Miguel Willis: Adventures Through Africa to Nambia
Article printed in kiteworldmag.com
Posted 30 January 2009
The wave started breaking overhead and I dug my back foot in, carving up the face. As I snapped off the lip and dropped back into the wave a dark shape erupted from the water beneath me, knocking me from my board and leaving me winded. Foundering in the surf and expecting to see a large fin coming to finish me off, it was a huge relief to feel soft fur brush past me. I had dealt with localism before but hadn’t expected it from a bodysurfing seal.
Kris Kinn and I are currently in Africa where we are going to spend the next few months travelling and kiting. A couple of months previously my jeep had been shipped to Kenya, but as the windy season hadn’t started on the East Coast our first destination would be on the opposite side of the continent in Namibia. From here we plan to follow the coastline through South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania and back to Kenya. However, my jeep is over twenty years old so who knows what could happen.
The drive from Kenya to Namibia took eight days. From Nairobi we crossed into Tanzania, skirting the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. It was coming to the end of the dry season and white dust blew across the acacia-dotted savannah with an impressive snow-capped backdrop. Along the road we passed tiny villages of mud huts. At the larger potholes enterprising kids had gathered; knowing that the traffic would be forced to a crawl they ran alongside selling fruit and nuts .
From Tanzania we passed through Zambia, which was in the middle of a presidential election. The opposition was the favourite but the current ruler had more opportunity to rig it, and no one was too surprised when he subsequently won. Kenya and Zimbabwe had descended into anarchy this year after elections so we hurried through and into Namibia.
As we approached Walvis Bay on the Namibian coast the landscape turned barren and desolate, and we were soon driving through large dunes. Gusts of cold wind buffered the car and sand swirled through the vents. We had been taking anti-malaria medication as our route passed through a high-risk area, but were experiencing some disturbing side effects. Instead of feeling relived that we had completed the first section of the journey without any major problems we were both on edge and jittery to the extent of paranoia. As soon as we arrived we pumped up, and it was great to get on the water after so many days driving and burn off the effects of the pills.
The next morning we woke to a heavy fog that hung over the coastline. This was the normal pattern whilst we were in Namibia and around midday the wind would start after the clouds had retreated. By the late afternoon we would usually be powered on nine-metre kites. Although it was on the edge of a desert the water was cold and luckily WKC, the local kite centre, took pity on my shivering blue body and lent me a thicker wetsuit.
Walvis Bay has a heavy German influence and resembles a European town dropped in the middle of the desert, which was a bit of a culture shock after driving through Africa. Close to the main port on the edge of town was a huge lagoon which remained relatively flat for freestyle. A five-minute sail across the lagoon was another spot where a long sand bar kept the water completely flat even in strong wind. There were only a few local kiters and everyone we met was extremely welcoming and helpful, with one exception – the bogus newspaper seller.
“Newspaper, take a newspaper sir.” My car door was yanked open and a paper shoved in my face to distract me. Out of the corner of my eye I could see someone else trying to get into the passenger seat. The bogus paper seller wasn’t the newest trick but if my passenger door hadn’t been locked I would have lost my laptop and camera. We had been warned by many people along our journey to watch out for our valuables, and this was a sharp reminder.
We spent a few days exploring the surrounding area and headed north up the Skeleton Coast, the start of hundreds of kilometres of empty beaches offering endless wave riding potential. The area’s name comes from its treacherous coastline; even with today’s technology, ships are still running aground there and we saw many decaying wrecks. Unfortunately, whilst the surf was going off, there wasn’t enough wind to kite.
After a couple of weeks around Walvis Bay we headed south. As we left the coast a dry heat that burnt the back of our throats hit us and it was impossible to quench our thirst. We were entering the Namib, one of the oldest deserts in the world. As far as eye could see, towering red sand dunes stretched into the distance. The only sign of life was the occasional small herd of antelope or ostrich, and we would drive for hours without seeing another vehicle. This vast, inhospitable area is sparsely populated so we made sure we were well stocked with spare fuel and water.
We kept a close eye on the temperature gauge of my old Mitsubishi, as the last thing I wanted was to break down here. But after two days of slow and dusty progress we arrived at our next destination.
Luderitz is a isolated German colonial town making its name as a speed destination and where a kitesurfer set the world speed-sailing record. Fifty knots has always been the elusive barrier for sailors and windsurfers and yet three kiters were able to break it here at a recent event.
Luderitz’s huge lagoon has an ideal set up for speed-sailing due to the strong winds that funnel through the jagged, lunar hills, blasting across the speed strip at the perfect angle. The local effect here is so strong that a couple of kilometres away the wind could barely be enough to ride yet here it would be howling. There were no watersports centres, shops or schools, and apart from us the only kiters we met were a local family. They had just finished sailing around the world in a yacht and were practising for next year’s speed trials, and were really happy to share their spot.
On my C-kite and freestyle board I wasn’t going to break any records, but it was great to scream along the shoreline leaving a long wake over the flat surface, the board hissing under my feet. I can only imagine the buzz of going almost 100 kph and the spectacular wipeouts.
We also rode a nearby wave spot called Grossebucht, meaning Big Bay. This picks up the heavy Atlantic swells but you had to make sure that you pulled out before hitting the rocks and kelp fields. Further inside the bay were smaller, more forgiving waves.
Luderitz is very much a mining town and doesn’t have much to offer in terms of entertainment – all we saw were a few restaurants and bars. To the south was the diamond area with access strictly prohibited; we heard stories of what happened to those who trespassed, with the lucky ones being prosecuted. Fortunately the lack of other activities wasn’t a problem, since we were so exhausted from a full day’s riding.
After a few weeks of kiting in this fascinating country we had barely scratched the surface of its potential. There are huge areas of wild, empty coastline to be explored for both flat water and wave riding. However, it was time for us to continue our trip and head down to our next destination – South Africa.
To get the most out of travelling in Namibia you need a car. Lots of companies rent four wheel drives although they can be expensive. Distances are large and you need to be self-sufficient and well-prepared. Carry extra water and fuel.
The water is surprisingly cool so even in summer a full wetsuit is recommended.
Don’t forget your small kites as it gets very windy, especially in Luderitz.
Crime is a problem especially in the main towns – watch your valuables and avoid looking rich. (Wearing jewellery and walking around town flashing cameras).
The Namibia dollar is currently weak making it an affordable destination.
We camped the whole time in Namibia. Most towns have a well-equipped campsite, and we mostly cooked for ourselves – fresh produce is widely available. When we did eat out, the restaurants were western, offering huge portions with the emphasis on meat.
Costs (prices in Euros)
Camping: 10 to 15 a night (game parks were considerably more – around 40)
Dinner: 5 to 10