Entering Namibia we were just starting to get into the procedure of border crossings again, after the long break in Zim. But down here it’s so easy. Immigration, customs. Stamps, smiles, thank you. Drive to the other side. Immigration, customs. Stamps, smiles, thank you. And then we usually look at each other, smiling with a slight buzz of excitement as we realize we are now in the next country, woohoo! And this region is very nice – neither Botswana nor Namibia has required visas. We won’t need one for South Africa either so next time we’ll have to buy a visa will be in Mocambique.
Divundu was the first town after the border and it was already late afternoon so we decided to try and find a place in the area. We found a pretty cool place, Rainbow river lodge, that had nice campsites right by the Okavango river, decent ablutions, wifi (well, somewhat working), free fishing and a group of overlanders that we could hang out with. We spent two nights there but as Brian didn’t seem to catch anything (fish usually don’t bite during breeding season but he thought it was worth a try), I was too tired from my cold to get much computer work done and the overlanders left, we then moved on.
Coming to Rundu we had quite a few campsites to choose from but wanting to keep the rates down as much as possible we decided to go for the most anonymous looking one. And it was, arriving at Camp Hogo it felt more like we had taken a wrong turn and ended up at somebody’s small farm. But we were wrong, Sarel and his wife (who’s name we unfortunately forgot so we call her Tanny) did indeed run a small campsite and were the sweetest people and we had a good time chatting with them and playing with their dogs. They told us that the river, which was about 20 metres from the main building which was a deck, a bar and then their house, floods every year and the water comes all the way up into the bar. They used to have to move to Rundu for two months every year but now they had raised their house and was hoping to be able to stay there. But as you never know what the water levels are going to be like, they would just have to wait and see.
Our plans to only stay one night soon changed as Brian had a look at the shocks and found that they had once again, on one side, broken through the metal plate above completely. He would have to go into town the next day and make a plan for that, before we could go anywhere. As if that wasn’t enough, we woke up the following morning and saw that we had a flat tyre! My heart sank at the sight of it. That had been one of my biggest fears all along the trip, getting a puncture, since it would be potentially dangerous and also costly, maybe having to buy a new tyre. I was very relieved that the puncture didn’t happen on the road as we were driving, but that the air had gone out slowly over night. But would we have to buy a new tyre or could it be fixed?
Brian figured he would be able to fix the puncture himself, but first it was the shock mounting plate. So he went into town with Sarel who took him around to different mechanics until they had eventually managed to get the metal plate welded back into somewhat what it used to look like. Meanwhile I was writing and prepping blog posts and editing photos. Brian returned and we spent the afternoon there, Brian working on the shocks and I doing laundry. It was then time to fix the puncture. I mixed soapy water and assisted by driving the car back and forth, while he ”washed” the tyre, looking for bubbles to figure out where the hole was. But after me moving the car three times and him using three mugs of soapy water, he eventually gave up with a very confused look on his face. There was no hole to be found anywhere on that bloody tyre. ”Now I’m really confused” he confirmed. He then leant down and just stroked the inside of the rim with a wet hand and – bubbles! It was the rim that had a crack in it – it wasn’t a puncture! As much as we were relieved to have figured this out, we were still confused. Brian had never heard of a steel rim cracking before. But clearly that was the problem this time. The crack didn’t seem to have damaged the rubber at all but air was clearly leaking through it.
The following morning we packed up camp, said goodbye to Sarel and Tanny, who gave us a big bag of just ripened guavas from their tree for the road, and headed into Rundu. Sarel had phoned a mechanic he knew so he was expecting us and it was all done pretty quickly. The guys took the wheel off, removed the tyre, welded the rim and put it all back on again. And they only charged us 50 NAD for it, so we really appreciated that. On the road again! And still no real puncture, touch wood…
Our next stop was Etosha national park. We had decided to do a full day in the park, but drive through it from one gate to another so that we could camp outside the park as camping inside was quite pricy. (Here in Namibia we’ve come across something we haven’t seen anywhere else so far on the trip, that you sometimes have to pay for the campsite AND for the people camping.) I went into the reception to pay our park entry fees and managed to get them down slightly by telling the lady that Brian was a Zimbabwean (there’s often a SADC discount). The entry was 150 NAD for us and the vehicle, cheaper than any park we’d been to so far and I almost wanted to jump over the counter and hug the lady when she gave us our permit. 150 NAD to spend a full day in a national park full of beautiful animals and awesome landscapes – now we’re talking!
