I’m not superstitious. I was born on 13th of the month, so the number 13 holds no terrors. But on our way to an adventure in Kaokoveld in Namibia's far northwest, the double dose of the 13th day of the month in 2013 turned out to be unlucky and we had a breakdown.
A hot terrible smell. We sniffed our way like tracker dogs around the car and zoned in on the wheels of our Xplorer 4x4 caravan. We suspected locked brakes. So we used the satellite phone (lucky we’d thought to bring one out here in the wilderness where there’s no cell phone reception) to contact the people who had serviced the van not long before we left home. We hoped they might be able to tell us how to unlock them.
No such luck.
‘On the way to Kamanjab in northwest Namibia.’
‘Well, I suggest you go to the nearest agency in Windhoek.’
Windhoek was about 500 kilometres away; we'd do a lot more damage along the way. So, back to Plan B, which was relying on our own common sense. We turned around and limped back to Outjo (population about six-and-a half people).
‘We’re very busy today, but if I don’t help you now it’ll still be my problem tomorrow,’ laughed Frikkie.
He’s definitely a good guy to have around when you have vehicle problems – confident, knowledgeable, good humoured and happy to get his hands dirty.
Hours and much good-natured chat later we’d learned that he grew up in Outjo but learnt his trade on the South African Railways in the 1980s before returning home to open his own business. We also knew that one set of brake pads had broken off and the bolts and spring were in pieces, scraping on the rim – hence the smell. And we had the photos to prove it.
Windhoek-Schmindhoek; if we'd driven there we'd probably have worn right through the rim!
He reckoned the damage could only have happened if the brake shoes hadn't been set properly. And don’t anyone dare suggest that the bumpy roads of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and Etosha National Park – where we’d spent the past month – were to blame. After all, we bought a macho 4x4 van, not a sissyish a road van, so bumps in the road shouldn’t be a problem, especially since my particularly conservative chauffeur hadn’t done more than 50km/h on a gravel road. Anyway, most of our previous month’s travel had been at a game-viewing speed of 25-30km/h.
So the pleasures of meeting the Himba people who live there, of camping in the wilderness, seeing Epupa Falls on the Kunene River and the golden grasslands of the Marienfluss, or tracking desert rhino and elephant would have to wait.
Next year will have to be our Kaokoveld year instead.
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