Swakopmund was the first city we’d seen in god knows how long. We were excited for some good shopping, an actual bed in a hostel, a fun night out on the town and some extreme sports to participate in. Swakopmund is a small city right in the middle of the desert. Just rolling dunes and vast expanses of sand then, bam! there’s Swakop. We arrived on the weekend, which meant that nothing in the entire town is open past noon. On top of that, on the Sunday, they shut off the power to the entire city for some rewiring. This meant, no restaurants, no lights, no shops, nothing. The city was eerily quiet: no people walked the streets and the perfect German architecture and brightly painted buildings left the place feeling like a deserted model town in the middle of nowhere. So much for our city vibe!
On our first morning, we woke up early for some activities: quad biking and sand boarding! Namibia has some of the largest sand dunes in the world, and offers a plethora of adrenaline rushing sand activities for tourists. We signed up for two hours of quading and 1 hour of lie down sand boarding.
The quads were so much fun. We raced up and down dunes, sped across straightaways and paused for morning photos on top of a hill overlooking the desert. By the time we stopped for boarding I was covered in sand. My hair, face, shoes: all filled with fine sand that stuck to me for the next week. Well, what more can you do but throw yourself down a sand dune at 60km/hour.
The sandboards they offered us were not boards at all. When I went sandboarding in Peru, the boards we used looked just like snowboards. These were just flat pieces of thin plywood that they heavily waxed up before handing to us. This is nuts. That means, for the entire slope, you have to pull up the front edge of your board, so that 1. You don’t crush your hands, and 2. You don’t dig your board into the sand, immediately come to a stop, and hurl yourself overboard. Alright, let’s do this.
Our first hill was not too high. It was average height and similar to some of the smaller hills I’d gone down before. But it was steep. Very steep. And as a bonus, it had a weird bump, that you couldn’t see, at the bottom of the hill that sent you flying. Good times.
Kelsi went first and absolutely flew down. I’m pretty sure Kels held the record for furthest slide down every hill, and this one was no exception. I followed behind her and was the first person to hit the invisible bump. I knocked my chin against the ground, but nothing serious. It was the older guy that came after me that smashed his face really hard into the sand after vaulting over the bump. He ended up with a bleeding nose and sand burn all over his knees by the end of it. But I have to give him props, because when we all hiked it up to the big hill, he followed along and was ready to go again!
The second hill was MUCH larger. Probably twice the size of the first hill. To add to that, it had a huge curve. The hill fell off at one side, causing the board to curve to the left or else end up flying off a cliff to the right. “What happens of we go off the edge?” We asked.
“No, no, that won’t happen” said the guide.
Then this Aussie guy named Reuben tried to explain why it was impossible to fall off that side. “It’s the natural curvature of the dune guys. There’s no way the board will keep going straight, it just can’t happen”
“Ok” we all agreed, then we set up to board down the mountain. The run was incredible. We got huge speed on the second hill, and a lot more distance than the first hill by far! The guide was right, the hill curved nicely to the left and we all ended up right were we should at the bottom. Success!
Because our group was small, we still had a lot more time to board before getting back on the quads. So we all decided to hike up the big dune one last time.
It was Reuben’s turn to go first. He pushed himself and his board gently over the edge, holding up the front of the plywood as he picked up speed. We all stood at the top of the dune and watched him go. He went straight as an arrow right down the dune. There was absolutely no natural curvature in this slide. He flew off the edge of the dune and straight down the right side where the drop when significantly more vertical. He tumbled down a couple rolls then lost his board and came to a standing position. We all thought that was it until he list his footing and kept falling backwards. His hat and sunglasses went flying from his head, and he did several more rolls before coming to a crashing halt three quarters of the way down the dune. Oh my god.
“Reuben!!!” We all called “are you okay?!”
No response. No movement.
“Reuben!!” We called down at him again.
Finally he shifted, turned his head and gave us the thumbs up. Our guide jumped on the quad bike and flew down the other side of the dune to try to find a safe way down to him. But by the time he got there, Reuben was standing up and laughing just as hard as we were.
“So much for the natural curvature of the dune, buddy!” We taunted from above.
Amazingly, he had zero scratches on him. He was just dizzy from the barrel rolls, and completely himself by the time we all reached the bottom. Still, it made for a pretty exciting morning on the hills!
After that it was back in the quads and we trekked the hour back home. When we arrived back at the base, Gina and I decided to head out on some camel riding for a half hour or so. I had never been on a camel before (or ever really seen one until we spotted a couple in Nairobi) but I am always keen to ride any strange or new kind of animal, so I was pretty pumped about the idea.
The thing I was shocked about was how TALL camels are!! I had expected them to be similar to a horse, but I was clearly mistaken. There legs are so long that I rode about one and a half times higher than a normal horse height. You even have to get on them while they are lying down, then wait for them to stand with you on their backs. The getting up and down part was actually the most exciting. They get up two feet at a time, which leaves you jolting back and forth in the little saddle. I thought I was going to fall off when the camel was trying to lie down. His front legs were on the ground while his back ones still stood straight. I was at such an angle I thought I was going to fly right over his head! Luckily, no embarrassing camel falls for me.
The ride was lovely though. We walked out through the desert, just the two of us and a guide. The beach was way off to the right, and rolling sand dunes to the left. Couldn’t have asked for anything nicer! (Except for the highway to get out of our view).
After our full afternoon of adventuring, we tried to explore the city. This was a fail, because, being Saturday, everything was closed. So we opted for heading back to the hostel for a couple drinks before a long night out on the town!
Sunday was also a let down as far as events. Gina, Anisha, Kelsi and I spent a lot of time wandering the deserted streets in a hungover daze, searching endlessly for a restaurant to fill our hunger pit. Sadly, as I said earlier, the entire city had its power shut off, so everything was closed until dinner. We did luck out and find a tiny cafe that had a generator running and was the only place in town serving food.
When the power came back on that evening, our whole group went out for our last final dinner in town together. We went to a restaurant called Napolitana that was incredible! And, strangely enough, one of the nightclubs we’d partied at the night before. Apparently the place becomes a raucous bar after a certain hour on the weekends. Either way, we stuffed our faces with homemade pasta and pizza and called it a night early! We had another early wake up call in the morning, then it was back on the road!