Day 18 – quads, sand boarding, and township 

We got to have a little bit of a lie-in as we have the whole day in Swakopmund. However, our hotel was unfortunately situated directly across from a primary school that apparently starts very early! We woke to a babble of miniature voices and it took a little while to work out where if was coming from!
We had a nice breakfast in the cheerful restaurant across from our hotel. Then we headed off for our combo quad biking and sand boarding tour. 

When we got there, they informed us that Jess would be driving her own quad. This was definitely a first, but they seemed certain and the two teens on our tour were going to have a try, so why not? I thought that they would take us around a little track first to show us the ropes. I figured if Jess didn’t like it after a trial run, she could hop on with Grant or me. 

We all spent several minutes trying to find helmets our size – difficult for Jess and I (tiny heads) and Grant insisted on a BLUE one because they were cooler than the white ones and they matched the quad. He ran into the helmet storage room and grabbed one and came out grinning from ear to ear. The guide looked at him, shook his head, and waved him onwards. Grant happily trots away with a helmet that has “guide” and “medic” written across the jawline. But it’s blue and he’s happy! (Incidentally, this is not the first nor last time Grant will be mistaken for a guide. He’s always lingering behind the rest of the group and apparently he dresses the part!) The rest of us put on our white ping pong balls with the scratched visors and move on.

We all jump on our (thankfully) automatic little quads. They are covered in warming stickers saying: “NO operators under 16”, “NO carrying a passenger”… Jess points this out and begins to look distinctly nervous. We confirm with the guide that she is indeed supposed to have her own machine. Yes. Yes, it’s fine.

The guide begins his safety briefing by saying: “never, ever take your feet off the footrests. The quad will either break your ankle or pull you off the machine completely.” Then he goes on to talk about the warning hand signals and how if we accidentally drove off the edge of a dune we will definitely be going to hospital. This is enough for Jessica. She opts to ride with the guide. Smart girl! I’m very proud of her for speaking out in front of two teenagers to say she is NOT comfortable with what we are about to do. That’s way braver than trying to drive a quad in my opinion! 

With Jess perched on the back of the guide’s quad, the instructor finishes his extremely brief lesson. Then we are off! There is no trial period; we head straight into the desert. At this point, I’m really glad Jess is riding with a guide! 

The first part of the tour was reasonably flat, but so corrugated that even the small chested among us were wishing for a super-strength sports bra! Eventually, the ride smoothed out and off we went – ripping over the dunes.

The ride was amazing. The morning light lit up the golden dunes that the wind had carved into spectacular shapes. The small bits of iron in the dunes made contrasting black patterns across the crests like icing on a cake. Add a bluebird sky and you’ve got perfection! 

We went ripping through this incredible landscape like toddlers set loose in the world’s biggest sandbox. What a fun ride! Up and down and over the dunes we went. Until we stopped at the top of a massive dune. It was time for a slide! The guide unstrapped some thin boards he’d been carrying; each a bit smaller than the average crazy carpet. We helped (badly!) him spread wax on them and scour it off with sand. 

Then it was time to ride! Grant went first because he wanted to video us coming down. The hill was a very decent size for tobogganing; the kind that would be full of Canadian kids every time it snowed even a little. The end of the slope on this side tapered off into divots in the sand where people had walked. This is where Grant ran into trouble. He’d gathered a lot of speed coming down the slope and thoroughly bagged himself when he hit the rough bit! He rolled over in the sand grabbing his crotch and groaning. The rest of our group laughed at him and grabbed our boards.

Jess forgot the cardinal rule: “keep the front of the board UP” and ate a LOT of sand. Sylvie did something similar and crashed hardcore. The rest of us managed a decent ride but those bumps at the end were BRUTAL! 

The guide, thankfully, collected our boards with his quad and we climbed up even further on the dune so we could ride on a smoother track. Now we’re talking! At this height, this would be a LEGENDARY toboggan run; kids from all over town would walk to get there. 

This. This is why we came. It was smooth and it was steep. The view from the top rivalled anything you can see from the top of Goat’s Eye. Completely different but equally breathtaking. Awesome! We laughed and played like old out of shape children. We managed a couple more climbs up the massive hill. Man, sand is hard to climb. I think our family all did at least three slides. It was fantastic!

We transferred back to our hotel with a couple of hours free before our pick up at 3pm for a township tour. My mission: shopping! We hadn’t had a chance to shop the whole trip! Either we were marooned for the evening out in some remote lodge or we arrived at the end of the day after the shops closed! I had yet to buy anything more than a few trinkets. I was seriously regretting not buying something at one of the many galleries in South Africa. 

