May 26, 2014

Travel in Namibia

You may remember that our family made an almost epic road trip through Namibia in August of 2012. It was meant to be the last hurrah of our African adventure. Just weeks earlier we had found out we'd be moving back to the U.S. by the end of that year (with Noisette actually having to start his new job September 1), so we started scouring travel websites and calling travel agents like crazy, all in an effort to not let a place we'd had on our radar for so long slip through our hands at the last minute. It all worked out, we got a trip booked in more or less a week (saving months and months of time we would normally have poured into such a venture), and we had one of the most fantastic experiences of our lives (though our kids still may have to come to that conclusion sometime in the future).

The only tidbit I ever shared about Namibia on this blog was a collection of some spectacular (or so I think) pictures, mostly of landscapes, because the landscapes are Namibia's most spectacular feature. Click here if you'd like to take a look. The reason I shared nothing else is that I'd made the conscious choice not to blog extensively about Namibia. I was going to write a book instead, you see. Except the book I actually DID write was of the trip immediately following our Namibia adventure, which of course was Kilimanjaro Diaries. Leave it to Kilimanjaro to put everything else in its shadow. 

I don't have any regrets about this course of events, but many of my readers do. Climbing Kilimanjaro is not on the radar of every expat in South Africa, but going to Namibia apparently is. Ever since we got back I was badgered by many to write more about it. I did patiently answer all the questions emailed to me, and I did have some tips to dish out, but none of it ever made it into another blog post.

Which is why I'm very excited to break my 21-month Namibia silence to share some tips from someone traveling in my footsteps. My friend Natalie just returned from her family's own Namibia trip, and wanted to make sure future travelers can learn from her mistakes.

Natalie's #1 Tip for Traveling in Namibia:


Here is a tip I would like to share about Namibia. If you are flying to Windhoek, book your rental car first before you book your flight. You must get a 4x4 vehicle. Back into your flight after you book your car.

Here is the back story. In January, I booked our flight for 7 from Johannesburg to Windhoek. I then tried to book a rental car online but ran into problems with my American passport etc. So, I went to the Avis office in person in Rosebank. I have rented many cars there before and I am on a first name basis with the manager, Gina. She could not find anything available online so she called the Avis office in Windhoek. They were totally out of automatic 4x4's for April but we could get 2 Toyota Corollas. I explained where we would be driving them to see if a sedan would be ok - Windhoek, Swakopmund, Sossusvlei, Windhoek - and they said no problem. (I am now guessing the person at Avis has never driven on a gravel road in a sedan). I have never, ever driven a manual car. I made it very clear the cars had to be automatic.  No problem. I was starting to freak out a bit that I had just spent R30,000 on airplane tickets and might not be able to get a rental car so I jumped at anything and was happy to have confirmation of two cars.

When we landed in Windhoek, I had my printed confirmation sheet for 2 automatic cars and headed to the Avis office. I was told they had a slight problem and that they did not have any automatic cars. The great thing about living in South Africa is that while this did upset me, I knew they "would have to make a plan". So after going over and over different options, it was finally decided the 7 of us would squeeze into a Toyota Fortuner and our luggage would follow in another car to Swakopmund. When we would get to Swakopmund, 2 automatic cars would be waiting for us. Perfect!

So, that is exactly what happened. But, as you know, you really, really need a 4x4 car in Namibia. We totally managed in sedans but must have had a guardian angel looking out for us. We had no flat tires and no cracked windshields. Amazing!

Interestingly enough, Avis in Windhoek is really not Avis. They are Oshana Transfers and Toursand we could have booked directly with them. Their number is 00264 61 22 4834. 

Just for good measure, I'll now add my #1 tip for traveling in Namibia, and it is very brief. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves:

Sine's #1 Tip for Traveling in Namibia:


Make sure your car has 4 new tires on it, plus 2 spares in the trunk. Actually, make that 3.

Our car troubles started on the way to Damaraland. Our GPS had
failed us and we were lost. We were afraid we'd never find our
lodge, and that only years later somebody...
...would discover the remains of our car.
The first time, it was charming and a welcome lunch break
The second time, the boys became experts at changing tires
The third time, I started checking the surroundings for possible
camp sites.
When the spare also started hissing, we were overjoyed to come
across this dump, a veritable heaven of spare parts and friendly
(though a bit Deliverance-type) mechanics. This was the only
habitation within hundreds of miles.
At least our  "Day of Changing Tires" made for a great photo
book entry afterwards!

That's it for now. I hope it will be less than another 21 months before I tell you more about Namibia. You might be happy to know that I have, indeed, started on the book. I even already know the title. Keep your eyes open for Double-Buckled in the Middle of Nowhere in early 2015.



Have you traveled in Namibia? Which tips would you give?