Big Red Dunes of Sossusvlei
We left Luderitz in shock, not quite believing what had happened. Did we really just blow the engine up in the desert? And did the one mechanic who would see us, just so happen to have the part we needed to fix the car? We were too nervous to celebrate, it all seemed too flukey. As we drove off every noise, bump and groan made us jump, both of us wondering whether the thousand parts that had been scattered across the garage the day before had all been put back in properly, or whether Kylie would suddenly take offence to not having replacement butterfly valves installed. We drove onto Helmeringhausen about 250km away and although the car seemed to be running pretty well, unfortunately not all of our problems had gone away. Pulling up outside the only hotel in the town we could hear hissing coming from the engine and as it cooled down something began to pour out from underneath the engine. Standing in the dusty, one-horse town watching the pool of liquid grow bigger under the car my heart sank, ‘Not again Kylie!’ Rich popped the bonnet and could see immediately that one of the radiator hoses was leaking and so got to work re-fitting a new one. Fortunately it was only radiator coolant on the floor and nothing more serious so it was a fairly easy fix, but not very reassuring! But then the most bizarre thing happened. The owner of the hotel we were parked outside came out to see if we were ok. We told him the whole breakdown story and his jaw dropped when we told him about the donor engine valves from Udo’s auto. ‘The engine at Udo’s, it is mine!’ he exclaimed. It turns out the parts were actually from his old Hyundai Terrican which he’d blown up a year earlier and taken to Udo’s to have a new engine installed. It was such a bizarre coincidence it was almost spooky – i’m not sure why Lady Fate lead us to meet him, but i’m sure it’s all part of the plan.
All fixed, we headed up to the beautiful Duwisib Castle, built in 1903 by Baron Captain Hans Heinrich Von Wolf. Namibia was once part of the German empire, German South West Africa and when the Baron left the army he decided to build a castle for himself and millionairess American wife, right in the middle of the desert, an area he had grown to love. The castle was furnished with no expense spared, shipping in furniture and fittings from around Europe, including many thoroughbred horses which they continued to breed at their stud. Sadly when WWI broke out, the Baron re-renlisted in the army and returned to Germany with his wife, only to be killed two weeks later at the Somme. His wife never returned to the castle, leaving the building and all of its belongings many of which are still there to see today. It’s fascinating to walk round and see their pictures still on the walls and get a glimpse of their lavish life in the desert over 100years ago. We camped the night at the guest farm next door, huddling up once again as temperatures plummeted below freezing.
The next day we headed up to Sesriem, the gateway to Sossusvlei – the iconic red sand dunes that feature on every postcard of Namibia. Driving across the desert landscape was breathtaking, for somewhere that looks so barren there is a surprising amount of life. Having not booked ahead, we were allocated a spot in the overflow site at Sesriem, which although far from the ablutions meant you are allowed into the park an hour before the public gate is opened. We went for a drive that afternoon and reached ‘Dune 45’ which we decided to walk up and watch the afternoon glow on the dunes from the top. It was a hot, sweaty, steep climb to the top but the view was just fantastic. The colours are simply stunning and the constant changing reds and oranges are beautiful to watch – it’s an absolute photographer’s paradise. It was a blissful afternoon, before returning to the car to find yet another problem – something else was beginning to leak from under the car. Once again, Rich got back under the car trying to find the source of the leak, which this time looked as though it was coming from the transfer case, so most likely a seal has gone. We decided to head back to camp so he could take a better look, the uneasy feeling had returned along with serious doubts as to whether the car is going to make it the remaining 20,000lkms to home. Rich spent the evening checking he’d reconnected the drive shaft properly after we were towed (it has to be disconnected on automatics for towing) and checking the different oil levels. The flow seemed to slow so all we could do is keep the transfer case topped up until we could find a garage, the car is still driveable, so it could wait.
So before day break we packed up under the starry sky and headed off into the desert to watch the sunrise over the dunes. We joined the convoy of cars streaming out of the gates, racing towards Dune 45 once more. It’s a shame to have to share such a magical moment with hoards of others, but nevermind! We still secured a great spot on top to watch the sunrise and it will be one of my most favourite moments on this trip. As the sun beamed down, people began to move off, one by one running straight down the steep slope beneath us. The adults started it, beckoning nervous children to follow – there is just no simpler pleasure in life than running down sand dunes, no matter how old you are! Of course we joined them and bounded down the slope to the bottom, shame it was so far back up to the top as i wanted to do it again. We drove on to Sossusvlei where we got to put the new engine through its paces with some soft sand driving. It was deep, but the car ploughed through no problem so at least we were reassured that everything under the bonnet was ok. We walked out to the Hiddenvlei, a saltpan in between the dunes where there are petrified trees – again, many iconic photos of Namibia are taken here.
We returned back to the car, the sight of her reminding us we had problems to fix, jolting us out of blissful morning. Seeing the other overland buses parked up, i had a pang of jealousy – such an easy way to travel! My thoughts began to take a downward spiral, plotting how i could get away with ditching the car and jumping onto an overland bus, but my scheming was interrupted, when an old guy off one of the buses came over to see us. Alan was 72years old and from Albury NSW Australia which was the first stop on our trip. Alan had noticed our NSW plates and was keen to hear about our journey. Sadly his wife had passed away 3years earlier but he’d decided he would continue their passion for travel by visiting all 7 continents before he died. Over 60 countries and 5continents now completed he was covering a similar route to us on various overland buses. Next year he’s going to South America! He loved we were taking time out now to travel together while we were still young, something he wishes he could have done with his wife. ‘You’ll never regret it’ he said. His timing was impeccable, his story reminded us how lucky we are to be doing this journey – he provided inspiration when we needed it and we were so glad to meet such a remarkable man, who even in his 70’s was still full of passion for travel and adventure.
So with a new sense of determination we got in the car and headed back to Sesriem – despite being a town of nothing more than a few safari lodges, the one thing all safari lodges have is safari vehicles and safari vehicles need mechanics! We pulled into the nearest one and found their inhouse garage where we got the car quickly checked over. It was agreed that it did just look like a seal on the transfer case had gone, so as long as we kept an eye on the oil levels, we would be fine to drive onto the next big town, Swakopmund. So we trundled on, it was slow going as the good gravel roads we were expecting turned out to be pretty corrugated, so we took our time, including a long stop for famous apple pie at Moose McGreggors bakery in Solitaire before finally calling it a day and heading off down a deserted track to find our first bush camp in Namibia.