Last Leg, Kenya to Namibia

It’s been a year since I left for Africa. I can clearly remember packing my bike in that box, loading it with gear, a few clothes and my beloved camera. Taping that box up and thinking, ‘I’m not going to ride you again until I’m somewhere in Kenya”. That day was the first of many that profoundly changed the way I approach life. For those reading, you’ve probably been in my shoes, picked up that scent that leads you back on a plane – and not coming home for a while.

It took us around six months to ride from Kenya to Namibia. Alongside me was my brother, and our dad, who has been cycling around the world for the past 4 years or so. He invited us to join him on what was, now looking back, an epic journey.

Part 1 of the journey saw us ride through the equatorial countries of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda. Then we rode south into Western Tanzania, which was one wild ride, barren and isolated. Although there were some quite significant towns along the way; Kigoma on Lake Tanghanika, Mbeya and a few others, there were large distances between them which meant carrying loads of water and food. Riding through the dry season you could imagine it was pretty hot, and well yeah, it was bloody hot. Which still lead to drinking lots of water, warm water. When we reached a small town or village, we would hunt down for a fridge that sold cold coke and clean it up in no time! Despite the lack of electricity in the smaller communities, we had to settle for warm drinks majority of the time.

Tanzania left us with a raw impression of village life. Some had never seen a white person before, others were happy and cheerful to see us peddling through. Seeing so many smiles just lit up our faces, also learning how we don’t really need much in life to survive has changed my perception on living back here in Australia.

Peddling, peddling, peddling (and yeah peddling…) I can assure you that we had our days on the road. Like who really heads over to Africa to ride a pushbike … with their dad?

Malawi was our little holiday during this six month long adventure through eastern Africa. We took our time, chilling out by the Lake Malawi fishing, swimming and slipping a few beers. Poverty riddles throughout the country and it’s one of the world’s poorest. As soon as we crossed the border, since Malawi is a top tourist destination, the locals were used to westerners and that meant them hassling for money. We told them that we were flat broke and were riding push bikes.

In Malawi, the weather was lovely with easy riding and not many hills. Until we rode up to Livingstonia, which was basically several huge switch-backs on a goat track that lead us to pushing our bikes up some very steep sections. Livingstonia was a historical town named after David Livingstone who was a Scottish Congregationalist medical missionary and explorer in Africa. It was quite a unique place and defiantly worth the visit.

We had plans to ride down into Mozambique and then on into Zimbabwe, though Ben and I didn’t have all the time in the world like our dad. We really wanted to get over to Namibia to see the desert and also the coast, so the plan became heading straight into Zambia, dash across the country and into Namibia.

Eastern Zambia was another unique and special place, high up in the trip’s highlights. Having spent some time at South Laugwa National Park we got to see a few cats and other wildlife. We also had a 500km journey to Lusaka, which was knew would take us a week or more. Zambia was very much a more developed country. South African food chains, stable roads, better infrastructure and so on.

Lusaka was another journey within the whole journey. We had plenty of these; moments when we would have to camp in the bush for weeks, carrying loads of food and ride day after day.

Lusaka was another journey within the whole journey. We had plenty of these; moments when we would have to camp in the bush for weeks, carrying loads of food and ride day after day. We basically would stay at cheap hotels in the larger towns if we could find one that suited our budget. We would camp most of the way though, which made the trip what it was meant for – enjoying the beauty of the continent in the bloody scrub. Once when we pitched our tents, after night had fallen, we were about 100m off the main road when we saw a huge fire up on a nearby ridge. We didn’t sleep much that night, imagining all our gear burnt and nowhere to run. Luckily the wind was blowing against it – my 13ltrs of water was close by.

When it came to water we never would very rarely buy bottled water and more or less go searching for it. We were not going to pay for water when people couldn’t even afford it. Lots of small villages had bore pumps that were set up by the government or NGO’s. Some were super clean, others were dirty or had the taste of sulphur. Sometimes we would filter it, but also we built up a tolerance to it. If they drank it, we drank it and the pumps were a pretty good shower also. When we were looking for them you would often seen these yellow 10litre tubs lined up one after another, as people would wait their turn to get water. The elders would usually send the young kids out to get the water for the day.

Namibia was on our minds after having rode a pretty hard slog across the country. We took the road south after spending some time in Lusaka. We were over walking around in shopping malls – we didn’t belong in them, preferring life as we’d had it the past 4 months.

The Victoria Falls bordered Zambia and Zimbabwe. It was the dry season so there was not much water flowing off the falls on the Zambian side, as the main flow of the Zambezi River was on Zimbabwe’s side. Besides that, it was a pretty spectacular sight to see and one to defiantly check out in that area.