Having all the roads on Tracks4Africa on the gps we could easily make our route as we went along, trying to estimate when we would have to start heading for the exit gate so we wouldn’t be too late. We saw numerous nice things, a lioness resting in the shade of a small tree, several elephants and giraffes and lots of gemsbok. We also saw a big herd of what we thought were tsessebees, but could have been red hartebeest. Together with the game viewing, the park obviously also offered beautiful scenery with both bush and salt pans. As we were still in the wet season of the year the park wasn’t its characteristic dusty self as you might see in a lot of photos, but still quite dry since there hasn’t been a lot of rain this season. One great thing was when we drove out to a salt pan view point and parked the car in what felt like the middle of nowhere – unless you turned around and looked at the bush behind you of course. But looking out ahead, there was just this vast pan stretching out as far as we could see. I started walking away from the car and after just a few steps I was almost overwhelmed with the silent intensity of the place. I felt so alone, like I had just landed on another planet. A planet of nothing but grey, salty land and blue skies. Amazing.
We went onto a loop road and thought it was pretty uneventful – until we stopped in a little open space framed by tall bush and Brian all of a sudden swore and looked at something in the bush. Just behind us, by the road we were just about to go down, there was an elephant roaming around in the bush. Far enough for us to get away but we were definitely in its space. It couldn’t be seen easily, as the bush just about covered it completely. We quickly assessed the situation and realised we should probably turn around to have a quick escape route planned in case the elephant charged us. We turned around as quickly as we could and watched the elephant’s every move. It noticed our presence but didn’t seem too worried about it. It made its way out of the bush, across the road and into the bush on the other side. We might be able to go down that road after all, we concluded as the elephant moved on quite quickly. But just as we started rolling down the road, there was another elephant right next to us… And then we spotted several more, just inside the bush. It must have been a group of 10-15 of them, all grazing their way through the thick bush.
Being a horse lover I naturally also like zebras and Brian sighed when I asked him to stop for yet another photo. He had no idea what he was in for. Ahead there was a water hole where you could stop and watch the animals. We have never seen so many zebras in the same place before. There must have been at least 200 of them, some fighting over water, some moving in our out and some standing around sleeping. And as they were standing in the area where you could park, we slowly approached them and as they didn’t seem to care, we parked right next to them. I so wished I could have jumped out and taken a photo of our black and white car amongst all these black and white ”horses”! But I wasn’t allowed to leave the vehicle of course. But it was so awesome just sitting there. This is exactly what I had been longing to do – stopping and watching the drama of nature happen in front of you rather than just snapping a photo of a grazing animal through a car window as you drive past. Here we could sit and and watch everything happening, the fights over water, the mothers looking for their babies, the kudus shyly trying to make their way to the water without getting kicked out. Needless to say, I was shooting away and had hundreds of zebra photos after that.
On our way to the exit gate we made a stop at the Okaukuejo lodge and indulged in some ice cream. We left the park and that night we ended up in a small but well organized campsite in the mountains. That night I tried my first koek sisters, a traditional afrikaans dessert. Brian has been talking about it and I couldn’t deny it, it was quite yummy – but just the sugar rush a dessert should be I guess. It’s basically deep fried bread dough dipped in syrup! That night I woke up freezing and shaking, needless to say a night in the mountainous part of Namibia can be quite chilly – even in summer!
