In the wilderness of Namibia almost all of the roads are graded gravel tracks that have been hewn out of the landscape, faithfully following the contours and cambers of the ground that they were made across. This can lead to some very interesting driving that is alien to most who venture forth from the airport in Windhoek in hired Off Road Cars.
The fate of many a hired car is to find itself sliding across the loose gravel on an off camber corner with an inexperienced tourist flailing at the wheel, which inevitably results in the car sitting on its side or even roof and the forlorn sight of wheels that continue to turn long after the dust has settled, hoping for a touch of the good hard earth.
Such an unfortunate fate occurred to one of the hire cars in our group some years ago. We were on our way to Homeb and the campsite beside a sand river. Louise and I were travelling through the Gamsberg Pass in the Impala Range Rover and we came across a Toyota on its roof just after a difficult off camber bend. Swinging into action we soon assessed the health of the driver Mel and Alec (one of The Impala Support Team) and all was well although Mel was a little shaken, complaining of a pain in her neck so we laid her down and made up a neck brace with some newspaper and in that quintessentially English way made a cup of tea!
Louise and I headed off to a farm that we had spotted just off the track some 10 km earlier so that we could phone the ambulance service at Walvisbaai. We gave the GPS co-ordinate to the operator who quickly assessed that it would take eight hours to reach us. As the call was a precaution and Mel was comfortable we knew that all would be well, so we headed back to the crash site and settled in for a long wait in the stillness of the desert.
There was only one other car waiting with us as the rest of the group were well ahead, at the campsite I was sure. We sent this last car off to the campsite at Homeb to reassure everyone and to tell them to expect us in due course.
As the dust settled and the noise of the cars Land Rover’s engine faded into the distance a silence, that is unique to the bush enveloped us once more, so sat down in the shadow of a low ridge to await the ambulance and enjoy the peace of it all.
Sometime later, around dusk I seem to remember, something extraordinary happened: Without warning the absolute stillness of the bush was shattered as a herd of Zebra exploded over the ridge only feet away from us. We saw the whites of each other’s eyes as the herd seemed to turn in mid-air and gallop away. We could smell their scent, they were that close. Not a word was uttered for what seemed like an age but I am sure was only seconds and by the time Alex and I rushed up onto the ridge there was nothing to see but a rapidly dispersing dust cloud and that beautiful sound of the Zebras alarm call and the thunder of their hooves on the parched earth.
We were still sitting beside the ridge completely enthralled an hour or so later as the flashing lights of the ambulance slowly worked their way closer from the distant ridge.
Mel was soon on her way with Alec to the hospital and Louise and I drove the last forty kilometres in darkness to the campsite and a cool gin and tonic, arriving close to midnight and soon reassured the camp that all was well. We turned in tired but content and you will be pleased to hear that Mel and Alec were back with us the next day with hardly a bruise to show for their crash and with a new car.
I can still hear and smell the Zebra to this day and that extraordinary meeting will sit high up in my mind for the rest of my life.