Here I am in Keetmanshoop. Plans in disarray, trying to make sense of the options available.
Well, not quite like that.
I'll stay here one night instead of the three days I'd planned earlier, and continue tomorrow to the South African border at Noordoewer on the Orange River. Maybe stop for a day at the Fish River Canyon on the way. But, "If you've been to the Grand Canyon, it's another one of those but smaller."
And no doubt more expensive. At the Grand Canyon there's a special cheap price if you arrive by bicycle, which I did. In African parks there's a special expensive price if you're foreign, which I am.
But that wasn't the plan first thing this morning.
I ended up staying four days at the very nice B&B just outside Mariental, which itself was a nice, tiny, sheep-market town. Taking a breather after the adventure of the Boshua Pass road.
I also fitted the chain guide roller I bought in Swakopmund. It has two bearings inside it, looks a lot stronger than the original Yamaha one, and fitted exactly. I hope now you won't have to read any more about that long and boring saga (been going on and on since the Western Desert in Egypt!)
I'll think of something else instead, see below.....
So this morning I planned to reach Keetmanshoop, stay here until Monday when the shops open, put a new front tyre on and head off to the border. When I arrived in town, Saturday afternoon, everything was closed. (It's civilised in Africa, people have time off). But I fortuitously wandered into the area with all the tyre dealers, and one was still open dealing with a customer emergency of some sort.
"No, there are no motorbike shops in town at all, and no tyres. Are you headed north or south?"
"Your first place then for a tyre will be Upington, about the same distance away as Windhoek is. This split doesn't look bad as long as you stay on the tarmac."
That sounded OK and I'll only stay here one night instead of three.
I consulted my map to see where Upington was.
Oh dear! The road forks a little way south, one fork going to Cape Town, the other to Johannesburg, and Upington is on the Johannesburg road. No good then.
On the Cape Town road there's only one sizeable town marked on my map (but lots and lots of small ones); Springbok.
So a new tyre will have to wait until Springbok or Cape Town.
The road to here from Mariental was the same as previous Namibian tarmac roads. Straight, if not straighter, and almost as featureless. First, we had 'spot the celebrity'.
As I've said, the changes are subtle travelling from east to south-west. Now, there are very few buses. But quite a few people in remote countryside thumbing for lifts. And private cars are back. Not seen many of those since Egypt, except in the capital cities. Now, they overtake regularly, and at least two today carried a passenger determined to get an action photo of me as they went past! Not really the Africa I came to see.
The other feature was a complete lack of any wires along the road, no telephone wires, no power lines, but a railway instead staying close to the road all the way.
"Wouldn't it be an adventure to actually see a train travelling along this line," I mused.
Instead, about halfway to Keetmanshoop, there was a "Commonwealth War Graves" sign leading to another, just across the track:
Then a mile of stoney track led to this, alongside Gibeon Station.
German graves from a 1902 conflict, with white headstones, left of picture. German graves from WWI, with headstones close together, centre. And Commonwealth graves from WWI, right of picture.
Closer view of WWI graves. Commonwealth nearest, German further away.
Still remembered, side by side.
As in Jinja, Uganda, there was no cemetary register containing a narrative so I don't know the story behind this, but as this is probably the furthest from Europe I'll see a Commonwealth War Cemetary, I took the pictures.
There's even a shop here at the trackside:
So I bought a bottle of lemonade and a toothbrush. They even sold Kiwi Black Shoe Polish, and I think I can now confirm that wherever you are in Africa, you're never more than a couple of miles from someone selling Kiwi Black Shoe Polish.
I received some nice comments about the photos of the Bulawayo Railway Museum, so here are some more railway pictures.
I suppose this is an African railway 'No Entry' sign. The piece of bent and painted rail is hinged over the working rail and held in place with a padlock. I can't see it stopping the Flying Scotsman should it hurtle along here one day.
The track is as straight as the boring B1 Windhoek to Keetmanshoop road alongside.
I was happy that an express wouldn't suddenly appear and remove my front tyre before I purchased a new one, having asked the people in the shop when the trains come along.
"Only at night, about ten in the evening."
A train must have passed this way recently with a wagon misbehaving, trundling along on the sleepers instead of the rails. I tried a photo of the damage but it doesn't really work.
There's a long line of wheel damage (maybe hundreds of miles?) to the sleepers between the rails, (to the left), and on the right-hand end of the sleepers. For railway enthusiasts only, you understand.
As the trains run at night here, it reminded me of an incident many years ago that I thought might happen here on this line, and provide a little entertainment for the rest of the way to Keetmanshoop.
For both motorcycle and railway enthusiasts.
I was bowling along to Paris on the motorway from Calais, alone, quite late at night. And it was raining, cats and dogs. I had given up hope of reaching Paris that night and was hurrying along as quickly as possible to reach a Formule 1 hotel that I knew I'd find in one of the motorway service stations.
I don't really remember what "hurrying" amounted to, but the bike I was riding was capable of a shade over 140mph and I don't remember there being much unused throttle movement left. But this was France in the early 90s - not much speed discipline in those days - and there was zero other traffic. Also, I always felt comfortable at speed in these sorts of conditions, masses of rain washing the road absolutely clean of all oil, diesel, rubber and everything else. Plenty of grip with high-quality tyres. When I used to race on tarmac tracks, I always got better finishing positions in the wet than in the dry, I seem to find the knack of staying on the bike in the rain.
But, fairly suddenly, there was blue flashing light......
"Don't panic, Mr. Mainwaring!"
An easing of the throttle seemed sensible, just a little, not a lot.
However, the rear-view mirrors were absolutely as black as the ace of spades. Not a twinkle of light behind.
Looking forward again, the dense sheet of large and fast-moving raindrops was definitely being illuminated by blue flashing light. But the mirrors still black.
"Maybe they're in front, and I'm catching them up!"
But nothing at all in the distance. Not the dimmest of red lights.
I turned off my lights just for an instant, to be sure.
"Argggghh, turn those lights back on quick, that's just too scary at this speed!"
But no, it was all blackness ahead, as well as behind. And on the carriageway going in the other direction as well. Empty. This was too strange for comfort.
"I know! This superb Ducati has reached such a speed that I've leapt across a divide into some other world! The police here are descended from the Invisible Man."
No, that can't be right. At least be sensible about it. But the blue was definitely getting brighter.
Next, I spied out of the corner of my right eye, a strange long black thing maybe fifty yards from the road, coming alongside me. Above it were two brilliant blue dancing flames. One at the front, one at the rear. In fact, the colour was electric blue.
The London-to-Paris Eurostar train glided past me, at, I assume, its operating speed of 186mph.
A bit humbling in a way. Must be quite something to be the driver of that in this weather.
"Drat!!" I thought. "Too late now! I should never have eased up on the throttle. I might have beaten it to Paris! Now I'll never know!"
In this downpour there must have been a river of water hanging from the overhead power line, producing enough sparks to illuminate most of the rain all around the sky. Quite a scene as it disappeared into the murky distance.
Couldn't happen here though, of course. It's the dry season.
Have to find some other entertainment.
Posted by Ken Thomas at September 25, 2010 07:33 PM GMT