Now it was time to check out the Skeleton coast. All we knew about it was that it got its name from ship wrecks and/or the skeletons of beached whales, apparently.We soon learnt that it wasn’t just a matter of driving to the coast and checking it out, though. According to the guide book it divided into three sections and it seemed the southern most one would be the easiest to access so we headed for Henties bay just north of Swakopmund. Arriving there on a Sunday, the place was pretty dead, to say the least. And what a place… The coast around here is just sand, and not nice, soft desert sand but grey, rough gravel. With the winds coming in from the Atlantic it seems it’s overcast almost every day. And the winds are strong. Add to this tall waves that don’t make swimming appealing at all, and German style architecture making the towns looking a bit out of place and you might have an idea of what a strange place the Skeleton coast is. We quickly left Henties bay and arrived in Swakopmund in the afternoon. As this was also pretty deserted, due to it being Sunday, we just drove around for a quick look and then tried to find somewhere to camp. We phoned around to some of the backpacker places in the town but went for the cheapest option, a caravan park outside town. Not as ”white trash” as it may sound – this was actually a spa hotel with a huge campsite that could easily host 500 caravans in high season. This was difficult to imagine though, as we were almost the only ones there. Strong winds were rolling up from the coast and the other campers, a family with a small car and a tent, and us all sought shelter from the winds by camping behind the ablutions. The typical overcast weather made it feel like it was evening earlier than it was and the whole place was somehow depressing. Freezing from the strong winds we realised there was no plan to try and cook on gas and we weren’t too hungry so with shaky hands and chattering teeth we made some soup with the water we had boiled that morning and put in the Primus flask before quickly hiding in the tent. Yet another cold night in Namibia and we woke up to… the exact same weather. Just a tad brighter than what we saw before going to bed. Yay. How can people live in this? we thought. They say Swedish winters are depressing, but constant overcast must be worse!
In the morning we went to the NWR office in Swakop, as it’s usually called around there, and got some info on the possibilities of driving into the sand dunes and what not. We were given a free permit and told where to go. There was a so called ORV area, Off road Recreational Vehicle area, between Swakop and Walvis bay so we thought we might check that out while driving south. We were also hoping to see some ship wrecks along the way but there weren’t so many, sadly. However, the road was a crazy sight in itself with the desert dunes now coming closer on our left. We decided to go and explore the dunes for a bit. As there were no other vehicles seen around the dunes and not super clearly signposted where you were allowed to go (it’s one thing looking at a map and another looking at the dunes!), we hesitated a bit at first but eventually left the big road and had sand under the tyres. We easily went up one small dune and looked at the next with a slight string of adrenalin shooting through. Should we? We did. And coming up to the top of the dune we soon regretted it. It was steep on the other side. Properly steep. Were we gonna be able to go back? We had a tiny area to turn around in and tall dunes in every direction. We couldn’t see the road or anything else anymore. We quickly ruled out the option of trying a seemingly smaller dune first, in another direction, as you never know what’s on the other side. It could just make the situation worse. It took us three attempts of driving up that dune – with lots of time to picture having to walk back to the road, wave down a vehicle and ask for the rescue of an overland vehicle in the dunes, driven by people who definitely know better but went there anyway – before we finally reached the top. Phew!! We drove halfways down the dune back towards the main road, stopped and had some tea on the tail gate, trying to act as if nothing had happened.
In Walvis bay we drove to the Pelican point, a thin peninsula shooting out from land just south of the city. It turned out to be quite a tough drive past salt factories and through thick sand – and the weather was as always out here depressingly overcast. But as you’ve eventually made it halfways you might as well go and see what’s at the end of it, hey… To our surprise there was a lodge out there when we finally reached the point – a small building next to the light house and it all looked pretty uninhabited (which could just be because it’s low season I guess). And there were lots of seals. Have you ever heard a seal colony chatting? They sound just like cattle! Barking and grunting. They were lying on the beach in big groups and didn’t seem to worry about the presence of our car at all. I thought I’d try walk a bit closer to them to get some better photos, but then they hurriedly crawled away so I didn’t wanna stress them but kept my distance. There were lots of flamingos too.
Being low season, this area of the coast was fairly quiet but there were a lot of cars equipped with fishing rod holders driving around with the rods sticking up in every direction (we called them orcupine cars) and there was the occasional quad bike roaming around in the dunes. That evening some guy was out driving in the dunes just inland of our campsite and Brian stood there watching him for a long time. As I saw the glimmering in this eyes I said to him ”I know we can’t really afford any activities right now but I can see how badly you want to do this, so do it”. I quickly thought to myself that if we can just produce the cash, he could go quad biking and I could go horseback riding. It would only be fair! And that was something I had really wanted to do on this trip.
