West of Puros, the road degenerates to a jeep track through a rocky dry riverbed.
In Damaraland, the tracks often follow river beds, it makes sense in a desert where
the alternative is either deep drift-sand or savage mountain. Besides, the rivers
seldom flow here.
From desolate broken hills onto the coastal plane we angled north into the Kaokaveld,
traversing a picturesque landscape where one lonely rain-cloud had birthed a green
serpentine ribbon that meandered for miles over the vast orange dune-land.
Ah, my beautiful Namibia; Blue sky! Red dune! Black mountain! always in your face,
bold and uncompromising, vast and mysterious. Every ridge surmounted reveals
a new vista, each with it’s own special character yet all having one common denominator;
Heat buffeted us as we rattled and bumped over the worst corrugations I have ever
encountered. The dashboard of our 110 was already shaking itself to pieces and
overheated shocks gave up the struggle allowing the vehicle to skitter uncontrollably
over the washboard surface.
Clusters of Namakwa sand-grouse rose in panic from the verges and raced for
relative safety in the dunes. Their swerving flight pattern seemed much like that
of our Landrover and I pondered this habit of desert creatures avoiding a pursuer.
The mile long dust-plume snapping at our wheels billowed high, glowing amber
in the morning sun.
Unruffled, the big diesel growled on, steadily sucking fuel and breathing hotly
into the cab. We had not filled up since Swakopmund, settlements on the
Skeleton Coast are simply fishing camps, and the inland “towns” little more than
a rudimentary trading store, almost always stocked with ice cold beer.
Sesfontein had been an exception; no diesel or beer, and Puros had been deserted.
Still, ahead lay Orupembe and I was hopeful that we would obtain diesel and
cold beers there. I thought of last remaining lager in our fridge and reached
compulsively for my tepid water bottle. We would share that beer at lunch.
I glanced anxiously at the fuel gauge … Just under half.
A line of stunted mopane trees appeared in the distance, wriggling ever closer
as the road turned eastward, skirting a forbidding black mountain. The desert
plays tricks with perspective and the tiny - almost bonsai trees made the
backdrop of dunes and mountains appear huge and distant.
A clanking windpump fitfully spitting mouthfuls of clear water into a brimming
concrete tank appeared. I stopped and climbed out to take a look.
Feeble gusts did little to relieve the raging heat and we gratefully refreshed ourselves
under the spilling water which trickled away back beneath the thirsty sand.
A real oasis! Water in the desert but there was very little around here
except for a low scrappy thorn thicket beside the dusty road.
I took a GPS fix and plotted our position on the map – Orupembe junction!
There was some commotion, a stirring from within the thorn bush and a person emerged.
A white person too! Safari outfit and sunglasses, unshaved, a little ragged
but otherwise in good form.
“Bonjour ” He greeted us, politely doffing his antique sun helmet. A strange
sight that, such headgear was common in colonial times, but I hadn’t seen
one since I was a child.
Apparently he was camped close by, having been parted from the rest of his group,
vehicle damage had prevented a rendezvous. Then getting lost and running low on petrol,
he had opted to wait near the only water for a hundred miles.
It had been a week, waiting hopefully for his friends to arrive.
Evidently the hot sun at the crossroads was taking its toll;
“Perhaps they took another route?”
“Perhaps they too had broken down?”
“I’m sure they will be here soon!”
“No no no, I will be fine”
“Aurevoir, merci . . .”
He accepted our cold beer and we departed north to Otjinhungwa.
Years later, I was chatting to a colleague who had
recently passed through the Kaokoveld.
He told me that he gave a beer to a stranded Frenchman
near the Windpump of Orupembe!
© WW Schwim July 2009