North-West Namibia - Ruacana to Kamanjab

One of the best things about going on bike adventures is that I completely lose track of time. No idea what time it is. No idea what day it is. Only three things matter: a) is the sun up? b) is it too hot to cycle and c) is the sun down? I carry all my stuff with me – tent, water, food, so can start and stop riding whenever I like. No time pressures, no itinerary. Forget the time.

The start of my trip at Ruacana up North on the Angolan border feels like a long time ago. But the sight of Ruacana Falls feels like yesterday. Definitely worth the trip if you are in Namibia during or shortly after the wet season.

After catching the overnight Intercape bus to Oshakati and meeting my bike travel buddy Killian (more on him later), we hitched a ride to Ruacana then rode to Ruacana Falls to find a spectacular wall of white water crashing down tiny-looking baobab trees (two South Africans told us it was more impressive than Victoria Falls!). And the sound! The falls aren’t set up as a tourist spot. You’ll find no barriers, no signs, no walkways. The car park attracts a cheerful weekend crowd, with car boot sound systems competing for the loudest tunes, freshly slaughtered goat, beers and braais (Namibian BBQ. A national dish?).

After spending the afternoon at the falls, we hopped on the bikes and took the dirt road from Ruacana to Otjimuhaka (also called Swartbooisdrift). At the top of the first very steep, very slippery gravel hill, we find a family from Western Namibia, having peanuts and beers, watching the sunset. They’d driven 600km from their cattle farm in Gobabis to see the Ruacana Falls. In true Namibian style, they sent us on our way with six giant raw steaks from their farm. Task of the night – improvising our own braai on the campfire. Tick.

 

We thought we would get to Otjimuhaka in a day but the road was completely flooded out, which meant unloading the bikes and wading through water crossings. We found out a few days later about the crocodiles in the river. The day we were wading thigh deep through the water, someone’s arm was torn off a few km away. Glad I didn’t know this at the time.

We stay in Otjimuhaka for a couple of days. The town is a hub for the smaller Himba villages scattered along the river and the “location” (the main street of Otjimuhaka) is buzzing with people playing dominos, eating “fat cakes” (delicious deep-fried doughnut-like bread) and drinking a spritzy millet alcohol.

We then ride south towards Opuwo, along a quiet stretch of gravel road through very green plains. Opuwo is an interesting town, a real crossroads for different cultural groups of Namibia. Walk down the street and see Herero ladies with their German-style colourful dresses, red-ochred Himba women, colourful beaded ladies from Angola. Tourists are filling up fuel for their expeditions into remote Kaokoveld. It’s definitely worth a stop over to eat fat cakes and fill up on water.
 

The road from Opuwo southwards towards Ombombo is where the real magic starts. Red soil and bright green vegetation, yellow flowers blooming along the side of the road after the recent rain. After Ombombo the road is flatish, winding between tall mountains. It suddenly opens out onto electric green grasslands and there, zebras! Plenty of fresh elephant footprints too, but no luck (or luck?), they stay hidden.

There are plenty of villages in the area and we stop by to fill up our water bottles at the bore holes and to have a chat. Devert village is especially beautiful. Houses made of mudbrick and wood, beautifully painted with geometric designs. And what a treat – we get a sip of delicious omahere - cultured milk kept in a big gourd recipient.

People are so welcoming in the villages, always offering us some “porridge” (boiled maize flour) and milk. Always the same questions – where do you come from, where are you going. Devine, from Ombombo asks me whether cycling is hard. I say yes, some days it is, when it’s uphill, or when it’s raining, or when I’m tired.

She pauses then tells me oh yes, well some days you have to suffer to learn something.

The road between Ombombo and Warmquelle is beautiful. A windy, rocky road through a gorge, then shades of green and pink with steep mountains on the left and sweeping plains on the right. So many landscapes in a day.

Having filled up on 2kg of rice, tinned veg and peanut butter at the shop in Khowarib, we head into Khowarib Gorge, towards Umbaadje. Definitely in my top spots of Namibia.

I definitely wouldn’t take a rental car into the “Living Canyon” towards the waterfall. The guys at the lodge told us the road would be “ok, for a bicycle”. It was pretty rough, more like a tough mountain bike trail (not so great for a fully loaded tour bike). Worth every bump though - dark red and green sharp rock mountains with the clear stream and waterfall. There’s a camp site near the waterfall, and we met a few Namibians game enough to drive their big 4x4s in for the weekend.

If I had my time again, I would ride from the waterfall straight back to Khowarib Lodge and back onto the main road. Getting out of the gorge towards Erwee and Kamanjab was a real mission. Definitely not bike friendly.

After a day of pushing our bikes in sand under boiling hot sun for most of the day, we arrived in a small village Okondjou at dusk, where Johanes quickly told us we shouldn’t camp along the road because of lions. Right.  So we pitch our tents by his house and spend a great night with tea and goat’s milk, porridge and “omboa”, a type of green leafy plant with a white flower that’s boiled then dried, then reboiled for eating.
 

Fuelled by a big breakfast of maize porridge, delicious curdled milk and tea, we set off for another day of mostly pushing bikes. We ride across a windswept dust plain where we see zebra, ostrich, springbok and giraffes. But then we take a narrow road into a gorge, where we push the bikes through rocks for the whole day. Scarily we were following some very fresh elephant tracks. Nowhere to run when you’re in a narrow rocky gorge. But again, they are nowhere to be seen. We find out the next day that they were 8km in front of us, on their way to a nearby waterhole at Palmfontein Farm. Close.