Mercedes sports cars to Tractor Trailers
I was planning on taking a bus from Windhoek all the way to Cape Town (approx 20 hours) but the tickets were quite pricey (over $100) so when I met a girl from Alabama who was planning on hitch hiking that way, I asked if I could join her for the adventure. My new friend, Blair, had been living in a small town in Namibia for the last year teaching for an organization called World Teach and she typically hitch hiked whenever she wanted to go anywhere in the country. As I had also discovered, hitch hiking is very common and apparently very safe in Namibia but I don't think I would ever have considered doing it all the way to Cape Town alone.
Anyway, we decided to try to start very early because we were told that most of the trucks that do the route to Cape Town leave by about 5:30am. So we got a taxi to the point where the main road south leaves the city and started trying to wave people down. We barely saw any trucks though so we were getting a bit discouraged after about 45 minutes standing in the cold morning air with cars passing by. We later learned that trucks tend to go that way only on certain days of the week and we happened to pick a bad day. But, all of a sudden a shiny black Mercedes sports car pulled over to the side of the road and the guy asked where we were going. He was on his way to Keetmanshoop which was about 500km south so we jumped at the chance to get at least part of the way. The guy sprung out and quickly repacked his trunk so Blair's big suitcase could fit. My backpack was put in the back seat next to a large container of some kind that resembled a propane tank. I noticed there was a seatbelt around the container as I sat down beside it.
Soon enough our driver revealed what the strange container was. It contained liquid nitrogen and was some kind of cold box that provided a safe haven for bull semen that he had imported from Texas so that be could inseminate some of the cows on his farm! So we were getting a ride in a souped up black Mercedes sports car, probably one of the nicest cars I'd ever been in and I was sitting next to a container full of bull semen. Interesting way to start the day! ;) And it got more interesting (or scary depending how you look at it)... he started to drive very, very fast. We were going on one of those really straight roads I have mentioned already and he was averaging about 160km/hr. And then he apologized because he couldn't go as fast as he normally does because he needed to replace his tires soon! I'm pretty sure he hit 180 when he was passing other cars. Luckily the semen wasn't using the only seatbelt so I felt a little bit better once I clipped in. ;) We got to Keetmanshoop in record time and Blair and I were quite happy to get out of the car... and not only because of the speed. This guy was an extremely conservative Afrikaner who was not only very racist still but also extremely religious so the conversations were awkward to say the least. He got very quiet when he found out that Blair had been teaching African kids for the last year. He even claimed that his nice car and successful business was all because he believed in of Jesus. I just sat in the back and didn't comment. I tried to make conversation every once in a while and when I asked him how big his town was he said "Well, there are about 300 whites..." as if the rest of the people were insignificant. Other than that, I learned a lot more than I needed to know about inseminating cows. ;) Oh, and we listened to Allan Jackson the whole way... it was surreal.
The guy was very nice to us though and even waited for Blair to do an errand she needed to do at a bank before he dropped us by a gas station near the edge of town where he said we should be able to get another ride south. We barely stood there for a minute when a pick up truck stopped and told us they could take us about 150km further south but we'd have to sit in the back. Sounded fine to us but our hair was close to turning into dreadlocks by the time we were dropped of because of the wind blowing through it. ;) We felt really bad though because there was a group of locals sitting right near us and they had obviously been there for a long time... but we were offered the ride, not them. I was starting to realize that this was how it was going to be from here on and it would probably just get worse in South Africa.
The next section was the hardest for us and we ended up standing in the scorching sun and blowing dust for over an hour before a huge truck that was carrying a tractor offered us a ride. In the hour we spent there, we only saw about 5 vehicles going south so we felt very fortunate. They were only going to the South African border (which at this point was about 150 km away) and but it was still in the right direction. This was definitely not the luxurious ride we started with but there was space behind the driver in the cab of the truck where we could sit comfortably. The driver ended up turning off the main road and going to a mine where he was dropping the tractor off so we had a detour of about an hour down a dusty dirt road but eventually we made it to the border. It was about 4:30 by then so we were pretty sure we were going to have to camp there (there was a lodge) and attempt the second half of the journey the next day.
But just when we were considering our options, another huge truck pulled out of the gas station and Blair ran over to the driver and asked where they were going. Cape Town, they said! And yes, they would be willing to take us but we would have to meet them on the other side of the border because it wasn't legal to have more than two people in the cab of the truck. So, we walked across the border and were relieved to find that the truck was still waiting for us there. The police hanging around the border asked us where our vehicle was a few times but we seemed to be able to dodge the questions well enough that they let us go. The cab of this truck was much more cushy than the last one: a bed behind the driver's seat and another bed that folded down on top of that one. It was immaculately clean and even had air conditioning. The driver was really friendly and soon enough we discovered that he used to be a teacher but started driving trucks because he was able to make more money that way. Coincidentally Blair had worked with some of the same people the driver knew so they were immediate friends and started gossiping about their colleagues.
We drove until about 1am (both Blair and I had fallen asleep even though the music was really loud) when he pulled into a service station and told us he was going to sleep for a few minutes because he was tired. Next thing we knew it was 6am! We weren't sure if he meant to sleep that long but he certainly didn't seem too concerned about our progress. The driver said we were only about 90 minutes from Cape Town at that point so we got into town bright and early. Considering we got 4 different rides, we made great time... it took about 24 hours and the bus is meant to take about 20! But because the truck was so huge, he couldn't drop us anywhere near downtown so we ended up taking a train from one of Cape Town's suburbs into the city center. Needless to say we were delirious by the time we found a hostel to stay in. ;)