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Cars at the base of dune 45

Wide spaces


You know you’re on the road less travelled when the sign directing you to the Namibian border says “Suid-Wes Afrika”. The gravel road to the Onseepkans border felt a bit like a journey in time travel, back to 1990, just before Namibia became independent. The border post is small and friendly. We were the only car there and the staff were sitting outside soaking up the morning sun when we arrived.

After crossing the narrow bridge across the Orange River and negotiating the Veloorsdrift border post on the Namibian side, we hit the open road. Wide, open and largely deserted, it’s a lovely way to get into the spirit of Namibia.

Our first accommodation-booking was at Ai-Ais. The approach is on a good quality gravel road, through a stark, lunar landscape. It’s harsh and forbidding, but with a beauty of its own.

Looking out over the Fish River Canyon

Looking out over the Fish River Canyon

The resort is run by NWR (Namibian Wildlife Resorts) and was very quiet when we arrived. We had arranged to meet friends from the UK here before travelling together for a week. I’d been responsible for all the accommodation bookings, and this one had been booked and paid for well in advance, so you can imagine my surprise when I was told by reception that my booking had been cancelled − apparently all the reservations had been cancelled as the hotel was closed for renovation. No one had bothered to inform me. I asked Tusneldo Chango, the very sweet receptionist, please to try to find other accommodation for us. Obviously, as there’s nothing nearby, we would have to set off as soon as possible. In the meantime, I went to the bar to get a drink and mull over the best way to break this to our friends when they arrived.

It’s hot in Ai-Ais. Very hot! Just as our friends’ car pulled up in the parking lot, Tusneldo called me over. The hotel was not operational, but she could offer us two cottages for the night. Phew!

The resort itself had the feel of a neglected Sixties resort. Wheels were missing from the pool loungers (which were now propped up on rocks), lights were not working, and the restaurant had only two champagne glasses. We ate dinner on the deck outside the dining area and drank our celebratory French champagne – which I’d saved for this occasion – out of thick, cheap glasses. The evening was still and warm, and our adventure had begun.