Sessfontein, Namibia to Colombo, Sri Lanka
17.07.2010 - 23.07.2010
This morning the Namibia crew packed up and left the Skeleton Coast, headed inland toward Purros - but not quite making it. Somewhere along the drive, we got a flat... and unfortunately, Marie-Line was driving on it for quite a bit ("Pull over, we have a flat!" I had to call out), so the tire was smoking and sidewall all tore up. I got down under the car and jacked it up, using a screw driver as a lever (the one provided didn't work), until that broke, then switched to one of Alf's tent pins... improvising at its best.
We threw on the spare, I called the car rental place to let them know we needed a new tire, the flat was definitely not repairable (good thing we bought the extra tire/windshield insurance). The woman told me there were no affiliated repair shops in Sessfontein, but there are 2 in Purros where we're heading tomorrow. So, instead of trying to make it the 109 km distance on the "D" road this afternoon, and considering we still have the extra spare, we've set up tents at a campsite here in Sessfontein for a couple nights.
Back in Sessfontein and about to get a fire going in our campsite. Today, well, we made it to Purros. The 109 km "D" road took over 4 hours (good thing we didn't attempt yesterday afternoon). Arriving in the dust bowl town, not only were there no tire repair shops the rental car company told us about, there wasn't a petrol station either. We went to the tourist "office" (shack), it was closed. So, we pulled up to a small shop and asked the locals where to find the traditional Himba village, and had a local climb in the back seat with the others to show us the way. Arriving at the village ~9 km from Purros, saw some cool mud hut homes in a fenced-in area,
the the "authentic" feeling ended there, what with the "Traditional Himba Village" sign, in English, out front of the fence, and the N$30 entry fee to see the homes and souvenir shop. Still, it was interesting to see the women, who rub the red mud into their skin, showering only with perfume (their entire lives), and the crazy mud braided hair.
We were becoming a bit concerned about gas, so headed back to Sessfontein and luckily made it, along with all 4 tires intact.
Setting up my bed at the campsite here in Twyfelfontein - meaning, pulling out my sleeping bag and reclining the front passenger seat in the 4x4. I am not able to endure another night in Alf's small tent, which is now falling apart with broken pins. And being rolled into during the night on the rocky ground, I can do without! So today, the first thing we did was stop by the lone petrol station in Sessfontein - only to find they were out of petrol (or closed/deserted, not quite sure). Well, the next town to (potentially) have petrol was about 100 km south, and our gauge was already close to "E". After a brief discussion, we decided to risk it. Well, actually the only other option would be to remain in Sessfontein and wait to see if someone shows up with extra petrol... not good odds. I took the most consistent fuel management highway speed I could maintain - around 90 km/h, over bumpy dirt road we bounced around quite a bit. I didn't want to use extra gas downshifting/braking, and several kms were coasted in neutral downhill. The light went on and we kept going for what seemed an eternity, but we eventually did run out and stall. Not exactly sure how close to the town we were, but estimated around 8-10 km so figured we could try hitching, or, worse case we could walk. Alf began looking out for approaching vehicles to hitch. Then, after a few minutes I decided to give the engine another crank. Well, it worked, so I everyone inside, we drove on and fortunately made it to the town (it turned out to be only a couple km further), stalling again right as the 4x4 pulled up to the pump. "Fill it up" never sounded so good...
We headed onward and arrived here in Twyfelfontein early - strange for this trip, to be checking into a campsite at noon (let alone before dark). After getting checked-in we headed over to the park with rock carvings - 6,000 year old rock carvings! It was really cool to see these carvings of giraffes, lions, rhinos, etc.
Our guide was not the most enthusiastic (to put it mildly), but interesting sites nonetheless. We next drove over to the burnt "mountain", which was really just a small hill made up of volcanic igneous rock,
then over to the "organ pipes", vertical slates of granite resembling... well... organ pipes.
Neither of these two sites charged admission, which was a damn good thing because they were not even worth the petrol it took to get there from Twyfelfontein!
We have eventually arrived here in Spitzkoppe, the "Matterhorn of Africa", but not before sunset, so no time to hike around this area on our last night of the trip. And, after nearly 7 months, my last in Africa... hard to believe! This morning back in Twyfelfontein we had a leisurely and relatively late start, considering we had a fairly short distance to drive and only one sight to stop and see on the way - the petrified forest. This place had pieces of fossilized wood dating back 260 m.y.a. - damn!
It took only about 20 minutes to see, and still being early enough, stopped for lunch and some souvenir shopping at a stand on the side of the road run by Himba and Herero women.
