Kani

Saturday morning, I am standing in Maun, a relatively big city in the North of Botswana. Next to me, local people are waving down cars, their heads optionally covered with either hats or towels. The temperature of 35 degrees in addition to a 5 kilometers walk left their marks. The colour of my nose resembles the of an alcoholic, stumbling back home after boozing all night. My shirt resembles the pattern of Forrest Gump’s, except it’s sweat instead of mud that highlights certain parts. 

Shortly afterwards a car pulls over. I throw my backpack over my shoulders and run towards the car without knowing that this is going to be both my time-wise longest and my most adventurous lift. A lift, longer than my flight from Germany to South Africa, which I boarded pretty exactly 1 month ago. 

1 week earlier, on an equally hot Saturday noon, I was sitting in a lounge near the National Park’s entrance, I climbed the world’s highest sand dune in. The African sun fully dries my hair while walking from the campground’s shower to a shaded old wooden bench. “Can you roll me a cigarette”, asks Riaan, one of the park rangers. While I am trying hard to roll a proper cigarette, despite having hands covered in sweat, I casually ask for a wild camping spot. Riaan invites me over to his little village without hesitation. A village, where all the employees stay during their seasonal work. 

“If we cut our skin, our blood has the same colour”, he explains and offers, to pick me up as soon as his shift ends.

Hours later it’s me, Riaan, his friend Kelvin and some rotating strangers. As an experienced ‘roller’, they kindly request me to roll joints, pretty much non stop. In return I get supplied with small bottles of vodka and beer. Kelvin plays different Namibian songs on a flatscreen TV, whose screen size equals a third of his room’s.

Couchsurfing Namibia National Park

The partly German lyrics convince me of introducing them to some German music, I was listening to as a child. A spelling mistake leads me to Samy Deluxe, which again reminds me of an old ‘German-rap’ masterpiece. ASD – Sneak Preview. By now, I had totally forgotten about its music video. They filmed it in a desert. We’re arguing about which desert it actually is, until the end stops our debate. Advanced video editing skills let the over 500 years old Deadvlei trees blaze up. The spot, that left me speechless a couple of hours ago. One of these random moments that make me shake my head. Soon, I’ll fall asleep on the floor of Riaan’s small room, next to 2 children and my host himself.

Dedvlei namibia desert

For the first time in Africa, I have to hit the road without my female companion on the morning after. A can of coke for the policeman, who’s working at the park entrance gate, makes it an easy hitch hike. While he politely asks me to take a seat in the shade, he convinces passing cars to give me a lift. 10 Minutes later I share a ride with Helge, a 23 years old guy from Germany. Our 5 hours ride offers heaps opportunities for all kind of conversations. At one point, I get confronted with an interesting moral issue. Helge is visiting his aunt, who owns a big lodge where tourists pay a shit load of money to go on a trophy hunt. My spontaneous reaction is disgust. Helge is in two minds whether or not it’s acceptable and I start to understand why after his further explanation. “For the trophy hunt, they select old animals, that would probably die soon anyway and the money they earn allows my aunt to take care of the other animals. It makes sure they survive despite of droughts for example”. A classic ‘the end justifies the means’ question. We’re both undecided but we agree on our future plans. We both wanna make a living out of ‘making people drunk’. Helge wants to brew his own beer and join the fast growing ‘craft beer scene’. Plans, we’re gonna drink to, later that evening in Swakopmund.  

Hitch hiking Namibia

Swakop, a city where sand dunes meet the cold ocean. A city, that leaves me fully unimpressed. The beach promenade reminds me of Mallorca, both because of the architecture and the quantity of German tourists. All activities around Swakopmund are rather expensive. A result of Africa’s ‘rich Safari tourism’. Still, I spent 3 quiet, happy days with my Hosts Jasana and Neil. Their little kids kept me busy during the mornings, while we used our evenings for ‘intercultural recipe exchanges’. 

Couchsurfing Swakopmund

Anyway, there was one interesting interesting meeting I wanna tell you about. While I was sitting in one of the cozy cafes, a 60 years old German lady started talking to me. “Gutrun“, she introduces herself and starts to slobber over my tattoos within seconds. She tells me stories about her life and eventually gets to her daughter Isabelle, who is just about to take over the cafe, we were sitting in. “You have to meet her”, she said and waves at one of the locals, that sell Makalani nuts with personal engravings. The black guy follows Gutrun’s instructions and engraves both Isabelle and her phone number. “This is my gift, you have to text her!”, she goodbyes me with. Damn, that’s definitely the most unique way I’ve ever gotten a girl’s number.  Maybe I’ll text her one day.

My host Neil gives me a Windhoek lift on Wednesday morning, the Namibian Independence Day. Apparently Namibia is exactly 1 month younger than me. After arriving in the capital city, I decide to take a cheap hostel. And it’s gonna be a classic hostel stay. Heaps alcohol, because there’s obviously always an occasion, girls fancying my hair, the obligatory 2 weird guest, that complain about noises at night time, a steadily exchange of travel stories, job applications for my future beach bar and Spice Girls. 2 nights and a few new Facebook friends later, I start an ambitious plan. I wanna hitch from Namibia, through Botswana, to Zambia. Within 2 days. 1500 kilometers. If I had known about the road conditions in the North of Botswana, I would have calculated at least 4 days. Hitch hiking from Namibia to Zambia in 2 days. A plan, that somehow miraculously succeeded.

