My first flat tyre…

Roads are long and empty…

I’m heading toward Tsinsabis. Roads are long and empty, especially after I’ve passed through the ‘Veterinary Gate’. Northern Namibia is more tribal, the tiny village and shack kind of Africa. Beyond the the Veterinary Gate it’s mostly large farms, it seems. So I’m traveling abandoned roads, fenced of by a nearly invisible barrier surrounding mega-farms. The environment is still bushlike, nature appears similar to what I’ve seen before. Along the way it’s mostly cows. No corn fields or vegetable pads. Probably too dry out here. Nope just lots of bush bush and nothingness. Hardly any people.
Just outside Tsinsabis, a tractor appears on the horizon.

I stop over to say hello. Kill the engine and jump off to shake hands. I’m looking for local bush people and maybe these guys can help. As I’m exchanging pleasantries, I notice a subtle ‘tssssssssssss’ behind me… I turn around and realize that one of the front tyres is actively in the process of becoming an empty nuisance.
Before I can speak, the men make gestures indicating that I should follow them. We head for a side track labeled ‘Muramba Bushmen walking trails’… Could this be what I’ve been looking for?

Both tractors pull up by a little straw-roofed building. I rush toward my tractor case and pull out the jack and mending kit, someone takes them off my hands and carries them to the front.
As I return to the front myself, five guys have already started lifting the tractor and are currently stripping off the tyre. Within an eyeblink, they’ve extracted the inner tube!
I help out by inspecting the outer tyre for acacia thorns, just fast enough to be of some use pumping air back in. And that’s it!
My first flat tyre.

Later that day, I make a song: ‘Help is on its way, before you know you need it!’

fixing tyre…

That same night I make camp under the trees of the ‘Muramba bushmen walking trails’. The manager invites me for dinner by the fire, along with his German guests.

He tells us of the book he wrote, about local life and tradition, and the stories of the local bush people. He grew up here, has lived here his whole life, speaks the ‘click-click’ language (Lots of clacking noises in there, so that’s what I name it).
He set up walking trails for tourists, teaching them about local customs.
Quite a historic trip, ’cause bush people aren’t exactly what they used to be. The peaceful hunting tribe (see the film ‘The gods must be crazy’) hasn’t been allowed to hunt for years now. Not even on this territory, alotted to them by government, and they are slowly driven away by other tribes competing for their well.
These people aren’t the kind that fight over it. They can’t survive in their traditional ways and are gradually switching to more ‘western’ standards. The other tribes have introduced bars to the village and alcoholism has become a real threat.
Learning how to herd cattle is a hard task when your people have been hunters since the dawn of time. Instead of killing it, you have to feed and groom animals for years on end…

I’d love to do something for these bush men. Support any project
that help these people out. Out here, culture and tradition have vanished. The same goes for most of southern Africa. Tribes that have been here before anybody else, before Dutch Boers, before Northern tribes moved southward.
So I listen to stories from the recently finished book. It has taken years of labour. Twenty years of cooperation and communication with local bush men. Tales of 80- and even 100-year olds, invaluable knowledge, collected and recorded!
Valuable world heritage, also for the tribe itself. Remembering and learning what they used to be. Be proud. Stay proud.
An essential tool for the progress of these people, because of their modest attitudes.

So where’s the publisher of this book?
Any takers?
Any sponsors?
There haven’t been any yet.
Is it political fear of having to aknowledge that these people deserve more space, more rights? Haven’t got a clue.
Hopefully a publisher, and publicity will come soon.
(I’ll be taking the story with me to South Africa)

…bushmen fixed my first flat tyre!

In Tsinsabis, I want to visit the Arts and Crafts centre, which supports the bush people by selling their ‘art’. But I’m stuck at the huge, beautiful gate. The buildings are quite chique. (I must have gone slightly native, I guess). I return to the little sign by the road, indicating a local art & craft centre…

Bushmen Trade and Craft, Tsinsabis…

On the plain, under a few tiny trees, are some shacks. It’s where Rudolf runs his little shop, next to the wooden cottage he shares with his wife and kids.

He turns Ostrich eggs into jewelry, an ancient tradition. He breaks its shell down to tiny particles, turning them into beads.
Part of them are being put over a fire in a can. These are burnt light or dark brown. This way, all sorts of coloured beads come to life. From these he creates bracelets and necklaces. Pretty!
He also makes necklace hangers out of certain tree seeds, cutting off the brown skin to create drawings on the orbs.

I purchase a necklace and a bracelet, and two pieces of wood that make fire. I’ll never be without again!
So here’s how he makes fire:

It’s as if his son sits inside the egg!

