Day 17 – a river of diarrhea and some vomit for good measure!
We slept in a little and had a whole 45 minutes for breakfast! We had a big drive ahead of us heading for Swakopmund. On the way, Misheck told us that the name literally means diarrhea river because heavy rains wash brown sand and earth down the river and make it look “just like shit.” Then he giggled like a little kid and started his drive.
A word here about Misheck’s speeches actually, before I start. He has trouble shouting back at us while we are driving so, other than to point out the most necessary things, he will be quiet. But when we STOP, (and always before we start in the morning or after lunch) he will tell us a story in the African tradition; which is to say bloody LONG!
Now, don’t get me wrong, these are interesting facts. He has a wealth of knowledge about the area. But we’ve just been driving 1.5-2 hours. In the heat. In the dust. On bumpy roads. After breakfast – or lunch. There is no bathroom on the bus, nor is there air con or heat.
He begins the story by telling us we must hurry. We have only ten minutes at this stop. The toilets, by the way, are over there. Sixteen sets of eyes swivel longingly and look at the two toilets off to the left. These toilets are nice, you don’t have to pay for them either, he says. We all squirm a little knowing that there will be maximum two stalls for the ladies and there are eight of us. (One of whom routinely takes three times as long as everyone else) The dust of our arrival begins to settle and air movement inside stops completely. Windows slide down in vain. The already hot, dusty, and stuffy truck heats up like an oven in moments. Misheck begins to tell us about the history of the town; the geological formation of the area dating back millions of years, the political history both ancient and recent, the primary industries in the area, the different tribes that live there… But by the middle of it we have stopped listening. All we hear is the endless soundtrack of “shut the f**k up Misheck, I have to pee and I’m MELTING!!” that is running through all our heads. We begin to squirm noticeably. A few brave (desperate) people stand. We lean forward in anticipation of our ten (now six) minutes of freedom off the bus. But we are not free yet. Misheck goes on to tell us, in detail, about the next several hours of driving we are about to do, and the itinerary for the rest of the day. Sometimes the next three or four days. In detail. Twice. If we are stopping for the night we get dinner times and breakfast times and detailed directions to everything we may need; bank, post office, grocery store, shopping, restaurants…. Did I mention Misheck also likes long dramatic pauses prior to REPEATING key facts? Finally, Misheck looks at his watch. We have to decide when to be back. There is another minute of coordinating times and – at long last – we are free!!!! Dripping with sweat and with back teeth floating and knees wrapped around one another; polite interested smiles plastered on our faces, we dash for the loos. But… NO! It’s the last stop of the day. Now we have to gather in the front of our lodge to hear the welcome speech. Welcome drinks of cold uber sweet fruit juice are thrust into our hands. The owner welcomes us to the lodge and explains the main features and rules. Tells us the breakfast times. Here, Misheck jumps in and negotiates a half hour earlier. (Bastard!) Someone in the back is confused and needs to hear the breakfast times again. Oh, and what time did you say for dinner? Finally, a list is consulted, and we are assigned our rooms. But we must wait until ALL the rooms are assigned before we follow the porter to our chalet/cabin/whatever at (of course) the farthest point of the resort 5 minutes walk from the main lodge. We are invariably given an old fashioned skeleton key that is attached to some massive piece of wood or metal. Jess has hands free so she tries the door. No luck. One of us drops bags and spends an excruciating minute to two pushing and pulling the door before it finally springs open and we tumble inside shedding bags and bottles of water as we go. Now there are three of us and one bathroom. Daddy goes last because, in a pinch, he can pee in the shower. Hasn’t happened yet, but it’s been a close thing a time or two! Finally FINALLY we can pee!!!! Sweet relief!