Hitch hiking Namibia

Before I started my hitch hiking marathon, I had remembered a promise that me and Ola gave 8 days earlier. When we first arrived in Windhoek, our plan was to rent a car and drive to the sand dunes place – because some other tourists were referring to the area as ‘impossible to hitch hike’ – After our night at the petrol station and a fairly long morning walk, we entered a huge car rental place. Johan, the sturdy, always smiling owner of the place offers us a seat, serves us some coffee and realizes quickly, that Ola and I aren’t the average customers. “Seriously guys – in theory I should convince you of renting one of my cars. But believe me – you guys should hitch hike. It’s a piece of cake”, he says and summons a young employee. “He’s gonna drop you at a cafe that serves the best pancakes in town and afterwards you just walk to the highway entrance and start hitch hiking”. 2 hours later we were walking towards the mentioned highway and just right at the entrance of it, a white car pulled over. “Hahaha, it’s you again! Get in my car, I will bring you to a gate from where you’ll catch a lift. Told ya, you always meet twice! You owe me a beer guys”. Unfortunately I won’t meet Johan a third time. But when he comes back to his office after vacation, he’ll find a bottle of beer standing on his work desk. He will ask his employees and they will tell him “A bearded, tattooed German brought it and said you would understand”, I imagine them saying and I can clearly see Johan mumbling “This son of a bitch”.

The marathon starts. A 5 kilometers walk outside of the city. 30 minutes later, I enter the 4th car that actually stopped. A 250 km lift. The guy has to test drive a new car for a garage, accompanied by some new ‘Jesus-Music’. Another 5 kilometers walk outside of the city. The first raindrop hits my forehead. Right in time a pick up truck pulls over. I’m laying in the back, my face covered with my pullover, fighting relentless wind and the heavy rain. Another 150 kilometers. I’m standing in front of the border to Botswana.

Hitch hiking Namibia Botswana border

After convincing the border officials of ‘Hiking through Botswana‘ being a great idea, I get my first lift within minutes. Another 150 kilometers. Another 2 Minutes waiting time and its Kenedy pulling over. My last lift for the day because we arrive in Ghanzi at night time. Another 200 km. Once again I set up my tent next to a petrol station. The morning after I talk to one of the petrol station workers. “You slept there? Aren’t you afraid of snakes?”. Are you fucking kidding me? 

Camping Petrol station Botswana

Another day, another fast lift. 300 kilometers. Once again, a 5 kilometers walk and I find myself standing in Maun, next to the locals I talked about in the very beginning. We were complaining about the heat collectively, when suddenly a white BMW pulled over. A car driven by ‘Kani’.

For those who don’t really know me or only met me recently: ‘Kani‘ has been my nickname for ages. Back in Highschool ‘Kani‘ was the name of my favorite clothing brand. That’s where my nickname comes from. As soon as my driver introduces himself with “Kani Kani”, followed by his brother “Fani Kani”, I totally lost it. I swear, I am not making this shit up . I even took a picture to prove my honesty. 

Hitch hiking Botswana

“You are lucky bro”, the brothers say, “We drive all the way up to the Zambian border” 700 km. Shortly after Fani Kani even offers me a place for the night. At this point I did not expect the road resembling an expert Mario Kart race course. A road filled with 30 centimeters deep potholes. A few hours later, the sunset and a mix of horses, cattle and donkeys crossing the road, make the drive even more dangerous. 200 kilometers before our destination it finally happens. Kani Kani hits one of the potholes and the left front tire dents with a loud bang. Our torches spend the only light on this hollow highway. We can hear elephant noises from the side of the road and a mantis rests on my calf. Yes, this finally feels like Africa. “Don’t worry, lions are pretty rare in this area”, Fani says. Very comforting indeed. After heaving the spare tire out of Kani’s trunk, we start shaking heads. It’s flat as well. Great. “I guess we are stuck here until tomorrow morning”, Fani concludes and offers me to set up my tent behind their car. But then, all of a sudden, we witness a true miracle. 

2 headlights in the far distance. Minutes later a truck pulls over. A guy from Simbabwe. If there exists a ‘Bear Grylls’ for car breakdowns, we just found him. Instead of drinking his own piss, he immediately starts repairing our tire in a way that would even leave MacGyver speechless. Even now, thinking about these 30 minutes still makes me grin in disbelieve. 

1. Breakdown Grylls’ crawls under his car and finds a long, slim piece of metal no idea where he got that from – and forges it into tweezers by using 2 hammers, one of them as an anvil, and a file.
2. He treats the wheel rim with one of the hammers and gets it somehow back in shape.
3. He brings 2 spare tires from his own car. By using the forged tweezers, he opens both valves, the one of our broken and the one of his spare tire.
4. I’m not even surprised when he pulls a piece of tube out of nowhere. With that tube he connects both valves and because of the different air pressure, his spare tire starts to fill our broken one with air.
5. He repeats the whole procedure with his second spare tire and in the end, our broken tire is blown up once again. Enough to drive the last 200 kilometers.

My magical Africa moment. 

Car breakdown in Botswana

We can’t believe how lucky we are. While we still listen to elephants in the background, we continue our ride. 3 hours later, after 15 hours in total, we arrive at Fani’s place around 5.30 in the morning. ‘Spend a night at my place’ turns into a coffee and a shower. I promise him, as soon as I’m back in Germany I will search for an old Kani T-Shirt and send it to Botswana

2 hours later I walk another 5 kilometers and reach the Zambian border. 1500 kilometers in 48 hours. Why do I force myself into all this madness? Sometimes I can’t even answer that question.

One hour later I’ll sit in an ambulance car, my backpack strapped on the litter. My lift to Livingstone.

Why do I force myself into all this madness? I guess that’s the reason why.