I arrive at the big, main road. Make camp at the ‘Sachsenheim’ campsite (between Tsumeb and Oshikati). I receive a warm welcome (even though they were expecting me to arrive three days earlier). The site is quite occupied, it’s summer holiday and the Etosha National Parc has its entrance close by.
The next day, some people point out at my tractor. Something’s wrong.
I check it out.
I look again.
Another flat tyre.
Together with the campsite manager, I struggle with the wheel for hours. My hammer expires after three firm blows. My spare inner tube hasn’t made it through the last three years unscathed, and the current tyre isn’t in such a healthy state either. Three times, it comes off and goes back on. pffffff. When, finally, it’s back in position, I notice a tear in the outer tyre. That one used to be quite ok, but the long distances and the heat have hardened the rubber too much for it to withstand all this pushing and pulling. i don’t like this a bit.
The desert, the deserted territory is coming closer now. I have to make sure I’ll be safe there…

I pick up the phone to call Nicolette (of the Republican). She had texted me that in the next town, there’s someone with a sleeping place for me: someone managing a construction company, who also owns tractors. I’m hoping he can tell me whether I’ll be able to buy new tyres there.
I look at my phone’s screen.
It tells me the area I’m in:
It says ‘Luck’
I probably am lucky that this all happens now, and not is some forsaken bit of wasteland 300 clicks along. Must be the guardian angels in the back again.

Namibia is a highly organized country. The man I’m calling tells me he can order new tyres in Windhoek, that they’ll be sent by courier and they’ll be waiting for me in Odangwa, tomorrow morning! On a saturday!
I have to confess to him that it’s a practical impossibility to materialize there at the same time: 180 clicks takes me a minimum of 2 days. ‘I’d better be off then, see you tomorrow night’.

New front tyres, and a shampooing… at Roadhart Road Construction Company

The new tyres have the same profile as the rear tyres. I never knew they existed for 2 wheel-drive tractors, it’s great for the sandy roads ahead of me. And the rocky tracks… I am totally completely ready for this!

Reinhart and his crew do a spontaneous check-up on the tractor. Petrol disappears from the tank at a faster rate than before. The wires of my flashing light are being upgraded (vehicles tend to go FAST, out here)

I notice Reinhart inflicting something on my ex-hammer.
The one without a grip.
He’s welding a new grip.
Tears flood my eyes.I had intended to just get myself a new one. Had to cry about something I haven’t mentioned before: (It’s been a learning exercise: Guilt and responsibility work both ways) The mechanic and friend that helped me to outfit the tractor, and provided me with spare parts, has been quite a tremendously bad dissapointment.

He had followed the technical course that I should have had before taking off. He was supposed to teach me in turn, during the journey (the first three months I travelled with a follow-up truck). But he hardly taught me anything. As if he really didn’t want to. Pretty scary even then. Frustrating, dangerous.

All my alarms, flashing lights and sirens unanymously exploded into mayhem when we were reviewing the spare parts he had ordered from italy: I questioned him about those issues my feebly developed mechanical expertise would allow for, like: ‘Where’s the tyre pump, why, basically, does the whole batch of spare part consist of light bulbs?’
So he threw a fit.
So I threw a fit, but tried to contain it in an attempt to maintain some shreds of constructive cooperation.

When the follow-up truck and I parted ways, somewhere in sudan or ethiopia, I immediately sought help and advice from a tractor company. There, I found out that my ‘mechanic’, had sent me on my way with a completely inadequate tool box.
I didn’t even have the right set of wrenches to unmount a tyre.
Didn’t have a jack.
I was having seriously paranoid sentiments about him plotting to get me killed by default. It made me feel powerless and sad.

Especially since, from the start of the journey, many people and media had bestowed upon me the slightly doubtful label ‘frightfully naieve’, not to mention ‘total basket case’. The ‘Antwerp Incident’ hadn’t really helped upping the esteem-o-meter either…

Even though I think I’ve thorougly proved to the world and myself that I’m neither dumb nor a flake, it wouldn’t do to kick the bucket in some god forsaken place just because there’s no one around, and some guy supplied the wrong toolage for mending tyres. They wouldn’t call him a loser; that predicate would be mine for all eternity.
And yes, I admit that I might have been a bit of a thicko. It might not have been the brightest idea to put ones life in the hands of someone you don’t fully trust.

So I’ve learned some independance along the way (and to look for help in the right places). Friendship complicates some issues, business being interpreted as personal matters etc.
Had to learn to seek out the people who actually admit it when they’re not sure of something.
Which has been a rather valuable and simple lesson!

