Driving Through the Moonscapes of the Namibian Desert

Not a sign of human habitation in sight through the windshield of our right hand drive, manual transmission 4X4 in the middle of the Namibian desert. Now, that’s my idea of adventure!

Namibia 11.13 1185We were in the middle of our two day self drive from Windhoek, the centrally located capital of Namibia, to Swakopmund on the Atlantic Coast. This was one of dozens of adventure options available to get delegates attending the annual Adventure Travel World Summit from the opening ceremonies of the Summit in Windhoek to “Swakop” where the main events and sessions were to take place.

I approached this adventure with some trepidation. Driving on the left hand side of the road in a vehicle with the steering wheel on the right was bad enough, but it had been years since the last time I drove a manual transmission and even longer (ever?) since driving a 4X4.

But from my 6 day safari in Etosha (see my last post), I knew that the roads in Namibia were excellent and, for the most part, empty. The people from ATI Holidays, the company that arranged and hosted the trip, also did a thorough job in orienting me to the vehicle, a 4X4 Toyota Double Cab, and to the challenges of driving in Namibia (e.g., avoiding livestock and game on the roads).

The first two hours were a snap, other than getting briefly lost on our way out of Windhoek. As expected there was little traffic, the roads were excellent, the directions were clear, and it didn’t take me long to get used to shifting gears and driving on the “wrong” side of the vehicle and the road. The scenery — wide open, empty spaces reminiscent of the deserts of the American Southwest — was great.

Then we turned off onto an unpaved, hard packed dirt and gravel road. A little more challenging but still not bad. After an hour we drove through a gate in a fence and entered the world of Namibian desert farm roads — one track through loose dirt and sand and even emptier spaces than we saw from the paved and gravel roads.Namibia 11.13 1192Fortunately, for the next hour we did not encounter anyone coming from the opposite direction. In fact we encountered almost nothing suggesting civilization, other than miles and miles of wire fence. We swerved through the sandy patches (I learned later that over steering by tourists in the sandy patches is the leading cause of car accidents in Namibia) until I got the hang of it. The scenery was even more beautiful than from the road. Open desert, ridges of reddish rock in the distance and a vast, enveloping sky.

After an hour of awe, accompanied by lots of bouncing and swerving, we reached our destination, the Wustenquell (with an umlaut over the “u” — can’t figure how to do that on this unfamiliar keyboard) Guest Farm and Private Nature Reserve, consisting of a few cottages, main lodge, a few other small buildings and miles and miles of nothing else but desert and rock formations.

After checking in and changing from sandals to sturdier footwear we headed out for a walk. It was a couple of kilometers to the nearest rock formations, then a half kilometer more to another. We climbed a couple of hundred feet up for even more stunning views of the desert and the moonlike rock formations in the distance. No sound other than the wind, no signs of civilization other than the Wustenquell buildings, also in the distance. It was a serene conclusion to an exciting day.Namibia 11.13 1213 Namibia 11.13 1207

We watched the sunset with the property manager and the five other guests from Germany, Austria and Finland, then sat down for an excellent dinner accompanied by fine South African wine.Namibia 11.13 1241

The drive the next day on to Swakop was even more beautiful and remote. Most of the drive was on about 50 km of Wustenquell farm road. The desert scenery turned even more severe and wild. One stretch  of packed white sand that went on for miles was appropriately called “Moonscapes.” Apparently the moon landing in “Apollo 13” was filmed there.

Finally after about three hours of driving and stopping to take photos (to be posted later when I can download them to my busted computer back home) and just gawk, we reached a paved highway. An hour later we pulled up to our destination in Swakop, the Chala-Kigi Self Catering Accommodations, and got ready for the opening night event of the Summit, a dinner in a canyon near the desert we had driven through earlier in the day.

The dinner was an extraordinary event. I’ll tell you more about the dinner — think hundreds of people seated at tables in a canyon with vivid slides of wild animals projected onto the rock walls — the Summit, Swakop and the Chala Kigi after we get back from our fly-in safari to the remote Northwestern corner of the country, home to rare desert elephants and rhinos. If its anywhere near as extraordinary as our first two weeks, the next few days will be great. I can hardly wait.

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