Broken Down in the Middle of the Desert

I opened the door to the car, the midday sun scorching down on my back. I wiped the sweat from my brow as I clambered into the car, burning my legs on the hot, black leather seats. I fumbled around for the key, clicked it into the ignition and turned it. The car gave a weak growl, juddered once, then fell silent. Strange. I thought, scratching my head. Let's try again. I retracted the key before slotting it in and turning it again. Nothing. Not even a feeble attempt to start. Oh, no. I thought. We can't have broken down? It didn't seem like a feasible option at first and I attempted to start the car a few more times with no avail. Then it dawned on me. Shit - we're stuck in the middle of nowhere!

Let's rewind a couple of hours, to where we last saw each other, entering the 'Rostock Ritz' campsite in the middle of the Namib Desert. We'd travelled for 3 hours, all the way from the coastal town of Swakopmund, in the Skeleton coast. What a drive it had been! We'd driven through 2 incredible canyons and even stopped for for that classic (and obviously not over-done) photo with the Tropic of Capricorn sign.

As we entered the gates to our campsite, my adrenaline was pumping. I'd never seen a place like this before. The small gravel road that led to the apparent site, stretched onwards into the distance, with no visible end in sight. We were bumping along this small, winding road for well over half an hour. To my astonishment, this little road yielded some incredible animal sightings and it wasn't long before I laid eyes on my first oryx sighting of the trip. In case you didn't know, oryx are a type of desert antelope, mostly found in Namibia. They are incredible rare outside of Namibia. They can be identified by their grey pelts with a black dorsal stripe and facial strips and most notably their incredible long, straight antlers.

As well as the animals, the landscape had me in awe. The terrain was a beautiful golden colour, strewn with rocks of various shapes and sizes. However, the star of the show was the great mountain perched on the horizon. The sun caught it, lighting up the rock and making it glow a vibrant orange. In contrast, the numerous dents and crevices in the mountain were concealed in a beautiful blue-tinted shadow.

We followed sparse signposts that led us to the main reception. The reception was perched atop a rocky outcrop, overlooking the flat desert below. The road up to the reception was littered with jagged rocks and by some way of a miracle, we didn't pop a single tyre bounding over them.

We ordered our dinner for that night at the reception, only to then find that unlike with our previous campsites, the campsite was located 16 km away, back down the long, winding gravel road that we just spent the good part of an hour driving down. Did I mention we ordered dinner? So after spending the afternoon in our campsite, unable to put our tent up for the night, we'd have to drive back down the road to reception to pick up our food and then back down to the campsite again. Ah, well, you know what they say, 'worse things happen at sea', right? I wasn't really that miffed, to be honest. How could anyone be angry when you were surrounded by such incredible scenery?

So, off we went, back down the gravel road. Very near to the entrance to the main road was a side road from the road that took us to reception. Remarkably, this was even smaller and even more rugged than the one we had been travelling on. The car jerked violently, stumbling over numerous pointed stones. The road skirted the edge of another rocky outcrop, near to the beautiful mountain overlooking the desert. We were really heading into the middle of nowhere, away from any form of civilisation. As expected, this campsite was ages away from the main reception and completely out of view of it.

As we rounded a bend toward the rocky outcrop, I saw the campsites. There were 4 spots beside a communal toilet block with the washing up unit atop the outcrop, looking out over the desert. It was a beautiful campsite.

Our camping spot with the washing up building on the outcrop, looking over the desert

The view from our campsite

We selected a camping spot near to the washing-up unit. We actually thought this was the bathroom so wanted to be close as, I always engage in nightly visits to the toilet, especially when drinking so much water throughout the day. Once in our spot, I was eager to explore, and instantly made a visit to the washing-up building. The views were incredible! You could see for miles. I spotted several animals as well including ostriches and Hartmann's mountain zebra - another species mainly found in Namibia.

Hartmann's mountain zebra! The distortion in this image is as a result of the heat. Cool, huh?

The view from the washing-up building

As soon as we discovered that the washing-up building wasn't a bathroom after all, we decided to move camping spots. That's when I noticed there was a terrible issue with the car.

"The car won't start." I told my partner.

His eyes flashed with panic as he opened the car door and tried starting it himself.

"Could the battery have died?" He asked.

"I didn't think we left the lights on. I thought they were automatic."