Again and again, I asked mechanics to run through my materiel, my knowledge. Gradually, all my tools were replaced. Learned a lot. Especially the fact that people who know stuff have the fun tendency to not be able to shut up about it ;)
Well, I guess I knew that before I set off.

Today I found out that my spare rubbers are the wrong size. As I tried to replace the built-in fuel filter with a spare, it turned out to be the wrong one. So when someone started reanimating my deceased hammer and even provided it with a rubber grip, yes, tears have been known to have been spilled. And now, the last issue has been dealt with. Up till now there’s always been people around, but I can’t afford to break down in the vast and empty plains of Namibia.

What magical people, seeing what’s missing, helping out without a word!

Baie Dankie, beautiful people of Odangwa! Baie dankie.


At Rundu, I post my stories on the net. I walk into the local internet cafe and meet the Ugandan who owns the place. Friendly face, open smile. He tells me he knows who I am. We discuss Uganda and its beauty. He says he’s been following my trip since I entered Uganda. Wow!

He too, has dreams. I return to the cafe to hear him elaborate, but electricity is down that day, so he isn’t there.
And so I take off from Rundu without seeing him again.
Maybe you’d like to mail me? I hereby ask.

He’s very inspiring to me because he seems to have learned the ‘art of doing’. To have dreams and persecute them. To know that’s possible, even here…
He has traveled several African nations and always found himself a job. Now he’s come to Rundu (a rapidly expanding little town) and set up its first internet cafe. In a simple nice space are two desks with a computer on them. One can work at the desks as if one was at home. When he makes more money, there’ll be more computers, that much is obvious. A very tight and good plan. A clear concept. And he just went and did it. Great.
Great place!

Celeste, from Rundu, dreams about being an actress…

She handed me her dream, standing next to the tractor on the camp site, but also told it to me.
She walked over to me with the special intent of bringing me a dream. I read her letter, coming with an additional drawing and a photo portait of herself. ‘I want to become an actress and be happy and healthy too!’
‘That’s quite a coincidence’, I said, ‘since I’m an actress myself’. So I told her about my profession and the show I had performed along the way. I spontaneously performed an excerpt, and told her the story of the cow. As she had handed me her dream, we might as well ‘plant’ it with the theatrics required.
That’s when Celeste took over, grabbed my ukelele and started to play and sing.
It took her no time before she mastered the instrument and started serenading in Afrikaner (close to ancient dutch) about the camp site, about trees, about Biba the dog!
And so my days in Rundu were brightened by her creative presence. A little natural!

Namibia Caprivi strip…

I arrive at the border, but too late. The gates have been shut already. I’ve just managed to drive 70 kilometers through a wildlife reserve, and now I can’t find a place to sleep. So I set up camp next to the gates into Namibia…

When waking up, I notice some buffaloes outside my tent (reputedly the most lethal mammal in Africa), and bravely decide to stay inside and have one more cup of coffee for the road.
It takes them a full morning to relocate themselves elsewhere.
With a slight touch of perverse delight, the border guard points out that I’ve chosen to make camp smack in the middle of a buffalo trail. I had noticed the tracks in the dark, but didn’t reckon that the animals would become suspicious of the tractor, too scared to just move around it.

I enter the Caprivi strip of Namibia. Biba rushes out in front of the tractor, with me slacking way behind. I spend the day contemplating distances, boy this is one whopper of a big country. It’s starting to look like I’m never getting through here. If I could just pass Katima Mulil and set up camp one click beyond it, at least I have this bit over with. Then I’ll have bitten a huge chunk of this pie called Namibia.
As soon as I exit from Katima, relief floods into me. I’m back in the moment. Open roads in front of me. Big, open space…

As I camp in the bush, a forrest ranger comes on a visit just before sunset. I’m kinda nervous when he pulls up, have no idea who this might be, acting weirdly. But that’s because he’s nervous too, because of me. He fully expected me to be a band of heavily armed poachers. He warns me about lions. I tell him I’ll be cooking and sleeping in my tent tonight.

Pretty much all of the time, I encounter tourists in 4 x 4’s with roof tents. Lots of dutch people! Must be summer holiday at home. Moments of casual chat by the side of the road, nice breaks from the long rides. Nature isn’t exactly exciting, I’ve been looking at the same kind of view for ages now.

