03 Oct Namibian Airplanes and Automobiles
Jumping out of a small plane (with no doors) from 10,000 feet sounds like a good idea right? Yeah, I thought so too. Terminal velocity is calculated at about 220km per hour and that was my goal. Turns out you can actually go around 300 plus km per hour if you fly right, i.e. diving head first towards the ground while every sense screams an imminent death and the adrenaline pumps unconventionally through your veins. I hit 220 tandem skydiving over the Atlantic Ocean and the famed Skeleton Coast near Swakopmund, Namibia. It was an incredible experience. Skydiving is such a unique rush and one which is hard to duplicate, I highly suggest anyone with an adventurous soul jumps from a plane at least once in their lives. Check this video, I think you’ll like it.
Leaving Botswana was actually exciting for me, I had been very much looking forward to visiting Namibia for a number of years and was stoked on the two weeks I had in store. Namibia is known as a bit of a hidden gem on the backpacking trail through North, East, and Southern Africa. Public transit here is almost nonexistent and this makes it extraordinarily hard for the backpacker to get around, that being the said, most people end up renting a car in order to travel to the highlights and also to access some of the more remote spots. Hence the second form of transport in the title of this post, however I will touch on our car rental later. Namibia is full of natural beauty. It is home to two of the driest deserts on earth (Kalahari and Namib) and is covered in giant national parks supporting an incredible array of wildlife. I am currently half way through my trip here and so far every day has been packed with activities, road trip logistics, beer, and good times. Namibia has blown me away. So much so, that I am starting to think that this is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever seen, which is saying a lot for those who know me well. It has joined the ranks of Nepal, Canada, and Iceland.
Right, so I crossed into Namibia with three other travellers. Kira and Sophie, who I had been travelling with in the Drinking Town with a Tourist Problem (http://gregorsnell.com/2012/09/24/a-drinking-town-with-a-tourist-problem/), and a Dutch guy named Rinaldo who I had met (again) randomly on the bus leaving Botswana. This being the case, the four of us decided to attack the 13 hour journey together. It was a long day. We eventually made the capital of Namibia at around 10pm, with nowhere to stay (which sucks). The crew ended up splurging upon necessity and booking a hotel, which was nice enough. They had an honour system on taking beer from the fridge, which made Kira and I very happy. Now, the four of us were hoping to rent a car together the next day and begin an epic road trip, however last minute rental issues (i.e. no cars available) changed the plans completely on day one in Windhoek. Shit. There was literally nothing, which threw me off a bit, as I figured in a big enough African major city it should be pretty easy to rent a car, wrong. Fuck, whatever, when could we get one was the only question worth asking at the time? Answer: We couldn’t rent until the next Wednesday, it was a Friday. Cool, new question, what now then? Obvious to Kira and I… let’s go jump out of planes! Enter Swakopmund. Yes.
Swakop is the adventure capital of Namibia, it lies 350km directly west of Windhoek on the Skeleton Coast and at the border of two national parks. (Dorob and the National West Coast Tourist Recreation Area, which is a ridiculously long title). It is an incredible little town filled with some interesting characters and great activity options. There are good surf breaks all up the coast, however the water is fucking cold as and surfing did not appeal to me at the time. What did however, were the world class sand dunes and perfect sandboarding conditions. Sandboarding is pretty self-explanatory, so I’ll let you figure it out. The Namib Desert dunes are kick ass and put the Atacama Desert (Northern Chile) to shame. I could go sandboarding every day. However it does make me miss British Colombia and skiing true powder. But whatever, fuck it, sandboarding is awesome.
Turns out due to the bad timing on the original rental idea, Kira and Sophie were unable to join Rinaldo and I on our proposed road trip. No worries, before leaving Windhoek for Swakop I had decided to write a note in the backpackers looking for two or three more travellers to join us on the tour. Enter the Australian girls. When I was in Malawi I met three kick ass Australian girls backpacking Southern Africa. It was the classic traveller meet at a hostel, one night of drinking, sharing laughs and stories, and saying goodbyes the next day. I did not however know that they were planning on visiting Namibia. Luckily, I had added Anna on facebook from our meet in Malawi and returned from sandboarding that day to see a message from her asking if we still needed people to join the road trip, literally perfect timing. I explained we did and that they could meet Rinaldo and I in Windhoek that Wednesday when we were to pick up the car. She got me on chat explaining that they were going to come to Swakopmund to kill the few days in between. Right on, I thought the more the merrier, and it would give us some time to work out logistics with them. Anna, Olivia, and Lexi arrived the next day. Hum, what to do in Swakop while killing time? Jump out of planes, obviously. Hell yeah. Skydiving.
