Tag Archives: Namibia

Tour d’Afrique 2013 by Laura Holms by Laura Holms: Sports & Adventure | Blurb Books

laurabook

Tour d’Afrique 2013 by Laura Holms by Laura Holms: Sports & Adventure | Blurb Books.

On January 11, 2013, exactly 1 year ago today, the 2013 Tour d’Afrique began in Cairo.

A couple of weeks ago, my sister Laura surprised me by giving me a book for Christmas that compiles all of my blogs from the ride plus a collection of photos she gathered from other riders.

It looks great and brings back many good memories.

You can have a look at it and order it you wish by going to:http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/invited/00b0ee2f7acef00d2b7b2e686e5bd9690b8ec534

Yesterday the 2014 Tour d’Afrique riders left from Khartoum. I hope they enjoy their ride as much as the 2013 crew did.

somehow this didn’t get posted – added here to complete the record

Day 108, stage 83, 83km

Start, Solitaire Guest Farm Desert Ranch

Finish, Sesriem, Sossusvlei Lodge

Another early morning but at least it was warmer. We are about 700 metres lower today than we were yesterday so it is a bit warmer. Namibia seems to have a booming tourist industry. We cycle for mile after mile and see no signs of habitation or commerce and then all of a sudden, after 60 or 70 or 80km of nothing we come across a luxury lodge. Sesriem is a good example. It is at the gate to a National park that includes the famous Dunes of the Namib dessert. We cycled over 80km from Solitaire and saw nothing. Then all of a sudden we come across the Sossusvlei Lodge just outside the gates of the park. This is not a roughing it in the wilds lodge. This is a fully paid up member of the ‘opulence is great’ club. And it has prices to match – about $300 a night per person, single or sharing. This includes dinner and breakfast. But still, we are in the Namib dessert in the middle of nowhere, Namibia. I went into reception and started to negotiate. In the end I got a room for the equivalent of about £90 a night, including dinner and breakfast. Several other riders took advantage of this rate. But we could only get it for one night (it was a rest day and we would be in Sesriem for two nights)  because the next day they had a group of 60 people coming and were fully booked. There isn’t a paved road in a hundred miles! They do have there own landing strip though. The 60 were all being ferried in on small planes. Nowhere is remote these days.

Today was a short cycle and not a particularly difficult one. We had a 30km individual time trial early on and then the naked mile. I had my usual crap time for the time trial. I just do not ride well against the clock. I need to see the bum in front. Too bad we didn’t do the naked mile first. Lots of bums. The time trial took us into an early lunch and then we had a short ride, including the naked mile, to Sesriem after lunch. The naked mile was a rather tame affair. All the men went off in a group, or most of us anyway, and then a mile or so from the lunch stop doffed out kit and posed for photos. James Campbell, a professional photographer who is also one of the riders, lined us up in echelon formation and did the bum shot, then on the side of the road for the full frontal – all very tasteful I am sure. We then road off with the breeze in our dangly bits for a while. To give some comfort to my saddle sore I tied my cycling short around my saddle with the chamois side up. Worked well. Out in the middle of nowhere like this very few vehicles pass you, and when they do they are usually going about 130kmh. during our dangly bits on view period about half a dozen cars passed. They all stopped and stared. Word got to Sesriem before we did.  I went into the shop at the camp to buy a coke and the cashier asked me if I had had a nice ride today. ’Yes, thanks.’ ‘And didn’t the hot sun burn your naked skin?’ I could hear the giggles as I walked out the door. Apparently a half hour earlier an older lady had come into the camp and said ‘Close the gates! Close the gates!  There are 20 naked madmen riding bicycles towards us!’ the gates were wide one when we arrived.

The women were very organized. They waited till all the men has passed and then doffed their kit and road off as a group for a while. James was the only man allowed within 20 miles. He was invited to be official court photographer, a task he performed reluctantly, I am sure, but with great integrity.

