I’d sort of hoped this day wouldn’t come. We had such a long holiday planned that, at the start of it, it felt like we would never actually get to the end of it. But we have. P and I were up early while Tom pleaded for a bit longer in his “Man Cave”. We emptied the last odds and ends from the fridge, rolled up the sleeping bags and stowed the tents for the last time. A little striped mouse scurried around to see if we had left anything.
On the way out of our site, Philippa ran over to the one opposite to see if they wanted our remaining fire-lighters and wood and olive oil and other bits and pieces. They were two days into their three week trip and very pleased to have them.
One more lodge breakfast and a last check of the tyres, and then we were off. The satnav had us retracing our steps south to Mariental and then turning north on the B1 but we decided to spend more time on the D road, heading north through the Kalahari.
It’s a friendly sort of desert, quite different from the big threatening dunes and barren terrain of the Namib. The red dunes come in regular low ridges like big waves and between them the sand is covered with grasses and small trees, many of them tufty with weaver bird nests.
The only gamble with this route was that we needed fuel and Mariental had several petrol stations. But so did Kalkrand 75k north where we rejoined the B1. The low fuel light had been on for a while by the time we got there and the needle was on empty. But there ahead of us was a gleaming Shell station with smartly uniformed attendants. Everything we needed in fact. Except diesel. “The tanker is coming today but we don’t know when. The nearest pump is in Mariental” said one of the lads at the pump. We didn’t have 75Km of fuel. We probably didn’t have 20km of fuel. After a month of carefully plotting out our fuel supply and making sure we never had less than half a tank, suddenly on our last day we were stuck. With a truck to return and a plane to catch. We rang a nearby lodge to see if they could sell us any. “Sorry, we don’t have fuel for sale. Mariental is your best bet”. By this stage Tom was all for re-booking our flight for tomorrow…
Then the pump attendant came back and said quietly that he had found us 20 litres. “Will that be ok?”. It was such a relief. He brought it out in a big yellow barrel from the back of the garage, two of them hoisted it on their shoulders and sucked some diesel through a syphon tube into our tank. I gave him probably the biggest tip he’s ever had for pumping gas and we got back on the smooth tarmac of the B1.
Just east of Rehoboth is Namibia’s largest dam and the promise of a picnic area. We had packed lunches from the Bagatelle and took the dusty track to the dam. Irritatingly, the picnic area seemed to have been taken over by a camp site which was very keen for us to pay in order to do anything by the dam so we circled back to a public viewing area on the other side – where I am writing this now in fact, looking out over a small lake of blue water.
It’s very quiet, and hot. Tom has just finished the marathon stop-motion project he has been doing at various places for the past month. P is reading, I have just walked across the dam which, I read, was dangerously full in 2006 forcing them to drain some water out. They let too much into the river though and Mariental – 180K downstream – was flooded to a depth of 1.7 metres.
So, wearily and reluctantly we packed away the table and chairs for the last time and locked down the hatches for the final hour of driving back to Windhoek. The lowering sun shone hot through the side window and we three were all quiet; Tom reading, Philippa snoozing and me pondering the last month.
Namibia really is a terrific place. It’s uncrowded and unspoilt enough that you feel like you are among the first to discover it. If you want to feel truly alone in the wilderness, Namibia is the place to be. Nothing feels too touristy, cynical or money-grabbing. The sights are spectacular and varied, the people are interesting, welcoming and friendly. The food was always good – even at the little places. We will miss rock shandies and cheese sandwiches fried in butter. Everywhere we went we were also aware of how different it will be at other times of the year. It would be amazing to see so much of what we drove through covered in grass during the rainy season. Another time perhaps…
The low fuel light pinged back on with 30k to go, so we really did return our truck empty as requested. Hats off to Toyota. Our Hilux was unstoppable in any terrain. In all we did 5860K, on gravel roads through deserts, mountains, salt pans, plains and river beds. Along the wild Skeleton Coast and the lush, palm-lined Kunene river. And over barely-there trails through Kaokaland where we didn’t see another car for two days and where we met the Himba and they showed us a place to sleep under the desert sky.