Sign in or Create your own Travel blog
Select Location: 

View Entire Trip

Share |
    

Friday 10 Feb 2012
Luderitz, Namibia

900km drive in one day... plus bribing police!

As luck would have it Johanna sorted a rental car for me through Thrifty and it was ready to pick up at 10am. Not cheap at N$600 per day (60 euro), and she obviously had to add her sizable commission on top of it (hence her enthusiasm to sort me out), but I was overjoyed nonetheless.

At least this time I was getting a top-of-the-line 2012 4-door VW Polo with unlimited miles, essential for touring Namibia, plus crucially I could plug in my iPod! I quickly established that Namibian radio was pretty crap, and there was a 900km drive ahead of me. I would need the entire discography of Boards of Canada now more than ever!

Paid up at my hostel and no sooner had I left Windhoek than I was pulled over by a copper! He had been waving on traffic while standing beside a STOP sign, and I naturally assumed that meant I could go through as well. Oh how wrong I was. Whites in particular must be EXTRA careful to obey every street sign unless explicitly instructed not to (and I thought I had been!). The officer approached the car and said the penalty for going through a STOP sign was R$2,000 (200 euro!) and that I'd have to go back to Windhoek to pay it. I pleaded my case to him to no avail and I had to show him my passport (including a panicky moment where I couldn't find my Namibia visa stamp).
Maybe it was the tiredness, but for a moment I decided to take inspiration from Hollywood and said "Let's say I give you something that will make you forget this ever happened". Just so we're clear I was talking money here! In any other country this alone would have gotten me arrested but to my relief the guy said "Give me $300!"... I haggled him down to $200... I had to give him the money surreptitiously as part of a handshake so his nosy supervisor wouldn't see, but at least I was finally away. My first (and hopefully last) police bribe!

In coming days I would learn that this is quite common, and that tourists are a target for poice, who pull them over for the most minor offenses (1km over the speed limit etc), but it's usually a ruse to get money out of you. What I should have done is insisted that we go to Windhoek station as he suggested and I *MAY* have gotten a ticket which would have had to be paid within 2 weeks (at which point I would have left the country). What I was worried about at the time is that my rental car would have been ticketed and then Thrifty would have passed on the cost to me... but I've learned things aren't quite that advanced here yet! ...one guy even suggested I should have just sped off and the copper wouldn't have bothered giving chase... eh not quite that brave yet ;)

After this I made sure to obey every speed limit and waited at all stops signs manned by police. In one town a female police officer was scrutinizing my every movement, ready to whistle (or worse pull out a gun) ordering me to halt should I happen to go the extra 1km over the speed limit. Apparently some police stations allocate monthly fine quotas that must be filled so that they can pay the station salaries, this is particularly the case in Zimbabwe (where I thankfully did NOT drive!).

Ironically a side effect of this corruption is that they have inadvertently made Namibia (and South Africa for that matter) one of the safest countries I have ever driven through as all cars follow the rules of the road to the letter. I can honestly say that one of the reasons I felt I was not in Africa, but rather Australia, while in South Africa and Namibia was largely because of the sensibilities on the road (dimming lights for oncoming cars, etc)

Sand dune blowing across...
Sand dune blowing across...

The drive down to Luderitz was exceedingly dull. The single main tar road that runs through Namibia was in top condition, but the surrounding landscape was largely boring flat scrub land, save for a few sightings of baboon munching away on something or other on the roadside. It was only the latter 5% of the drive to Luderitz where the scenery became more interesting, as we crossed into the Sperrgebeit and Namib national parks, which the road bisects. You could actually see the very section where the Namib desert starts. One moment there are trees, a minute later nothing but dunes. Throughout the whole 10 hour drive I stopped only twice. Once to take a whizz, and another to get some food in Keetmanshoop, another non-descript frontier town (with a larger white population than Windhoek though, it has to be said).

Namibia is famed for it's vast empty landscapes, in particular areas like the Namib desert. This is largely because the country is almost as large as South Africa yet only has a population of 3 million people.

On approach to Luderitz I was dangerously low on petrol. I had somehow managed to drive the entire 900km on a single tank (thank you VW!) since petrol stations were few and far between (ironically I had been advised to fill up at every station I came across by a woman in Windhoek, but it fell on deaf ears). At this stage it was dark and I was speeding along to get as far as I could before inevitably breaking down. To make matters worse I was driving through a particularly lonely windswept section of the Namib desert and sand was blowing across the road in a misty formation. Occasionally the sand formed minor dunes right on the road itself...

It was a larger one of these I accidentally hit while driving along at 100kph! The car flew off the road about a foot in the air, and I was sure I would see a huge dent in the side when I got out... but magically it got away with absolutely no damage!

The sight of Luderitz and an open petrol station was heaven. I learned my lesson and ensured I would fill up at every petrol station henceforth. At this stage it was around 10pm so I found a hostel and decided to dorm it to save a bit of cash after the bribing debacle.

German Colonial...
German Colonial buildings

Luderitz is literally a desert oasis. Surrounded by the Namib desert it's position on the Atlantic coast grants it some spectacular seaside vistas. The town is famed for it's fish (some say it has the world's best) and it's diamond-mining. It has many delightful colonial German buildings but the tough industries have crafted the locals into rowdy prospector types. Typically of German ancestry these people enjoy their delicious "Tafel" beer and country music. Predominantly white, one guy in my hostel said, "this is Nazi country here". He was Austrian so may have been a little biased. They seemed harmless enough, although definately rednecks. Too much sun'll do that to ya.

I met an Irish couple in a bar (of course!) here on business, the man having lived in South Africa and Namibia for 20 years. When I told him the story of Richard the taxi driver and his positive views on apartheid the man retorted that apartheid had no benefit for the blacks and that Namibia had actually prospered since blacks took over. When I compared apartheid's influence in SA to England's influence and legacy in Ireland (i.e. lovely buildings around Dublin etc) the guy nearly choked... they were from Galway after all Wink

0 Comments for this Travel blog entry

Sithern Efrika

Travel blog by peterforan

Great White Shark cage diving

Great White Shark cage diving


20 days to sample the "other" down-under... a trip covering parts of South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe in February. Cape Town to Vic Falls get the treatment, while I mix in a safari or two... Now where did I put that elephant gun?

visitors: 166,654

Currently in:

Dublin, Ireland

Buy this Blog on CD!  More...


Makes a great gift for anytime!

Photo Album

  • German...

    Luderitz

    Namibia

    German Colonial architecture
  • German...

    Luderitz

    Namibia

    German Colonial architecture
  • Sand dune...

    Luderitz

    Namibia

    Sand dune blowing across the road
  • Gravel roads

    Luderitz

    Namibia

    Gravel roads