At the Sussusvlei Lodge that night we had a marvelous dinner. In addition to all the starters and soups and salads, there was a bbq that grilled everything you could get at Carnivore’s in Nairobi. There were a dozen different types of game. I had springbok Kudu and warthog – also a couple of pork chops. It was the typical Tour circus, eight or ten of us going back and then back again. I had two starter courses, three full meat courses, several deserts and cheese – also some good South African wine. And the room was marvelous.

So you want to change some money eh?

Day 116, stage 89, 133km

Start, Provenance Camp, Noordoewer

Finish, Municipal Camp, Springbok, South Africa

We were up and out of camp early. We had a border to cross, not a long day but not a short day, and over 1500 metres of climbing to do. We were also worried that there might be a head wind. We were heading more or less south west and a south west wind was common in these parts. As it turned out the wind was on a carrousel all day, changing directions and being quite fickle – great when it was behind us, which it was for a while, less great when it was on our nose, which it was for a while; but for the most part it was varying degrees of cross wind and more or less benign.

I cycled to the border with several others and then cycled the hills into lunch with Vince and Bridget. They were probably relaxing but it was a good stiff pace for me. We made it into lunch in really good time and enjoyed a couple of fantastic kite rides down long hills (what goes up must come down) with following winds. I lingered a little longer at lunch that Bridget and Vince – the race was still on and they had to think about time – and then cycled on my own for most of the rest of the day.

We arrived at Springbok fairly early and Vince and I wandered into town. It was like a small Midwestern town in the US: a main drag with big grocery stores, car dealerships and chain restaurants.  We have become quite jaded now. We can walk into a well-stocked, air conditioned mega grocery store and think nothing of it. Gone are the days in the deserts of the Sudan when finding a small packet of chocolate cream biscuits, two years past its sell by date, in a small, tin-roofed, road-side kiosk were a source of joy, wonder and rabid consumption. We could now have a coke any time we wanted, in any size we wanted – 200ml, 340ml, 500ml, 1litre, 1.5litres, 2 litres – and in any type of container that took our fancy – glass disposable, glass returnable, plastic screw top, tin. We could also choose from any number of local knock-off competitors; my favourite was something called Iron Brew that tasted sort of like a cherry coke. But there was also every variety of cream soda and fizzy fruit drink. The coconut and pineapple blend was really good. We were becoming very sophisticated consumers again. Oh dear. We also stopped at a Nandos and had some chicken wings (actually Vince had a stir fry and rice – not enough – and then a half chicken and chips – lunch had been a couple of hours ago and dinner wasn’t for another two hours) and they didn’t have to run out back to catch and kill the chicken first. Amazing.

We also had to get some Rand. I used an ATM – slick, efficient, no hassle. Vince just had $40 he wanted to change for some pocket money. The first four banks we went to wouldn’t do it – a variety of excuses. The 5th agreed to do it and asked to see Vince’s passport. He didn’t have it with him of course but I had mine still on me from the border crossing that morning so I took over the transaction. It was banker’s extortion at it slickest and sickest. Vince’s $40 at a crap rate came to about 345 Rand. Ok then. They then said there was a commission. OK then. But the commission was 115 Rand. Holy shit. But we hadn’t finished. They then charged valued added tax on the commission! What value did they add you might ask? This brought the costs to over 130 Rand.  This brought Vince’s return on $40 to a grand total of 225 Rand. The published exchange rate in the papers that day was $1 = 9.18 Rand. $40 should therefore get you something just over 360 Rand. So Vince had given the bank over a third of his $40 for the privilege of changing currencies. When I asked the clerk on the other side of the barred, bullet-proof glass who conducted the transaction if she didn’t feel just a little bit guilty for the exorbitant fees, she simply said ‘No sir’. Take me back to the Sudan where I can haggle behind the brothel with a guy in a dirty galabia for a small portion of the dirty stack of notes he pulls out of his countless hidden pockets.

The bank was ABSA by the way.

