Road trip to freedom

2011-04-08 11:43

In search of freedom and open spaces, my friend Nico Cogneau and I rented a 4x4 bakkie with a tent fixed to the roof in the Namibian capital, Windhoek.

This was the best idea I’ve ever had as a traveller, and basically where the bakkie goes, you sleep. The second best idea was to have a fridge installed.

I say forget the five-star hotels and overrated

Egyptian cotton sheets, this is the way to explore.

Day 1: Destination – Etosha National Park

We’re on the road, open blue skies and fresh air.

Suddenly a kilometre ahead a storm approaches – it’s a car travelling at breakneck speed and on the wrong side of the road. We have no choice but to swerve and slam on brakes. Then begins the craziest car ballet ever.

About 20 other cars drive past at high speed. We nearly get killed by what we’ll learn was the presidential convoy.

We spend the night off the road between trees and a train track.

There, we take in the spectacular display of thunderstorms appearing on the horizon.

Day 2: On the road again
En-route to Etosha, our bakkie is declared dead at a petrol station in Otavi (a town in the Otjozondjupa region).

We wait until the afternoon for another car, during which time we are invited by an Afrikaans family for a meal of sausages and beers.

By night we are close to Etosha.

Surrounded by the African savanna, we sleep having spotted our first warthogs, kudu, springbok and exotic birds.

Day 3: Namibian wildlife
We are in Etosha and have breakfast in the company of giraffes, kudus, oryx, zebras, springboks, a turtle, amazing birds, a fox and many others.

The end of March is not the best time to visit Etosha for the famous “big five”. But for us it’s perfect.

We have never seen so many animals at once; it rivals Noah’s Ark.

And there are so few tourists in the park that the feeling of solitude gives us a real taste of Africa.

We end up in Twyfelfontein where we see rock paintings believed to be between 3 000 and 6 000 years old.

The petrified forests are more than 300 million years old.

We camp by the exit and it rains for the first time. Protected by the tent, wrapped in warm ­sleeping bags, we are kings. It reminds me of ­childhood.

Day 4: Water everywhere
Let’s go. The road is a pool of water. The potholes are filled with water.

It’s slippery and fun.

As I drive, I lose control. I try to turn right, left and right again but the car follows its own path.

Fortunately we escape alive, the car intact.

After the town of Khorixas, we’re back in the wild. As we drive on the C39 we decide to climb one of the hills.

Once we reach the top we are treated to a beautiful 360° postcard view.

A breathtaking sunset. Later, with Nico’s music, we slurp on some white wine at perfect temperature.

Day 5: Destination Skeleton Coast
The feeling of freedom is strong as we travel.

The landscape is ever-changing. Our direction is the Skeleton Coast. It feels and looks like Colorado in the US. It’s also surprising just how green it is.

Apparently it’s thanks to great rains this year. Then the desert comes, that desolate place known for centuries to have had no mercy on ­navigators.

We continue southwards and stop for lunch on the beach, and feast on rice with mince meat, mushrooms, tomato sauce, onions and olive oil. Our feet in the cold ­Atlantic water with wine of course.

I spot a striking building in the distance. A huge, old metallic structure standing deserted.

The rust has eaten up most of it. I climb it with great care and trepidation. It’s like an apocalyptic scene from an atomic war.

I stand naked on top and yell like a forgotten inhabitant of a lost world. It’s getting late.

We choose to sleep at the foot of a nearby hill .

Day 6: What a stink!
Cape Cross stinks but it’s worth a visit.

There are thousands of them, those funny weird seals, yelling and crying.

We reach Swakopmund and eat a ­massive burger.

While we’re there, we do the most stupid thing: we lock the keys in the car! We are in the middle of the city, trying to force our way inside our own car.

Eventually someone comes to help us.

We have a beer in a bar on the seashore, and we leave to reach Walvis Bay. We want to reach Sesriem via Solitaire, and then Sossusvlei, where the biggest dunes in the world wait for us.

We leave the C14 and spend our second night in the desert.

Day 7: Miscalculations
We have 150km or so to drive before reaching Solitaire and the next petrol station.

We ­decide not to fuel up, to see how long the tank lasts.

But 50km on, we know we won’t make it and drive back to Walvis Bay. Back on the road we stop a few kilometres before Solitaire, after having seen our first baboons – huge ones, in a small river canyon.

We climb a big hill. This time with Shiraz and ­Pinotage.

Amazing views again.

Day 8: Never two without three
We reach Solitaire. Have a shower, visit the famous local bakery to overeat and take a picture with the two camels there.

On to Sesriem, which leads to Sossusvlei and the dunes.

The last ­kilometres are reserved for 4x4s only. We get stuck in the sand.

Impossible to move one of the wheels, we dig for hours until we realise nothing can be done that night. So we sleep there.

Day 9: Grounded
At 6am two bakkies from the game park arrive with six men.

They get us out of the sand. We didn’t come so far not to see the dunes, so the journey continues. We reach Sossusvlei and spend two good hours on the dunes. What a landscape.

We begin the trip back to Windhoek, but stop halfway to the Naukluft Mountains and sleep in the wild, surrounded by zebras and kudus.

The weather is bad with torrential rain threatening.

Day 10: One more day
We spend the day in the national park, and walk the olive trail. Beautiful eagles, a scorpion and natural pools convince us we were right to stay on.

Back on the road, the rain is unrelenting as we reach the summit of the Gamsberg path and the sun sets.

We park and spend the evening getting drunk, listening to music and yelling inside the car. Pictures, films, more wine, all the remaining food.

We stop for a last nap alongside the road and have our last burger in a mall in Windhoek.

We hand back the car and take the bus to Cape Town. We reach the Mother City seven hours behind schedule. The reason is another story for another day.

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