The Nomad is a series of blogposts and eventually podcasts by me, Ulrike Reinhard. It’s a collection of stories around my travels. It’s about me, people I met, my experiences and observations and once in a while a travel tip. Stay tuned!
Ulrike Reinhard is The Nomad 🙂
I am in Namibia since two months and I deeply enjoy it. It is a beautiful country, it’s empty, its endless views, friendly and helpful people are just a bliss. I had read that public transport doesn’t exist – and that it would be difficult to go around without a car. People told me, you’ll never reach where you want to go. Well, I thought, let’s go with the flow and see.
“Going Local” in Namibia – Episode 1
My first stop in Namibia was Keetmanshoop, a small town in the South of Namibia. It was on Monday, January 2, 2023. All shops and banks were closed. It was a holiday, the day after New Year. I took the Intercape Bus Service from Cape Town, South Africa, a bus company I knew and had taken before. I had almost missed the departure because we couldn’t find the entrance of this fairly new bus station. I was the last one to board the comfortable double decker bus. Luckily the seat next to me wasn’t occupied, so I had two seats for myself, nothing to complain. It was a semi sleeper – and I got quite some sleep.
At 2am in the morning we reached the South Africa-Namibia-border, which was an experience of its own. What a procedure – it took us all in all three hours. Every time we thought we were done another issue popped up. Another bag to check, another passport to control …. At the end none of the issues were serious and we hit the road again.
At 7am we reached Keetmanshoop. There is no such a thing as a main bus terminal in Namibia. Maybe bus terminal is anyhow the wrong word, because there are no buses. The transport system in Namibia is completely based on local taxis. These can be either mini buses (13-17 seaters) or regular cars with an additional seat row in the “trunk”. Some local taxis stop here, others there – depending on the direction they are heading to.
Intercape “dropped” me a few kilometres south of Keetmanshoop and my next taxi – as I would learn – was leaving from the western part of town, at a petrol pump. I wanted to go West, to Luderitz at the Atlantic Ocean where the Germans started their settlement. Luckily a father who had dropped a friend of his daughter at the bus stop where I arrived, offered me a ride to town. I hopped in his car and 10 minutes later we arrived at another petrol pump from where the Luderitz buses were leaving.
So far, so good.
At the petrol pump was this huge, slightly overweighted black guy with his shiny bald head who seemed to have the say over the arriving and departing “taxis”. As I learned over time you will find this BIG GUY at every “taxi station”. He is surrounded by a few other guys “below him”, responsibly to find the clients for the various taxis and collect the fees. He himself is only counting the money 🙂 He told me that a mini bus from Luderitz was on its way and that it would reach in “some time”. For sure I would get a seat on it, he said. It sounded promising.
It was meanwhile 8am. I was lusting for a cup of coffee and I needed some Namibian Dollars (NAD) for my onward journey. The guys at the petrol pump directed me to shopping mall up the hill across the street – there was a coffee shop and a bank. I picked up my small suitcase and backpack and walked up. It was already boiling hot.
No one was in the street. Also the shopping mall was empty, only this one coffee shop was getting ready for their first customers. The ladies were cleaning the floor and the tables, others were preparing the counter – I could smell the coffee. Yet, I needed money first. I was looking for an ATM.
I inserted my credit card immediately a message popped up: “Your card is not applicable for our services, please contact your bank!” Surprise, surprise! Great! Only then I realised that I hadn’t unlocked Namibia for my bank services. Never mind, I thought, and I moved on to the coffee shop which offered surprisingly good WiFi. I knew I could unlock my credit card for other countries online. I opened my laptop, connected to the WiFi and logged into my Internet banking. Unsuccessfully! for Internet banking I receive TANs on my phone. But my phone wasn’t working, it could not connect to any of the Namibian carriers. That was a real bummer. Now I was stuck.
No credit card, no phone. And therefore no coffee.
It was a holiday, so no bank was open where I could exchange some US dollars (USD).
I left the coffee shop and walked back to the petrol pump.
I asked the huge black guy if I could pay the mini bus with USD.
His answer was clear and short: “No!”
And no one would exchange money: neither the guys at the petrol pump nor anyone else around.
What to do?
The road down to Luderitz was one straight stretch – 340 km.
Luderitz was some kind of a tourist destination so I thought some people must drive there.
I decided to hitchhike.
Again I picked up my small suitcase and backpack and walked for 20 minutes in the hot sun to the main road to Luderitz. Not much traffic there. I crossed the road and wished myself lick! It didn’t even take 10 minutes when a run-down police pick-up truck stopped. Two young police officers smiled at me and greeted my friendly. One of them spoke English. He said: “You can’t hitch hike here! This is very dangerous!” No mercy! They loaded me in their car and and in no time I was on my way back to the petrol pump.
