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Diary of a Namibian MTB safari

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Mountain biking across Namibia, by Nick Malaperiman

One rider’s tales of mountain biking in Namibia

3 important things to note about Namibia

  • 1 – It is vast
  • 2 – The landscape is ridiculously diverse
  • 3 – Whenever you travel in any direction for 15 minutes, you’re immediately ‘remote’ (and that’s a good thing)

It’s such a big country, you have to wonder, how on earth you can possibly see so much in just 12 days? Well, a few weeks back, 9 enthusiastic mountain bikers embarked on a spectacular trip to do just that.

As is the way with any H+I trip, day 1 is all about set up, and a chance for the guides to see just what they’ve let themselves in for; with a range of styles, abilities and fitness immediately apparent.

For our group, day 1 was about acclimatising to the fierce dry heat and riding at 2000m, as well as tuning our eyes to spot the local wildlife. On return to our well-equipped fixed tent campsite, the first beers were gratefully opened. Oryx, Giraffe and Springbok spotted.

The ‘roadtrip’ begins…

To cover this vast country, every few days there’s an epic roadtrip, in well equipped, hard as nails VW 4 x 4 trucks. Built for the desert, but full of cold drinks, snacks, and a comfy spot to rest your head, or for the more lively, big windows that let you take in the ever changing landscape, as you zip off to your next port of call.

Our next spot was Sossusvlei, part of a mountainous, grassy, desert area, where we arrived in time for afternoon tea and a brief nap, before a superb 1.5 hour pre G&T ride, with the setting sun changing the landscape’s colours every five minutes. Then it got dark. Wow… the brightness of the stars was ridiculous. Whisky in hand, we watched shooting stars and gazed at the Milky Way.

The next day’s mission was clear: take pictures of dead trees in a dried up salt pan. True story. To do so we entered a national park at dawn, cycled to a superb spot for a packed lunch, then embarked on a gentle 2km stroll to capture that classic image. A few hardy souls (fools) decided to climb (crawl) up the biggest dune, known as Big Daddy. The rest of us sat on the salt pan and watched our energetic guide, Marcel do a load of “clap press ups”.

One detail I left out was that we actually only rode 3/4 of the way as an epic desert sand storm chased us into the comfort of our VW sag wagons.

That night, we found another outstanding lodge, with views towards more seriously epic looking mountains that, again, seemed to change colour every 5 minutes with the moving sun. Again, G&Ts were located, and another hearty meal consumed.

The next morning, the winds still apparent, three crazy zebra ran straight through the lodge area as we took in an early breakfast, scaring the life out of us (though, of course no real danger was apparent). H+I think of everything…

There’s only so much desert and dunes you can take in, so off we set for the coast, the Skeleton coast, and one of its main towns, Swakopmund. To our dismay – more sand, on the beach, dunes, everywhere we looked! Apparently a few people had come especially to ride and see these spectacular oceanside dunes.

After settling in, we managed to find some superb German food and German-style beverages as we filled our bellies ahead of the next day’s 40 kilometre dune ride. And it was fun! Lots of natural rollers and humps and bumps, and actually, not too hot, with the ocean breeze providing some respite.

Now to the absolute highlight for most of the riders: heading out for some wild camping (e.g. no toilets, bar, pool tables etc.). Just your tent, your friends, your guides and a few hundred elephants and oryx to watch over you. It was amazing. Never before had anyone in the group really got away from it all, to this extent. No hint of a phone signal, superb camp food (including Marc’s freshly baked bread) and for those who care, a good stash of beer, biltong, gin and barking gekkos. It was hot as hell during the day (40c) but then wonderful at night when you’re grateful for the campfire and cosy sleeping bag type thing.

The next morning, after a superb campfire breakfast we prepared for a long hot day in the saddle. 50km across some stunning scenery, the highlight being an ostrich doing a full road runner impression by our side going at 60km per hour. Then there were the ancient cave paintings hidden on a picturesque vantage point. Riders seeing more and more rhino and elephant pooh.

Time for some elephants. Our guides gave us two options: 1. Leisurely ride around the camp area, maybe see oryx and a few sprinbok. 2. Jump in the 4×4 to go find some elephant that had been seen in the area. Unanimous. So we packed our trunks and left the camp for the dried up river bed. These massive creatures have an uncanny knack of being able to hide behind the smallest of shrubs, but with a keen eye and massive binoculars we started to see these elegant giants. Amazing. Namibian desert elephants everywhere.

Sad to leave this amazing place, Damaraland. I have a feeling a few of us might come back one day.

Now the next destination, included a visit to a Himba tribe. One of the local nomadic tribes that eke out a living on the outskirts of the desert. It’s not normally my thing, always feels like it’s a little staged, with a fake dance and some other mayhem, but this was a little more real, and you did get a sense of how this group thrives in this area. One tip – they can drive a hard bargain, when selling you some of their handmade jewellery, so have your wits about you, and be ready to haggle…

It had been a magical safari already, but now to indulge in the more classic version of a safari; swanning around in a vehicle, with a guide, spotting cool stuff. Sounds great, and it is. Etosha is a massive park, but to preserve the wildlife, access is rightly limited. bWith 4 or 5 watering holes, there’s always something to pick out. In our case we saw rhino, lion, kudu, a honey badger, some dopey lionesses and the pièce de resistance, elephants clad in the white clay that gives them an otherworldly ghostly appearance.

So that’s about it.. apart from a fun ride close to Windhoek, where the guides were kind enough to split the group, so some could take on some flowy gnarl, while others gently sauntered around a few kilometres of the 100 or so kilometres on offer in the park.

Final notes.. Namibians have a wicked sense of humour, and the guides are true ambassadors for their massive country (thanks Marc, Marcel and John..)

This might be an Novice+ trip, but, let me assure you, it’s well worth training. Things are rather different when you ride above 1500m above sea level, and even more so at 2000m… Or at sea level in sand…

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