If you’re a regular traveler in Africa, and in particular in Namibia and Botswana, you could often find yourself in the most remote places with nary another soul to be seen for days. We love this sort of traveling – it kind of makes you feel like you’re participating in your own version of “Survivor”. If you do happen to meet any locals along the way (maybe once in two days) you need to be seriously nice to them in your greeting because you never know if you might get stuck or break down and need their assistance a few kilometers along the road. And you know you’re in a remote spot when your GPS loses track of where you are, has a nervous breakdown and tells you nothing except that you’re driving on elephants! That must be a first, surely.
Our trip along the Hoarusib River from Purros to Marble Camp was one that pitted us against the demons of the dry river bed. We’d heard that the regular road was unbearable to drive on because of relentless corrugations, so our plan was to drive a short way along the river bed and then pull out onto a track that would take us to Marble Camp. Unfortunately Rob didn’t check the GPS co-ordinates that a friend had kindly given us and we soon found out that they were incorrect. Instead of driving a few kilometers up a reasonably well-traveled and wide river bed, we ended up taking a day and a half to cover 90 kilometers of some hectic sand and rocks.
The drive started out pleasantly enough with us excited at the possibility of seeing elusive desert elephants and lions. Within the first half hour we struck gold when an ellie came into view up ahead. These elephants, although similar in appearance to other African elephants, differ in that they have adapted to survive in desert conditions and are not as destructive as their cousins that live in more abundant countryside. There were so many animals (giraffes, ostriches, gemsbok) that we often marveled at the fact that we weren’t actually in a game reserve and that these were just wild animals living in their own habitat. It’s hard to imagine that places like this still exist in the world.
We stopped often to photograph the spectacular scenery in the river gorge. Of concern though, was the fact that we had to travel so slowly through the sand and rocks, often backtracking to find a route around impassable areas, and we didn’t appear to be getting any closer to the co-ordinates where we had to turn out of the river bed. By lunchtime the sun had warmed the sand considerably, which made it more difficult to drive on (the earlier one drives on sand the better as cold sand is more compact than hot sand). Rob’s brother, Kenny, who was with us and who wasn’t an experienced 4×4 driver, managed exceptionally well, but got seriously stuck when having to drive up a sand bank and make a sharp lefthand turn. It took us more than an hour to get him out in spite of using a high-lift jack and a couple of spades to shovel the sand away. Three local Himba children materialised out of nowhere and lent a hand. Eventually Rob towed Kenny’s vehicle out and we were on our way again. Hopefully our collective jubilation wiped clear the air that hung heavy with some of Kenny’s choice expletives!
By mid-afternoon we realized that we weren’t going to make it to Marble Camp that day. The river bed had narrowed considerably and it was becoming more difficult to negotiate our way through the rocky sections. The golden rule for camping in Namibia is that you never camp in a river bed. Flash floods can happen far away that send water rushing down the river even when conditions are dry. As evening approached we knew that we’d have to break this rule, so decided to find an area that was relatively high up for our camp. Fortunately it was the month of July, so rains and floods were unlikely. We parked close together and crossed our fingers! Were we going to be trampled on by elephants, mauled by lions or washed away? Fortunately none of these things happened and we were treated to a magnificent starlit sky as we enjoyed our dinner and chatted about the day’s adventures.
When we set off the next morning we found that we’d stopped just short of the worst part of the entire track. Thank heavens we hadn’t seen it the night before when we were so weary as I don’t think Kenny would have slept very well at all. We had to do some road building to help us over the rocks before we could proceed. How we made it through that section I still don’t know, suffice to say that once we levered Kenny’s vehicle off a big rock we were on our way again. More blue air and even worse expletives notwithstanding!
About an hour later we were very relieved when we saw two vehicles heading in our direction. Visions of people finding our skeletons rapidly receded and we managed to get an indication of how far it was to an exit point from the river bed. Eventually we found the road and although it wasn’t the best road in Namibia, to us it was a golden highway. It took us another couple of hours to get to Marble Camp, which was an absolute oasis with its shady campsites and piping hot showers.