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FORTI RIDES OUT

My Big Fat African Road Trip, Part 2: Namibia, where everything works

My Big Fat African Road Trip, Part 2: Namibia, where everything works
Forti at Joe’s Beerhouse in Windhoek. (Photos: Veralda Fortunato)

Larger-than-life restaurateur Fortunato Mazzone is on the road, heading northwest from his Pretoria home to faraway places where adventure and mystic sunsets await. He’s sharing his diary with us.

Day 2. My next missive is curtailed by the world’s slowest WiFi in the Kalahari. Some points:

It’s hot. Very hot. And dry. The vegetation is slowly becoming more desert as we move west. 

It is sandy. So sandy I fell off my bike. My ribs are sore.

Everything is out of stock at our hotel.

Botswanans are industrious.

There are flocks of goats everywhere. And cows. And donkeys. None of the above went to traffic school. 

The roads where there are roads are fantastic. 

The night sky is spectacular.

There are no tomatoes in Botswana. And salad is in precious short supply.

Next stop Gobabis. In the middle of absolutely nowhere. A long day of riding on deserted roads awaits. I hope my bruised ribs hold out. 

And lastly, adventures are good for your soul. If only my 56-year-old ribs stop reminding my soul that I am crazy.

***

Voetspore self-catering in Gobabis. (Photo: Veralda Mazzone)

Day 3. Fok. An interesting third day. After a 230 km stint through drier and drier bushveld. We encountered fleeting ostriches that I measured running at 80 km/h next to us. After an hour or so I began to lose feeling in my arse. I was shifting around and my poor wife on the pillion was sensing my discomfort and pressing my back whilst I leaned over the tank to try and get blood flow to my legs. 

I signalled to Mark that I needed to stop and stretch my legs. We were riding through swarms of white butterflies that plastered my windshield and visor with bright yellow pollen, and dodging grumpy groups of donkeys and goats at regular intervals. Our only company on the road were supermassive trucks delivering goods to the deep landlocked heart of Botswana. The temperature is a scalding dry 35℃. Under my heavy leather jacket, gloves and helmet I felt quite lightheaded. 

Mark pulled over at the next stop on the side of the road covered with gritty tar. I stopped next to him and stuck out my leg. Nothing. I could not feel my leg. It had no power and I unceremoniously dumped Vee and I in slow motion onto the tarmac. Vee must be thinking I am a tosser by now. I knocked the breath from myself and she hurt her wrist and side. I am going to please ask her to travel in the backup bakkie before I hurt her. Even as much as I love having her behind me I have to accept the fact that I have never done really long rides with a pillion before. It’s one thing to go to Cullinan for breakfast. It’s another thing to do 500 km a day in huge heat supporting a pillion as well. Alternatively, I just need to stop every 80 km or so to walk around and regain my blood flow and give my sciatica a break. I need to accept the fact I am 56 and not the bad boy of my past. This would appear to be the first lesson I have got from my trip. I am getting old. Fok.

***

Left, Forti chilling in Gobabis. Centre, Catholic church, Gobabis. Right, Veralda inside Die Koolstoof, Gobabis. (Photos: Veralda and Fortunato Mazzone)

Day 4. What are road trips about? It is about finding hidden gems that are run by little groups of passionate people. In Gobabis we discovered “Die Koolstoof” hidden away on Kerkstraat. Wimpie and Imelda looked after us so specially. A beautiful four-cheese pizza to start between us of surprising flavour, and then some burgers that were truly exceptional. 

This tiny little spot with only six tables underpromised and overdelivered. Yes the serviettes are paper. Yes the tablecloths are polka dots. Yes, it’s painted shit green. And the view from the dining room is straight into the open loo door. But the personalities and food lifted this from small dorp anonymity to a rather special experience. The beer on tap was superb and cold. And the coffee is excellent. 

Do it. You won’t be sorry.

***

Day 5. Today a very relaxed drive from Gobabis to Windhoek via my dear friend Antoinette De Chavonnes Vrugt’s farm for delicious coffee. It might be huge, in the middle of nowhere, but the queen of Windhoek still makes a mean coffee with an Italian machine. 

Dry and hot weather and the parched landscape tell the tale of years of severe drought. The road is mile after mile of Pierneef thorn trees and white calciferous rock. Abandoned petrol stations and the odd entrance to massive cattle ranches being the only twists to the landscape. 

