A road trip like no other to Namibia

Dennis Kioko

Dennis Kioko on a sand dune overlooking Sandwich Harbour where the Namib Desert sand dunes meet the Atlantic Ocean.

Photo credit: Pool

Namibia felt idyllic. Everything about it wowed my imagination. A coast so cold and windy, unlike the warm Kenyan shoreline. A dry vast desert that was refreshingly welcoming. But nothing quite prepared me for the solo road trip there once I made up my mind to attempt what some people told me was a crazy idea.

I had spent so many months preparing for the journey to Namibia from Kenya and back. Yet even on D-Day, I still felt as though I was not primed enough for it.

From the choice of vehicle to the decision to travel alone, all felt surreal and wild in equal measure until I ignited my car’s engine.

This was no ordinary journey. In so many ways it felt odd and not thought through.

Dennis Kioko

Dennis Kioko at a rest stop between Omaruru and Karibib in Namibia.

Photo credit: Pool

I was to traverse three countries to reach my destination –and drive back. I knew this was going to be the longest trip I would be making far away from home. And I would be on the pedal all through. As the engine was revving up, the feeling of uncertainty of what the journey yonder would be gripped me.

As I drove through Mombasa Road on my way out of the capital, the reality of the solitude and loneliness that would come with the journey was soaking in.

In the first few hours, the magnitude of the loneliness felt enormous. I mean, being alone and travelling different countries is insanely unimaginable. The more I stepped on the accelerator, the further I got away from home. What if something happened to me in the middle of nowhere and nobody knew where I was? How would I get help in a foreign land if I needed it? What if I ran out of fuel or money on the way? This was obviously going to drain me. Emotionally. Financially. Psychologically.

More relaxed

But by the time I got to Zambia, I felt more relaxed. Along the way, I got used to loneliness –and the surprises the journey threw at me. I realised that actually, things were not that bad —maybe it was the adrenaline working wonders.

I found courage in knowing that the long-distance truck drivers with whom we shared the road were also making this journey that I was attempting for the first time, with the only difference being that perhaps on their maiden trip, they had felt what I was feeling but they gained confidence with every shift of the gear. This thought was reassuring.

As a city dweller, I had used Mombasa Road before. But this time it was different. It was a journey of many firsts: this was going to be the longest drive I was making alone. It was the first time I was leaving for a Southern African nation by road. It was the first of the journeys I intended to make in future.

A scenic photo of the Namib Desert popped up one day as I was scouring the internet some two years ago, and it immediately piqued my curiosity. I’m inherently a travel junkie. And from that moment, I particularly yearned to visit the country and see where the desert meets the ocean. But the photos also ignited in me the urge to explore the vastness of Namibia to the fullest – beyond the desert.

Dennis Kioko

Dennis Kioko, a communication consultant, at Kuiseb Pass in the Namib Desert.

Photo credit: Pool

As the trees whizzed past, I mostly thought about how far the destination was. But I also thought about the satisfaction that would come with accomplishing it. If I made it back, I knew I was bringing home a whole bucket full of intriguing tales of places many have only interacted with online and on television. Some rocks and driftwood from the point where the Orange River meets the Atlantic Ocean are my treasured souvenir from the journey. How precious!

Namibia had always been on my bucket list. Before my road trip, I did a lot of research and preparations. Unfortunately, there was no detailed information available on the internet about specific places I was interested in—beyond the generalities. I wanted to know what I should have before embarking on the journey. But not so much was yielding.

I researched what other tourist attractions are in Namibia and where they are. I also found out the requirements needed when driving a foreign-registered vehicle through the southern African countries to Namibia and what documents a Kenyan citizen was supposed to produce. Of course, I also looked at the estimated cost of the trip.

I had enough time to save for my budget — which was largely made up of accommodation, meals, fuel and emergencies.

I was certain I didn’t need any visa for the road trip. And I knew I had to prepare my car (a 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander) by servicing it and ensuring it was in good working condition. I also needed a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit.

Mombasa Road

It took nine days to cross into Namibia –some 4,450 km away from Kenya. It was a journey that started in Nairobi at 10 am on November 21, 2022. I used Mombasa Road, which was quite busy that day.

My first stopover was Arusha in Tanzania, where I also spent the first night before proceeding to Dodoma. I then made several stopovers in different towns: At Makambako, Nakonde (a border town near Zambia) Kasama, Serenje, Lusaka, Livingstone, Katima Mulilo, and Karibib, then got to Swakopmund in Namibia.

Atlantic Ocean

A group of tourists on a dune overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at Sandwich Harbour, where the Namib Desert dunes meet the Atlantic Ocean. 

