Need For Speed


This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, April 06, 2004 was originally posted on April 14, 2004.

DAY 171:  I have come to the realization on The Global Trip 2004 so far that the things I’ve done that I’ve called “one of the best things I’ve done” involve going really fast.  My latest need for speed was satisfied by going quadbiking (driving a 4-wheel ATV) through the Namib Desert near the touristy coastal town of Swakopmund, Namibia.

WE DIDN’T ARRIVE IN SWAKOPMUND until the afternoon and getting there involved high speeds as well.  We left Sesriem by 7 a.m. on the dot and Samora drove through the long desert dirt and gravel roads at his usual high speed of 130 km/hr.  Others going that fast weren’t so fortunate; a truck from Gaylards Safaris (Samora’s former employer) suffered two flat tires along the way.  We stopped both times to help out using what Ben called “the bushman’s jack”:  a technique to raise the truck by simply driving the inner wheel over a bag of firewood.

After a stop in the town of Solitaire — Karen realized the definition of a “town” in those parts need only be a collection of one or two buildings — Samora sped all the way towards the coast.  He was getting a bit rusty though; for the first time since we left Windhoek, another truck had overtaken us.

ALTHOUGH WALVIS BAY, OUR NEXT STOP, is centrally located on Namibia’s western coast with the Atlantic, it wasn’t until Independence Day in 1994 that it became a part of Namibia.  Before that time, it was technically a part of South Africa and a former British base.  Since Independence, it became Namibia’s biggest harbor and the main base of the fishing industry.  Other than that, there wasn’t much to it but a lagoon of flamingos and a big sea salt-processing plant.  All the fun and adrenalin activities were based out of former German colony Swakopmund, named after the nearby Swakop River, 30 km. away from Walvis Bay.

After meeting up with the Chameleon mini-van headed by a woman named Carol and her trainee named Blessing, we checked into identical, triangular cookie-cutter bungalows at Swakopmund Rest Camp.  I shared a big six-bed, two-story house with just two others:  Martin, the Swiss guy from Bern that I met at the top of Elim’s Dune; and Jaodino, a Filipino on vacation from his job at the Red Cross in Angola.  We had lunch and then went our own ways for the afternoon.  Everyone went into town to wander, while I went to the nearby dunes of the Namib Desert for my occasional fix of velocity.

During my transport to the dunes with the Adventure Centre company, I met Jennifer and Marc, a young American and Austrian (respectively) couple on vacation from their lives in Frankfurt, Germany.  They had fulfilled a need for speed earlier tha morning going sandboarding and were off to the quadbikes for more.  The three of us put on our helmets, goggles and mounted our quadbikes with automatic transmission (the only type left) amidst the other quadbikers from three different overland tour groups, some on automatics, some on manuals.  All of us sat on the bikes while a guide in front briefed us on hand signals and what to do in case an engine cut out.  I didn’t pay much attention since I was too excited revving up my engine.

In an orderly fashion, we drove down a paved pathway that led to the dunes and then split up into groups.  My group of five automatics was led by Ernst, a native Namibian that had been quadbike guiding for two years.  He led us around the dunes like characters in Nintendo’s Super Mario Cart, hugging the curves carved out by the winds, letting the power of man-made ingenuity take us up and the power of gravity take us down — still with the man-made ingenuity at full throttle (picture above).  With my thumb constantly pushing the throttle at its fullest amount, I reached up to 65 km/hr — enough speed to catch some air on a steep dune that Ernst led us up.  The jump came at a surprise, and I couldn’t help but laugh and smile when the four wheels of my bike temporarily lost contact with the ground.

“I see that you like it very much,” Ernst said to me at our mid-way break in the middle of the desert, sponsored by Pepsi.  Marc was all smiles too but Jennifer wasn’t so thrilled.

“I’m terrified,” she told us.  Apparently there was no more need for speed in her mind.

“Is it the speed or the fear of falling off?” I asked her.

“I think that it’s the combination of the two.  The speed and the falling off,” she said.  “I was thinking the whole time, are we in the right group?”  Groups were formed by speed and transmission classification.