Brian couldn’t resist the temptation so we headed off to Dune 7 Adventures the next morning. Telling the owner the story of our tight budget and how I would just wait around while Brian went quadbiking, the guy eventually offered me to ride on the guide’s quadbike, which is normally only for kids. Leaving for the dunes I immediately knew it was a good decision – this was a lot of fun, but I would have struggled to drive myself! As the guide said, ”Speed is your friend but speeding is your enemy”. You have to go quite fast and not hesitate to accelerate up the steep dunes, because then you will roll. I probably would have. Both hesitated and rolled, that is. Brian did really well, of course. And he thoroughly enjoyed it. It was just us three on two quad bikes and 45 minutes meant we still got to go quite far into the desert. There were just dunes in every direction and it was very beautiful. Brian and I noticed some really blue dunes at the horizon and thought we were hallucinating. What was that?! As we stopped on top of a tall dune to look at the view we realized we were looking at the rolling clouds coming in from the sea, meeting with warmer air and forming this strange phenomenon that almost looked like a tsunami out of this world. Despite the guide’s several attempts of tracking the highly venomous snakes and spiders living in the desert sand, we didn’t see any and I can’t say I’m too disappointed about that.
Just by heading inland the few kilometers or so by the dunes, the climate was very different to the coast. The typical sun blastering heat of the desert. Namibia has the absolute school book image of a desert. It’s even more deserty here than in the Sahara! (In fact, most deserts in the world are rocky, not sandy, which explains things.) It’s just exactly what you picture when you picture a desert, rolling dunes of golden sand. From Walvis bay we drove in towards Windhoek, but didn’t make it all the way that afternoon. We camped at a deli/farm stall/campsite outside Usakos, which was basic but perfectly fine – and the biltong was freshly cut and tender and yummy for the road the next day. Reaching Windhoek we had already decided to follow the mainstream crowd and stay at Cardboard Box Backpackers as we knew they were cheap. And we weren’t disappointed, for 75 Nad per person, cheap for being Namibia, we got the campsite, free wifi and pancakes and coffee or tea for breakfast! And there was a nice pool, a pool table and lots of nice people to chat to. We straight away bumped into Polish-Australian Kamil, a pilot whom we had met in Maun, Botswana. It was fun seeing him again and we spent a lot of time together chatting over a couple of beers. We spent a few days at this place, needing the break from the roads, doing lots of online work and enjoying the atmosphere. We were also waiting for a decision from my brother, who might be coming down to join us for a short while and as he might be coming to Windhoek we weren’t sure if we should stay or go. My brother had been saying already during our preparations that he’d love to join us in the car for a couple of weeks or so, as he’s never been to southern Africa and riding with us would be a fun way of getting to experience it. He wanted to come and visit in Zimbabwe, Botswana or Namibia to get the proper bush and safari part of the trip. However, due to different things he was very delayed. But eventually we got a decision from him. He was gonna come down! I was so excited I didn’t know what to do. But he would only make it to South Africa so we left Windhoek.
Sossusvlei are those famous, red dunes in southern Namibia that I’m sure all of you have seen in photos at least once. I had high hopes for this place, having seen loads of beautiful photos from there. It was definitely a must-go in Namibia for both of us. We camped at the NWR campsite in Sesriem, which is right by the gates to the Sossusvlei area. As we arrived in the late afternoon, we still had some hours of sunlight and wanted to get some sunset photos so we headed in through the gate without even looking at the campsite first. Brian had done some reading online and had found out that there are different ways of experiencing the dunes. While the park staff will tell you to climb Dune 45 at sunrise and watch the sunset from the dunes around Dead vlei, a lot of people in online forums were recommending the opposite. And this is always tricky for us overlanders. We don’t have much time, usually only a day or so, when on a tight budget like we are. Do we trust the park staff, who should know what they’re talking about, or the people that have been there and experienced it? We decided to go for the latter and not having enough time to drive all the way to Dune 45 by sunset that evening, we ended up just driving around the nearest area, enjoying the sunset over the mountainous landscape with springbok and gemsbok roaming around.
