Drive from Windhoek to Sossusvlei (2008)

After a layover in South Africa, I set foot on African soil for the first time in my life. Namibia. Ten years ago, it was pretty standard for all flights within Africa to be running very late, but I didn’t really think it’d be that bad. Actually, I don’t think this has changed much since.

I got into Windhoek very, very late. I was supposed to arrive early in the morning, but landed late in the afternoon. Pretty much every flight I took in Africa on this trip was delayed, or I missed the connection because of a delayed flight. I never really learned either, and had plenty of flight/logistical issues on all my bigger Africa trips. If taking a lot of inter-continental African flights, make sure to allot significant extra time for travel!

Towards the start of the drive near Windhoek, one of the only paved roads I saw on this drive.
Nikon D300, AF-S 17-55mm f/2.8

Anyhow, the problem with arriving late in the afternoon is that I would have to drive in the dark. Every guide I wrote strongly stressed avoiding driving at night, but I figured it was just the usual over-precaution guide books need to prevent getting sued. Maybe things have changed since 2008, but I fully understood WHY. Aside from the few roads near Windhoek, I had to drive mostly through gravel and with zero light. There was also zero light pollution, meaning it was truly pitch black other than my headlights. The paved roads only extended out a short distance from Windhoek, and soon I was on gravel the whole way. No cell phone connection either (there was no google maps for Africa anyway then).

Scenery along the way
Nikon D300, AF-S 17-55mm f/2.8
Standard tourist photo
Nikon D300, AF-S 17-55mm f/2.8

Sossusvlei and Dead Vlei were already a popular places back then, so I wasn’t expecting to have to do a dangerous drive with no guard rails or paved roads for hours. A lot of the drive was hilly and along steep cliffs. I think it was supposed to take five hours, and I ended up taking nearly seven. And that’s despite being a really fast and fearless driver.

I nearly hit all sorts of animals along the way as well, and one time I completely spun out of control. I was concerned I had popped a tire, so I decided I’d step out of the car to check. I also needed to relieve myself. There were no rest stops or bathrooms, or any civilization, along the way. I’m just glad I did put in gas/petrol that one time I DID see a gas station.

When I spun out of control, the car miraculously stopped right at the edge of a cliff, and I nearly fell out of the car when I tried to get out. Good thing I had a strong grip on the steering wheel. I should have realized it was a precarious situation because my headlights only shown on one part of the part and it was cut off dark on the side….

I immediately got myself back in and shut the door. I remember just screaming – part in fear, partial in joy, part in relief. I banged the steering wheel, feeling lucky to be alive and having cheated death. Needless to say, I drove much slower the rest of the way. I’d just gone through the most vivid, near-death experience of my life. Later when I drove back to Windhoek (during the DAYTIME), I could only shake my head when I realized how treacherous the roads are even during the day. I wish I had taken some pictures that night to illustrate the situation, but that wasn’t exactly the first thing on my mind. It was already creepy enough just thinking about the unknown animals and bugs I kept seeing in the headlights along the way. I did take some on the way back (below).

The second worst part was, the last hour or so of the drive, I was starting to get very worried I’d run out of gas. Its one thing to be around halfway, and another to be passing the quarter tank mark. And I had no idea where I was. And I was only hoping to even be on the right road, in the right direction. Funnily, you only take like two turns on this entire drive. You really have to get it right, or you’re really wrong. And you won’t know for miles and miles and miles. Google maps would have been amazingly useful this day.

I arrived the the hotel very late. I was very hungry and tired, but extremely relived to have made it. It was nice to see lights, electricity, and human beings. The hotel staff had been worried as well, as nobody ever comes in a night. They were shocked I had bothered to come in instead of waiting for sunrise. They strongly suggested I drive back in the day-time when I return back. “Don’t worry, I will”…..

Rental Car
Nikon D300, Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6
Some of the roads. It’s hard to see, but tehre’s roads in the middle of the picture and also the top right. (Taken on way back to Windhoek)
Nikon D300, Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6
More Roads. Definitely not nice to drive in pitch black.
Nikon D300, Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6

There were far more steeper parts and narrower roads. I really should have stopped and taken more pictures…

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