Photo credit: Pool

Then I arrived at Walvis Bay, my first destination in Namibia. I also visited Sesriem, Mariental, Otjiwa-rongo, Divundu, Katima and Mulilo among others. I returned to Nairobi on December 23, 2022.

It was an interesting journey. For example, as I was driving past Livingstone, I had a puncture and had to stop to change the tyre. Luckily there was a Kenyan who was driving past, who assisted me.

I also had problems with my battery, forcing me to jump-start the car several times. This was quite a challenge because I was relying on strangers.

Outstanding, however, was the drive through Tanzania. The country imposes a strict 50km/h traffic rule in towns and populated areas. And there are very many satellite towns along the highway. There is heavy police presence and violators are fined.

This speed is annoyingly slow. I found myself in their trap at some point. I did not see any speed limit sign and drove at 78km/h, only to be caught off-guard and fined. But I was not alone. Several offenders like myself were netted at Chimala town, located between Makambako and Mbea.

For the trip, I just packed my clothes, two spare wheels, and a tyre pump. I also had sunscreen and painkillers. I carried some cash in US dollars. For any emergencies, I had $500 dollars which I did not even use.

This was an experience like no other. I would have loved to be in the company of others. But I settled on a solo trip because it was a bit of a challenge getting people for the course. The most common hurdle for many is cost. For some, the time –anything past a week – is inconvenient for them because of work and other commitments. I was not in a hurry for this trip and my estimated period was slightly more than a month.

While I am yet to put together my expenses, I estimate it took about 1,020 litres of fuel to make the round trip. That comes to about Sh170,000 or something. Other major costs included accommodation, border crossing fees for the car and licenses.

In Namibia, I noticed the cars moved really fast—perhaps because of the good roads, long stretches and the 120km/h speed limit. The rough roads were decent but one really needed to be careful with them because they are slippery.

In Namibia, I found out that most accidents tend to involve a solo car — not multiple vehicles — with some rolling.

It is a very dry country but it has piped water in all towns. At times, the water is salty because of the way it is recycled. Then they have electricity that is supplied to almost all towns and they mostly use underground cables. It is a big country, about one-and-a-half times the size of Kenya. Their roads are well-designed. Having stayed there for slightly more than a fortnight, I can attest to their public services being quite good.

Helmeringhausen and Aus.

A section of a long, straight stretch of the C13 gravel road between Helmeringhausen and Aus.

Photo credit: Pool

But one of the challenges, however, was when crossing from Lusaka to Namibia, the direct road, that is about 120 km, is almost impassable because of potholes. It may take five to six hours. The only way of avoiding it is doing 100km through Botswana and coming back again to Namibia, which is a bit expensive.

Kazungula Bridge

Botswana has a new bridge. It is one of the most impressive bridges in Africa. It was built recently. It is called Kazungula Bridge. But you have to pay a $15 fee every time you cross the bridge and the toll fees in Botswana are quite high and the process is tedious. Then for a Kenyan car, you have to pay a bond (unlike Tanzania, Zambia, we don’t really have that type of a bond. They need some sort of an assurance that the car is not being imported into the country).

Roads in Zambia have lots of potholes when you cross from Tanzania.

Namib Desert

A section of a heavily corrugated section of the C27 road near Sesriem in the Namib Desert.

Photo credit: Pool

Namibia is the most beautiful country I have been to so far. I learnt that the Namib Desert was originally sort of gravel, and it did not have sand. But the sand that the Orange River that flows from Lesotho to the Atlantic Ocean deposits is dumped into the ocean. Then it is brought on to the beach by the current and the winds which form sand dunes.

In all these adventures, from the journey to the experience, I realised you will never really be 100 per cent ready to undertake a trip. You have to be comfortable at maybe a level of 70 per cent or above preparedness. It is impossible to know everything before you just make the journey. You will learn most of the things along the way—from experience.

And you have to be on the alert. I was conned in Tanzania by an immigration officer when negotiating my way in. The officer asked for a lump sum for processing my entry, which I later learnt was more than what was needed. I should have made the payments myself and insisted on receipts. But that too was part of the experience package.

 And, I didn't know that when visiting countries, at the customs offices, you stamp your car as a visiting foreigner. As I was exiting Tanzania, at its border with Zambia, an immigration officer flagged me for having the wrong stamp. I also didn't know that one needs to clear from immigration when exiting a country, otherwise, it's considered that the car is still in the country— and you would be fined for overstaying if you get the process wrong.

But I am glad that at last, I made the Namibia road trip, crisscrossing three countries while at it.

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