The three chill days we spent hiking around Sossusvlei were followed by three of the least relaxing of the trip. We headed off the next morning toward Windhoek by way of Mariental. We'd only been on the road for an hour when we ran across two Nama ladies and their uncle hiding from the sun in the shade of a broken down pickup. They'd been stranded the day before when they'd gotten a flat only to find that the spare was flat as well. They'd been waiting for 24 hours without food or water. We left the uncle with 8 liters of water, some fruit and cheese, and gave the two women a ride to their father's home about 100 kilometers east in Maltahohe. Donna passed a jug of water to them in the backseat and held out a large bag of rusks (African biscotti) for them to pick a few pieces from. As we drove they spoke to one another in Khoekhoe, a fascinatingly beautiful language full of clicks that’s common throughout Namibia. At one point Donna turned to to me and mouthed, "This is sooo cool..." I couldn't conceivably have agreed more. This is why you travel.
As we dropped them off in Maltahohe one of the ladies was talking on her cell phone. She hopped out of the backseat and as she shut the door, holding the phone to her ear with her shoulder, she reached back in and snatched the bag of rusks from the seat. We watched as she walked away, our breakfast swinging gently from her hand as she chatted on the phone.
We drove the rest of the way back to Windhoek and the airport where we traded in our 4x4 for an (terribly ill-advised) campervan. Don’t ever rent a campervan in Africa. We then drove back through Windhoek for the second time that day.
It turned out to be about the only time on the entire trip that Donna and I got frustrated with each other. I was getting frazzled because Donna wouldn't tell me until we were actually at an intersection that we needed to be three lanes over from where we were so that we could make a turn. She was getting frazzled because, unbeknownst to me, the maps I had thoughtfully cached on the iPhone didn't have street names or a scale on them!
Once we both understood the problem, it didn't take us long to get our act together. By the end of the trip we were to drive across the entire length of Kampala twice, some of the worst traffic in all of Africa, making only a single "wrong" turn (where Google showed a non-existent road).
It may be worth noting that we had fairly reliable cell phone access with free (but slow) data on our Sprint plan in both South Africa and Uganda. As such, we were able to use Google Maps pretty consistently. By contrast, Namibia had much spottier coverage and a data plan that was $15 per megabyte (a nonstarter). For just such cases, I had cached all the maps we might need on both our iPhones using the Gaia app. It turned out, however, that at whatever zoom level I'd cached the Namibia maps, the street name symbology had been left out of large swaths of downtown Windhoek. Trust but verify...
We drove on to Swakopmund that same evening. The road was narrow, dusty, and desolate with semi-trucks flying out of the dark like neon phantoms. We covered a distance of 965 km that day with the first 150 km on dirt and gravel. It felt at least twice as far. Late that evening we appeared at the darkened gates of the Alte Brucke Resort. The two security guards on duty were very friendly, but didn’t have the authority to let us camp. One kindly led us along a series of darkened lanes to the owner’s home at the rear of the property. The guard plead our case to the woman of the house in Afrikaans while she stood in her bathrobe on the darkened second story terrace. I tried to look as kind and humble as possible under the glare of the home’s security lights. We were allowed to stay and shown to our own campsite, but without a key to the site’s private facilities.
I introduced myself the following morning to the Alte Brucke’s rather severe German manager. She was less than pleased to hear of our late arrival, and even less happy that the young chap at the gate had had the temerity to let us in. I suddenly had a case of amnesia when she asked his name, but assured her that he had shown us to the owner’s place and received permission before letting us stay.
We spent about ten minutes walking along the beach; Donna stuck her fingers in the carcass of a rotting sea lion; we found a couple of cups of coffee at a grocery store in town; then we turned around and drove all the way back through from Swakopmund to Okahandja and on to Otjiwarongo where we camped for the night.
We camped in Otjiwarongo at a place with character, The Acacia Park Campground. It was good fun, razor-wire fences and all. There was an old-fashioned, Bible-thumping revival blaring late into the rain-spitting night on one side of the parking lot. A dance bar pumped techno out on the other. Not all that conducive to sleep, but an experience we'll remember.
The next morning we got another flat tire before we'd barely gotten started. We were helped by some very kind folks along the road and some even kinder folks at a small tire shop on the north end of Outjo. Later in the afternoon we had a chance to return the favor to some stranded locals. Then it rained torrentially. We gave a ride to a soaked teenager that we came across walking tens of kilometers from the nearest town, or pavement for that matter. Then the sun came out and once again we were bounced about till our teeth nearly fell out and covered in a none too thin layer of red dust.
Suffice it to say, it had been an interesting three days. We were left a bit addled by the washboard roads, whirling night drives, sketchy campgrounds, and mornings deflated by truly terrible instant coffee. Yet we'd been buoyed by the kindness of strangers more than once — one of the great joys of traveling.
Finally coming across the turnoff for Camp Kipwe, where we’d reserved a room for the next three nights, left us wanting to pinch ourselves. Dare we let ourselves actually believe it could really be... ?