I woke up to a cool breeze wafting through my tent. Brr. I clasped my sleeping bag harder, wondering if I’d woken up in Antarctica or something. It was certainly different from any other morning I’d experienced in Namibia so far. Normally the scorching heat would wake me and I’d frantically clamber out of my tent for fear of melting. I could see out of the window of my tent that the sun hadn’t reached us yet. The great mountains surrounding the valley we were nestled in were blocking out the sun’s rays and stood silhouetted against a clear blue sky, their edges orange and aglow.
We were in the Namib-Nauluft Mountain Zebra Park, a rugged national park in central Namibia. Our visit to the park had been fleeting – in fact we’d only stopped here as a rest on our long journey back to the capital of Windhoek. However, it had been a pleasant change from the desert environments we were used to. Our campsite was perched beside a gentle river, gurgling peacefully over smooth rocks. Trees alive with greenery were dotted around the site, their long trailing leaves brushing the top of our tent.
Today we were continuing the drive towards Windhoek and ultimately back home. We still had one last campsite to stop-off at before reaching our final night in Namibia. I was a little sceptical about the site we were to be staying at tonight as it looked large and commercialised. However, there had been limited options even without me booking it 2 days before I was due to stay, so I didn’t have a choice. At least they had WiFi.
It was time to hit the road again, for one of our final times. Yesterday I had felt a terrible ache in my heart as we began our journey back towards Windhoek. It had been a painful realisation to change the course of our trip and begin our journey towards the international airport. Today I was feeling slightly better. Perhaps I had come to terms with the fact that our road-trip was ending and in all honesty, it felt like the perfect length of time. I was starting to feel tired and after not washing my hair for 2-weeks I also felt rather mucky. There’s also only so many days a girl can live in the exact same shorts and 3 T-shirts, not to mention my now-smelly Timberlands which I had to keep up in my tent with me at night in case I needed the toilet in the night. Yeah, this camping life is not glamorous. Don’t get me started on my amount of grit underneath my nails!
Our petrol was starting to grow low (by low I mean it wasn’t showing as full anymore which is worrying if you’re in Namibia) but we figured it would hold till we arrived back at Windhoek. I hoped I’d calculated this correctly. One thing we were in desperate need of however, was an air pump to increase our tyre pressure just before we reached the tarred road leading up to Windhoek. I could not face a puncture on my second last day in Namibia!
Our campsite for the night was just outside of a town called ‘Rehoboth’. I predicted this would be where the tarred roads began and I was right. We turned onto a tarred road just before the entrance to the town. The plan was to stop her to inflate our tyres and also pick up a bite to eat. Almost at once I spied a petrol station and turned into it. The petrol station had a lot of people hanging outside it which unsettled me slightly. However, we hadn’t really had any issues at petrol stations so far and people tended to leave us alone.
We told the guy at the petrol station that we wanted some air for our tyres and he happily waved us over to the correct spot. In Namibia the staff at the petrol station fill the cars up with gas and inflate your tyres for you. It is then good manners to tip them afterwards. It seemed like a nice way of doing things and they were always very pleasant.
However, no sooner had he started inflating our tyres had people swarmed around our car, putting their arms through our open windows and asking for money. I foolishly left my windows open and was starting to feel stressed.
“Put your windows up.” The petrol station worker instructed.
I felt better knowing he was looking out for us and wound up my windows, reasonably scared as the locals continued knocking on our windows begging for anything, even carrots.
The worst thing about the situation was that I was fumbling about, leaning into the back of the car, trying and failing to locate my wallet in order to tip the guy inflating our tyres. I couldn’t find it anywhere! Shit, I thought. Meanwhile the beggars proceeded to bang on our windows and press their faces close to our car. This was turning into a nightmare! I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, hear the blood roaring in my ears. I felt like disappearing for a moment as I struggled to find my wallet, throwing sleeping bags and pillows into the air. I always left it in my shorts pocket but because today was cold, I was wearing my leggings and didn’t have it on me. However, as I felt each pocket in my shorts, I was certain it wasn’t there. Where could I have put it?
The tyres were inflated now and the petrol station worker was smiling at us. At least we always kept a tiny bit of change in the glove compartment so I was able to tip him, much to the outrage of the beggars. There was no hesitating now. I turned the engine on and our truck roared to life. I stepped on the gas so hard that the wheels spun for a moment before we raced away.
Now we just needed to find some food. I’m not going to lie, I was completely trembling. I still hadn’t found my wallet and the last thing I wanted to do was drive through this creepy town looking for a supermarket that was probably overrun with hawkers. I just wanted to stop somewhere safe and find my wallet! But within large towns like this, there’s sadly nowhere ‘safe’ top stop. By safe I don’t mean that I was fearing for my life, but more I guarantee that wherever we’d have stopped, someone would have approached our car either begging or trying to sell goods or services.
I turned towards our campsite, sick of this place and no longer hungry. Well, let’s just say my partner really, really wanted some food so we were forced to stop in order to turn around. At least here we were out of the town and out of sight so I could look for my wallet. I pulled over at the side of the road, dismayed at the quantity of trash there was littering the road and surrounding vegetation. Beer cans, smashed bottles and cigarette butts were in abundance. Was this like a hangout spot? I shuddered.
I got out of the driver’s seat and started searching the back of the car, throwing stuff everywhere. My face lit up when I finally discovered my wallet underneath my seat. It must have fallen out of my pocket! Thank goodness it wasn’t lost or stolen.
One issue still remained. Did we risk entering the scary town of Rehoboth in order to pick up a pasty and some milk? Or did we choose the safer option and drive straight to our campsite? I’d honestly have skipped my meal and that’s saying something – I’m the biggest foodie the world has ever known. I complain every 5 minutes about a lack of food and here I was turning down lunch. Why? I was severely shaken by my unexpected encounter with some quite forceful beggars. That coupled with the amount of hassle we’d received form hawkers in quieter towns was enough stand between me and a sausage roll. Well, my partner wanted lunch so badly that I was forced to do a u-turn. I gulped. I guess I’d just have to be more careful.
We drove through the bulk of the town to what felt like a quieter part. Here there was a petrol station and a large supermarket. The supermarket carpark was huge so I figured if we parked away from the action, we’d be safe from hassle right? I pulled into a spot and prepared to leave my car. Suddenly, I noticed a man at the door to the supermarket whispering into the ears of two young children. Their eyes locked onto our car and they began to make their way over to our car. Oh. Hell. No. I started up my engine at once and drove out of the spot before they could reach me. Right, let’s drive all the way to the other end of the carpark, as far away as possible. That will be fine, right?
I stopped the car in what felt like the middle of nowhere. Empty bays were all around us and the supermarket was almost a spec on the horizon. I wasn’t 100% with leaving the car here but it seemed like the better option. At least it was the better option until I saw the children running through the car park, making a bee-line for us. My eyes widened with alarm and once again we fled. This was turning into a joke. Clearly we didn’t want to be pestered so why chase us?
We settled on the petrol station where there were several guards outside the building, keeping watch over the cars. I pulled into a spot and was met by no one, a welcome relief. I was then able to buy some lunch in peace (well kinda).
It’s a controversial situation that I have mixed views on. I understand that people have to make money and in third world countries, opportunities aren’t always in abundance. However, I don’t agree with pushiness. I’m quite shy and on my own in a large country I don’t know, I’m easily intimidated. They know that which is why they target tourists. Locals wouldn’t put up with it or feel intimidated. I still believe there are better ways to make a living but having said that, I have no idea what these people are going through so I may have it all wrong. I hope that as I travel more, I become tougher and am less easily intimidated by situations like this.