Sorry. Bit of a rant there – been spending too much time trapped on a hot truck with no bathroom! Where was I? Oh yes, yet another long day of driving. It’s becoming routine to spend from 7 or 8 until 2 or 3 on the truck more days than not. Today, we need to make time because six of us have booked a (very expensive!) scenic flight in Swakopmund. We are aiming to be there by 2:00 so we can check in and get over to the flight centre by 2:30 for the check in. If Misheck misses this time, he explains, he must pay out of his pocket for six $320 CAD flights! We all agree seriously that we certainly must hurry today.
On the way, we stopped at a tiny town called Solitaire with a sign out front that had population numbers crossed out and corrected several times – 91. No 52. No 46… We bought drinks and checked out the bakery that sold “the best apple crumble in Namibia.”
Further along, we stopped to take photos as we crossed into the Tropic of Capricorn. Kevin was SO excited. He’d been dreaming of this particular photo op for days; explaining in detail how he was going to climb the sign itself and also sign it. He was like a little kid when we got there so I took some snaps of him myself. I get it – we’ve all got somewhere in the world or something that we’ve been dreaming of. We all took our photos and signed the road sign. (Fun, but probably illegal?!)
The scenery was flat and boring again until we reached the badlands; a spectacular formation of crumbled mica and giant piles of rubbly rocks for miles in either direction. Misheck told us we needed to hurry and then told us a long story about two German geologists and their little dog who hid out there during the war, how long they were there, what they did afterward, where they lived, when they died…. Then went in to tell us how the area was formed geologically ages ago. I wish I’d written it down at the time because it was interesting. But… By no means were we “hurrying.” We jumped out to collect rocks and take oodles of photos of the weirdly alien landscape. No hoodoos in these badlands, but it was tremendously cool nonetheless!
Moving on finally, and now keeping a very wary eye on the time, we stopped Walvis bay for lunch. It was now almost one and we had to be in Swakopmund by two? How did that math work then? Well, we will drop the flight people directly at the flight centre at 2:30 for check in.
I stole a glance at the sky again… It had been filling with darkish solid clouds for the past hour. Of course it will rain- it ALWAYS rains when we go to the desert! In fact, our family is typically treated with unseasonable weather wherever we go- much to the delight of the locals; in London it’s a hot and sunny heatwave and in Alice Springs it rains! I ask Misheck if we can change the flight to the following day. I really don’t want to spend $1,000 on a flight where we either can’t see anything or have no light for photos! No such luck!
Ok then. We head into the beautiful restaurant at the end of the wharf in the middle of the bay for a FAST FAST lunch. Quick pizza or burger and out! 30 minutes. Go! We all beetle inside fast.
No such luck, though. The restaurant staff first seats us in the restaurant and then explains if we want fast we need to be in the pub. We’ve now been there ten minutes and haven’t seen a menu! It was close to two when we left the restaurant. Miraculously, though, the cloud bank had mostly cleared and we all exclaimed at the beautiful bay that was now lit by the sun and very photo worthy.
Misheck herded us back on the truck and made – for him – a brief speech. Quick drive by the flamingoes and TWO MINUTES for photos and then we are gone!!! We headed in the opposite direction of Swakopmund to take photo of flamingoes!
We finally came screaming into Swakopmund just in time for our flight check in. Well done! Skies were clearing and it was all looking good. Our family was paired up with an older Italian woman and her daughter (not from our tour); the former insisting that she needed to sit in the front because she was “the old lady” (she was maybe ten years older than Grant) even though the pilot had already offered that seat to Grant (likely because he is tall). The daughter (age 25?) climbed into the back seat and I climbed in with her so Grant and Jess could sit together. We crammed ourselves into the miniature plane and took off! I was VERY excited!
The flight was equal parts dream and waking nightmare. The beginning of the flight was low and bouncy and everyone was feeling a bit sick. The sun was beating in the back window and super heating the back of my neck. I stripped my light fleece off immediately. The girl beside me was not so bright. She was wearing both a heavy fleece AND a down coat. (Inexplicable as the ground temperature was t-shirt friendly or MAYBE a light cardigan) She began to puke. And puke some more. Our feet and knees are touching we were so close. We are 15 minutes into a 2 hour and 15 minute flight. Joy. Jess turned a bit green off and on but held it together.
