Given my driving experience here, this morning’s 7-hour trip to Damaraland, in the remote northwest region of Namibia, was not one I’d been looking forward to. There wasn’t much to do though besides take it slow, keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best.
On a salt road, the drive took me along the Skeleton Coast, so named because of its treacherous history — fog, coupled with rocky and sandy coastal shallows, has resulted in dozens of ships washing ashore. Today, they provide a solemn and picturesque reminder of the danger.
Driving northeast along C35, the landscape began to change and the Brandberg, the tallest peak in Namibia (2,573 meters), came into view. A rest area provided a solid vantage point. Walking back to my tiny car, nestled among hardcore 4x4s with external gas tanks and multiple spare tires, made me think to myself: was I crazy or just plain stupid driving out here in my Toyota hatchback?
Onward we went. And at every turn, over every hill, was another stark, yet beautiful, scene.
The drive was going well. Too well. Luckily, the dry bed of the Huab River, with its thick sand and rocky sediment, now presented itself to me. There was little doubt in my mind that I’d be able to successfully get across it. But, what were my options here except to put the car in low and floor it?
It didn’t work. Yet suddenly, as if by magic, local Namibian farmers who had witnessed the spectacle appeared. They surrounded my car. “We can help,” they said. My iPod went into the glove compartment.
I got out and assessed the situation. Indeed, I was stuck. And alone. “Okay, you push,” I told the middle-aged man and handful of kids who had offered assistance. They pushed, I slammed on the gas and slowly reversed out of the ditch. Now what?
The man comes up to me. “Let me drive,” he says. It actually took me a second to come to my senses. “How about you just tell me where to go,” I replied. He gestured to the left. I got back in the car, made a quick prayer to the Toyota Gods and hit the gas, somehow managing to make it across.
On the other side, I got out and gave all the kids a pack of Oreos I’d bought at a gas station in Uis. They wolfed them down. The man was happy with a $5 Namibian dollar coin. And I was on my way.
A couple of days ago, my travel agent in London e-mailed to tell me that the lodge I’d been booked at, Doro Nawas, was full and I’d been upgraded to Damaraland Camp. It was 30 minutes further away but was one of the top rated lodges in the country and would be worth it, she said.
Close to 2 p.m., the farmhouse where I’d be met at came into view. Damaraland Camp is so remote and isolated that it’s only accessible by Land Rover; as we made our way through villages along a bumpy path, my little Yaris drifted off into the distance. The camp manager met me with a drink and cold towel before showing me to my spectacular tent.
Walking around the camp afterward, it felt largely deserted. There were only three guests, the manager told me, myself included. Wow.
Walking back to my tent after a delicious dinner, the night sky was brilliant. I’ve never seen stars like that before.
Nor have I ever felt farther from home.