Leaving early for Solitaire, not too far from Namibia’s prime tourist destination, the Sossusvlei, we were unnecessarily stopped by police, just out of Windhoek, and ended up paying an unnecessary bribe. Claiming that an international driver’s license needed to be accompanied by the original license, we went in for the officer to write up a fine, when he reconsidered his options and stated that “I am also a corrupt officer”. Too good to miss, we gave him some dosh and we were off.
Before setting out, we did some shopping in Namibia’s only South African style (or should that be American style) mall, where we chatted with a sweets-shop owner who told us a story that, some two years ago, a tourist couple had been stranded in their rental car with no fuel, somewhere in the Namibian dessert. Not knowing they were only two kilometres away from the nearest settlement, they waited for help. When the rental agency didn’t get their car back on the agreed date, a search and rescue team, which included helicopters, was sent out for the missing couple, only to discover them too late; the wife sitting in the man’s lap, both dead from dehydration.
We should have headed the signs. Some 150 kilometres out of Windhoek, just when the scenery reminded me of the movie The Hills Have Eyes, where unsuspecting travellers get hacked to bits by violent degenerates in the US Midwest, we ran up a flat tyre, only to find that the spare tyre was flat to begin with, too. We tried anyway, driving to the nearest, what we thought was a, town, some 20 kilometres away.
Halfway there, the offending tyre had all but disintegrated. Luckily for us that, by then, we actually had cellphone coverage for the first time since the flat, however badly. Several interrupted calls later, a rusty bureaucratic process was set in motion which ended up with, some three hours later, some dude in a regular car driving up to us with two spare tyres in the boot.
During the hours which we waited, one car passed, as did three guys on horseback. Both asked if everything was all right. Considering the triangle Windhoek – Sossusvlei – Swakopmund is the busiest part of the country, imagine the horror of a breakdown in pre-cellphone days in a more remote area.
On to Solitaire
The village we were trying to get to before our tire completely disappeared turned out to be not much more than two farms next to each other, instead of the more common one farm. It seems that two farms close together is already enough to give the place a name and mark it on a map of the country.
Actually, all the ‘villages’ we passed were comparable to this one. Except for the settlement of Lepel, which also seemed abandoned.
Solitaire itself is one of the bigger settlements, as it has a gas station, a shop (where lodge employees go to get their own dinner), a cafe and a lodge, besides the two or three houses. Before arriving in Solitaire, shortly before sun down, several bokkies (springbok) ran alongside the car, without realising they only had to veer off to the left or right to escape us chasing them, until one of them, minutes after starting to run, finally decided to take a right turn, only to get caught up in a fence blocking his way, almost getting hopelessly stuck. Idiots.
After a mediocre dinner at the lodge in Solitaire, we went over to the shop at the gas station and talked to Moose, who, according to some, bakes ‘the best bread and apfelstruedel in Africa’. Maybe so, but coming from what might be the apple pie capital of the world, where Kobus Kuch truly makes fantastic apple pie, this is a hard thing to swallow. Then again, this is Africa, so there won’t be too many places that actually serve apple pie in the first place.
A bit of a character, I was told Moose actually hails from Rhodesia, what is now Zimbabwe, where he used to be a freedom fighter. But when asked, he actually claims he’s from Northern Rhodesia, today’s Zambia.
The tiny settlement of Solitaire was, for a while, the home of Dutch author and film maker Ton van der Lee, writer of such crappy films as Naar de klote, who also wrote the book Solitaire. It seems van der Lee was responsible for setting up the cafe with his name, right next to the gas station and putting Solitaire on the tourist map of the country. Strangely, the cafe is only open from 12 to 3 in the afternoon.