It’s mostly the people who make a difference. The bushmen by the side of the road searching for special plants. And when I’m parked by the side of a bridge to make way for special transport (photo above), a policeman who gives me the unabridged version of his tasks. He is about to pick up a prisoner on the other side of the bridge. This man is going to an exam, grade 10. You can go learn your way up to grade 12, after which you can choose university or a follow-up course.
I speculate that perhaps, this man wouldn’t mind being in jail for another two years, so he can finish school. Ouch, steep price…
The constable laughs. ‘Yes, our former prisoners are generally a lot more learned than the average Namibian! It’s called re-education.’

And even though he doesn’t say it out loud, there’s a hint of awkwardness about it for the average man in the street (including this cop), who would perhaps like to have a tasteof the same opportunities… But he doesn’t say anything, and there’s a certain pride about the prison projects. He even drove a tractor once, so he tells me.
He speaks of a farming project at the jail that teaches prisoners to cultivate different (sometimes ‘new’) kinds of produce (Mostly, people here live off their cows, but foot- and mouth disease has spread here too).

My wheels are being sprayed clean. Eight MEGA-trucks pass by: special transport for Zambian breweries. When they let me move onto the bridge, the sun is sinking fast. One last ‘special’ car speeds past me. A man hangs from the window, waving at me.
When I’ve left the bridge, the same car overtakes me again. Two men get out and stop me. “Sorry, but we were just too curious’, they snicker as their convoy melts away on the horizon.

A south pole sign at ‘Ngepi’ campsite: I must be going in the right direction…
Biba and the camel thorn…

Yesss! Finally, a camp site that encourages. Not because of the south pole sign, but the extraordinary way it’s being run.
It’s hardly mentioned, but one can see immediately when entering. though it’s hard to explain, I’ll make a brief attempt.
Often I see white/westerners manage campsites in a white/western manner. And it seems as if they haven’t bothered to master the local language. There’s lots of ordering around and delegation going on, but always along western psychological lines. This leads to employees getting stuck, to them having no initiative or thinking for themselves because they can never do it right anyway. This breeds frustrated managers and fearful, dissatisfied staff. With all inherent consequences. Racism vs Using the white man.

But not here, obviously!
I’m staying for two and a half days and look around me. Get cleaned up, clean up my stuff. Being adressed by tourists who are curious about my journey.
At my exit, the female manager gives me a camel thorn cutting for on the tractor. So, the coming months I’ll be nursing that little organism, and plant it at the border to South Africa!
A super plant, acacia-like and outfitted with thorns that’ll frighten the tractor in the near future. It provides fruit in the dry season to man and animal. It’s very nourishing to cattle. The bark is used to make rope. The seeds can be roasted and used as a substitute for coffee (my kind of plant, obviously). The wood makes great charcoal, burning hot for ages. And some medical possibilities. The flowers are tiny, round and bright yellow.
So now we’ve got a tractor, a dog, a girl and a TREE traveling the world.

photo 1: Meeting after two years: A couple I encountered in the Egyptian desert, and a couple I met in Kenia. I sleep in between their two vehicles in a hammock, on a ‘bush/villagecampsite-let’ near river water.

Foto 2: A small church by the side of the road. Behind the sign you can just see its bell, manufactured from car wheel rims.

… And I arive in Rundu, where finally, namibia grabs me.
A car stops. The owner of Nganda lodge invites me to spend the night there. I bump into Chris and Andriette in bar ‘Forget me not’, people I had before (but individually). They show me the way in the country, and town of Rundu.
I get a telephone call from Namibia FM radio, and after that, from national paper ‘the Republican ‘. The message being: Namibia should be aware of your arrival.

At 8 AM I’m being awakened by Chris and the local school’s headmaster. It was my full honest intention to get up early but I was dreaming very heavily…
I pour coffee for my guests and am informed that the pupils would like to visit within ten minutes. ‘And why the hell not’ my sleepy brain thinks.
A vital start of the day!

School visiting…
Collected dreams…

Biba is being taken to the federal veterinary service of Namibia.
This because she needs papers to cross the SouthAfrican border.
David takes us with him on a river trip. A barbeque ensues.
Alan and ellen are prepared to service the tractor.
Patrys tekes me out for a bar crawl. Andrietta helps me out with desert shopping. It’s hard to say no to anything, it’s to much fun, people are too nice!

It’s goodbye to a-hem ‘incognito travel. The second to last part is about to begin.
But it’s good that Namibia is huge. I’m not quite ready to leave the nature, the silence behind me.

It’s afternoon, women are bathing. The baby is an albino. You see them often, when traveling through Africa. Probably because they are quite conspicious around these parts ;)

Angels from Rundu…

Three or four days of Rundu, I lost count.
But tomorrow I’m off! whooff, back to nature. Heading for Tsinsibis village…

august 16, lunar eclipse in Rundu…