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Thursday, July 5

Not-Quite-Bush Mechanics and the Kaokoveld

Brett: We have seen quite a lot of Namibia on previous trips and really loved it. This time, we wanted to focus on the North West as we missed it last time. Entering Namibia is a big change - even the tiny Rucana has a shop in the petrol station with everything overlanders need - good steaks, vehicle spares and camping gear. We camped at Sunset Campsite ($6pp) which is was really luxurious, with firewood, hot water, a washing machine, electricity and a pool.

We woke up and left before sunrise to reach Oshakati by 7:30am where we had booked the car in at the mechanics. Oshakati is the biggest town in the area, with dozens of car places and plenty of proper shops (including Mr Price, where we stocked up on a few clean t-shirts to impress Mike & Louise when we meet them in Botswana). The Kerrs went off to get a hole in their diesel tank welded (scary stuff) as we tried to get the overheating issue sorted out.

The mechanic laughed out loud at my suggestion that it might be the head gasket, saying "On the 4Y Hilux? Impossible!". They did a pressure test and fixed 2 tiny leaks in the radiator hose that we couldn't see, replaced the radiator cap with a better quality one and filled up the system with coolant. They also replaced the spark plug tubes to prevent a slow oil leak making a mess on the engine and steam cleaned the engine, making it look shiny and new. They also managed to fit 1.5 liters of oil in the 4x4 transfer case (one of the bolts I wasn't able to loosen myself), which was weird, because there were no signs of leaks, no noise and no problems using it. We spent about 1.5 days with the mechanics and the car was still losing water - the next step would be to replace the head gasket, which would take a few days, but we were running out of time to get to Botswana and didn't want to hang around. We decided to push on and and get it fixed later - the car was still driving fine as long as we didn't push it too hard and checked the water level daily.

The campsite in Oshakati was closed (unusual in Namibia) so we drove a short way out of town and free camped on the outskirts of a massive sand dig surrounded by palm trees (S17 46.874 E15 33.239). We had a few visitors after sunset, but they all politely greeted us and then left. The area is fairly flat and the main roads are all lined with cheap bars and drinking holes - probably in a ratio of about 2 bars to each house, which was fairly depressing. The Kerrs left early and headed for the Kakaoveld, while we headed back to the mechanic for the another day.

Mary: We did some planning for the last few weeks as we were entering a completely different phase of the trip. For the first time in over a year, we had to book campsites and stick to a schedule. It was a very strange concept and was difficult to get used to not being able to stay or move on at a whim.

We headed back to the mechanics for Day 2 of the repairs and I was somewhat confused when one of the mechanics mumbled something about God and me doing a Bible reading for the staff. I didn't really know what he was talking about so just nodded and smiled. Ten minutes later the manager's wife came out and mentioned that I'd be reading Psalm 103 during the morning prayer session, but even then somehow it didn't really sink in. Suddenly all the staff got up and headed into the workshop and we all formed a circle with heads bowed. I was handed a Bible and had a quick flick through to see if I could even find the Psalms section - no luck. I flipped to the front desperately looking for a contents page but couldn't find anything useful. Eventually I had to ask the manager's wife where to find the Psalms and she got me to the right page. I was still a bit confused but looked on as the staff sang a hymn and said a prayer. Then the manager's wife announced (to a few satisfied murmurs from the staff) that they were going to be treated to a reading by one of the customers...yours truly. She pointed out which verses of Psalm 103 were required and stepped back. I was quite flustered and skimmed over the verses very quickly - fortunately there weren't any big words and it looked relatively straightforward, so I cleared my throat and dived in. I just went for it, projecting my voice to fill the big workshop. I got to the section which goes "The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed" and I did that bit with emphasis, looking a few members of the audience in the eyes. I have to say, I think I was pretty good. I got a round of applause from the staff and a pat on the back from the manager's wife who obviously cared about her employees a lot.

After a test run, and some more tinkering, the mechanics declared us fine to go on. At this point we were tired and needed to catch up on washing, so we headed back to Ruacana for another night at Sunset Campsite, where I washed everything that could be washed and we even managed to get most of it dry. 

Brett: we headed for Opuwo on roads that were so good, they had speed limits! (120km/h on tar and 100kmh on dirt). We just kept to our usual speed of 80/90 km/h  and enjoyed the magic carpet ride (yes, even in a Hilux). Opuwo is a great place for people watching. The Herero women have full, very formal dresses with triangular hats. The Himba women wear very little and are covered in a red mud. They look absolutely awesome walking through the town. 

We reached Okangwati and decided to deviate from our plan and head for Epupa Falls (we still couldn't get our head around the idea that we had deadlines). We expected no water after seeing the Cunene River at Rucana, but the falls were strong and brilliant. We squeezed into the last remaining spot at the Epupa Campsite ($22pp) with lots of other overlanders. The campsite is very posh, with a restaurant / bar hanging over the river next to the head of the falls. We had quite a few overlanders come and chat, fascinated by the number of flags on the car - our car was 10+ years older than anything else there.

We headed back to Okangwati then on the 4x4 tracks into Kaokoveld through fantastic scenery. It felt very remote, but we did meet a number of others out making the most of the school holidays. We took the Otjihaa Pass instead of the Van Zyl's pass because we weren't totally confident with the car having just come back from the mechanics. There were still some proper 4x4 sections on the route to keep it interesting, as well as the most awesome scenery. We did see someone heading for the Van Zyls pass with a Mitsubishi SUV and venter trailer - good luck! We free camped with a great view over the plains below in an extremely peaceful and remote spot (S17 51.948 E12 49.451).

We drove down to the grassy Otjiha Plains in the morning and along the Khumib and Hoarusib 4x4 trails, sometimes in the dry river bed and sometimes on the hills. It was cool to see giraffe, ostrich and buck in the wild without the fences (or fees) or game parks. Unfortunately we didn't see any of the famous desert elephants. In the afternoon, the wind picked up and created a massive dust storm. From a distance it looked like heavy rain which would have been bad, because this area is known for flash floods. We ended up camping at the Puros Community Campsite ($7pp), which is quite nice and set on an island in the river bed. The place was full of SA overlanders and of course, we hadn't booked, so we shared a spot in the staff parking with a cool Swiss/German couple, Stephan and Ulla in their almost identical car. It turned out they had bumped into Luke and Shell earlier. 

The roads back to civilization were well used and badly corrugated, with some soft sand sections. We met up with a family from Epupa Falls at the Sesfontein petrol station, which seems to be quite the meeting point being the only one in the area (although they didn't have much fuel and the ATM was empty). The Kerrs spent some time investigating an oil leak from the hub seal. We crossed the Red Line (veterinary fence) and free camped somewhere near Palmwag (S19 56.468 E13 58.853). We made a bonfire and shared out our last 4 marshmallows, talking late into the night. We heard some hoofed animals walk past in the night, but it was too cold to go out and check.

In the morning, we drove to Khorixas to stock up for the next few weeks. We booked our camping for Etosha National Park, which was surprisingly difficult and painful - we kept getting different stories about whether or not there was availability for the dates we wanted. There was a nice little lunch spot in town where we filled up on fried chicken & chips. We camped at Bambatsi Guest Farm, which was fine, but expensive at $25 - we couldn't find any places to free camp with all the fences.

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