“We are in the slow group,” Marc said, citing that we were in the automatic group.  The manual quadbikes could go twice as fast, at speeds of up to 120 km/hr. 

Hearing this and still scared for her life, Jennifer took one of the guide’s advice to just ride in the back of his bike for the rest of the tour.

UP AND DOWN, LEFT AND RIGHT WE WENT AGAIN on the desert roller-coaster, this time off of two more steep dunes to catch some air.  We sped through the big Namibian desert, playing with the dunes like kids in a sandbox.  On one steep downhill turn, my engine cut out causing me to think, “Um, yeah… I guess I should have listened to the briefing.  What do I do?”  While the vehicle was in motion, I shifted to neutral, re-did the ignition and gave it a little gas.  The engine rattled a little bit but then cut back to its original revved up ways.  Polly, one of the girls from one of the overland tour groups, had another problem:  on a sharp turn, she actually tipped her quadbike over and fell.  Later she told me how confused she was when it happened because “these things aren’t supposed to do that.”  She was fine and got up after her crash without a scratch — just more sand in her pockets. 

All the groups met up by the ocean for a champagne toast at sunset.  There wasn’t much of a sunset because of the overcast skies but it was a relaxing moment nonetheless after a thrill of a ride.  Jennifer had no regrets piggybacking a guide’s bike, and Marc had no regrets continuing to push his quadbike full throttle.  “I think I could do this all day,” he said.

We toasted our drinks.  “Cool, now we can drive drunk!” I joked.

While the quarter cup of sparkling wine didn’t even create a mild buzz, the rounds of drinking after quadbiking did.  Swakopmund is known as Namibia’s coastal party town, at least that’s what I had heard.  Despite the fact that most shops closed by six, Swakopmund’s nightlife was scattered throughout the town at different pubs and bars. 

I was caught in the familiar situation of having invites to three different places at the same time at seven o’clock:  one to go back to the bungalows for dinner and wine with the Chameleon people; another to go to the bar Gruder Krantz to watch the just-edited quadbiking video; and another to go to Fagin’s Pub to meet new friends Jennifer and Marc at their sandboarding video screening.  While figuring out what to do, I went to Rafter’s Pub to get my complimentary beer that came with my quadbike package. 

I managed to hit all three places, just not at the same time, and then some.  I went early to Fagin’s Pub and drank with some locals while WWE Smackdown! was on before meeting Jennifer and Marc for a quickie.  I had dinner back at the Swakopmund Rest Camp and toasted cups of wine.  I went with the Chameleon guys to Gruder Krantz, where I bumped into Eve from The Backpack in Cape Town, but left them for a bit to meet back up with Jennifer and Marc at another pub called Kücki’s.  I closed the night back at Gruder Krantz with Jaodino, Blessing and Grace from the Chameleon minivan group.

That night I realized that while the need for beer can be as fun as the need for speed, it’s the latter that I cherish — and remember — more.

Next entry: Fast Forward Through The Sand

Previous entry: Three Dunes and A Canyon

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Comments for “Need For Speed”

  • Met Jennifer and Marc for a quickie hunh?  LOL

    Posted by Liz  on  04/14  at  02:29 PM

  • Look at the ocean! It’s like the end of the earth - dune, dune, dune, OCEAN!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/14  at  05:20 PM

  • I don’t know if I’m missing a few sequences in my DNA coding, but I just didn’t get that male need for speed that ALL my friends have! I don’t know what’s wrong with me! I’m oviously missing out!!! :-(

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/16  at  04:27 AM

  • Hey E,

    Is it possible for you to use mph instead of metric?  I have to keep looking up the speeds on a conversion chart.

    For any other non metric people:
    130 km = 80 mph (the trucks speed)
    65 km = 40 mph (quads speed)


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/21  at  08:13 PM

  • WARREN:  Well, if only the US just used the metric system, right?...

    Since it doesn’t use this:

    I think Erik uses this neat little tool to do all his conversions…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/21  at  11:20 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Fast Forward Through The Sand

Previous entry:
Three Dunes and A Canyon


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