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African skies, wide open roads and not a soul in sight, fantastic

We were picked up this morning from our hotel by Camping Car Hire who took us back out to their depot so we could pick up our truck. What had yesterday been a totally empty 4x4 was now kitted out and ready to go. In the back is a small fridge, a box with kitchen bits, a gas stove, camping tables and chairs, spare wheels and tyre pressure gauges and the all important jerry cans for spare fuel and a large water container. Namibia is a county where even if your map shows you a petrol station it may not have fuel and, in some cases, the distances you want to travel are longer than the distance between the petrol stations.

On top of the truck was our tent. It looks spacious enough and seems pretty easy to fold down and stow away. I think that for both of us it brought back memories of the months we had spent travelling around Canada in our motor home but there we didn’t have to climb a narrow metal ladder to get into bed. It’s certainly going to be a different way of travelling and sleeping. Stef went out with one of the engineers for a (very) quick lesson on using the 4x4 and before long we were off out into the wilds of Namibia.

Well not quite. First off we needed to stock up with supplies and revisit Eugene at the travel agent about our tickets. Knowing how slow he was we went to Eugene first and sure enough he was as bad as yesterday. For some reason he was still persisting with trying to book us onto an Ulula flight and it took about twenty minutes to switch him back to our round the world tickets. I’d hoped he had spent the night reading up on the conditions for changing the tickets but not so. After an hour, we left with reservations to Johannesburg and on to Maputo but with Eugene still to confirm with his contact at BA that we could do it on our tickets. It was a very slow and frustrating process which Stef escaped for a while to get a hair cut and do some other shopping. The worst part is that when we get back to Windhoek we still need to go back into the travel agency to pick up the tickets. No doubt that will be another hour!

At the other end of the mall we found the Checkers supermarket and went to stock up on basic food supplies. It was again strange shopping in a new country and seeing familiar items which were still strange. Its silly things, like at home cling film comes with a metal serrated edge to cut it where as here it's plastic, that make the differences while everything is the same. Same same but different as they say in Asia. We found a shop selling mossie candles and stocked up on our insect spray. Malaria can be a problem in Northern Namibia and we don’t have enough time for our tablets to kick in and give us protection so we need to do all we can to avoid being bitten.

By the time we’d done all of this it was already lunch time and we stopped at a small café in the mall for a quick bite before heading out. The people at Camping Car Hire had told us that we needed to get permits to visit the Skeleton Coast in Windhoek. Before leaving town we went back to Namibia Wildlife Resorts in the centre only to be told that we don’t need permits in advance we can get them on arrival. This suits us much better as it means we keep flexibility in our plans.

Finally we were off and driving out of Windhoek, seeing again how small the capital city was. Within about five minutes we were in the outskirts of town and a further five minutes on we were already out in the expanse of open countryside which makes up most of this country. Each small hill we crested reinforced the vast emptiness all around us. Flat expanses of land stretch as far as you can see dotted here and there with low shrub like bushes. Even the clouds were dramatic with bright white large puffs of cloud also rolling away into the distance. We now know what people mean when they talk about African skies.

I’d found a leaflet for a campsite not far away from Windhoek which promoted themselves as a good place to stay for your first night to help you get accustomed to your new way of life and to get a bit of 4x4 experience. It was only about 70km away from Windhoek and, with time marching on, we decided to make that our first stop expecting to find helpful people and a reasonably busy campsite.

The drive up the B1 was uneventful. It is Namibia’s equivalent to the M1 and is a good road but has virtually no traffic on it. Soon we reached the town of Okahandja, a small place with a population of less than 10,000, but one which rates as a large settlement here. As we drove in a few buses full of Western tourists had stopped at the town’s place of interest, a row of vendors selling wooden carvings and basket work from small stalls along the street. The town centre reminded me of Fernheim in Paraguay and some of the places we had passed through in the mid-west of Canada. It was like a frontier town. Basic essential shops lined the roads with a bank and a post office and that was about it. Everywhere people seemed to be just sitting around watching the world go by.

We found our way out through to the other side of town where a few kilometres further on we reached the Okahandja Lodge. A gate post was the only visible evidence from the road and tarmac immediately gave was to a dirt track. We followed the signs to the campsite which was around the back of the lodge and through a metal fence. The path led onto a smallish campsite with clearly defined plots with electricity and water points and a showers block but no other campers in sight. We made our way back to the lodge to check in and register for the night.

Getting a camp fire going

That must rate as one of the most difficult camp site check in’s we have done. The campsite was fine but basic, isolated and empty. By contrast the lodge looked very clean and comfortable, although still with few people around. The temptation to stay in a comfortable room with a cosy bed and take advantage of their pool was very hard to resist but we did. We did a quick hop back into Okahandja to get some fire wood and then headed for our camp.

We had got there in the middle of the afternoon so we had a good few hours of daylight to sort ourselves out. On the road we had started to reminisce about travelling through Canada and finally arriving at the campsite brought more familiar situations. With our motor home it took us a few days before we had really worked out where to stash different bits and pieces and to get into a routine. Our first night in our 4x4 truck/tent reinforced that we would again go through a similar learning curve.

Very soon we were identifying things that we would do to make the living experience easier. Top of the list has to be access to all the stuff in the truck. With access only from the rear it seems to be a never ending process of climbing into and through the truck to get at what you want. It wasn’t long before I was feeling very out of sorts not really knowing what to do or how to do it and I was getting irritable and frustrated. Stef by contrast was as happy as Larry and soon had a campfire going.

Having eaten at lunchtime we skipped dinner and spent a couple of hours adjusting to a new way of living, enjoying a cold beer and playing cards. A little after 7:00pm it was already getting dark and by 8:00pm we were already tucked up in bed, not so much because we were tired but more because we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. It was a strange mix of feelings. On the one hand it was again getting used to a fairly basic way of living, hard after the ease of hotels, and on the other the knowledge that it would be a fun way to travel around and explore a new country.