A Travellerspoint blog

Day Forty Five – Tyred Out

6th November 2011

sunny 39 °C

We took our time getting ready. At half past eight the sun was already ridiculously hot. The sand was becoming unplayable in bare feet. We broke camp and hit the river.

Oh what brilliant fun! Driving up the river bed. Even though the river was dry the trees and shrubs were still green, Springbok and Gemsbok wandered the river bed and at one point we nearly didn‘t spot the giraffe about five metres away from the track stood under a tree! Redvers felt good, we had plenty of food and water and the previous night we’d refilled his tank from the jerry cans we’d been carrying on the roof. We’d travelled nine hundred kilometres and we had about eight hundred more before we saw a petrol station again. Along our route we passed deserted villages, wooden huts caked in thick mud and dung to insulate against the heat, empty kraals in a state of disrepair: ghost towns. These areas are predominantly inhabited by the Himba people. Many of the Himba still dress traditionally with intricately decorated loin cloths elaborate necklaces and ankle and arm bracelets, most striking are the bare breasted women with their skin coated in ochre butter to protect against the sun, their hair is dreadlocked with the same ochre butter creating a Medusian plethora of snakes rising from their heads, atop this sit ornate head dresses identifying them as adults and the patterns in their jewellery indicating social and childbearing status. The guys have a half-skirt get up which equates to something like having your sweater wrapped around your waist. For the front piece they have a loin cloth of pleated material or leather which has a strap around their waist, the majority then wear t-shirts and boots and have their hair shaved into a Mohawk with a short plaited pony tail coming off the back of their head like a small tail. Their tall walking stick completes the ensemble.

The Himba are a big draw for tourists in Namibia and we’d already seen some Himba ladies in Windhoek. It was nice to be driving the road less travelled. The people we were seeing hadn’t dressed especially for us, they were going about their daily existence and we just happened to be passing through. We were travelling at the driest time of year, just a few weeks before the rainy season arrives. The villages we had seen weren’t entirely deserted. Some of the Himba are semi-nomadic, moving their cattle into these villages when water is abundant and the river is in flow.

Climbing out of the river bed we continued alongside it for a while. And then we came to what must be the most remote craft stall we’ve visited yet. Our location was now such that we were a minimum of four hours drive from any main road. We’d seen only one other car in two days driving and that was as we left Sesfontein. Yet here we were next to a bare breasted, ochre skinned, Himba lady, next to her husband and child with a fairly well stocked craft stall. It should have been easy. With so little traffic and hence so little opportunity to sell it was a buyers’ market. But conversely we couldn’t help but admire these guys, we were going to buy almost regardless of what they had to sell. I now have a necklace made from bone, string and seed. Somers has a new necklace, made of metal nuts and leather, and we have a small wooden container, we’re not sure what it’s for. We bartered but only half heartedly.

Half an hour later we were driving along singing to the Stereophonics when we heard a characteristic squelch coming from the back left of the car; a characteristic rubbery squelch; a flat tyre squelch. It was one o’clock in the afternoon, it was over 40 degrees, fortunately the left side of the car is where our awning is. First things first, we pulled it out to provide shade while we worked. Redvers’ tyres have been an ongoing topic of debate. They’re old and the sidewalls were slightly cracked but there was still a reasonable amount of tread left on them, (we were just past the wear indicator.) We’d initially been advised that they should make it to Nairobi, we knew by Windhoek that we’ d more likely need to buy new tyres in Botswana or Zambia. Our trips to Etosha, Sossusvlei and the Waterberg had been taking their toll as the tyres wore and chips of rubber came away from the tread. Perhaps in hindsight these were all arguably good indicators that Redvers was wearing holes in his shoes. Perhaps we were too tight or maybe we were just inexperienced. I had wanted to wear the tyres down to almost smooth, I’d rationalised that we weren’t travelling at high speed and we still had another five thousand kilometres or more on them. I was horribly wrong.

Looking at our back left tyre there was no single puncture. The rubber looked tired; it looked uneven, like plastic placed near to a flame. There were multiple tiny punctures. The radial wires had pushed up through a good centimetre of rapidly perishing rubber. The tyre hadn’t burst, it was falling apart.

We were carrying two spare tyres and so the immediate problem was easily solvable. Only fifteen minutes later we had replaced our nice alloy with a sturdy steel rim that held on it the newest of our six tyres. Newest meant very little when we looked at the geriatric line up of rubber that adorned Redvers. The tread on the ‘new’ tyre was half a centimetre above the wear indicators but it was no spring chicken, I’d bought it off a Land Rover contact in Pinetown back in Durban for twenty five quid. Our second spare was a get out of jail tyre. It had, in theory, enough tread to get us out of a sticky situation and to the first place where we could repair a tyre or buy a new one. We inspected our three other tyres more closely, they were all in various states of advanced decay. The back right had a flap of rubber two centimetres by two centimetres underneath which was the mesh of radial wires. We now had over 200kms to travel to the nearest main road, it was more than 350kms to the nearest garage with fuel, and we weren’t planning on going there directly. More importantly these weren’t just normal kilometres of tarred or gravel road they were over some of the trickiest ground we’d come across so far. We set off slowly. We didn’t want to experience using our last spare.

Priorities were changing. Our route had been a roundabout way of getting to Epupa Falls on the Angolan border. Our plan was still to get there before turning around to head for Opuwo and the safety of a town with amenities including fuel and a proper garage. We now suspected that we’d need to revisit Windhoek for a fifth time to get new tyres but if we turned back before Epupa, we wouldn’t be able to justify the time and expense of going back again. So, slowly-slowly was what was necessary. Uncomfortable and untrusting in our tyres we also knew we wanted back to the main road as soon as possible. Long hours of slowly-slowly were necessary. Somers drove like a champion Le Mans driver for five and a half hours over ground that doesn’t let you rest for a minute. Deep sand hiding sharp rocks, sharp rocks hiding among the stony path, steep climbs and seemingly sheer descents, all at below 20kph, the concentration required drains you like no other driving. We made ninety kilometres in just over eight hours driving. We took a pass between Mount Okamanga and Mount Ondjamu and struck camp in a river bed that was unnamed on our maps.

We cooked more Steenbok steak, some mealie pap and tomato relish and quietly wondered if we would make it out of the wild the following day.

We fell asleep to the not so distant sound of drums and singing in the nearest homestead.

Posted by ibeamish 08:45

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