Indeed, we had never had any issues like this so far and we had been using the lights on an automatic setting every day. Why would they suddenly have been left on now? Plus, it wasn't like we had left the car for too long either so it would have been strange for the battery to drain.

"We need to jump start it." I decided. "Do we have any jump-leads? We can ask our neighbours to help us."

My partner fumbled around in the back of the car, searching for the jump-leads whilst I sheepishly moved over to the 2 men in the campsite next to ours. They were happily enjoying their time in the midday sun that I felt like such a burden to interrupt them. But what choice did I have?

"Please can you help us." I began. "Our car won't start. We need to jump-start it. I think the battery is dead."

The man looked at me, puzzled for a moment. "I will get my friend." He eventually said. "His English is better."

I waited patiently whilst he spoke to his friend. Meanwhile, my partner had successfully located the jump-leads and had lifted up the bonnet. I wasn't panicking, not yet. If it was the battery that was the issue, then at least we could easily start the car, right? I kept thinking about the springbok steak that I had ordered from the restaurant. We had to pick it up!

"We are happy to help." The friend began. I found out they were both Italian. "But it would be best to jump-start the car tomorrow before you go as it won't have time to charge now."

But the springbok steak! I wanted to protest.

"Where did you travel from?" He asked.

"Swakopmund".

"That's a long drive. The battery should not have died even if you did leave your lights on. There may be a problem with the battery." He spoke gravely.

Oh, no. That didn't sound good.

"You may need to go to a garage tomorrow to get it fixed." He continued.

Perhaps I was in denial, but throughout this entire exchange I never felt overly distressed, except when I thought of my springbok steak being cooked and no one there to pick it up. I never really contemplated that there could have been a problem with the battery an that the next day we'd be crawling along to a garage.

The 2 Italian men wandered over to our car and began inspecting it under the bonnet. My partner began to speak to them and they exchanged words about the second battery which was hooked up to our fridge. Strangely, the whereabouts of this second battery was unknown and my partner spent ages routing around in the back of the pick-up only to not find it.

I think we were all starting to lose faith in getting the car fixed until one of the men disappeared into the back of his car. He appeared moment's later with a device used for testing the electricity of a battery. He attached it to the battery and then exclaimed, "The battery is showing as fully charged."

Well that could only be a good thing, right? There wasn't a problem with the battery as it was fully charged.

"We need a spanner." The Italian man proclaimed.

"We have spanners." My partner responded before searching for them in the back of the car.

The second Italian headed back to his car to look for their set of spanners.

Sure enough, the Italians found their set first and started tightening something which connects to the battery.

"Try starting the car." They said.

I leapt in the car and put the key in the ignition. I was both nervous and excited. I knew a lot rested on this test. My springbok steak was hanging in the balance. I turned the key, trembling slightly. The car lit up, juddered, then fell silent. My heart sank. It wan't working!

"It's not starting!" I exclaimed.

My partner opened my door, "Turn it the full way."

Sure enough, I tried again. This time I focussed on turning it the full way and held it in the start position. The dashboard flashed with colour and the car roared to life.

"It worked!" I sighed, relieved.

My partner smiled, relief all over his face.

We were so grateful to the 2 Italian men and couldn't thank them enough. We had been so lucky to have such kind and considerate neighbours who also knew a lot about cars. I will never forget how they helped us, not least because that springbok steak turned out to me one of the best meals I've had in my entire life. We just had to get them something as a thank you.

One could have assumed that the rest of our day would run smoothly. One would have then be a fool. Not long after I was leaping for joy that our car had started, I found myself locked in the car, trembling with fear. As the midday sun had began to dip down and a cool breeze seeped through the desert, the campsite's other residents came out to play. Bees. So many bees.

Last year I was savagely attacked by a couple of bees. I had been in my own garden, minding my own business when 3 bees dive-bombed at my head, 2 becoming tangled in my hair. I could not get them out for the life of me and began running round screaming like a lunatic as this insistent buzzing rang in my ears. I could not escape. A bee started trying to crawl into my ear and I ran in circles, desperately trying to cover my ears. I was so relieved when I felt a sting on my temple as I thought the bee would die, however it did not. It continued crawling around and buzzing and my partner was powerless to do anything about it. I obtained another stung, likely by the second bee but these bees would not die! It took another 10 minutes for them to fly off for long enough for me to run into the house, trembling and shaking. I then experienced a bad reaction to my stings and they were swollen for months, giving me constant headaches throughout that time. So, yeah, I'm afraid of bees now.

