Are You an Afri-Can? Or an Afri-Can't?

When you’ve been flying for three days straight, have no idea what time zone you’re in, and feel like a sticky hagfish, you just want to grab your luggage, get an ambivalent customs agent, and find the fastest way to a shower before bed. I truly wish I could have had just one of those things.

Unfortunately, I waited around like a jilted lover for the conveyor belt at baggage claim to whir to a stop without ever reciprocating my devotion. Along with a Norwegian punk rock trio who seemed quite comfortable in their stink, I trudged over to the service counter with despair legible on my face. Together we filled out a tome of paperwork describing our luggage, who it was made by, the supply chain logistics that brought it to market, what it’s greatest fears and accomplishments were, and where we could be reached when the airline finally tired of searching for it.

Alright, whatever, I’m in freaking Africa, let’s go adventuring! On my last trip I learned that car rental companies often give much better deals at the counter than they do online in order to try to upsell you. With this in mind I wisely booked a 1.2L VW Polo prior to my departure, fully expecting the counter agent to give me the hardsell on the 4x4 I would actually need to get into the heart of Namibia. I was not, however, expecting the rental car company to have lost all computing power earlier in the day and have my handwritten contract awaiting me with keys at the ready. “No, I’m sorry, sir, we cannot substitute for you today.” 

Alright, whatever, I’m in freaking Africa, let’s go adventuring! Tonight’s accommodation had sent me very easy instructions: head into town, go past Independence Ave., turn right at the robot, hotel is on the corner of Bach St. – couldn’t be easier… except, what’s with the robot? Is that a landmark in town? Is it a robotics company? A toy store? Guess I’ll see! Driving into town in my 74 horsepower steed, I’m feeling very proud of my left-handed manual drive muscle memory from my New Zealand days. A short 40-minute jaunt later and I’m in the heart of a tidy central business district with all the modern conveniences. Except where is Independence Ave.? Where are the street signs? Where’s the robot?

Street signs seem to be a thing of the past in this cryptic cyborg metropolis. One could assume the main intersection in town was my transect landmark, so an automaton should reach out at me any second now… Aaaaaany second. A kilometer goes by. Then 5. Then 10. No robots. Nothing even resembling artificial intelligence. No Independence Ave., no Bach Ave. Surely, I missed something, best turn around. All the way back across the other side of town I go, without a single impression of anything on the list of directions.

This goes on for hours until finally I break down and ask a construction worker leaving his site for the day if he had any idea where I was supposed to go. He eagerly climbs in my car and tells me it will be $10 US, a fortune in Sub-Saharan Africa. Fine. Whatever. Get me to a bed!

“Turn right at the roe-bitt” he says in a thick Afrikaans accent, pointing up above to a traffic light. For crying out loud, THAT’S the robot?!

“Where’s Bach Ave?”

“We are on Bach Ave.”

“What? No we’re not, this is Kuaima Riruako Strasse.”

“Yes, same.”

Of course, how silly of me not to have known it was renamed several years ago! I was 2 blocks away the entire time.

Alright, whatever, I’m in freaking Africa, let’s go… to bed… Just one problem: the hotel’s credit card machine is down. “Please, sir, do you have Namibian dollars?” No. I do not have Namibian dollars, and no they will not accept US. Back out into the confusion I go.

OK. I’m done. Let me sleep. No. I’m in a bunk room and there are two people having sex in there right now. Looks like I’m sleeping next to the pool tonight. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to me! :/

Thoroughly done with Windhoek, I leave at daybreak for Etosha, one of Africa’s crown jewels and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A vast salt pan, Etosha is an unlikely contender for all but the most robust of species to thrive. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, as this remote national park is literally teeming with life. From birds and butterflies, to enormous charismatic megafauna and predators, your field of view is never without spectacle.

Past the guard station at the periphery of the park, I’m immediately greeted by a proud bachelor lion basking in the sunrise like a feline Fabio. On the other side of me is a dazzle (yes, that’s the actual collective noun) of zebra in perfect filiform like tardy businessmen on their morning commute. Up ahead a dark, prodigious shadow lumbers across the road; too big to be a zebra or cat, not tall enough to be an elephant – rhino! A critically endangered black rhinoceros graciously awaits my hesitant approach and allows me a portrait before disappearing into the bush.

I’m roughly 1 mile into the 8,600 square mile park. I haven’t even had my morning coffee yet.

Two days of non-stop, jaw dropping moments pass this way on what is actually nothing more than a stopover precisely in case I missed a flight, or my baggage got lost. The real adventure lies several hundred miles north in Angola, a country which only began offering tourist visas in the Fall of 2018. Two flights per week travel between Windhoek and Lubango, an Angolan city of 2 million people; therefore if I miss that flight I will lose most of a week until making the next one. Since my baggage actually did wind up in limbo, the stopover became invaluable (you hear that, Ohio University? This wasn’t vacation, it was an essential part of the trip’s logistics!).

On the third day I return to Windhoek, still without my luggage or a call answered by the airline in over two days. But beyond all hope, there she is, waiting for me in my bunk, my itinerant duffle had enough of the single life and decided to return to the expedition; and not a moment too soon as I depart in 12 hours! Plus, a change of clothes and a shower would be nice after a week without (and I’m sure my new hosts would appreciate it)!