Back at camp we made spagetti bolognese for dinner and went to bed early, setting the alarm for 5 o’clock. The gate would open at 5.45, about an hour before sunrise, and we wanted to be there then. It wasn’t too hard waking up in the dark, we were both excited to go and couldn’t help but feel like it was a bit of a race. We were not alone at the campsite and packing up camp we kept an eye on the other vehicles. After packing up the tent and quickly boiling some water for tea and coffee on the small Primus stove we drove off and were hoping to be the first ones by the gate, but were third in line. Heading into the park we kept in line as a long convoy and we were curious to see what the others were planning on doing, Dune 45 or Dead vlei? Most people seemed to follow the advice of the park staff and we continued down to Sossusvlei, arriving there about 45 minutes later as the sky was now just getting brighter but the sun was still below the horizon. Although we were now alone, it still felt like a race against time – were we gonna make it to the dunes by sunrise? It was still a 20 minute walk. We quickly grabbed the gps, the cameras and a water bottle and headed off on foot. I don’t know if you have ever tried walking in thick, soft sand when you’re in a hurry, but I honestly hate it. Especially before 7 o’clock in the morning. Tired, frustrated and hungry I struggled up those dunes, following in Brian’s foot steps, with the heavy camera bag over my shoulder. My only relief was that it was still cool, that early in the morning. We reached the Dead Vlei and noticed a bunch of people on a taller dune, called Big Daddy, who must have been there even earlier to admire the view. But I was quite happy being down in the Dead Vlei, ready with my camera for when the sun would just come over the rim of the dunes and give the dunes around us that magical, red glow that I had seen in all the photos. We waited, and waited. Nothing happened. No magic. Looking up behind us we realized the problem. Clouds. Crap. We just looked at each other, realizing we had worked our butts off all morning to get here, only to be met by clouds. And then a few ice cold little rain drops started to fall. It was so ironic. There we were, on our one day in Sossusvlei during our 6 month trip through Africa – and it was raining in the bloody desert. Great.
But we waited around and the clouds soon started moving away and the dunes with the dead trees in the vleis were still a pretty awesome sight. The other people came down the dune but the place was big enough to make us feel like we almost had it to ourselves and we spent more than two hours in there walking around, taking photos and filming, before walking back to the car.
Lüderitz was our next stop, a town right by the coast, where we were planning on visiting Kolmanskop, a small village that was abandoned in the 1920’s. But on the way back towards the coast we made a stop on the Garub plains, where we knew we might be able to spot some wild horses. That’s right, wild horses. There are a lot of different theories on where these horses came from but there are about 150 of them roaming free in the area since quite some time back. These days the area is also protected and the government has realised the value of the wild horses as a tourist attraction so when there is a drought, the horses are being fed supplementary food. There is also a water hole and a shaded viewpoint nearby, where tourists can watch the horses as they come to drink.
As a horse lover, spending lots of my spare time at the stables, this was obviously irresistable to me. My shoulders sank as all I saw by the waterhole was a few ostriches, a couple of gemsbok and two jackals. Would I not get to see any of the wild horses? I was a bit surprised at my reaction – normally wildlife like the beautiful gemsbok would get my full attention and plenty of exposures on the memory cards, but now I just looked at them and sighed. All I was interested in now was the horses. We waited around for a bit and it was quite entertaining studying the communication between the animals around the water. In the binoculars we suddenly started spotting small dots at a far distance. They must be horses! But it was really far away by the mountains by the horizon. But then… ”There are a few coming our way now” Brian said, as he was looking through the binos. Yay! And sure enough, a few small groups of wild horses graced us with their presence that evening. I was shooting away, but sad to realize the viewpoint was just too far away from the waterhole for me to get any really nice portraits of the horses even with my telephoto lens. I was happy to see that Brian was also enjoying watching the horses and the interaction between them as the water created joy, playfulness, territorial rivalry and ”ranking” between them. Eventually we concluded that we had to make a plan. I desperately wanted to return to the horses again. So we decided we would continue to Lüderitz, spend the night there, visit Kolmanskop in the morning and then spend the afternoon with the horses as we were anyway coming back east again. I could hardly wait to go back – what photos might I get in the daylight? Would they be there during the day? Did they have other water sources out in the plains? Would I be able to get closer to them?
