December 18th - December 27, 1999
(this page is under construction)
Our travels in southern Africa have taken us almost entirely north or west, with only a few short zigs to the south or east. Now we do an about face and head straight south and we won't stop until we reach Cape Town. First before us lies the Namib desert. We had already explored the nearest reaches of the desert about two weeks ago, but now we're driving past the easy to reach tourist sights for some rough camping in the high desert.
Our trip into the desert unfortunately co-incides with South African high tourist season, so campground reservations were very hard to get. All the comfy, popular sites were taken, but we did manage to get a spot truly in the middle of nowhere at Mirabib camp. Not so much an organized campground as more of a rocky outcropping with a few pit toilets, Mirabib had no rangers, water or other facilities. And very few campers. We were only one of two parties staying there. Of course, we kept out of sight of each other and felt alone with the jackals, scorpions, and desert.
Our campsite was one wedged underneath a huge ledge meant for a stand-alone
tent, but putting Spot into low range gave us enough oompf to weasel our
way underneath the overhanging rock and out of the hot Namibian sun. Out
our tent's back window we were able to watch the desert sunset and the nocturnal
animals as they made their way out on their evening forays.
Plans called for us to continue heading south, scrounging for available campsites where-ever we could find them, but fate intervened again as we were leaving Mirabib. Kathy spotted a flock of ostriches and Jim put on the brakes to slow down and watch them when the brake pedal dropped all the way to the floor and our hearts along with it. A rear brake line had snapped, dumping the entire rear brake reservoir's fluid on the road. Fortunately, the road was flat and the front brakes still worked, so we were in no danger.
The line had snapped as the mechanics who worked on Spot in Outjo had forgotten to bolt on the brake line securing bracket. Every bump we hit tugged and torqued at the brake line until it finally gave way -- of course -- in the middle of an inhospitable desert. Breaking the tools out, Jim began to attempt to repair the line. After getting sprayed with brake fluid a few times, he finally resorted to pounding the broken brake line closed. This means during braking Spot's right rear brake would be inactive. Even though the truck stopped well and true, our intended route today called for us to travel down not one but two steep mountain passes. With gimpy brakes we didn't feel at all confident of this so we decide to return down the road we came in on and back to civilization where we could purchase a replacement brake line.
The only hitch in this plan is that today is Sunday, and since everything
in Namibia is closed on Sunday (remember, more German than Germany) we find
ourselves with a day to waste while we wait for Monday morning. We chose
Walvis Bay as the city to search for a brake line as it's more industrial
than Swakopmund, and after asking at what few gas stations and fishing supply
stores that were open we even manage to find the town's sole brake shop.
Namibia is much like shopping in America of old; there are few stores that
offer a spectrum of services. Rather, Hans does brakes, Dieter the clutches,
etc. Searching for a place to camp is less successful, as the town's only
caravan park has closed. We're forced to go to the next nearest one at Long
Beach, halfway between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund.
Our shock upon reaching Long Beach was almost too much for our systems to bear. Worlds apart from lonely and isolated Mirabib, Long Beach Caravan park consisted of nearly a hundred camp sites, all packed together and almost all full. And not full with low impact campers like us, but rather with the kind of South African campers that gets away from it all and then brings it all with them. We've seen more than a few of these style campers, but here are nearly a hundred of 'em all herded together. Ugh!
Oh well, what do we expect for a kid-friendly beach in the middle of high tourist season? We grab one of the few empty spots and explore around. The beach is indeed very nice, sandy and flat, and large enough for even this big a crowd. Decadent camping such as this does have some high points, one of which is the nice seaside wharf bar where we drown our broken brake blues and wash away the lingering taste of brake fluid.
Upon returning to our camp site we find another van parked alongside Spot. We feel that that's pretty rude, using our camp site as a parking lot. A little chat with our new co-campers reveals that we've both been given the same camping spot! Ivan and Sabina (to the left) have actually been here a few days and it's us whose intruding on them! No matter, no matter they say. They say they're happy to share their site, and with that a new friendship is born. We spend the evening chatting and drinking, and the next morning make plans to meet up again at Fish River Canyon on Christmas day -- this time in our already reserved campsite.
Wishing Ivan and Sabina good travels 'til Christmas, we head back to
Walvis Bay to the town's brake shop where we have a new brake line fashioned.
We break the tools out again and after fifteen minutes of tube bending,
wrenching and brake bleeding (all in their parking lot) we're fully functional
once again. Good thing too, as the closed-off brake line was beginning to
open up again.
It's a long way to go, but we decide to cover some miles today and go all the way to Sosselvlei. Our road takes us past the eastern edge of the Namib desert through those two passes we mentioned earlier. Once out of the desert we find the terrain becomes a series of low, rocky mountains through which the road picks its way.
Upon seeing the passes, we felt it might have been possible to risk it
with the damaged brakes, but with our luck the patch job on the brakes would
have given out right on the pass. Brakes are one of the systems in a vehicle
you don't mess around with.
The day's heat had almost broken by the time we reached Namibia's number one tourist attraction, Sossulvlei. When we were in Swakopmund we had tried and failed to get camp site reservations, but were told that we should go to the campgrounds anyway. Seems they manage to find space for people without a reservation. It's not explained what that means, but we soon find out after checking in. Those without reservations are told to squeeze in a sandy area behind the camp's ablution blocks (bathrooms). With little shade and no windblock, we had a front row seat as the park's crew performed the daily emptying of the sewage tanks. With sundown came the winds and we were forced for the first time this trip to cook dinner inside the truck -- it was our only way of keeping the fine windblown sand out of our pots and dishes. That evening we set our alarm for very early in the morning and crashed early.
The tried and true tourist strategy at Sossuvlei is to enter
the park at the opening of the gates as 4:30AM, drive to the largest of
the dunes and watch the sunrise paint the pans and dunes shades of orange
and red. Nice strategy, but it depends on the morning guards unlocking the
gate on time. Of course on the morning we visit the guard oversleeps by
over forty-five minutes. By this time there's a long line of pissed off
tourists waiting at the gate while their one chance to see sunrise over
the dunes slips away. Even driving at excessive speeds can't bring us to
the really big dunes by sunrise, but we do manage to make it to Dune 45
Even though we missed seeing the sunrise at the best spot, such an early start allows us to explore before the really hot midday sun arrives. The last five kilometers to Sosselvlei are only accessible by foot or four wheel drive, so we decide the truly decadent thing to do is drive Spot as close as we can to the big dune and have some morning coffee while admiring the scenery.
Towering 200 meters over the pan, this monster of a dune constantly changes
yet persists in roughly the same place. The park literature claims this
is the world's largest dune, but there are some monsters in the Sahara as
well so we're not so sure. The fine, orange sand is unique in our experience
and tromping around the dunes and pans makes for good fun.
That afternoon we took an unforgiving D-class road to what
is billed as the castle of Namibia. Actually more of a fancy home, it was
built in the early 20th century of local stone, and interior wood and furnishings
from Germany. Currently furnished with 18th and 19th century antiques, the
castle provided a pleasant (though brief) sightseeing experience. We camped
that evening at the adjacent caravan park, though sleep was fitful due to
the noisy birds in our camp site's trees.
22.12.99 Drive to Lüderlitz, camp at ocean
23.12.99 Laze around, shop, camp at ocean
Fish River Canyon
24.12.99 - 25.12.99 Ghost town, Fish River Canyon (Hobas), meet Ivan and Sabina, killer hike on Xmas
Quivertree and Giant's Playground
26.12.99 Drive to Keetsmanhoop, Aloe Forest
27.12.99 Giant's playground, drive to Bukaros Crater (romp)