While we were driving back
While we were driving back I explained the policeman my situation and asked if by any chance they knew someone to change the 60 USDollars I had in my pocket. “Yes, no problem,” he said. I was surprised. His colleague dialed a number on his age-old Nokia cell phone and called a “friend”. It turned out this friend lived in the township of Keetmanshoop, 15 minutes away. On our way a young black woman with her baby on her back was standing at a crossing. She was drunk and complaining to the policemen that her boyfriend had kicked her and the baby out of the house without any money and she needed to go back home now – home was 600 km away. The police wasn’t impressed at all and told her they would come back when they’d solved my issue. They mentioned, this happens a lot. We reached the house of the “friend”; he was obviously a BIG GUY in the township. A much better house than all the others around him and a few guys in shabby clothes with grim faces safeguarding it. Nevertheless the police didn’t hesitate to deal with him and with a very deep and super friendly voice “The Don” told me: “Madam, sure I can exchange your USDollars and I will give you a very good rate!” I was stunned. He exchanged one USD to 20 Namibian Dollars (NAD), which was a better rate than I would get at any bank. We shook hands, I smiled and felt happy with my NAD and the cops drove me back to my well-known petrol pump.
Here I was again.
Meanwhile it was 10.30 am.
The mini bus from Luderitz hadn’t arrived yet.
I sat down on my small suitcase right next to where all the other passengers were sitting and patiently waiting for their taxis to come. Some of them were heading to Windhoek and two other ladies were also waiting for the one to Luderitz.
Every now and then a Ford Transit buses reached the petrol pump.
All of them were packed.
At least 17 people in there. The luggage was stuffed in a trailer.
They didn’t take new passengers. They only stopped for a refill.
Around noon the first taxi for Luderitz reached.
I didn’t even realise it, because it stopped outside the petrol pump on the other side of the road.
One of the ladies who was also heading to Luderitz, had told me.
It was packed.
No chance for a seat.
An hour later, another mini bus arrived. Same story.
Meanwhile we heard whispers that the bus coming in from Luderitz broke down.
It wasn’t confirmed officialy. The huge black guy kept saying, it will reach soon.
It never did.
Usually at the stations the taxi buses would come and wait until all seats are full.
Only then they start their journey.
This can sometimes happen quickly, sometimes it can take hours until the bus departs.
It’s the same “system” all over Africa – even were some kind of public transport exists.
Around 1.30 pm – now it was exceedingly hot – another mini bus for Luderitz reached.
It was also parked on the other side of the street.
A young, friendly guy handled the passengers.
He spoke English well.
He said: “I am very, very sorry madam, but I have no seat!”
I walked towards the mini van with him and told him: “Listen, I’v been on the road from Cape Town to Keetmanshoop for 17 hours, I’ve been waiting now for six hours. I hear one story after the another about some buses arriving. The bus from Luderitz is still not here. I really need to go!”
“I understand”, he answered, “but I have no seat!”
“You are overloaded anyway”, I said, “you can take one more passenger!”
“But the police …. “, he started saying.
Here was my chance.
It was no longer a NO.
“I’ll take care of the police when they stop us, I’ll talk with them and I’ll pay the fine if needed!” I said.
“I could sit on the floor in the back and I can give you my seat in the front, “ all of a sudden the young boy replied.
“Deal!” I answered happily and I dropped my suitcase in the trailer.
I was the first passenger on the bus.
The young man had a list with all the other passengers and he started calling them.
One by one would slowly arrive in small taxis.
After Christmas and New Year they all had tremendous luggage … and bags. And bags. And bags.
It was a very colourful crowd.
Ladies with her kids, young men, and an older couple.
Some of the ladies were real “African Mamas” – big butts and breasts squeezed into tight clothes.
Their hair covered with various shapes of turbans.
And everyone had a big smile on their face.
Some of them were going back home, others would go back to work after the holidays.
An hour later everyone was here and we were ready to go.
I couldn’t believe I was on the bus and had a front row seat. The young guy was sitting behind me on the floor.
It felt like I would miss the petrol pump.
The other two ladies who wanted to go to Luderitz as well were still sitting patiently in line with other passengers. They were still optimistic that the bus from Luderitz would come.
Three and a half hours later we arrived in Luderit – no police control! It was a beautiful ride down to the Ocean. The driver knew the road by heart. The landscape changed form semi desert to desert with scenic mountains. We even saw some wild horses in Aust on our way. Every passengers would be dropped at his/her house – what a service!
Klein Aust – wild horses
At Luderitz I had booked a small little hotel “Wild Horses” – simply because of its name. It was a lovely place and the owners were very welcoming. I explained the landlord lady my problem with the phone and money and promised her to fix it in the next two days. She said fine, checked me in, borrowed me some money and took me to a Portuguese restaurant right down at the beach. The owner, just as some of his best customers, are “leftovers” from the war with Angola – some Portuguese obviously missed their plane back home and preferred to stay in Luderitz. It was a fun place, good wine and seafood.
My room was the yellow one with the terrace
My day was made.
I had my crash course in Namibian transport and felt asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow.
One thought to ““Going Local” in Namibia – Episode 1”
Pingback: Ulrike Reinhard