Travelling on your own is hard for a number of reasons; primarily safety and not having a companion to share the experience with or take pretty photos of you for your Instagram account. For me though, the most important reason to have someone with you when you go travelling is to stop you doing something stupid.
Having survived the missing bag blunder I continued my hot streak just outside Hosea Kutako (Namibia’s main airport). Having left England in traditionally soggy March weather I had boarded the flight appropriately dressed in jeans, shirt and jumper. Late March in Namibia however, while still wet, is considerably hotter than the U.K. Having arrived just before mid day the kind pilot on South African Airways had politely informed me the outside temperature was a mild 27 degrees celsius. Mild..? Mild? MILD? In the U.K a mid strength cheddar is mild, a chicken korma is mildly spicy and your grandparents are mildly racist. 27 degrees in the U.K is not mild, it’s unheard of. Work is cancelled, pub gardens filled and ice cream vans savaged. Most importantly though for three days a year we Brits are able to stop complaining about the rain, the cold and the sleet, and instead complain about the heat.
As a result when I walked out of the arrivals gate showing as little skin as a well-to-do lady in the 1920’s, I melted. The slightly inconvenient but still manageable patches under my armpits caused from doing absolutely nothing on a 13 hour flight turned in to small oceans, while accompanying rivers ran down my forehead and on to my glasses. I was due to meet a driver out in the short stay car park which, somehow, I followed signs to through glasses resembling a recently used shower curtain. I knew I was being taken straight to a meeting and there was no way I could turn up looking (and smelling) the way I did. No matter, I had planned for such an eventuality. At the top of my hold baggage was a wash bag, shorts and shirt. What I hadn’t done was thought to change while inside the airport.
This is where a travelling partner would have come in handy…Rather than sensibly making my way back inside and finding a bathroom I put my head down so as not to be blinded by the first sun rays I’d seen in six months and made my way to the nearest patch of shade. Adopting the mentality of ‘If I can’t see anyone, no-one can see me’ I faced the tree kindly providing temporary relief from the sun and began the process of removing my jumper and shirt, covertly spraying deodorant and throwing on a new t-shirt. This was followed by a world record speed change of trousers to shorts in a manor that I hoped had not caused too much offence to anyone that accidentally looked my way. Delighted with the speed and subtlety to which I had changed I confidently repacked my bag, slung it over my shoulder and straightened up. Remember the emotional loop-the-loop? Get ready to plummet again.
The tree I had changed under was not there by accident, it was in fact there to provide shade for anyone about to use a pedestrian crossing. A very busy pedestrian crossing outside the airports main entrance. A pedestrian crossing with traffic lights that had stopped a queue of cars on either side of the road to allow several African families to cross. A pedestrian crossing with an abnormally lanky white male taking his clothes off and coating himself in deodorant in front of dozens of men, women and children.
There are times in life when you cannot talk, laugh or smile your way out of a situation. This was one. Not even the importantly checking my phone tactic I had used just 20 minutes earlier could save me. Instead I opened my bag again, took out hat and sunglasses and like a celebrity escaping paparazzi put my head down and power walked as fast as I could away from the scene of the crime.
Luckily from this point my trip could only get better. Finally in clean clothes and away from all the distressed people who’d seen me in virtually no clothes, I found Dennis, the driver to take me to WWF headquarters. Loading my bags in to the boot of his white Ford falcon I was finally ready to leave the airport (and my dignity) behind and start seeing Namibia.