Last night at the Windpomp guest house I slept like a dead man after being fed anti-inflammatory drugs for my sore ribs, getting up only once to test the French drain. I took a dip in the erm… vermilion green pool, its murky depths providing weightless relief for sore muscles. The shower in the room was unexpected. Expecting the faint trickle of water like a prostate patient’s, I was blasted by the strongest shower I have ever experienced. I emerged tingling, thinking the room price was worth the shower by itself. The memory foam mattress did my back wonders too. Maybe being 56 ain’t so bad after all. 

Today’s lunch was at the historical Joe’s Beer House. Everything looked exactly the same after all these years. I am sure I even had the same sticky placemat. What wasn’t the same were the very touristic prices on the menu. But hey … we are tourists. The beer was cold and excellent, the oysters fresh, the venison tasty and generous and the service swift. We left with a smile. We also got to meet again with my dear friend and chef Sanet Van Wyk Prinsloo who is even more of a delight than ever. Namibians are surely the most friendly and hospitable people I have ever encountered. The parched land is quenched by the bounteous nature of the people here. Tomorrow we leave for Swakopmund. It is like being in a little patch of Germany with friendlier people.

***

Windhoek. (Photo: wboroma from Pixabay)

Day 6. I am sure you will be relieved to know that I loaded my bike onto the trailer and left it in Windhoek until Monday, and I drove in the butch bakkie with Vee, Mark and Lida to Swakopmund. I am having a sheepskin seat installed over the weekend for my obviously battered arse. I am reliably informed this will enable me to not injure my wife forthwith.

What a magnificent country Namibia is. It has some schizophrenic moments (a giant plastic statue of Sam Nujoma holding up a baby like Simba in The Lion King, visible for miles on top of the spaceship looking new head office of Swapo opposite a hospital which locals tell me has erm… seen better days) and a presidential palace designed by the same architect-cum-alien spaceship devotee, surrounded by a garden of grossly out of proportion massive plastic animals etc etc. 

It also has great restaurants. Space to breathe. Space to think. A functional and truly excellent electrical infrastructure. Superb roads. Cute neighbourhoods. German street names. Lots of houses that look like turn-of-the-century Amish houses (think of Disney spooky houses). Superb functional town centres. Theatres that work. Museums. With exhibits. High Street. With shops that don’t look like Nigerian ghettos.

Incredible mining, resource and industrial development. Highways being built that are the stuff of SA dreams. No potholes. Police that actually look like they do their job. And possibly even enjoy it. No electric fences. Cool coffee shops. Good cheesecake. Incredibly beautiful Herero woman that look like ebony carvings. Great attitudes and that sublime self-confidence that comes from being a patriotic citizen of a country that actually does stuff for the people who pay the taxes. 

And today Swakopmund. Is this place real, or is it just the movie set for the world’s most relaxing place? Absolutely, completely, utterly (yes I know too many words) spotless. Just perfect in the way we understand perfect, in the sense of a great work of fiction. But this is fact. The waves of the cold Atlantic pound the shore with a relentless energy and a cool wind blows the heat away. 

Fachwerk Biergarten, Swakopmund. (Photo: Forti)

Just 20 km away it was 37℃ in a bleak desert landscape of blasted dunes and huge termite hills. Here it is a comfortable 20℃ and we are ensconced in a comfortable coffee shop drinking acceptable German (if not quite up to Italian standard) coffee and great pastries. The crowd is eclectic. Tourists, Germans, Hereros and Ovambos sway to the relaxed vibe together, smiling and taking more photos than a Japanese tour group. Here and there Chinese expatriates from the many Chinese businesses surrounding the town smile on days off. 

Beach scenery in Swakopmund and Walvis Bay: beaches, a pink salt pan, mussels for Africa, even Forti’s bejewelled Italian toes. (Photos: Forti and Veralda Mazzone)

The massive desalination plant pumps water from the sea into its bowels and disgorges sweet water to the rest of the dry country via a massive pipeline that runs next to the road. No water shortages here despite the desert that pervades the interior of this immense, rich country. From our beautiful bedroom on the beach we can see a large gas platform on the horizon, further adding masses of money into this amazing exploding economy. Mines are neatly integrated into small buzzing little towns that dot the landscape as we approach the coast. 

