Tuesday, September 30, 2003
09/6/03 to 9/8/03: As Shannon and I pulled into the 50 mile an hour winds just East of Luderitz, we had no idea that horizontal sand storms would be the least of our worries over the next couple days. The next stop on our whirlwind Namibian tour was Sosousvlei, a national park known for it's 200 foot tall sea of sand dunes. After we'd been driving for over an hour without seeing another car, Shannon started to notice that the brakes were getting soft. The Beast's brakes had gotten a clean bill of health in Springbok, but we were starting to doubt our mechanic's cheery diagnosis. We switched seats since I'd had plenty of experience pumping brake pedals in my father's 1943 Willy's jeep, but things only got worse by the time we got to Sosousvlei. Since the campsite consisted of about ten trees, one office, and a gas pump, we weren't surprised to find out there wasn't a mechanic within 500 kilometers of where we had coasted. Faced with the choice between feeling sorry for ourselves or checking out the biggest dunes in Africa, we opted for the brakeless trip into the park. Luckily the Beast came equipped with an industrial grade South African transmission, so we were able to downshift on the dirt roads to miss major obstacles, but the potholes came too quick and our suspension and our backsides paid the price. Brake issues aside, the dunes were magnificent. The afternoon shadows highlighted every ridge and crevice, and the silence was almost ceremonial. When we arrived at the main viewing point, we got our first chance to really engage the low range four wheel drive features of the cruiser in the "4WD only" road to the best dunes. During the next bone jarring 15 minutes of absolute chaos, I learned the hard way that reading about "Sand Driving" doesn't really prepare you for anything. The terrain looked and felt like mixture of quicksand and and watery oat meal, but the Beast prevailed and we coasted back to our campsite in a pool of brake fluid. The next morning we put our macho explorer egos aside and admitted that we were basically screwed. There was no way we could drive over 500 kilometers with air under our brake pedal, so we inched down the road to our last chance, the Sosousvlei game lodge. As luck would have it, they knew of an airplane mechanic down the road who might help us, so we kept our fingers crossed and kept rolling. After about 15 minutes of tinkering, our 13 year old mechanical guru found the perfect screw, jammed it into one the brake lines, re-pressurized our brake system, and sent us on our way to Windhoek. Nice!
Thursday, September 04, 2003
After a couple days in Springbok, and couple more repairs on the Money Pit, oh, I mean Cruiser, we were on the road again. The Namibian border crossing was a breeze, and after about three hours of dirt roads, we pulled into the Ais Ais camping resort just in time to test out our dusty camping gear. As we fumbled through six different supply boxes, we met Pierre and Claire, the couple camping next to us. Pierre is South African and Claire is from the UK, which wouldn’t be that unique except for the fact that they were the third “South African man, English woman” couple we met with RYMNING NAMES! Lucy & Louie, JT & Fi (Short for Fiona), and now Pierre and Claire have all been incredible people and incredible couples, but the rhyming thing was just too much. Wow, what a tangent. Anyway, the natural hot springs at Ais Ais were unbelievable. So much so, that Shannon and I were catatonic for about four hours next to them. Once we dragged our hyper-relaxed corpses back to our campsite it was time to hit the Fish River canyon. Over the past 10+ weeks, we’ve seen some incredible rock formations, but nothing prepared us for the Fish River. Formed through millions and millions of years of desert erosion, the Fish River Canyon is Africa’s answer to the Grand Canyon. The best part about it, next to the incredible views, was that there was almost NO ONE there! Shannon and I were able to pull the Beast up the edge, throw up some camp chairs, and cook up some tasty grilled cheese sandwiches without bumping into more than six people in four hours! Just wait until you see the pictures! The next morning we hit the road for Luderitz, the first and only coastal Namibian town on our agenda. As we were enjoying a 5+ hour drive through the Namibian desert, I couldn’t decide if the scenery reminded me more of “Mad Max, Beyond Thunderdome”, or the place where Luke Skywalker grew up. It’s stark, it’s desolate, and it’s overwhelmingly beautiful. It’s also a little scary cruising down roughly marked dirt roads in a vehicle that loves mechanic lifts, knowing that if you take one wrong turn you will run out of gas before you reach a petrol station, but that’s what we came here for, right? Today we spent the morning at the ghost town just outside of Luderitz, walking in and out of the abandoned houses near a mining area that once produced over one million carats of diamonds in 20 months! Over the next couple weeks I’ve heard internet access will be hard to find, so don’t worry if updates and e-mails aren’t as frequent. I’ll definitely be thinking of you…
8/28/03 to 9/1/03: After dishing out a painful $2,500 Rand (+/- $350 US Dollars) for a brand new clutch, Shannon & I were on our way out of Cape Town and the Beast was purring like a kitten. Well, maybe a kitten with a sore throat. We decided against fixing the exhaust manifold again, so the Cruiser’s voice will be getting progressively deeper as the trip progresses. When we pulled into Stellenbosch (I’m spelling all these names wrong), a small college town in the heart of South Africa’s wine country, we felt like we were pulling into San Luis Obispo or Chico, California. The college atmosphere was infectious, and we couldn’t help but stop when we found an actual authentic Mexican restaurant. While we managed to resist the pull of the techno beats from the multiple dance clubs, we did get sucked into the late night internet cafe. Talk about nerds! What happened to us? Anyway, checking e-mail on a Saturday night wouldn’t have been that bad, except for the fact that someone had hacked into Shannon’s Hotmail account, deleted all of her messages and addresses, and then converted everything to Chinese. Crazy. After about two hours of sorting out that mess, we pulled into the only hostel in town only to realize it was closed. Sweet. Since we had both caught colds in the past week, and it was now after midnight, the mood in the Cruiser wasn’t exactly overflowing with Christmas cheer. Luckily for us, our bed is on wheels, so we just crammed everything in the front and slept in the hostel parking lot. The next morning started off better, thanks to a charity shower at the hostel and a wine tasting stop just outside of town. The South African wineries are INCREDIBLE, however; the upcoming four hour drive to Springbok kept me from doing too much “tasting”. I was never good at spitting out perfectly good wine anyway. As we moved North towards Namibia, the dry heat reminded me that we were entering serious desert country. We considered using the air conditioning (I couldn’t believe it had AC either), but the fact that the gas-mileage-killing air conditioning belt squeals like a stuck pig, kept our windows open and our backs sweaty. As we pulled into the parking lot of “Annie’s Cottage” in Springbok, we found out how exciting it is to use a travel guide that is over five years old. Annie’s Cottage was no longer a backpacker, they didn’t allow camping, and there were no other options in town. Luckily for us, South Africans are amazing. The owner let us park in the storage yard and use the maid’s bathroom…for free!