Mar. 13—Coordinating days off on our trip is a challenge sometimes. When we stop for a few days and have a choice, we’d like to be somewhere nice, relaxing and with amenities like wifi so I can work on the website and air-con so Dave can be comfortable lounging around in our room. We spend time looking at AirBnB, booking.com or iOverlander to find a nice place to re-energize, which on a trip like this is important.
We aren’t as picky about where we spend one night but when it’s three or four, more thought goes into our accommodation. The other side of it is I like to have more days off than Dave, so when something actually forces us to stop for a bit that doesn’t involve me asking him to stop, I consider myself lucky.
In this case, it was my drive chain forcing a few days off the bike. The F800 is the Almost Perfect bike for the type of trip we’re doing. They’re tough off-road and fairly comfortable during long distance rides. I often marvel at how we can come straight off a dirt road onto a paved highway without even so much as the push of a button or maybe an adjustment to the air in our tires.
The downside with using BMW bikes for a round-the-world trip is trying to find parts in places like Africa. Since Fairbanks, Alaska, I’ve put over 11,000 dusty, muddy, sandy miles on my bike (my odometer is in miles, so that’s 17,700 km), and now my drive chain was toast.
In a small town in Namibia called Grootfontein, Dave happened to notice a motorcycle shop at a gas station called Northern Bike and Quad. My drive chain was making considerable noise by now. Not only was it disconcerting (if the chain broke it would cause engine damage), it was also embarrassing when riding through towns; clank, clank, clank.
Northern Bike and Quad was owned by a father and son team, who said they definitely didn’t have BMW parts but if we could give them an hour, they’d phone around.
Dave and I found a place for lunch then returned to the store. The bad news was there were no stores in all of Namibia that had parts for my drive chain. The good news was Cape Town, South Africa did. The bad news was that was another country. The good news was they could courier it to us. The bad news was it would take five days. The good news was we were sold the parts for cost. The bad news was there was a 16 per cent import fee.
Despite the state of my drive chain, the owner, Johnny, was confident I could make it another 800 km (500 mi) or so, which would take us to Katima Mulilo, a border town between Namibia and Botswana we thought might be quite nice for exploring as it was on the Zambezi River. Riding on to Katima meant we could eat up some of the days waiting for parts, travelling.
Johnny and his son spent a lot of time repairing the chain as best they could to stretch it out those few extra miles.
It only took us a day and a half to arrive in Katima, however. Namibia’s Caprivi Strip is mostly interesting due to how it looks on the map—a long, skinny arm of land that meets Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe all at its tip. There was a dirt road that paralleled the highway from Rundu along the Zambezi River, which seemed like a lot more fun for travel but we woke up in Rundu one morning to an incredible downpour and in town there were signs of flooding. We didn’t trust being off-road in the mud with a barely-working drive chain so were forced to ride along the paved road to Katima, which went fast.
We arrived around 7:30 p.m., later than we’d have liked. My drive chain was still entact. Dave had booked us a nice-sounding hotel for three nights ahead of time but the GPS coordinates took us on a wild goose chase through dusty residential streets where we definitely stood out. Some guys took photos of me on their cell phones while I rode by struggling for traction in a sandy corner full of people.
I didn’t like Katima so far. It was rundown and felt sketchy but the bewitching hour of evening can lend an eerie feel to an unfamiliar place.
We pulled into a Shell station to phone our hotel. We had a SIM card in Dave’s phone for Namibia. The owner said he’d come get us so we could follow him back. We told him what street we were on and that we were sitting here very obvious at the Shell station. He said he’d be right there. A few minutes later he phoned back asking again where were we. Dave told him and we waited. Twenty minutes went by. There was a lot of traffic coming and going into the station. It was now dark. We were getting a lot of looks but people were mostly just curious. We struck up a conversation with two security guards.
Dave phoned the hotel owner back asking if everything was OK. He said he couldn’t find us. We passed the phone to one of the guards. The hotel owner told him we could walk to the hotel from where we were. So… if we could walk, why couldn’t he find us?
It turns out they have two hotels in two different cities; he was in the other city. Sometimes when we travel we question the logic around us. But in the end, what can you do?
One guard offered to walk with Dave to the hotel while the other would stay with me and the bikes. Dave returned twenty minutes later looking disheartened. He told me not to get my hopes up about the hotel.
I followed him down a dusty road full of broken glass and other garbage. This was the least attractive place we’d seen in Namibia. We pulled into the dirt parking lot of our hotel. It looked like it was still under construction. With no choice for the moment, we unloaded our stuff and tried to get comfortable in our room.
First thing is to have a shower after riding all day. But the shower didn’t really work unless you kept one hand on the button to activate the shower head. The taps at the bathroom sink yielded no water whatsoever and the toilet would only flush about half its contents.
We were paying $32 CAD ($24 USD) per night.
There was nowhere to buy food as it was now after 9:00 p.m. I made us what we had left in our kitchen bag: spaghetti noodles with salsa. That night we moped a little.
The next day Dave spent a few hours riding around town trying to find us other accommodation. For one night we wouldn’t have cared but we were using the time waiting for the parts to relax, work on the bikes and get some computer work done. There were also a few game and national parks nearby.
While Dave was out, I did laundry, or rather I tossed our clothes into a machine upstairs under the direction of a young woman who appeared to work there. I checked all the pockets but right at the end, I threw in a pair of Dave’s shorts absentmindedly as the young woman had already gotten the machine going.
We were sitting in our room trying to make friends with it as we would likely be staying, when there was a knock on the door. The young lady who’d helped me with the laundry was holding some Namibian bills totalling about ten dollars Canadian. She’d been hanging our clothes and said she’d found the bills in the machine. I took them from her, immediately thinking how honest she was for returning our ‘laundered’ money. I thanked her profusely. When Dave counted the bills, however, we appeared to be short one 200 dollar Namibian note, which added to about $20 CAD ($15 USD).
There was no point in accusing anyone; we had no way of remembering if we’d spent it, although Dave was certain he’d put all our money in his shorts that morning as he’d gone out looking for a tool. We could do nothing but remain positive that we had somehow overlooked using the money.
This aside, the staff at our hotel were great. We mostly spoke with a woman named Sonnet, who had beautifully muscled arms and made us breakfast everyday, which was included in the hotel price. She would very proudly set the table with a bowl of instant coffee, tea bags, a hot water urn, two apples, some yogurt and cold toast, eggs and sausage. After our first breakfast she remembered we liked milk in our hot drinks and that I didn’t eat the sausage.
The staff did what they could to help our comfort levels, though they weren’t plumbers, which this hotel desperately needed. On our second day, Sonnet took matters into her hands and told the front desk girl to give us another room. Here the internet worked much better, the toilet flushed and at least one tap in the sink worked. We’re not sure why we didn’t ask to move sooner. We were the only people in the twenty room hotel.
Also in our new room, we could plug in our fridge due to an extension cord. Our initial room had a fridge but the cord didn’t reach the outlet. This was pretty hilarious as the fridge was enclosed in a compartment obviously made for this exact fridge during construction. But the fridge’s cord was about a foot short of the outlet.
That evening, we pulled cold beer from our fridge and lay on our single beds under the air con. We were learning to accept. We could easily walk everywhere, we had cheap beer in our cold fridge, our room had air conditioning and we had breakfast made for us each morning. It was more than a lot of people had at that moment.
The interesting thing was over the four days we spent in Katima Mulilo, the town and our hotel grew on us. Our room became our temporary, familiar home and home was wherever we were.
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