Kolmanskop is this deserted town where the sand dunes had moved through the houses over the years. What a photo opportunity! Adiel, our friend in Zimbabwe, had recommended this place to us and we’re really happy she did as it only had a short paragraph in the guide book and we might have missed it otherwise. Brian was laughing at me as I started jumping in my car seat as we drove in, the camera in my hands already. The only problem was that we didn’t know there were guided 45 minute tours at certain hours during the morning and we were now 30 minutes late for the last one that day. Luckily we were allowed to also walk around on our own, but we were only gonna have an hour and a half before they were going to close. I could hardly focus on what the guide was saying as we joined the tour, my trigger finger was too itchy to start exploring the town. As soon as the guide said the tour was finished, I rushed out of the room (which was in a less interesting building) and Brian just shook his head smiling and followed me out, but he was also really excited to explore this ghost town. We spent the next hour and a half walking around from house to house, looking at the sand filled rooms, checking out the few pieces of interior left in there. It was such a bizarre sight and so beautiful in a way. How nature takes over when the humans leave.
Back at the viewpoint by the wild horses’ waterhole I excitedly noticed some of them were already there drinking, and it was other ones than the evening before. We stood at the viewpoint for a while watching them but then I decided to try and move closer. I slowly worked my way down from the viewpoint towards the waterhole, keeping an eye on both horses and gemsbok. The ostriches started running away, wings held high, as I approached them, and the gemsbok were watching me suspiciously but luckily the horses didn’t seem to mind. I kept walking, slowly in a zigzag pattern not looking straight at them, to try and communicate my peaceful intentions. As I had come halfways from the viewpoint I decided it would have to be enough so I sat down. From there I had a much better view, more on the same level as the horses. Brian was my scout, surveying the area. About 100 metres behind the waterhole there was a hill and it was impossible for me to see what was behind there, but Brian could signal to me whether there were more horses on their way in. Except for one gemsbok getting a little too curious about me (I don’t quite like the idea of their horns piercing straight through me) I felt perfectly fine sitting there and I must have been out there in the blasting sun for quite a while as the different groups of horses would come and go. Eventually I had to walk back up to Brian to get something to drink, some shade and grab the rest of my memory cards, but I had a wide grin on my face. I went back down a few more times and it was so much fun seeing them slowly getting used to having me sitting there and getting to watch their behavior. A couple of tourists stopped by at the viewpoint at one stage. They didn’t stay for very long though. They must have thought I was crazy.
Eventually I reluctantly surrendered when Brian suggested we’d leave. We spent that night at Klein Aus Vista, outside the small town of Aus, a campsite set in beautiful surroundings in the mountains. We immediately started a fire but it still took a couple of hours before the potatoes, carrots, spinach and steaks could be eaten and by that stage I was freezing with heat stroke, wearing both my Tierra fleece and my shell jacket while Brian was sitting their in his t-shirt. The next morning we set direction for the Fish River Canyon. This was a place we had only heard about once we came to Namibia – and it is the second largest canyon in the world after Grand Canyon in the USA! I can’t believe we hadn’t heard more about it before. We decided to check out the canyon from the northern part of the national park and then drive down to the hot spring in the southern part. Coming in during the afternoon we started off by driving along the canyon, checking the view from viewpoint after viewpoint. Stunned by the almost surreal landscape we were also happy to have the place completely to ourselves. We agreed that it would have been very cool to do the famous hiking trail, a guided five day hike where you get to see the canyon from the bottom. (This is only done between April and September though, because of the risk of flash floods during the rainy season.) We threw rocks into the canyon and wrote our names on a rock that we placed on the slopes. As I was about to take a photo of Brian he said “Watch out, there’s a big scorpion behind you” so I jumped high in the air and was happy I wasn’t closer to the edge at the time…
As we made it to the main viewpoint we weren’t alone anymore as there were three overland trucks coming in. They had obviously planned to enjoy the main viewpoint by sunset, just like us. We had to wait for the sun to start setting for quite a while but once it did, it was as always in Africa, very fast. The mountains didn’t quite turn red and glowy as I had been hoping for, but it was still beautiful. We then headed back to the campsite in Hobas.
The overland trucks were camping in the same place so there were plenty of people and we had tents right next to the cruiser. But as Brian bumped into one of the overlanders we were invited to join them around the fire so that was really nice, we met some interesting people that night. As their guide and cook, TJ, apparently always makes too much food, they pretty much ordered us to have some or collect some leftovers, so I went and got an empty tub and filled it – perfect for lunch for us the next day! Very appreciated.
