Disaster in Namibian Sands
Once again we've broken down in the middle of nowhere, this time it was out in the scorching Kalahari desert after a nasty fall into the sand... But let me start at the beginning, and it was a good beginning: the Drakensberg, meaning Dragon Mountains in Afrikaans.
Back in South Africa, these jagged peaks definitely earned their name. Like towering stone monoliths ruling over the landscape from their lofty thrones, they say that it was the scenery of South Africa that inspired J. R. R. Tolkein to create Middle Earth in his fantasy books The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. And I certainly agree that there seemed to be magic there, like I could just picture a dragon hiding behind the crags, protecting his hoard of gold and treasure.
The heart of the Drakensberg range is called Giant's Castle, another suitable name. And from there we rode through Golden Gate Park, which reminded us of Capitol Reef National Park in Utah: orange and beige cliffs hugging a road that twisted effortlessly through it, each rock smoothed out by the wind to make the landscape look like it had once been a lava lamp frozen in place.
Unfortunately, the road was so winding and it was such a windy day, that I started feeling nauseous from being swung back and forth. So when we spotted our first wild zebras just hanging out on the side of the road, I was excited, but ended up throwing up right there as we took pictures of them. Not my finest hour, but Tim had a great moment.
Past Golden Gate we were now in South Africa's high-altitude plain, similar to the South American altiplano. Instead of llamas though, there were springbok everywhere: a lovely antelope that jumps like it's a child on a trampoline, and when they “spring", it's like they float on air (they're what the South African rugby team that just won the world cup are named for).
The breezes were refreshingly cool when we hit Bloemfontein, and we met up with one of the great motorcyclists of South Africa: Stefan Boshoff. Besides the awards he's won for motorcycle competitions around the world, he also won us over with his friendliness, hospitality, awesome family, and all around great stories. Because of people like him and his welcoming family, we will forever think fondly of the wonderful town of Bloemfontein.
Our time in South Africa was coming to an end as we headed through the arid plains into Namibia. We had been warned about riding in Namibia: “The roads there chew tires up like bubble gum," “Don't let yourself get dehydrated. The Namibian sun is brutal." And perhaps the worst of all, “You'll hit lots of deep sand out of nowhere, and dunes can even blow over the paved roads."
If you don't know what Namibia's like, have you seen the movie Mad Max: Fury Road? Well it was filmed there, and is a pretty perfect representation of Namibia's long stretches of gorgeous desert nothingness.
But we knew that Namibia was going to be worth it because of one simple fact: vast amounts of nature. It's a country two times the size of California with a population of less than Chicago, and as such, Namibia is the second most scarcely populated country on earth after Mongolia (another one of our dream destinations).
No amount of warnings were going to deter us.
But of course, the warnings were all correct. Before our disaster struck, we luckily had a few perfect days in Namibia at an awesome desert campsite with fiery sunsets and sleeping under the stars. And we took a day-trip to Africa's largest canyon, Fish River Canyon, which even after seeing the Grand Canyon, definitely didn't disappoint.
After the canyon, it didn't take long for things to take a turn for the worse. We were riding to one of Nambia's most famous spots called Sossusvlei. It's a collection of red dunes among a sea of other red dunes that is one of Namibia's most iconic images.
We'd been told the road there was bad, but it didn't look that bad at first. Just a wide straight stretch of gravel. 4x4's were flying past us, leaving us coughing in the dust they created. There were no big rocks, river crossings, patches of slippery mud, and certainly no ice. Yeah it was bumpy with corrugations, but that wasn't dangerous. So what could go wrong?
Oh yeah, sand.
Motorcycles and sand are like Batman and the Joker: enemies to the bone. Tim was powering through the bits of sand like any good rider should do, until we hit one long stretch that just wouldn't give up. It started with one wobble, then another, until finally the front tire was swaying so sharply, there was no saving us and we went sliding to the ground. Tim had throttled through as long as he could... but the front tire refused to plow forward in a straight line.
Only a sore right ankle for Tim, and a bunch of hurt pride were the noticeable consequences from our fall (not so much a fall as an NHL-style power slide). We took a drink, ate some lunch, and after feeling better, we hopped back on to continue to Sossusvlei when not half an hour later we felt it: crunch! And the horrible grinding of a broken monoshock rung in our ears.
We stopped and noticed that now fluid had exploded out of our monoshock (rear suspension) and the internal metal rod was broken. This was not good, and we were familiar with this horrible situation from when our monoshock blew in Ecuador. We had to be towed five hours in the night to the nearest dealership, and $1,000 and two weeks later, things were fixed. Not an ideal scenario.
Now we were in a country without a KTM dealership, and would have to order the part from Cape Town to be flown in from Austria, then shipped to Windhoek. There were a lot of moving parts to replace our part that wouldn't move. And moreover, we were in the middle of nowhere, many hours from anything. How were we going to get ourselves and our broken bike back to civilization?
And perhaps worst of all, we were running low on water.
But whenever something terrible happens to us, we seem to get infinitely lucky at the same time. It's one of those strange lessons that traveling has taught us.
We looked at the positives: the bike still worked, it was just grinding on its hinges as we rode it, creaking and complaining. But after a few minutes of plugging along, we noticed a gate to a building. Private property certainly. But oh well, we just opened that gate and rode right in.
The owner came out and was extremely helpful. He called all five people who lived in the surrounding thousand hectors to see if any of them knew a guy with a tow truck, and told us there was a man down the road who owned a farm/campsite who just happened to be leaving for Windhoek (Namibia's capital city) with a nearly empty trailer the following morning. I couldn't believe our luck!
Oh yeah, and somehow in the vast barren desert, he was six minutes away. It took us ten minutes to get there at a cringing snail's pace, but we did. And then we met Allen, who absolutely is the Indiana Jones of Africa. Having grown up in Rhodesia, he spent his adult life in Namibia studying the geology of the earth, then used that knowledge to drill for diamonds and water. Yup, a bonafide treasure hunter, and his leather hat and satchel were the icing to the cake.
Allen graciously allowed us to put our broken motorcycle in his trailer, and the following morning at sunrise we drove six hours to Windhoek. We will forever be thankful for this man's incredible and serendipitous generosity.
And that wasn't the end of our good luck. We got some advice from our new friend and motorcycle enthusiast Erik, a French man living in Namibia, and he told us where to go and who to call. Even though there's no KTM dealership (at the moment), KTM in South Africa said they could ship us the part in two weeks. Then we took the bike to Yamaha who told us it would be no problem to fix our shock. How perfect!
So now we just have to wait, and during that time, we're going to rent a car to go see Sossusvlei and other things in Namibia so that our time isn't a complete waste. Not the same as being on the bike, but it'll be something at least.
Stay tuned, and we'll keep you posted on how the adventure goes...
This week we'd like to thank Stephan for bringing us into his home like family, Harvey for teaching us about barking geckos at the Barking Gecko, Allen for saving us in our moment of need, and Erik for showing us the real Windhoek. And thank you to all of you out there who come along for the ride every blog post!
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