Then, driving along, Alf calls out something was wrong with the truck - that something being, our 2nd flat of the trip. Not having yet replaced the other flat, we had to get the 2nd spare from under the bed. Well, the guy at the car rental place demonstrated the crank and made it look very easy to lower the spare, but we were spending A LOT of time trying to lower that sucker. I called the rental company and spoke with Bettina, who lectured me on remembering to call the rental company as soon as we received a flat, as they're able to find those affiliated repair shops that carry replacement tires. Well, I didn't bother mentioning that her colleague gave me 2 bogus places to visit in Purros - I was more concerned with understanding how to lower the spare. She told me it just turns easily once the crank is seated properly, but despite being seated, wasn't turning easily. I was definitely not going to force it, concerned about breaking the crank, but while giving it another go, Alf flagged down a similar 4x4 pickup truck passing by and asked the driver if he knew how to release the wheel. The other driver hadn't lowered his own before, but was willing to take a shot - and did it in about 2 minutes! I guess he wasn't as concerned about forcing it, as it took quite a jolt initially to start the crank. We thanked him profusely, and changed the tire (Alf's turn this time).
We headed to the next town, Uis, where a partner service station was located, according to the list provided by the car rental company. Bettina, from the rental car company, was supposed to phone ahead to the station to ensure the correct size tires were available, but unable to reach anyone. Well, we arrived and found the station, but they didn't have the exact size, but did have similar-size that we were told could be used. We phone Bettina back, to let her know the delemna, but she was telling us the tires must be the exact size to be reimbursed. WTF!? This was the second place on their "partner" list that we've stopped at (first in Twentlefontein) that did not have the correct size tire, not to mention the 2 places which didn't even exist in Purros. So, we are just supposed to drive around the last day with no spare, after already having 2 flats so far, I'm wondering? Or buy a spare tire at our own expense, despite having the supplemental insurance? Jerks. Fortunately we didn't have to find out, as the shop owner located the correct size after all. We got the new spare tire, then made our way here after dark and spent a while just trying to locate a camp site in the dark. Next, the campsite bar!
Back in Windhoek, at the airport and preparing myself for the next four flights to get me to Sri Lanka (ugh). Up this morning back in Spitzkoppe for the sunrise, got to see some great views and hiked a bit on the large granite boulders.
We packed up, made our way back to Windhoek, fortunately without further flat tires, and dropped the car off at the rental place. I bid farewell to the crew who were continuing on in southern Namibia, then got a shuttle ride here to the airport. Some screwup with my reservation surfaced, despite having reconfirmed prior to heading out camping for the week. Good thing I was extra nice to the agent checking me in, as she basically overwrote the glitch by manually writing up a boarding pass to get me on the fight!
Colombo, Sri Lanka
I'm on the way to Colombo, about 30 minutes before landing. I'm really looking forward to seeing Svenja again, and very much looking forward to not taking another connecting flight - the Jo'burg-Dubai and Dubai-Bangalore flights were fine (pleasant, actually, as I cashed in on the Emirates free drinks). But arriving in Bangalore, although upon deplaning I saw a transfer desk before the immigration booths, it was unmanned. I spoke with the airport officials on where to go for connecting flights, but since I didn't have an Indian visa, there was a lot of confusion at immigration, and proceeded to wait 70 minutes to get some notarized letter explaining I am a transit passenger. I know Bangalore may not be the largest airport in the world, but find it hard to believe that international connecting flights are that uncommon here, people!! Anyway, I was able to still make it to duty free in time before the connecting flight, which is all I really cared about!
Colombo is soo damn hot and humid! After arriving at the airport last night where Svenni was waiting, we got a taxi to our hotel in Dehiwala suburb south of the city center. Ordinarily, of course I'd prefer to stay in the center but of course arriving so late last night, had to book a reservation online in advance. And of the limited selections available under US$100/night, this was the best rated. Today, after getting caught up on sleep to account for the time change, we wandered a few blocks in Dehiwala looking to buy some groceries, and instantly were sweating up a storm. We took the city bus into the center, wandering the Pettah neighborhood. Had lunch at a local diner, where we were introduced to Colombo's answer for dirty dishes - lining plates with plastic wrap.
Headed to Main Street, traffic crazy in both directions,
and stopped to admire the red & white striped Jami-Ul-Alfar mosque
and nearby Sri Ponnambalam Hindu temple - both very interesting.
We also stopped for juice drink (I asked for "no ice", but I think was a bit too late... hopefully, it won't come back to haunt me) before heading back to the hotel to call it a day.