The overland trucks usually have terribly early mornings so they were all gone by the time we woke up (thanks for the book you left on our chairs, whoever you are!). We didn’t have to stress as it was only about 70 km down to Ai-Ais. The road was gravel – as is normal all over Namibia – but pretty alright most of the way and through some gorgeous mountainous landscapes. We reached Ai-Ais by lunch time, not really knowing much about it other than that there would be a hot spring. As we had just paid for camping and had lunch, another overlander vehicle pulled in and it was two Australian friends, Ben and Natalie, that we had bumped into at Kolmanskop. In fact, they had approached us there and told us they had already seen our cruiser in Etosha and in Sossusvlei! So this was now the fourth time we were in the same place in Namibia. We spent the afternoon together, mostly chilling in the swimming pool which was heated by the hot spring. The hot spring was 60 degrees, the pool only 45…! It wasn’t refreshing going into the water in the heat, but it was surprisingly refreshing coming out of there. Ben and Natalie left for Hobas as they were doing the canyon route the opposite way to us and we parked in a campsite.
The following morning was the first and probably the only time during the trip that I was quite frustrated there was no cold water in the showers. Getting up at 7 it was already pretty hot out and I wanted to have a cold shower to keep cool in the car as we’d travel, but it turned out the cold water was probably the same temperature as the swimming pool. We left Ai-Ais planning on heading for the South African border and camp around there. But as we just left a tiny little town, with about 150 km to go to the border still, we started hearing some very weird noises from the car. Brian turned into a lay-by and after a quick check-up he summarized the situation, not being quite the communicator that I am, with ”We’re gonna be here for a while.” Oh. Okay. It turned out the wheel bearings in the front right wheel had collapsed and we had simply not heard the noises from it earlier since Namibia has so many corrugated gravel roads. It was only now that we came back onto tar that we realised we had a big problem. Brian started dismounting the tyre and taking apart the wheel bearings by the side of the road. It could have been a fairly easy fix, just a matter of tightening them as he had done earlier on the trip, but this time it was completely screwed up. He couldn’t get the nuts back on the threads. We were far from anywhere that might sell the spares we needed and we were now stranded in a lay-by outside a tiny town in Namibia. It was our first official breakdown.
It was Thursday afternoon and we were only picking my brother up on Saturday in Upington in South Africa so we had some time, but the question now was what to do with the car and how to get it fixed. Without being able to put the lock nut back on we couldn’t go anywhere, even slowly creeping to the nearest mechanic, if there was one in town. We were stuck on that lay-by. Where we gonna have to leave the car there and hitch hike into town? And what if there was no one there to help? Brian kept working on the threads and I made us sandwiches and assisted in any way I could. The hours went by. Around 17.00 sometime a car pulled in and the man said ”You guys must be having a very bad day because I saw you here earlier today and you are still here”. He was very helpful and went into town to check if anyone could help us fix the threads but without any luck. As it was now getting closer to sunset, we were really trying to figure out what to do. But Brian kept working tirelessly on the threads and called his dad for some advice. Eventually they agreed that one option could be to borrow a lock nut from the other tyre so that there would only be one on each side. And then, finally, the lock nut went onto the threads. After I don’t know how many tries, and grinding bit by bit to make it fit. We sighed with relief, now we would at least be able to keep driving carefully until we reached a proper mechanic. But by the time Brian had finished up and put the tyre back on, after working on it non-stop for 8,5 hours, it was now around 22.00 in the evening. And we were in an area far from the tourist activities so there were no campsites or b&b’s as far as we could see. We had asked the helpful man if he thought it would be safe to sleep in the lay-by and he said he could tell the police in town that we were there and that they could patrol the area a bit extra. But then we thought, maybe we can sleep by the border? They will have security guards there and they might let us sleep in the parking lot or something. So we decided to move on but did 60 km/h on a 120 km/h all the way. As we reached Ariamsvlei we stopped at an open fuel station and filled up and found out the border was open 24/7. So then we thought, now that we’ve come this far, we might as well go to South Africa. We reached the border just before midnight and this border crossing was a bit weird since it was 17 km between the borders so we left Namibia one day and entered South Africa the next… Driving through from one side to the other I realised how tired we were as we started singing Fur Elise in bird voices. As the paper work was done we asked if there was anywhere we could sleep and they said we could sleep just outside the gates where the big trucks park. So we joined the trucks and parked by the side of the road, put the tent up, had a cup of tea to try and normalize the situation a bit, brushed our teeths and crashed in bed.