Stranded in Solitaire

Swakopmund, Namibia

Today was proof that sometimes travel can be anything but enjoyable. Indeed, it can be rife with delays, frustration and a complete sense of helplessness.

Let’s start at the beginning.

My journey from Sesriem began at 7:30 a.m. this morning. After breakfast, I loaded up the sporty Honda Jazz and set out for my second Namibian destination: Swakopmund, a seaside town on the Atlantic Ocean, about a 5 hour drive from here.

A little after 9 a.m., the check engine light illuminated on my dash. This was followed by the flashing temperature gauge. Next thing, the Jazz lost power and rolled to a stop. Getting out, I looked around. Not a person, building — heck, any sign of life for as far as the eye could see.

Awesome.

About a half hour later, a pick-up truck came barreling down the road. Thankfully, the kind German couple took pity on a mechanically inept American and pulled over. “Car troubles,” I said, pointing to my smoking heap of junk. “Can you take me?” They didn’t seem to understand a word but after conferring for a couple of seconds, opened the door.

“America?” they asked. “America,” I replied, wondering what it was about me — or the situation — that clued them in.

Twenty kilometers away was the town of Solitaire. My Lonely Planet said it was a “lonely and aptly named settlement” and “nothing more than an open spot in the desert.” In this case, the guidebook was right. The “town” of Solitaire consisted of a gas station, bottle store, bakery and a country lodge. Welcome to Solitaire.

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Thankfully, the manager at the lodge was beyond helpful. We called up Budget, who said they would try and locate a new vehicle, and in the meantime drove back to recover the Jazz. We dragged it back to Solitaire and then got back on the horn with the car rental agency. The nearest replacement was in Walvis Bay, a three hour’s drive. With little other choice, I replied in the only way I could, “Okay, send it.”

At 2 p.m., the car had yet to arrive and I’d just finished a Coke Zero and brownie from the bakery (decent). Then, the lodge phone rang. The replacement car had been in an accident en route — in fact, it had flipped over. The driver was fine. But another car would now need to be sent. I glanced around at the grounds of Solitaire, decorated with the remains of discarded vehicles. Why was this news not surprising?

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Two hours later, another call. “I’m sorry sir,” the polite woman said. “But the new vehicle we have sent has broken down.” You’re joking was my reply.

A third vehicle was now coming to get me. The sun was setting over Solitaire. I’d set out this morning hoping to be in Swakop by noon — now, it was looking closer to midnight, if at all. Meanwhile, the tow truck arrived from Windhoek, allowing for a final deep breath and collective thought while sitting on the hood of the source of today’s troubles.

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Namaste.

The kind woman at the lodge took pity on me and offered a room to wait in. The car finally arrived at 7 p.m.; from there, it was a slow drive in the pitch black across the Tropic of Capricorn to Walvis Bay. After dropping off the driver, it was another 35 kilometers to Swakop, which took over an hour because of a thick fog. Icing on the proverbial cake.

My new car pulled into the parking lot of my hotel at 11 p.m. “We were worried about you,” the lady at the front said.

Most of the time, travel can be an amazing experience. Not always though. When you’re on the road, when you’re in the middle of Namibia, on the African continent, well, simply, shit can happen. And when it does, there’s not a darn thing you can do about it.

But tomorrow will be another day.

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