Race against the sun!

Following the unpleasantness of the morning, we were keen to set off on the “real bit” of our roadtrip extraordinaire. Next stop, Namibia – the Fish River Canyon, to be specific.

A quick Google maps search estimated the drive at little over 4 hours, so we set off towards the border feeling at ease about a relatively short drive for the day.

As we approached the border the scenery became more and more rugged, the heat more and more intense – we were definitely nearing desert and canyon land. The petrol dial on Beast was also sinking depressingly fast (despite his two tank 150 litre capacity!).

The border crossing was incredibly easy, leaving nothing more than to drive into Namibia in the wild hope of finding a petrol station…

…which we came across quite easily, and bemused the petrol attendant with Beast eating literally all of the petrol available, the pump running dry.

At this stage, I will admit to the biggest faux-pas, and as a result the biggest lesson learnt of this trip so far. We didn’t actually have a physical map, which proved problematic as our mobile signal ebbed, then disappeared, and Google maps became defunct, as we proceeded into the desert.

Still not having realised our error, we ploughed a good two hours into the desert in search of our camp – the Ai Ais hot springs campsite. Driving through the most stunning desert scenery, we still had no idea we were driving in exactly the opposite direction we should have been.

Eventually, something started to feel not quite right. Google maps had said less hours than this, but as far as the eye could see there was definitely no sign of life.  We turned back on ourselves, and went to the last village we saw.

A friendly security guard told us we had been definitely going in the right direction, we had turned back just a little too soon.

So back we went, shooting through the desert, then into the Fish River Canyon, the second biggest canyon in the world, second only to the Grand Canyon itself.

The gate to the canyon left handily open and unmanned, and not another soul around, we drove around desperately looking for a campsite.

Sheer red cliff walls towered either side of us, it was only after an hour of searching that we realised our problem – we were in the canyon itself, the river had dried out, we were driving on the dried up river bed.

[Shiiiiiiiiiit!]

OK, we realised, it’s time to backtrack. Drive back to the petrol station, get ourselves out of the desert, and back on the radar.

Feeling hot and frustrated, we arrived back at the petrol station we had left hours before, and asked the attendants whether they knew the way to the campsite. Of course they did, drive in the opposite direction to which we had just tried.

Nothing else for it, we set off into the other side of the desert, hoping against hope that this set of directions would do us well. And feeling increasingly uneasy about the ebbing sun – camp admission closed at sunset, we had been told, as it is too dangerous to drive into the canyon in dark.

The race against the sun was on. Driving down sand tracks deeper and deeper into the canyon, I felt myself a part of the Dakar rally.

The panic was rising in both of us, what if we were left stranded in the middle of the desert for the night?

And then the sun dipped away. And it was dark.

With no other option, I drove slowly, meticulously, through the winding canyon passes in the dark – beams on, eyes straining – in the hope the camp would let us in.

After what seemed an eternity, we saw lights, and the camp gate came into view.

A chirpy security guard, although surprised, welcomed us most profusely, and told us to go right ahead and pitch camp wherever we wanted.

Utterly relieved, we found the only other people staying in the camp – a Dutch couple, and asked them where to pitch our tent given the total blackness we were in.

In a feat of remarkable able-seeming, our tent was up within 5 minutes without the slightest glitch, and we were sipping on cold beers served up from Beast’s onboard fridge by 8.30pm. What a total turn in luck.

Now relaxed, we began to explore, and found what turned out to be a small bar/restaurant belonging to the camp. The ladies manning it assured us not to fret, they stayed open until 9pm, and presented a menu containing 3 options – beef steak, chicken, or eland steak. Their bar was stocked with beer AND wine.

So, there it was. A day lost in the desert without a map. An evening of sheer terror rally driving into a desert canyon. And an evening savouring eland steak, sipping on red wine, in the depths of the second biggest canyon in the world.

 

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