I am extremely lucky that through travelling I have made some incredible contacts and gotten priceless leads on cool shit to experience all over the world. One of these leads was a mad crew of tandem jump masters for Ground Rush Adventures in Swakop. I got the number and decided to give these dudes a shout. The cell was answered by Karen, the manager of the bunch. She immediately invited me out for beers at their local bar, I was to meet the “guys” and talk about the jump the next day. It was 4pm and they were all there half in the bag. Enter Mias.
“Good jumps today bru, good jumps, no deaths. You know we have an 81% success rate? That’s only one in five jumpers.” I have a quick wit, but even this introduction sets me back a little, “yeah, okay.” I laughed halfheartedly as my arm was simultaneously pinched by Mias, while he stared me down trying to gauge my sense of humour. “Don’t worry mate, I’ll be one of the four.” I replied, and everyone at the bar laughed. I had passed the initiation and proceeded to get progressively drunk somewhere between the hours of 4 and 7, by 9 I was sloshed talking about jumping from planes and pulling chutes, etc.
We had arranged to be a group of five jumping the next morning; Kira, Olivia, Anna, Lexi and myself. This was of course no problem and we were picked up by the crew at 10am. It was a perfect day, no wind, clear skies, and warmish weather. We were all nervously excited and I a little hung over. Gladly skydiving is apparently the best hangover cure, and I can vouch for this to be the truth.
Mias, Kune, Derrick, Karen, David, Pip, Deaner, Angela, the whole crew. These people are part of an amazingly kind, genuine, and incredibly interesting group. They have an inspiring energy and when all are together it’s almost overwhelming. This atmosphere is perfect for my abundant amount of keenness and made for a couple of awesome days. Each and every one of the jump masters made me feel right at home and I must say, the act of getting my individual A license to jump solo anywhere in the world is around the corner. As soon as I have a place to live and somewhat steady income, I am going to get it.
Ground Rush Adventures has been running for 15 years and has a perfect safety record. When the time calls for it the guys are incredibly professional and I always felt comfortable with their explanations and instruction. I ended up jumping with Mias who has clocked over 7,000 jumps and is the favourite for spinning incredibly fast during free fall. I also got to fly the shoot on the decent, which was way cool. Cheers for that one dude. I can’t say enough about skydiving, it is just something that you must try. If you have any inclination to go for it, do it, it is awesome. Or just click on the video link above and watch that, it will give you a better idea of free fall at 220km per hour.
After a couple of awesome days in Swakop, it was time to turn my attention back to the car rental. Rinaldo and I had originally made the reservation with Budget, which is a reputable international rental company, the problem was that we had made a reservation on the cheapest sedan they had in their fleet. This was not going to fit five people and all of their gear. We decided as a group to look for another car, which of course was daunting as there seemed to be absolutely none available. After a few hours of calling around Swakop and Winkdhoek we had gotten nowhere and even if we had, the prices were astronomical. Shit. Enter Olivia, the life saver. Liv had gotten a random number from the backpackers hostel manager in Swakop and we decided to give it a go. Sylvester answered the phone explaining that he had a 7 seater truck/van rental available right away for about $80usd per day including insurance. Awesome, we took him up on the offer and he agreed to drop off the car to us directly the next day. Let the road trip begin!
The five of us worked out a kick ass 9 day itinerary spanning 3,200km and circling northern and central Namibia. We worked out equipment, gas prices, distances, drivers, food, camping gear, park permits, camping permits, booze, beer, wine, etc. etc. The trip has been jam packed with wildlife encounters and incredibly awesome landscape scenes. I am currently half way through, sitting at a bar (drinking pints) in Sesserim Camp near Sossusvlei in Namib-Naukluft, National Park. I plan to outline the road trip in my next post. For now, I will leave you with a couple of shots from the trip so far. I hope you enjoyed reading this post. Cheers!!