The flight itself was wonderful though, we flew all the way back to Dune 45 and Sossusvlei. We saw dry rivers and abandoned diamond mines and fascinating landscape along the way. The late afternoon sun lit up the dunes and highlighted the changing colours of the sands. The dunes close to Swakopmund are “sand” coloured but have a tiny bit of black iron particles swirled along the top. The effect, especially from the air, is very dramatic. The red/white colours of Sossusvlei were equally striking. The pilot dropped down within 150 feet or do of the tops of the dunes for photos. Unreal.
Also unfortunate, however, as rapidly changing altitude/atmospheric pressure does very very bad things to the nerves in my face! I knew I’d have issues in a small plane on takeoff and landing. I did not, however, bargain for the constant altitude changes as we swooped down occasionally for an awesome view of the dunes. So so freaking cool!!! So very painful. Girl beside me was puking almost every time we dropped down or headed up. Took her almost an hour to work out that she might be more comfortable without the down coat. Another twenty minutes or so to lose the fleece. She refused the drugs I offered. I DID also have suppositories in my handbag (in case of dire Jessica puking emergency) but how, exactly, does one offer THAT to a stranger using sign language? I kept that to myself.
Circling past Sossusvlei, we began to work our way back up the coast. We got amazing views of the ocean meeting the sand dunes and saw a couple of shipwrecks. We passed over many seal colonies. We had been flying beneath the turbulence for some time and the Italian girl had started to settle. Then the pilot spotted some wild dogs uncharacteristically stalking a seal colony and pulled the aerial equivalent of an emergency brake u-turn to check it out. The girl beside me turned an alarming shade of green and began puking before we even pulled out of the turn!
Further up the coast we got a spectacular view of the commercial salt pan in operation, sandwich harbour dotted with flamingoes, Walvis bay, and the offshore oil activity up the coast. Jess spotted a whale as well!
Equal parts exhausted and exhilarated we landed and I was very relieved to finally stop moving. My face was killing me in spite of the painkiller I had taken and nausea and photosensitivity had begun to set in. Looking through my viewfinder more often than not hadn’t helped either. Jess was a bit green round the gills as well. Grant was having buyer’s remorse over how much cash we’d just spent to be trapped in a tiny space with someone puking for over two hours! But, I was still glad we had done it. The scenery from the air was unreal and it was a good way to make the most of our regrettably brief time in the area.
We shuttled back to the hotel and my adorable family beetled around for a few minutes finding me ice to put on my face. I lay down a few moments and got up to sort laundry out. I knew we had a series of one night stops coming up and there would be no opportunity for hotel laundry coming up in the near future!
We had a few minutes to ourselves in the room before we had to meet in the lobby at 6:30 for our dinner reservation at the Jetty. It was freezing outside and there was a cold wind blowing off the water. We walked to the end of the pier laughing to ourselves about booking the restaurant with the best view in town at NIGHT! Great stars though!
There were thirteen of us for dinner (the Italians had very sensibly opted for the restaurant without the view but great food!) and there was lots of confusion with the waitress around splitting the bill. Our meal took well over two hours to complete but the food was awesome! Everyone was happy with their meal except Grant who had opted for the fish and chips anticipating a pub style battered dish. He was a bit nonplussed to have them set an actual whole fish down in front of him! (Of course, only after they’d remade his dish as another waiter had absconded with the first one.) he headed back early once Jess had finished and ordered an equally yucky meal from room service. Poor boy was very hungry and grumpy by morning!
My chicken and prawn curry was lovely, but I got tired of waiting to pay and was kind of annoyed that they screwed up everyone’s bill at least once. Mine was paid first but I needed to wait ten more minutes for someone to walk back to the hotel with me. Finally back at the hotel, I finished sorting laundry and – luxury of luxuries in the desert – had a hot bath… Feeling guilty about using all that water the whole time!