Words & Images Richard van Ryneveld
‘Holy S§#*! I’m going to die!’ It’s not a pleasant feeling. All I can see is the sky. The nose of the Ford Everest is pointing skyward. A couple of fluffy clouds beckon ahead. The Everest has everything, as I discovered while driving it all over Namibia for two weeks, but there’s no Red Bull toggle on the steering wheel. It hasn’t got wings. I am praying that it has.
Dimly, somewhere, I hear a tinny voice: “Mooi, mooi, Engelsman, you’ve made it… Tap off the power, let the engine and low-range do the braking.” The voice adds for good measure, “As jou gat wil swaai en verbykom, give a bietjie petrol… it will come back in line.”
I give a tiny bit of juice. The Everest keeps a straight line down the 37-degree slip face of the dune. A few seconds before, it was just sky. Now its sand − billions upon billions of tons of the stuff.The dunes of the Namib Desert – the biggest in the world – have plenty of it.
Surely the nose of the Ford is going to bury itself in this overgrown sand pit? But, miraculously, the vehicle’s nose somehow comes up. I am alive.
I pull up on a shelf of seemingly hard sand next to Don Niewoudt’s Toyota Land Cruiser and wait for the adrenaline rush to slow, so that my knees will come back into play. I don’t know yet that I am lucky that my first big dune ended so casually; there is usually a massive uphill after the down.
Don’s Cruiser has ‘West Coast 4×4’ emblazoned in large blue letters on its side, and this is accompanied by a number of decals from the local brewery. It is a beast of a machine. No doubt it was Don’s voice on the Kenwood two-way radio telling me how to keep my backside in line. What I cannot believe is that I have just, personally, driven up and over my first Namib dune – and they’re reckoned to be the biggest in the world.
The dunes of the Namib stretch for over 1500 kilometres, from the Orange River mouth in the south, right up to the Kunene River in the north. In places, the dunes cover an area as wide as 150 kilometres. And right now, we are in the harsh and desolate wastes of the Skeleton Coast, way
up north and adjacent to Torra Bay. The Skeleton coast is an area that I had always dreamt of visiting, and as an added bonus, I had voted myself into Don Niewoudt’s West Coast 4×4 trip by default…
I had been exploring Namibia with the Ford Everest and a Bush Lapa off-road caravan on assignment for SA4x4’s sister magazine, Caravan and Outdoor Life. Through a bureaucratic cock-up, young Andrew Middelton from SA4x4 hadn’t been able to make Don’s tour. So the Old Ballie – that’s me – had been asked to replace Andrew. To my shame, I soon got over feeling sorry for him. All I could think of was that I had five days to explore the Skeleton coast.
Luckily, I was staying at a brilliant campsite in Swakopmund, the Alte Brücke Holiday Resort. The owners kindly allowed me to leave the Bush Lapa
safely locked up on their premises. The only other info I had was that I should meet Don’s group at noon the next day at Skubbe’s, a well-known fisherman’s pub and restaurant in Henties Bay.