Getting off the plane in Namibia was easy – we exited by stairs and walked across the tarmac into the immigration line. That process went fairly quickly as we were shuttled to a shorter ‘residents’ line. And although it took nearly a half hour for our bag to come out (even with the bright orange, clearly useless, priority tag) that became the least of our worries.
Our first order of business was to buy a SIM card for my phone (GoogleFi doesn’t work in Namibia) but the retailer didn’t take credit cards. So, we found an ATM and… our tried and true ATM card from USAA refused to work. In ANY of the airport’s three ATM machines. We tried different dollar amounts, then checking vs quick cash, accepting advice from all the security guards but no luck. Desperate, we also tried our main travel credit card hoping to get a small advance to last us until we could find and try another ATM, but that PIN didn’t work (!!!). To complicate matters further, I had forgotten my Wells Fargo ATM card and Eric’s was expired. Thank God I had about $100USD in cash in my wallet so we converted all of it to Namibian dollars to at least purchase the SIM card (48N$) we needed for data in country.
Oh, and to add to the mental drama, Eric discovered that I grabbed the wrong outlet adapters and we had no African ones – just Europe and Great Britain. (Most places we stayed had outlets for the European adapters but we didn’t know that at the time.)
By the time we got on the road to Windhoek (two hours after we landed) we were pretty mentally frazzled. We stopped at a grocery store to pick up three 5 liter bottles of water (lasted us the whole trip), snacks, and an adapter (yay!) but because of the money delay, we missed the cut-off to buy wine (liquor sales end at 1pm on Saturdays country-wide). Thankfully the market accepted credit card payments. Stocked up, we headed south to our first stay of the trip, Lake Oanab Resort.
Pulling off the paved main road we encountered our first gravel road, and it was rather rough. After a bumpy 5km we saw a gate where we paid a small fee (30N$) to enter the park. We checked in and were assigned the Pumbaa chalet, then camped out on their front patio (only spot for wifi) for the next two hours to sort out our route and cash situation.
We calculated how much it would cost to fill up our 4×4 and how many kilometers we needed to drive and figured we might have just enough cash to make it work until we went to South Africa and could try the ATM machines there. Our plan would work IF gas stations took credit cards AND we didn’t have to pay cash for all the park entry fees – two big unknowns. Calls to Chase (to reset our PIN) were useless as they would only mail a letter to our home address in 7-10 days. [Sidenote: the credit card in question had had a fraud alert a few weeks prior, and apparently the PIN didn’t transfer when they reissued us a new card]. As for the ATM card, USAA had no explanation for why our cards worked flawlessly everywhere else in the world (Portugal, China, Scotland, Vietnam, New Zealand, etc.) but not Namibia. They offered to expedite a bank card (debit) to an address of our choosing but that also would have taken 5-7 business days.
Frustrated and tired, we decided to take a break, so we bought a bottle of generic white wine from the reception shop and went to our chalet to enjoy the sunset. Gorgeous! The views were great and the chalet was spacious and comfortable.
We even had a ‘pet’ kitty try and worm her way inside but she settled for rubbing on my legs and lapping up some whole milk I put out for her in the morning.
We decided to skip dinner at the lodge and enjoyed some cheddar cheese and specialty breads I picked up at the grocery store. Unfortunately, this was also where I picked up the most mosquito bites of the trip. :(
We slept pretty fitfully as we were both anxious about the cash situation. The next day we tried three more ATMs, and none worked… but thankfully, things started to look better when we were able to gas up in Rehoboth via credit card and confirmed that the desert stations would definitely take credit cards too. We both breathed a sigh of relief for that!
Also, at the second ATM stop, a young gas station employee ran over to me with a cupcake and kitkat bar in a bag. I tried to beg him off but with a smile he wished me “happy mother’s day” and insisted. It was delicious :)