No easy finish

Day 115, rest day, Provenance Camp, Noordoewer

We camped on the Orange River a few kilometres from the border crossing into South Africa. Across the river we could see the vineyards of the Northern Cape. For several kilometres along the river before we arrived at Provenance Camp (or Felix Unite Camp) we passed a massive agricultural project – turning dessert into irrigated vineyards and soft fruit orchards. The South African influence and investment is spreading more and more quickly up the continent. It was impressive to see but they were obviously taking huge quantities of water out of the Orange River. I hope it is sustainable. For weeks, as we cycled through dessert and near dessert, we have seen nothing but dried up seasonal riverbeds. In Namibia the rains had not come this year. The seasonal rivers had not seen water for more than two years.

Provenance Camp was an oasis on the edge of the dessert. The views from the dessert hills along the river bed were stunning. Our chalet was on a cliff overlooking the river and facing the sunrise. The night sky was filled with more stars than I can remember seeing; the milky-way clearly visible. The sunrise in the morning was a post card. I sat at the table on the veranda outside the chalet with a cup of hot cocoa and watched it come up over the river and the dessert hills, a great way to start the day.

As always on a rest day it was a time for laundry, bike cleaning and maintenance, and the internet – laundry and bike in the morning, in the afternoon I settled in with a good bottle of Pinotage and my Macbook. Several people took kayaks out on the river or wandered the few kilometres to the border town to get a Wimpy’s burger. I didn’t move.

With just a week to go many people, myself included, were a little low. We had come a long way together. We were nearing the end. But we also knew we had a tough final six days of riding ahead of us. We had thought that once we crossed into South Africa most our route would be on tarmac. But when we arrived here we discovered that 3 – 4 of the 6 days would be off road. So, no need to change my tires. Arrgghh.  The change to off road also added 50 or 60 kilometres to our final week – not a lot, but off road it adds up at the end of the day. The changes were made because TdA had not been able to get permission to ride on the main road down the west coast. As a result TdA had had to scramble and come up with a new route that would get us to the same camping locations each day. Of the 6 last days, two were now supposed to be off-road centuries (over 100 miles or 160km). They really were trying to break us. We had done thousands of kilometres off-road. We had done a dozen or more centuries. But so far we had not done an off-road century. There would be no leisurely cruise to the finish line.

Goodbye Namibia

Namibia is a bit of a fantasyland. The landscape is incredible – mountains, desserts, canyons, giant sand dunes, vast plains. Most of the time it seems empty – an abandoned, post apocalyptic world. And then every 80 or 100kilometres you come across a modern day oasis like the railway hotel at Sesriem or the Canon roadhouse. You wonder how these places survive. There are tourists. There are some locals I suppose but there can’t be that many. Towns are few and far between. Farms and ranches are huge and far away from one another. But there are few competitors. When you find a place after cycling 80 or 100km it is all by itself – or there may be another similar place 10km away. They must be viable. They are big. The facilities are good. They are well maintained. They also seem to cater almost exclusively to a white clientele. Namibia only has about 4 million people, almost half of them live in Windhoek and only 6.5% are white. I’d like to spend more time in Namibia at some point. Great cycling. Magnificent geography.

Bike

Apart from cleaning and lubricating the thing, not much to report. It has behaved itself. There was the one unfortunate puncture, but just the one. I think we have reached the stage where we are exchanging atoms.

Body

After months of dodging the saddle sore trap I finally succumbed. I have had a persistent sore for the last couple of weeks – not big, not lumpy, just some raw chafing. It gets quite uncomfortable once I start to sweat. I use lots of nappy cream, which helps. Other than that I feel great. I feel fit. I am eating well, hydrating well, no niggling aches or pains. Boring really.

Head

I am definitely counting down not up now. Arriving in Windhoek and Bob leaving have marked a change in the psychology of the tour for me. There are only two weeks left. It is time to finish. This has not really affected my motivation. It is still there without having to play too many tricks to coax it out of hiding. But I am aware that there is a tendency towards the end to ‘protect the lead’. You let up a bit and play a defensive game. I know this is when injuries and ‘bad luck’ can happen. So I am very consciously trying to ‘build the lead’ and not ‘protect’ it.