Excitedly, we dumped some of the sand out of our pockets and quickly washed our faces. (We’d spend the rest of the day with sand in our hair and in our ears and….) then we hit the streets to check out some of the cool little shops we’d noticed driving in. There was a little plaza across the street with restaurants and shops and Grant bought Jess an ice cream while I dove right into the shopping. One place had some really beautiful stuff and I thought awesome! Now we’re talking!! I fell in love with a carving immediately but resolved to shop around before committing myself to a $450 item so quickly!

One of the shops in the plaza was closed – we assumed the owner had stepped out for a few moments and moved on. Then the next shop down the street was closed, and the one after that! Turns out about 70% of shops close from roughly noon to 2:30…. The EXACT amount of time we had available to shop!!! We are jinxed, I swear it! We looked through the remainder of the ones that were open, and peered longingly through the windows of the closed ones. We were leaving early the following morning – we’d lost our chance at those ones! I admit it I WAS sulking… Just a little (OK, a rather lot to be honest!)

We walked the main shopping district and found a couple small items but nothing I’d loved as much as the carving in the first store. We beetled back there with an hour to spare before our tour picked us up- I was determined to have it safely purchased and shipped by then. I walked to the counter with carving in hand, DEFINITELY in love with it now – nicest thing I’ve seen on our tour yet. The guy tells me it will break if they ship it. I should take it on the plane with me, he says. The thing is almost as tall as Jessica! How, exactly, do I fit that in my hand luggage? Forget that – how do I keep it on an overland truck with me another two weeks? Defeated, I gave up on my carving and sulked all the way back to the hotel where we awaited our transfer for the township tour.

We spent the afternoon touring the Mondesa township. The township was created back when South Africa was relocating people and the Namibian government is working to improve it and provide free housing to people. With 31% unemployment in Swakopmund, it’s an uphill battle.

This was more like the tour I had expected in South Africa. We got to get out and walk around a bit. We visited a traditional open air market and bought some local snacks to try. We learned about the types of food the average person would eat. 

Then we visited an orphanage run by a lovely Herero woman wearing the traditional dress influenced by the 19th century missionary’s wives who had become concerned with all the “cappuccino” babies running around and wanted the native ladies to wear more clothing! The Herero women adapted the dress to make it more “African” by layering it more to make them look bulkier – like a cow. Then they adopted a cloth hat with big cloth points on the front to resemble the horns of a cow. She explained the marriage customs and traditions of their people and talked about how the HIV epidemic was influencing the communities and culture. Everyone was enthralled by the super adorable little (18 month?) old girl toddling around investigating everyone. She definitely stole the show!

After that, we visited a craft centre that helped provide employment to the local women. I didn’t see much that I was interested in, but we bought a few things to show our support. 

Moving on from there, we headed to a local restaurant to try the local food. They passed around a bucket of soapy water to wash with as we were expected to eat with our hands.

Jessica actually tried a tiny bite of mopane caterpillar! I was astounded! Grant made hilarious faces and spat his out; much to the amusement of the kiwi ladies sitting opposite. We tried wild spinach (a bit stronger than regular spinach but very gritty), mopane (disgusting), porridge (gluey and in need of salt), mashed beans (surprisingly nice), and traditional chicken (very nice.)

Once we’d giggled and selfied our way though the small meal, they introduced a local a Capella group to sing for us. They were world class. Crowded into a tiny room, with almost zero space to move in, they put on a song and dance show as good as I’ve seen anywhere; better than most, actually. They were also VERY handsome young lads and had our teenagers all a twitter! We bought a cd and Jessica blushingly had it signed by the group and posed for a photo.

Exhausted and happy, we headed back to the hotel. The only bad thing about the tour was that our guide really didn’t know much about the township beyond the bare facts. Would have been nice to have someone like Misheck along who could answer all our questions!

We hit the ATM and the pick n pay again that evening and peered through some more shop windows. We marvelled at how much of a ghost town it was after 7pm. Lacking any better ideas and prodded by an enthusiastic Jessica, we headed to the local Spur for dinner again. The meal was decent enough and Jess had a blast playing in the play centre with the little kids. We are sure noticing a difference in service between South Africa and Namibia though. South African service is typically superb, whereas Namibian trends towards indifferent to sometimes actively rude! 

Arrived back at the hotel to – joy of joys – a bag of clean and dry laundry! Yay clean clothes!!! Too bad everything w are currently wearing is completely saturated with sand. It’s has been such a busy day we walked round with sand behind our ears all day!!

Showers and packing and bed… Moving on tomorrow. Wish we had one more day in Swakopmund!! 

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