Botswana was about 100km away and we dreamed of another new country as exciting all the others. The price of the visa was steep as was the general price of the country, as we were getting closer to South Africa. We also had spoken to fellow cyclists and locals and that they warned of elephants and lions that roam quite freely in most of the country. Some parts you were not allowed to ride bicycles so it was not worth the risk, instead we rode up to the Caprivi Strip of Namibia.

We had finally reached Namibia but it was not the end of the road yet. We were stinging to see the coastline. For us, Namibia was pretty fucking epic. It’s full of diversity, rich landscapes and if you want to really immerse yourself in isolation and adventure then this country has it all. It’s a world away from western society and holds beauty whatever road you take. Having already spoken about camping and carrying loads of water and food, Namibia was that on an even larger scale. Bike touring really is an amazing way to travel it. You feel so free and connected to the culture and environment you are in.

For us, Namibia was pretty fucking epic. It’s full of diversity, rich landscapes and if you want to really immerse yourself in isolation and adventure then this country has it all.

We were headed eventually for the capital of Windhoek, though we had loads of roads to take before we reached the capital. The richness of the country geologically and visually was immense. It was a breath of freedom and change after having ridden though the heavily populated heart of Africa, but with that came long days of riding, long stretched and the trade winds of the wild Atlantic Ocean.

The people of Namibia were unreal and so welcoming. The north of the country was were the more traditional tribal people lived, if you look at a map the north is full of small towns and villages. Namibia is also home to lots of Afrikaans who were born in Namibia, and also those from South Africa. In 1984 it had become a German colony, so moreover there were also lots of German people. We had plenty of moments on the road when locals would stop in their cars and offer us cold drinks, food and even accomodation, or just sit and have a chat about what we were doing and where we had come from. This was special for us and we couldn’t thank them enough. To have people bring you into their home and their family is special when you’re on the road.

Day two of a three-day stretch to the next town, we were having lunch on the side of dirt road. It was hot and with few large trees around it was hard to find shade. Tucking into the normal feed of sandwiches, snacks, fruit and all that good stuff we all had imagined if we just had one cold drink, just one for each to just quench our thirst.

Sometimes cars would pass throughout the day and when we were having our lunch this car drove passed with a camper on the back. They were cruising at a pretty fast pace when they caught our eyes and – no lie – the bloke driving threw us a full blown ‘shakka’. Ben and I were frothing so hard. Dad on the other hand had no idea what a ‘shakka’ was. Anyway, we exchanged the legendary greeting and saw the dust swallow them in the distance. Before we knew it they were backing up in our direction. They pulled up, had a yarn to us. They gave us all an ice cold can of beer each that blew our minds. They were such a lovely family and yeah basically we were stoked, one of many stoked moments!

Ben and I had always wanted to also see if we could hunt down the wave that blew up on the internet a couple of years ago, and that was at ‘Skeleton Bay’, one of the longest lefts in the world, also known as Donkey Bay by the locals.

So Namibia was very welcoming and the scenery was spectacular and to ride through the country was unreal. Ben and I had always wanted to also see if we could hunt down the wave that blew up on the internet a couple of years ago, and that was at ‘Skeleton Bay’, one of the longest lefts in the world, also known as Donkey Bay by the locals. We arrived in Swakopmund and spent sometime hunting around, checking out the beach and trying to find local people who surfed. The Atlantic is very cold and the conditions aren’t always welcoming for those wanting to go for a ‘fun’ surf. We ended up catching up with some local surfers who were born in town. We were informed that it broke more often in winter, that it was a special wave and that it also took a good 4WD mission to get out there. Nevertheless, Ben and I were in luck as there was a pretty juicy swell arriving that night.

So after a two hour drive in the misty cold morning Ben and I were so stoked to have laid eyes on this unreal wave in the middle of nowhere. We chucked on a 5mm with booties and paddled out to score some special waves that would never be forgotten. You would walk 2km up the beach and then paddle out. The current would soon have you down the other end of the sand bar, though it was pretty constant so you could get onto a few. Not having surfed in 5 months took its toll on heavy left handers.

I could go on and on about this trip. It was something I’ll never forget, and to do it with my brother and dad was special for all of us and all we know that. It has been quite challenging for me to get back into the swing of things at home. Seeing everyone live out their day-to-day lives, having to wake up in the same room every morning. I suppose that’s life, too. It all has taken a toll on me since returning and that’s what these trips do to you. They strip you back to your pure state of humanity, and put you back in touch with nature. They connect you with strangers to share stories and moments. You find who you are and feel connected with the land. For now, well it’s back to the drawing board to plan the next journey.

Story and images by Callum Smith

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