The South African Border

Day 114, stage 88, 172km

Start, Canon Roadhouse Camp

Finish, Provenance Camp, Noordoewer

If it took almost 5 hours to do 67km into a 40km headwind yesterday, how would we ever cycle 172km before the sun set if we had the same headwind? People were doing the math and getting nervous. Even the top racers were showing it. The result was that people were up earlier than usual this morning and on the road before the sun was over the horizon but there was enough light to see your shoes. It also resulted in 20 people not even starting. They had decided to put their bikes on the truck and take a lift, some to the lunch stop and some the whole way.

The wind we didn’t want was a southeast wind because that was the direction we were heading. Bridget had texted a pilot friend in SA to get intel on the winds we might expect today. Word had come back that we should expect an east-northeast breeze. While not a tailwind this was much more appealing that what we had had the day before. When I got out to the road the wind was strong and picking up and seemed to be coming straight from the east – so not on the nose but a good cross wind, not our friend but not an outright adversary. The cycling was much easier than yesterday, although still hard work.

The good news was that we took an odd route today that included a couple of stretches where we headed slightly west to pick up another road. The couple of times we did this we were rewarded with a tail wind that brought freewheeling back into our vocabulary. We had a brilliant 13km kite ride just before lunch t 92km and then another similar section just after lunch. This 30 or so ‘free’ kilometres made the day much more manageable. Spirits rose and by lunch we all began to feel that we would get there. The math was now working in our favour.

I cycled by myself all day today. And I felt strong. It had been a tough five days – psychologically as well as physically – so it felt good to feel good physically. I pushed myself and kept a decent pace. I finished in just over 8 hours (this includes time used to stop for lunch and fluids). The kicker was the final 6 or 8km. As we turned towards Noordoewer and the South African border we turned directly into the headwind. It stood us up and knocked us back. But it was only 8 km. Like any good horse, we could smell the oats – head down and push.

I was thinking of Tim the whole day as I road on my own. This was Tim’s ride.

Swampland in the Everglades

Day 113, stage 87, 93km

Start, Seeheim Camp

Finish, Canon Roadhouse Camp

Today was supposed to be an easy day. We would climb the hill out of Seeheim, cycle through nothingness for 93km and arrive at the next oasis in the middle of nowhere. A doddle. But it didn’t quite work out like that. We were expecting a tail wind but instead crested the hill out of Seeheim into an unexpected 40kmh headwind. It was incredibly tough. When I got to lunch at 67km, after cycling for almost 5 hours, I felt like I had just cycled 130km. It took that much effort. You had to peddle like the clappers to go down hill. If you stopped you were blown over like skittles in a wind tunnel

The treat at the end of this supposed short day was to be an excursion to the Fish River Canyon, the second largest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon. But we all got in so late it had to be cancelled – not enough time to get there and back. They closed the park gates at sunset. Wasn’t supposed to happen like this. We left at 6:30 in the morning. We should have been finished between 9:30 and 10:30 at the latest. I didn’t get to lunch until after 11.

But once again the camp did not disappoint in this fantasy park called Namibia. We ended up a t a place called the Canon Roadhouse and Camp. It could have been picked up and plunked down from somewhere just outside Phoenix Arizona. Once again it was huge, well appointed and busy. The main bar and restaurant area was so big it housed an antique car collection as well as tables, chairs and a draft beer pump. They appeared to have enough campsites for 200 people. The 60 or so of us used just a small corner of the site. They also had 30 rooms. The business model obviously works, but it is the most counter intuitive success you could imagine. If you flew in from some European capital, un-briefed, to look at a property, you would look around and think they were trying to sell you swampland in the Everglades. How could you possibly make a success of a 30 room roadhouse with a 70 seat restaurant when the nearest habitation is 50 miles away? Come to Namibia!