After our adventure with the tires, we left Aus and headed towards Sesriem to see Sesriem Canyon, this one smaller than Fish River Canyon.
On our way to Sesriem my friend let me take over the wheel, and I learnt to drive for the first time in my life! I know it sounds sad that I had never driven at my age, but in Spain you can’t learn to drive on your own; you have to take official lessons and they are really expensive.
And believe me, the long, quiet dirt roads of Namibia must be the best place to learn to drive. I enjoyed every second of it and understood why people like driving so much. Of course it has nothing to do with driving in a city (specially a crowded Spanish city); I wouldn’t enjoy that at all.
So slowly but firmly we got to Sesriem Canyon, camped, and decided to enter the canyon and explore what was down there. We stayed there until it was dark, entering every nook and cranny we could find, and enjoying another beautiful African sunset as we were getting lost down there without light.
That night we slept under the stars, with a friendly tree providing us with shelter.
The next morning we drove to Sossusvlei, which is a salt and clay pan surrounded by high dunes and located in the Namib Desert. This is the main attraction in Namibia, due to the vastness of the desert and the colors that the sand creates, especially at sunrise and sunset.
In Sossusvlei the dunes are identified by numbers, and our goal was to watch the sunrise from the top of ‘Dune 45’, the most famous of all, but soon we realized that the desert was not that deserted. Loads of people with their overland trucks had come to do the same, so we left looking for some deserted desert. There was desert enough for all of us.
Some lonely wild animals, a group of springbok running in front of you, a dune that looks close but it’s hours away, never-ending sand, fierce wind, crazy Egyptian-like bugs, the burning sun, and a extremely peaceful feeling in your heart. That’s how the Namib Desert can be described.
We wandered around the desert for hours, jumping and running down the dunes while admiring even the tiniest insect that we could find. Eventually we climbed the highest dune and had a sandy lunch there (after all, sand has minerals), and then we headed down to Deadvlei (literally ‘dead marsh’), which looks like a giant, white, dry lake. Seriously, that place was incredibly huge. There were some trees at the end of it and it looked like they were pretty close, but we walked for about an hour to get there, also experimenting the classic mirage that makes you think there’s water on the ground – and we were running low on water. But the place was magical, and the experience unforgettable.
Since the avid tourist trucks had finally disappeared, we were able to watch the sunset on top of ‘Dune 45’, although it wasn’t as incredible as the sunset in Fish River Canyon. But the sand turning purple everywhere was a show worth watching.
The following day we enjoyed our last moments in the desert before going back to ‘civilization’, and the dangers that were awaiting us there.
Our trip through Namibia started really well. But the first catastrophe was waiting for us on the next turn (although Namibian roads don’thave many turns…)
Let’s start from the beginning.
Since we were told that the only way to visit Namibia was by private vehicle, we rented a small car in Cape Town, with the intention of giving it back in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. Even though returning it in another country entails paying an extra amount to the car rental company, renting a car in Windhoek with the same company was much more expensive than in Cape Town, so this was the cheapest way.
The first day we did around 600 km -about 370 miles- and slept at a camping site in Springbok, a little town on the northwestern part of South Africa, close to the border with Namibia. That’s where we started to notice the change of weather; the night was so cold that after a few hours trying to sleep I had to leave my tent and sleep inside the car. This was the first of many car-sleeping nights, sometimes because of the cold, sometimes because we didn’t want to spend more money.
After crossing the border the next day, we drove through the dirt roads to Fish River Canyon. It is the largest canyon in Africa and the second largest in the world after Grand Canyon. The view was spectacular, being in a place like that you feel really, really small.
We watched a great sunset having a Windhoek (Namibian beer, quite tasty), and I convinced my friend to forget the camping site, stay there and make a bivouac under the starry Namibian sky. I have never seen as many starts as I saw there, and I doubt that I ever will.The night wasn’t as cold as in Springbok, and the sunrise was beautiful, although not as impressive as the sunset.
We continued our journey towards the North through the dirt roads (forget about finding many paved roads in that country) and enjoying the deserted view. Namibia is a country of long, long roads without seeing anyone but a bunch of springboks, kudus or impalas jumping onto the road. The territory is theirs, after all, so we proceed cautiously.
Everything was going great, but when we got to a burning hot paved road after hours of driving through the dirt roads… oh no. Yes. Flat tire. In the middle of nowhere. Ooook no worries, we have a spare one in the trunk. So let’s change it and continue the trip, we will go to the nearest town and try to buy another one.
We found a ‘town’ called Aus, a super small town with just a few houses, but surprisingly there was a hotel, and a garage! So far, so good.
We asked if they had tires for our car, but they didn’t have them that small (then we realized why generally people don’t use small cars in Namibia, because you can’t go anywhere with those tires), so it would take a day to order it from another town. We didn’t want to lose a whole day in that little village so we decided to go and pick up the tire from the ‘city’ where they would send it from, and later continue to the dunes. So we left Aus without a spare tire. Big mistake. We took the road that we had taken to Aus, back towards the East, and after 35 km we got another flat tire. More or less at the same point where we had had the previous one.
I couldn’t help but to burst into laughter, but my friend didn’t find it that funny. We were really in the middle of nowhere; the nearest town was 35km away; the desert sun was hitting hard; and we probably didn’t have more than 2 litres of water. But I was super calmed down (I guess my time in Africa had already affected me), and I decided to check out the Lonely Planet to see if I could find anything. Bingo! The phone number of the garage we had just been to. Thank God! And thank you Lonely Planet. So we called them and it was more or less like this: “Hey… do you remember the Europeans that just stopped by looking for a tire? Well… we have a situation here, could you come and pick us up?” They said yes, but you know, African time… so after a quite long nap in the car they finally arrived with a 4×4 turned into a tow truck, and we headed back to Aus… again.
This time we accepted our destiny and stayed there until our tire came the next day, but everything happens for a reason… I was able to have my first shower in three days!
No other place has impressed me as much as Namibia did. This vast territory contains thousands of kilometers of emptiness and peace, sometimes with a small surprise when a group of springboks jump in front of the car, or maybe a giraffe that has lost her family, or an elephant if you’re “lucky” enough. In some places you can drive for an entire day without finding any other cars. And the colors… the most amazing colors I’ve ever seen: the orange fire of the desert; the bright purple, red and orange of the sunsets; and the beautiful white sky at night, full with the powerful light of the stars everywhere you look, without any kind of light pollution.
Some of the pictures of this astonishing country: