Sunday, October 12, 2008

This is Africa

We’re a week into our Southern Africa 4x4 sojourn, and have spent a quiet day in the coastal Namibian “city” of Swakopmund recharging and relaxing. Let’s recap what’s happened so far:

Day 1: Alan and Catherine arrive in Cape Town. We are late to pick them up, but our defence is that they arrived at the airport at 5:00 am. From there we drive a bit up to Chapman’s Peak and have “THE BEST FISH AND CHIPS IN CAPE TOWN.”

Day 2: We take our guests to see our friends the penguins at SANCCOB and buy supplies for our upcoming trip. The truck we have rented arrives, and is missing the following things:

  • Maps, spare key,and GPS as promised
  • A working tire jack
  • A usable spare tire release rod
  • Four functional tires (the two in front are bubbling off of the rims, and one of the rear tires is a road tire. On an off-road vehicle.)
  • A second spare tire (***this is important later.***)
  • A functioning interior cabin light
  • Cattle/bull bars on the front of the truck
  • Extra tank for fresh drinking water
  • A functioning front passenger seat belt. Luckily, the front seat slides forward and backwards, so you can adjust your seat to fit the seat belt, which does not move.
  • A full tank of diesel
  • A functional brake light/tail light

Day 3: We depart after running around Cape Town to pick up the new tires, GPS, and diesel which were thoughtfully left out. We spend the night alone in Garies and wonder why the night in Africa is so freaking cold.

Day 4: Enter Richtersveld National Park in northern South Africa and enjoy a terrifying 4x4 route complete with sand, big rocks, and 45 degree inclines. At our campsite, a friendly neighbour offers us a bottle of wine, two bottles of drinking water, and some firewood. We like South Africans.

Day 5: Drive to the Orange River, still in Richtersveld. It takes us five hours to drive 40 km to our campsite, which is supposedly remote and rustic, but is crawling with tourists. We choose a shaded spot next to the river, and a local family promptly drives up and sets up their tent and diesel generator next to us. We wait until they finish setting up, and then drive two sites over. We like South Africans less. Discover that the compressor for the tires doesn’t work properly and that the cigarette charger has been blown (and no, it wasn’t the fuses.)

Day 6: Cross the border into Namibia. The border is the Orange River, and we are taken across on a small pontoon. It’s the quickest border crossing I’ve ever encountered. We’re in Namibia!

Day 7: Head to Fish River Canyon and get a flat tire as soon as we pull into the campsite parking lot. Have a nice dinner.

Day 8: Wake up early to see the sunrise over the knee-buckling grandeur of Fish River Canyon. Realize it’s overcast, sleep a bit more. Also realize that the transmission in our car is dead after visiting three mechanics in the desert of Namibia. The 4x4 part of our 4x4 doesn’t work, and we have only a 4x2, which puts a serious dent in our plans.

Day 9: Drive to Sesreim, home of Sossusvlei and some of the biggest sand dunes in Africa. Visit a sand dune for sunset after waiting three hours in the hot desert for the truck company to call us back. Nearly have a heart attack trying to climb the dune, since it’s the only exercise we’ve had in a week.

Day 10: Wake up ridiculously early to see the sunrise over Sossusvlei. We can’t drive there ourselves, since our 4x4 is now a 4x2. Wait for a shuttle to take us to the dunes for sunrise, which never shows. Instead, we watch the sun rise over the outhouses in the Namibian Desert, five kilometres from Sossusvlei. The shuttle shows up 40 minutes after sunrise, and we get on it. Temporary replacement arrives from truck rental company, and is much smaller than our original truck. Has no jumper cables or proper stove, but two dining tables. We shove everything into it and move on.

Day 11: Enter the Namib-Nakluft Park for more 4x4ing, since we now have a 4x4. We camp for the night at a lovely site patrolled by gigantic baboons.

Day 12: Fail to complete 4x4 trail as we’d hoped, since the new truck lacks the suspension and power to go over the rocks. Leave the park and stop for lunch in Solitaire, where we run over a piece of barbed wire and get a second flat. Luckily this new truck has two spares. The apple pie in Solitaire is really good. Spend the night at a very remote site in Namib-Nakluft Park, where we are visited by warthogs and zebras, who clearly don’t mind that we haven’t had showers.

Day 13: Drive to Walvis Bay, realize there’s nothing there. Drive on to Swakopmund, a neat little Germanicized (?) town along the coast, and camp at a lovely site where we have get to park on grass for the first time ever and have our own private bathroom. We are ecstatic until the fog and mist and chilly wind move in. Sealing the rooftop tents up tightly for warmth means I wake up at 4:00 am with chilly condensation water dripping onto my face and neck, Chinese water-torture style.

Day 14: Have a relaxing day off in Swakopmund, only to find that since it’s Sunday, half of the shops, restaurants, cafes, and pubs we wanted to visit are closed. Find out that the guy we’ve been dealing with at the truck rental company has gone on vacation for a week and left no instructions for anyone. Then find out that since it’s the weekend, the truck hasn’t even been looked at and won’t be done for at least three days, meaning delivery in Swakopmund, as originally planned, will not be happening.

We’re out of here tomorrow. Onwards and upwards!

p.s. Photos? Pfft. Are you kidding? This is Africa.

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