Traveling While Plant Based and Gluten-Free in Namibia
By Molly Patrick
Apr 16, 2022,
This is not a sponsored post. We did not get paid or compensated for anything mentioned, photographed, included or linked.
It was the morning of our departure to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia in southern Africa.
Luanne and I were waiting outside in the wet, cold February Seattle morning for our Lyft to go get COVID-19 tests. The results would determine if we could get on our 4:30pm flight to Doha, Qatar (14.5 hours), followed by a flight to Johannesburg, South Africa (8 hours), and finally another to Windhoek, Namibia (2 hours). It would take us a little over 24 hours of flying time to reach our destination. From there, we would pick up a truck to drive around Namibia and Botswana for one month on a self-guided road trip of epic proportions. We also planned to take a quick side trip to Zimbabwe to experience the biggest waterfall in the world: Mosi-oa-Tunya (the original Indigenous name for Victoria Falls).
We had a long journey ahead of us, but first we had to get our nose holes swabbed.
Our Lyft driver, a Caribbean man well into his sixth decade, arrived right on time and welcomed us into his light blue Prius with a beaming grin that could be felt from under his mask.
He asked us what we thought of the rainy, cold weather, and we told him it was a nice change from the constant sunshine in Hawaii. As the words came out of my mouth, I felt a flush of embarrassment. Who complains about constant sunshine? As I was thinking I must sound like an asshole, the driver laughed with delight in an understanding tone.
“Yes!!! You are experiencing a different flavor of weather! You are used to one flavor, and now you are enjoying a different one. If you ate strawberry ice cream every day, that would get old; you have to switch it up and try different flavors sometimes! Enjoy this flavor, ladies, enjoy this flavor!”
It was my turn to beam a big smile under my mask.
I no longer felt like an asshole. I felt like a person who had been at her house on an island for three years without changing the flavor. I was so ready to taste something different.
That afternoon, negative COVID-19 tests in hand, one carry-on and a backpack each, some plant based snacks, plus plenty of downloaded podcasts and audiobooks, we boarded our plane and settled in for the long ride.
**TMI moment: my period started an hour into the flight, and it was the heaviest flow I’ve had in literally five years. Do you know what’s more grueling than flying for 24 hours? Flying for a whole damn day while having to change your Diva Cup EVERY FEW HOURS. At one point, I woke up from a miraculous nap with an actual puddle of drool in my mask and a pool of blood in my underpants.
My first thought: I’m so gross.
My second thought: I’m definitely gonna tell people about this.
We landed in Windhoek at 10am, dazed, hangry, jet-lagged, and if I’m being totally honest, smelling super funky. We booked our trip through a Tanzania-based safari company called Makasa, which partners with a company called Explore Namibia. Explore Namibia set up the logistics of our trip: the itinerary, lodge reservations, truck rental, maps, pre-programmed GPS for the truck, everything that made our trip smooth and easy.
All we had to do was follow the itinerary and drive. And drive we did! We drove 5,000 kilometers in 30 days (that’s just over 3,000 miles!). If it weren’t for someone local setting everything up for us, it would have been difficult to sort out the logistics ourselves. We wouldn’t have known where to start.
We were greeted at the airport by an Explore Namibia driver who brought us to our hotel, N/a’ankusê at Utopia. We showered (phew!), changed clothes, ate lunch, and I stretched and rolled out my body. Then we broke the golden rule of arriving from a long-haul flight. We closed our eyes at 3pm, and it was lights out for the next three hours.
When I travel, I eat plant based as much as humanly possible. That can be challenging, but I like to think of it as a game and make it work. The other crucial thing when plant based and traveling is to keep your expectations super low. When you don’t have unmet expectations, you won’t be disappointed.
Back in 2020, I stopped eating gluten because I figured out I had a skin condition called perioral dermatitis. I don’t feel sick if I eat it, but my face breaks out and gets super itchy and uncomfortable. Avoiding gluten really helps keep my PD at bay, so now I eat plant based and gluten-free when I travel.
I gotta say, it was a whole lot easier to eat plant based while traveling when I ate gluten. The most basic, easily accessible plant based staples like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, avocado toast, pasta, and wraps are now a no-go. There were many times on our trip when plant based options were available but no plant based and gluten free options. I learned quickly that this would be more challenging than I thought. But I was up for the challenge and ready to document my food to show you how it’s done!
After we woke up from our nap, we got our bearings and headed to Fresh ‘n Wild, the hotel restaurant. I could have ordered a veggie pizza with no cheese, but that wasn’t an option because of my gluten issue. So, I ended up getting french fries, vegetables, and rice. This was my first introduction to Namibia’s love of butter.
Butter was introduced by the Germans, who colonized Namibia in the 1880s. There are still traces of German culture throughout the country, from the food to the architecture—we saw many castles standing tall in the middle of nowhere. Namibia has been independent since 1990.
My veggies were bathed in copious amounts of butter. So I rinsed off what I could in my water glass and ate most of them.
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