows are enormous sand dunes. The problem for me was that the tide was in and I was forced to try to cross the dunes rather than skirt the dunes on the beach. It made for a real struggle. Either I was forced to try to cycle on vehicle tracks (bottomless sand) or climb the dunes. Twice I had to lift my bike up the soft face of a dune. We are going to have to get very good at using the tides, making the most of low tide every day.
We are in an incredible spectacular place, but as expected it is going to be quite a struggle over the next 450km.
Sandwich Harbour to 20km south of the Shawnee Wreck
Location: 23.84451 S, 14. 51246 E
Distance – 56km
Total Distance – 918km
The first decision today was how to get out of our beautiful camp spot; take the sand dune route and take a ‘shortcut’ across to the ocean, or follow Sandwich Harbour lagoon, skirting the small bays with muddy beaches to the swampy head of the lagoon.
In the end, on John’s advice (the only one who has experience of the region), I took to the sand dunes, following some vehicle tracks. Unfortunately I soon lost the tracks and found myself working my way through a maze of high ergs and muddy clay pans trying to keep to the firmer, higher ground where possible. From high points I could see the head of the lagoon, and eventually the ocean in the distance. I spent two hours and covered 12km, slowly working my way across until I finally met up with the guys. I had done 22km by the time we reached the ocean beach.
A rubber seal on my all-wheel drive system, connecting the universal joint to the shaft drive slipped off and tore down the middle exposing the grease-packed internal drive shaft to potentially filling with sand. At first John and I were able to slip the rubber casing back on, but by the end of the day, sand was entering the unit and so I sealed the unit with tape and managed without the AWD.
Along this coastline I noticed many sick and dead seals. Elago said he thought it was from a type of plankton that is sometimes prevalent that is consumed by fish and when the seals eat the fish, it is poisonous to them. It was pretty depressing seeing so many dead seals.
At 36km we came across the wreck of the Shawnee, a tug boat that hit rocks offshore and ran aground in 1974. It is the most complete wreck we have seen of that era.
The scenery all day along the beach was astounding; massive walls of sand dunes dropping almost straight to the ocean. The problem for the vehicles in particular was that the tide was coming in and there was some urgency to clear these zones before the vehicles were stranded. This is where John’s experience came in. After the Shawnee, the vehicles raced off, while I pushed along at my increasingly slower pace (due to strengthening headwinds and cycling on soft sand with the high tide). 15km later we were clear of the danger – just. I just made it as the water lapped against the sandy wall. Lunch at 4pm, then I just did a further 5km before we called it quits.
Tomorrow should be more straight forward. Low tide will be slightly later, so I will try to make the most of it.