Hitch hiking is a way of life in Namibia and many parts of southern Africa. It is a very safe way to travel as it serves all parties involved. Car owners benefit from extra cash for petrol by taking in as many passengers as possible and village folk get easily accessible ‘public’ transportation. Generally, there are set fees to go between towns/villages and you pay when you arrive at your destination. The main difficulties with hiking is the unpredictable condition of the car, and never knowing how many people they are going to jam in or how long a trip will take. It definitely requires PATIENCE and a lot of deep breathing! It is very common to have a baby or a chicken on your lap, be jammed in the back of a pickup truck with 10 other people (often not-so-nice smelling!), stop at the side of the road every 20km because one passenger has to go to the bathroom or wants to buy onions from the roadside stand. Anything goes really! And the beauty of it is that no one complains or gets frustrated.
So, Friday was another memorable hiking experience for me – thought I would share it detail. I had plans to go to Amy’s for a Friday pizza night and sleep over. Bunya is about 80 km away from my house and can be easily hiked. I got to the road around 3pm and while waiting for cars to pass, I met a teacher from the local high school who was hiking in the same direction. We flagged down the next car, and it happened to be Mr. Denis, a teacher from my school, in his rickety old VW Golf, that was making the most atrocious noise. Seeing him under the hood of his car on a daily basis at school should have told me not to wait for the next car but the other teacher faithfully jumped in, so I did too.
After stopping to pick up his girl friend, grab some ‘cool drinks’, and to chat with a friend at the roadside the car needed a push to get started again. Once we had gone about 20kms, the car started smoking inside and out. Mr. Denis pulled over, all the while apologizing to me for making me late, and popped the hood. While I was looking at my watch and wondering if it would be rude to grab my bag and flag down another hike before it got dark, the others in the car were eager to help fix the problem. Within 10 minutes, there were 5 or 6 passerby’s helping out, a can of oil exchanged, and lots of joking around. Unfortunately, after a couple more tries, Denis decided to leave the car and hike to town.
So, all 5 of us waited at the side of the road for another hike. While waiting, a bunch of kids came over and an older lady to see the ‘sirumbu’ (white thing), a couple men came to chat with the others and we were invited to a hut for beer. No one complained or stressed. One of the men that was in the car before I got in was in a rush (I use the word rush very loosely here!) to get to town to buy medicine for his animals that were dying – yet he had a smile on his face the whole time – and was more concerned about me missing my pizza dinner!
The group let me jump in the first car available and although it was already a full car, I squeezed in. While the Zambian reggae music blared and my face was shoved into an old man’s smelly armpit, I realized that this was the Africa that I had imagined.
I definitely don’t love hiking but it provides a great opportunity to interact with locals. Most Namibians are more than happy to give up their seat in the front for me, want to chat about why I am here and how I am liking their country and then of course, want to know if I will marry them, their brother or their uncle!