Livingstone to Windhoek

Wed, 30 Jul 2008 09:19:31 +0000

Livingstone Index Windhoek

For some reason I had a terrible night's sleep last night. Maybe it's the unaccustomed comfort. I ended up waking up at 4:00 in the morning and I just read, finishing off my book. I guess I'll have no trouble getting to sleep tonight on the bus.

The breakfast at the lodge was fantastic. Fresh melon, yoghurt, any kind of fried breakfast I wanted (I went for scrambled eggs on toast and bacon), cereal, toast, coffee, etc. I enjoyed that immensely. Joining me at breakfast was an Afrikaans guy who runs a trucking company, and we discussed the nature documentary showing on the TV. I'm not sure watching a lion and a crocodile fight over the dismembered corpse of a baby hippopotamus is the best accompaniment to breakfast, but it didn't deter my appetite.

I headed off to town to hang around before my bus left. I had one mission: to book a hostel in Windhoek before I left. None of the Internet cafes seemed prepared to make an international call though. I was eventually directed to a little shack where you can make phone calls, only to be told that their phone was down. They could sell me a phone card, but that would be a bit of a waste for one call. So despite my resolution to start booking places to sleep in advance, I decided to just wing it in Windhoek, again.

I got a donut and a coffee in the bakery. I tried to use their wifi again, but it was even worse than normal, and I had to give up the attempt. I just walked off to catch the bus. A bit early, but this was no bad thing since there are no pre-allocated seats. I got myself a nice window seat. I carefully calculated which direction the bus would drive so I could avoid the sun, but somehow forgot that I was in the southern hemisphere now, and therefore got myself a seat that would be sunny for the entire journey. Damn. I was sweltering as I sat there waiting for the bus to get moving. The windows don't open, so the bus relies on air-conditioning to keep the atmosphere breathable. Of course this doesn't happen when the bus is stopped.

This is a really expensive bus, and most of my fellow passengers are tourists, including quite a lot of Americans. I actually found a lot of the vacuous getting-to-know-you chatter that was going on a bit hard to take, and I was forced to plug in my music and be anti-social. I got on much better with the other passengers later on, when we had actual stuff to talk about.

We got moving slightly late, and I was very disappointed to find that the air-conditioning could only manage the slightest breath of air, not nearly enough to cool down the cabin. For $100, I expect better. Still, I've had worse, so I just sweated away.

As we pulled away we got an introductory announcement from the attendant, disconcertingly including a Christian prayer for a safe journey. The museum had informed me that Zambia is, or at least was for a period, an officially Christian state, so there's no attempt at multi-cultural ecumenicalism here.

It didn't take long to leave Livingstone behind and we were out in the scrub. And shortly after leaving Livingstone, the guy over the aisle spotted something and desperately tapped me to have a look: I just caught sight of the back of the neck of a giraffe towering over the bushes. Forget baboons, I actually managed a glimpse of one of the big five. Very exciting, and unexpected. I still have to come back for a proper safari, but I can honestly say I've seen wildlife.

We were soon at the border, and all piled off for the usual formalities. The Namibian side was a bit of an experience, queuing up in the sun to file past a tiny shack holding one beleagured and frustrated lady trying to get everyone through in reasonable time. For the resources they have at their disposal, the Namibians do seem reasonably efficient.

The students in front of me were chatting in a fascinating half-English (pidgin? creole?) that drifted in and out of comprehensibility. I eavesdropped eagerly. At one point they moved onto politics and the guy registered strong displeasure at the indictment of the president of Sudan - "How can you indict a head of state? They just want to destabilise Africa!" I kinda wanted to object to that, but a) it's not my conversation, and b) it's not my continent either.

Also noteworthy, there was a gigantic catfish sitting on a plastic chair, rotting away in the sun. The Americans and I had great fun speculating about the story behind that one. I wanted to know why, with all of us having to stand in the hot sun, it was the dead catfish that was allocated a seat.

We all had our bags searched by border agents wearing fatigues and AK47s, who looked like they might be more at home dangling out the tray of a technical, possibly wearing necklaces of human ears, rather than managing queues of tourists. Maybe that's just the hackneyed stereotype of Africa talking though. In the hotel in Dar es Salaam I was exposed again to "Blood Diamonds", some guests watching it in the lounge. Dammit, that's just inappropriate for people beginning their tour through Africa. What's more, the film during the bus journey today was some wearisomely worthy semi-documentary about the Rwandan genocide. Why can't someone make a charming romantic comedy about the angst-ridden life of an art gallery director as he tries to manage the petty rivalries of his latte-and-chardonnay-sipping social circle in Kinshasa? Who made the rule that every film set in Africa has to involve people having their arms hacked off? It's not my fault these cliches get stuck in my head.

Anyway, we made it into the Caprivi Strip and drove hectically along the immaculate, arrow-straight road as the sun set over the scrub. Which was very beautiful, as you can imagine. You'll have to imagine it, because it was impossible to photograph. Everyone on the bus tried, and failed.

In fact I haven't had much success sleeping so far, because we keep stopping for breaks to buy food and use the toilet. Not that there are toilets at these service stations: I had to wander out into the bush in the darkness. Where once again I had a dazzling display of stars. One of these days I'll have to go on holiday somewhere where I can spend hours on end gazing at the things.

At another of these breaks I acquired a neighbour: a largish woman who isn't making any attempt to avoid intruding into my personal space. I'm feeling really quite squished. The seat does recline quite nicely, but it's still too hot and there's not much leeway to adjust my position. It doesn't look like being a comfortable night.

Livingstone Index Windhoek