We see uranium mines, marble quarries, chrome and iron ore. Exploding out of the efficient port at Walvis Bay, carried by massive fleets of trucks thundering down the highways. The rail system is well-maintained and the lines are neat and clean. A new port is being constructed just north of Swakopmund only for gas and oil export. This country has it all. And I have never seen such potential. Ever.

***

The pier at Swakopmund. (Photo: Andreas Glöckner from Pixabay)

Day 7. I have been to Namibia a few times. Today was the third time I drove from Windhoek to Swakopmund. I like the diversity of the three journeys, seeing it through others’ eyes, a different perspective. Also how my own observations have matured or developed over the years.

Just over halfway, I notice the ornate headstones in a cemetery, attributed to the marble mine on the right. The town Karibib appears out of nowhere, the dusty plains around it have a white shimmer and colossal mounds of marble on trucks waiting to be transported and transformed into kitchen counters, tiles, pillars and messages of RIP.

We push on, and on the left is an even more barren stretch of land with a cross. After a U-turn it transpires to be a fuel pump of sorts, and next to it a collection of padlocks chained to a white tractor tyre. Three Bible verses nailed to a pole and in the background an abandoned truck with a marble block.

I can’t fathom it, the more I look at it, the mystery stays locked in by the padlocks. A blue and white mosaic dove cemented to another tyre, unable to fly.

An eerie wind blows the white dust and fills the sky with silver specs, like lonely souls in search of peace, only to drop back to the earth and padlocked nothingness next to a national road.

***

What a country this Namibia is. Today I wandered the streets of Swakopmund in complete safety. The high street is filled with shops. I bought a beautiful PROUDLY MADE IN NAMIBIA kudu leather belt. I drank excellent coffee. A number of times. On the street. Because I could. I left my cellphone in a public loo. When I went back it was still there. I ate cake handmade on a lovely terrace overlooking the sea. In the company of civilised people. 

We drove to Walvis Bay. Not every part is pretty. It is a working port. But those are the key words. A WORKING port town. The economic activity was palpable. Proper suburbs were evident and built for the labour force. With infrastructure. The southern side was gorgeous. With many lovely boutique hotels. And flamingos. Many of them. And salt pans. And the plant that probably produces all the salt sold in SA. Mountains of the white stuff. And not the mountains of white stuff you see in Joburg. Fortunately. 

Petrol. Cheaper. 

Food and drink. Cheaper. 

Service. Better and friendlier. 

Security. Present. 

Property. Reasonable and fok there is space here. 

Unemployment. This is a nation working or hustling or both. 

Housing. Plentiful. 

Litter and filth. Absent.

Potholes. Almost absent. And those present under repair. 

Opportunity. Knocking. 

Cake. Good. 

Water. Drinkable. 

Beer. Cold. 

Cocktails. Generously poured and great value. 

Oysters. Duh. 

Internet and connectivity. Fast and accessible. 

Chemists. Open. And qualified. 

Tourists. Plenty. 

Radio stations. Ghastly. (Oh well, nothing is perfect)

***

I think I have found what I was looking for on this trip. I want to live in a place that works. That is stable. That doesn’t create enemies. Where corruption is not the national ethic. Where I don’t have to live in a prison. Where police are operational and friendly. Where there is not a culture of raw materialism at all costs. It almost seems too good to be true. But everyone here who I have spoken to across the economic and social spectrum all seem happy and proud to be Namibian. And to be here. And so am I.

***

I studied German in high school. So much of it came back in the last few days in Namibia. Today I experienced a nostalgic moment in Swakopmund. It was overcast, windy, the sea a moody grey, but the town quaint. As we walked the streets and arcades, peeping into shops, I remembered a line from a poem.

am grauen Strandt, am grauen Mer und seitab liegt die Stadt

That’s all I remember — something about a grey beach, a grey sea and next to it, a town.

I saw it today and it was beautiful.

Schön.

***

Today was Swakopmund showing off, the moody sky slightly rainy and overcast. Walking through the streets it felt like Europe in every sense. But with the magnificence of African views. The perfect balance. Our wonderful hosts Sue and Anita left the house with us dressed super funky in their Gelandewagen, and led us to their favourite coffee shop, Slow Town, via the local crystal museum/store. It was truly the most awe-inspiring display of crystals and semi-precious stones I have ever seen. Simply world-class, like the coffee that followed. Vee was entranced by Sole, the clothing store next door. My card has been taking punishment. 

