The sun comes up slowly and the first rays of light manage to get through the thick layer of dust. We’ve been awake for a while and are sitting on narrow wooden benches with our freshly brewed coffee and the map. The sun heats up our surroundings quickly and the heat plus the caffeine helps us to get going.
We pack up the tent, put the cutlery in its place and wash our plates. The sun shines down on our windscreen and we can see our reflections in the dusty window.
I’ve been on the road for almost 2 years, my hair has grown and now sits in a ponytail at the back of my head. It’s more convenience than fashion. The hairs on my chin form a messy beard. My nose and shoulders are raw and red because of the sun and my lips have deep creases. They hurt from time to time and start bleeding when I smile. I’m walking on my bare feet which have callusses and are brown from the dust. There is a faint trace of white on them: my flipflops. My hands are also dry and the tips of my fingers shed their skin due to physical work and the dry climate. I smile at my reflection and get behind the steering wheel.
We are now in the Northern part of Namibia, Kaokaland, and on our way to Sesfontein. Sesfontein is a dusty “town” cut in two by a broad sandy road full of corrugations. The first shed we pass has a hand made sign that says: Tyre repair shop. The door consists of an old shower curtain. An old CocaCola refrigerator fills the room and some men are sitting outside waiting for work. Unfortunately for them our tyres have survived the trip. The next shed has a sign in the same handwriting and says: “Bar”. Too early for that. A police car races by and leaves us in a cloud of dust, we even have to stop to let it clear up around us. We drive past another tyre repair shop with the same handwritten sign. It shows that people can actually make a living out of the bad roads surrounding Sesfontein.
We turn off into a small road that leads us to a fuel station. We are meeting a German couple here, Stefan and Annette, who have been on the road for two years now with their Mercedes G Wagon (The Beast), the same car that the Dutch and Australian army uses. Together we will travel through the more remote northern part of Namibia. This is a place where it is better to travel with multiple vehicles. It is dry, hot, navigating is a pain and you will have to prepare for days without getting groceries, fuel or water.
We know them from an earlier meet up in Capetown and are looking forward to the trip.
Together we drive west towards the Skeleton Coast. Alongside the road we see small huts made out of clay, where whole families live. The dogs, cows, goats and sometimes pigs reluctantly leave the road to make way for us. The women are usually dressed traditionally, with dark red clay on their skin and bare breasts. The men wear t-shirts with a traditional cloth around their waists which kind of looks like a coloured diaper. We drive on GPS coordinates and leave the small huts behind. The road is very corrugated with loose sand on top which makes for heavy dust clouds, but also makes it a bit more comfortable to drive on.
A white sedan in the middle of the road slows us down. Two men come running at us when they see us approach and gesticulate animately. As soon as I roll down my window it becomes clear that they broke down and that they want us to tow them out. I get out of the car to get a better look at the situation. This is a very deserted road and the men have been waiting for help for most of the day. The tracks in the sand show us that they tried to push the car out, but had no luck. Eventually we decide to tow the car for a little while to get it out of the thickest sand and hopefully to start again. It takes a little while but in the end we manage. The car runs again and we leave it and the two men behind so they can continue on their own on the sandy track: destination unknown.
We turn off again, onto an even smaller track. After a while we have to stop on the side of the road because of a car coming from the opposite direction. Through the open window we exchange pleasantries. A very large antenne on the roof of the sand coloured Landcruiser points to the fact that this is not just your average car. The man behind the wheel, with a tanned skin and a long white beard acknowledges this. He is a biologist and tells us that he works in this area and that he studies the lions here. We drive on slowly after meeting him. The moment we see a tree which has been trampled and eaten by an elephant we stop to collect firewood. The idea of having a fire seems like a very good idea now we know there are lions around.
A large rock wall protects us from the wind that night. The sky is very clear and the stars light up everything. Mesmerized we stare up until the cold forces us to bed. The red glow of the fire coloures the inside of our tent scarlet. It gives us a safe feeling, Even if it’s for a little while until we fall asleep.