Again, I was minding my own business in my campsite. I was taking photos of the beautiful scenery when I noticed something flying at my face. A couple of moments later, something landed on my arm. I looked down to see a bee sitting on my arm. Oh my god. I thought. Don't move. Don't move. Whatever you do, don't move. I really had to fight all my instincts to run. Heartbeats after it took flight again, I ran. I could hear a buzzing behind me and quickened up my pace. It wouldn't go away! It was following me! I glanced at my shadow to see a smaller shadow of the critter racing after me, dancing round my head. I felt nothing but panic. I had to get in the car but there didn't seem like any opportunity as it was so close to me it would surely just follow me in. I ran in circles, my vision blurring with confusion.

After a good 10 minutes, it seemed to have disappeared and I took that opportunity to leap into the car. I sat trembling on the back-seat, burning up in the hot car. I decided I'd rather sit, hot and bothered in the back of the car than brave the bees.

My partner kept trying to coax me out of the car but every time I left, I had to run back in again as another would appear. At one point I saw my partner pacing, trying to get away from a bee that was sticking to him like glue. The panic in his eyes was evident and it wasn't long before he was sitting with me in the back of the car.

By some way of a miracle, we rolled up to collect our steak and cheese starter from reception. We decided to order 2 Windhoek beers for the kind gentlemen who helped us. After the day we'd had, we also ordered a bottle of wine for ourselves.

When we arrived back at our campsite, light was fading and with that the bee saga ended, for now. I found safety in the cover of darkness and was once again able to embrace this lovely campsite.

I offered the 2 Italians their beers. At first they refused profusely to accept them.

"Do you drink alcohol?" I asked, suddenly worried we'd bought them the wrong thing.

"Oh, we do."

"Then take them, I bought them for you."

He took them and seemed overwhelmed with gratitude. From our camping spot, I saw them cracking open the bottles and enjoying them. We enjoyed our wine and 2-course meal. The springbok steak was incredible - and I'm not just saying that. Without a doubt, it was one of the best meals I've had in my entire life.

What a day it had been! I felt very fortunate to be seeing the day through to the other end with a fully-functioning car.

16 thoughts on “Broken Down in the Middle of the Desert”

  1. Wow , that could have scary! But indeed – it could have been way much worse if you were at sea.

    I have been also driving around in Africa (overlanding is great way to reach to great places) and have noted that african literally combine make car spareparts out of nothing!

    By the way – I love your writing style. You should be journalist! Oh, maybe you are – need to explore your blog further to find out!

    1. Oh, I know! At sea would be the worst as there’s no one around. That’s so cool about making spare parts out of just about anything.

      I’m not a journalist but I do love writing. Thanks so much for your kind comments!

  2. Wow wow! What a day! The car broke down in the middle of nowhere but thanks to The Italian guys it started working again. Then the bees! So many mixed emotions! The views though! All pics are fantastic and you are a story tellers now! It will be so much fun in a couple of years!

    1. Thanks! At the time it seemed a little annoying but I don’t think it ever really sunk in with me what was happening so I didn’t get too upset. And how can you be that upset when you’re surrounded by such beautiful scenery? It all worked out for the best and gave me something really fun to write about as well 😉

    1. Thank you! I do enjoy writing and have written several books over the past year but just never published them 😝 I love writing but hate proof-reading my work.

  3. What an adventure! What looked liked a horrific experience at first then turned into a pretty awesome blog post! This is what I love about travelling. Your such an amazing story teller Ella (and I know what I say coz my blog is all above stories like yours) not to mention your pictures – they are as always amazing!!

    1. Thank you so much! The worst experiences always turn into the best blog posts. I really enjoyed writing this one. I’ll definitely be checking out your blog as I love reading about stories more than ‘guide-type’ articles 🙂

  4. Wow what an experience! My friend once drove from Gaborone in Botswana to Namibia and then her car broke down – she had to leave it and fly back and then return to get it. So lucky those guys were able to help. Your bee incident sounds horrific by the way I think I would have screamed my head off.

    1. OMG that sounds so traumatic! But I bet it’s a good experience to look back on. Cars can be so temperamental – especially when driving them over such long distances.

      I may not have screamed my head off but I sure did run around like a headless chicken, making quite the spectacle of myself, haha. The Italian guys really didn’t mind the bees at all so I did feel like a bit of a plonker.

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