***

We left for Windhoek as we had to meet the master craftswomen Tersia Vermeulen making my new sheepskin seats for the bike, and they needed the key to remove the main and pillion seat. She has made the thing happen in a miraculous 48 hours, and viewing her expertise, she has been commissioned to make Vee a full riding suit in supple red leather and wine satchels in leather for our store. The workmanship is next level. Despite being stuck behind a massive piece of mining equipment being moved on the highway occupying both lanes for 30km, we made it back in an astonishing three hours. What a bakkie that butch Navara is. The temperature rose from 20℃ at the coastal desert to a comfortable 29℃ inland. It is always amazing to see how the landscape evolves as you move away from the cold Atlantic. Namibia unfolds for you. Like a great novel. 

In Windhoek, that wonderful president of the Namibian Chefs Association, Sanet Van Wyk Prinsloo, is our host for the night. She lives in a family compound of note which has multiple generations of family, and an industrial kitchen producing pastry and cookies for the high-end coffee shops and hotels of the capital. Are they good? I ate 13 biscuits and we have purchased 5 kg to bring home. Morning coffee will even be a greater spoil than usual when we get home late next week. 

***

I took Sanet and her family and the four of us out for dinner to a delightful restaurant on Droombos estate five minutes outside town. A classy and chic spot with multiple spaces, a great lounge, wedding venue, Namibian merchandise shop and so much more. Top service and food from my colleagues in the Namibian Chefs Association behind the stoves. Great dinner. Great wine. Great cocktails. Comfy seats. Sexy lighting. Lovely space. Winner winner chicken dinner. 

I have now settled in with the great temptation into a comfy bed with another smile on my face. The more I am here the more I love Namibia. DM

Published with permission from Forti’s daily Facebook diary on the road. Fortunato Mazzone is Boss at the Forti Group of restaurants.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • William Stucke says:

    Ah, Swakopmund. Lovely place. I drove 300 km North last time I was there. Road is crushed salt dumped on the sand. The morning dew melts it and makes a rock-hard surface. I could barely make a mark with my penknife. At intervals are enormous (mostly empty at that time of year) campsites, waiting for the fishing season. Every now and then, entirely in the middle of nowhere, are tables with beautiful crystals. Each marked with a price, and a tin to put your shekels in. The assumption of honesty is breathtaking after South Africa’s venality.

    A bit North is a holiday town. Little houses, each with its own water tower. Obviously refilled by tanker. I’d love to buy one.

    I stopped at a couple of salt mines on the way. Dig a hole a few hundred meters from the sea. The seawater slowly filters in, evaporates and makes a thick layer of salt. Cut into blocks of ~400 mm a side and loaded onto enormous trucks for farmers in RSA. The seawater seeps in and fills the holes where the blocks have been cut.

    What an amazing place. Never been to Windhoek, but I’m sure that it’ll happen one day.

  • Charles Butcher says:

    Going there in june ,can’t wait

  • Joseph du Hecquet says:

    Must go there. Everyone raves about it

  • Linekela Simon says:

    Wow one of the great piece written about my country Namibia. Thank you, hope you will come again

  • Ian Rundle says:

    I really enjoyed this read and what is quite obvious is that Namibia has changed quite dramatically since I left there in 1981.
    However, it still seems to be that captivating land that it has always been and I am looking to get back there.

  • ak47.king ak47.king says:

    You will be glad to know that the road from Swakopmund to Henties Bay is now tarred and is no longer a salt road. I disagree with the point about radio stations in Namibia. They are way better than SA radio. There are better commercial stations (Radiowave, West Coast Radio, Jack FM etc.) and in several of the languages spoken in Namibia. Better choice of music as well. If you travel along many of the gravel roads criss-crossing Namibia you will also noticed that they are kept in a much better condition than any SA gravel roads and you will regularly come across a grader in the middle of nowhere grading the road. I think I’ve come across a grader once in South Africa and the gravel roads in SA are normally in a terrible state.

  • Willem Johann Loggenberg says:

    What a well written piece on Namibia – can’t wait to visit..,,

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