Friday, 1 May 2009

My unplanned ordeal in the Namib Desert

Wednesday 1pm. I wasn't planning to go on a camping safari, but here we are about an hour and a half south of Windhoek in the sleepy town of Rehoboth - just at the rim on the Namib desert stashing up on food, water and gas.

I'm still a bit tired from a bad flight from Frankfurt down to Windhoek. A stupid French woman was kicking my seat all night long. But so far things are turning out rather well. I stepped off the plane, hitched a ride into town and walked straight into a travel agency. I was afraid I might have been whinging it a little too much, but despite its strange name the Cardboard Box Travel Agency was highly praised in the Lonely Planet Namibia guide. An hour later with a little tour planned to see the famous Sossusvlei dunes, my guide Floris picked me up - white shorts, stocky legs, short white hair and a toothless smile.

Off we set in Floris' 4WD. I had noticed the "4 sale" signs stuck to both passenger windows, but didn't think much of it at the time...

Hours later. I was just enjoying the golden afternoon desert light when Floris suddenly pulled over and I heard the flop flop flop flop of a flat tyre. Shit. We're in the middle of the Namib desert.



Floris is nice, but he's not the king of changing tyres - and I'm not either. Every time we jack the car up it comes down again. At least 6 times. 30 minutes go by. One car passes and asks if everything's ok. Yes, yes - no worries. Finally we change the tyre and set off again. 10 minutes later another flat tyre. Shit. This time it's serious because we have no more tyres.



It's getting dark very quickly and cold. Floris says we're staying here for the night, and starts pitching the tent by the dirt road. Well, great. This is not how I wanted to spend my first night in Namibia. I flash back a few hours earlier. I had hesitated and thought why don't I treat myself to a nice lodge. Sure a little expensive but comfortable, hot showers, yummy food... Ah well, I chose the camping option. Big mistake! Instant noodles and tuna are not changing my mood. At 6.50pm I'm not so talkative and hit the hay, well, hard desert.

Thursday 6am. Rise and shine. We've been stuck in the middle of the Namib desert for the past 13 hours. I'm convincing myself that it's not that bad - the sun is shining, the birds are singing, the dry yellow grass of the plain is dancing in the wind... but it's still cold and there's no soul in sight. "Let's hope help comes quickly," says Floris. More talking to himself, "but people in the desert are very slow."



Oh well, we'll have to be very patient then. But patience is not exactly my strength.

The sun is rising quickly, I wonder how long I'm going to sit on this stone by the road waiting. How terrible must it be when you're stuck in a really remote place. But do I even know if we're not in a really remote place?

After more than two hours Floris decides to take a chance and walk to the next farm. I see him walk off on the desert road first carrying the dodgy wheel, then rolling it in the dust. This is going to take ages. I take my old Economist to read: 'Africa's Next Big Man: Trusting Jacob Zuma'. I'm sitting by the embers of a dying fire and reading. Very surreal.

I've almost read the Economist cover to cover and Floris is still not back. My mind is wandering. Next week I'm planning to do a story on bicycle ambulances and Namibia's bicycle empowerment network. I think this episode is teaching me a very big lesson about how it feels to be so remote, powerless and dependent. It feels terrible - and it's not even an emergency.

2 comments:

Monique Gruber 5 May 2009 at 18:36  

Quite thrilling and sure enough full of suspense! Personally, I suggest renaming your blog. What about
"MEGAventures" ? In my eyes this qualification sounds more appropriate than "petites" or even "grandes" aventures, especially after catching a glimpse of the tyres. But even more amazing is your decision to go back with the same guy, and above all the same car, mind you, with nothing less than 2 new tyres from four.......Enjoy the rest of your stay. I am looking forward to the "cycle ambulances" and the condition of THOSE tyres!

Barbara 6 May 2009 at 17:18  

The bicycle ambulances ended up being too far North and not within reach of a day trip, but I've visited a very interesting project by BEN (Namibia's Bicycle Empowerment Network) this morning. Former prostitutes running a bicycle repair shop: great women & very moving interviews. I'll post the story asap.

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