Driving through the Scorching Namibian Desert with No Air-Con

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Sunset over Ombo Rest Camp in Namibia, Africa

On our first full day in Namibia we drove our rental car to the mechanic and handed back the keys to the rental company. How did this all come to be? Well, let's rewind a couple of hours to our joyous visit to N/a'an ku sê wildlife sanctuary. We were ecstatic after experiencing an incredibly exciting activity where we had fed lions, cheetahs and leopards (to name a few animals) at the sanctuary. It was incredibly interesting to learn about the animals and their individual stories, learning about how each one was rescued from a terrible situation but had now found peace at the sanctuary. It was a humbling experience and one where you could really see where your money was going. I cannot recommend visiting N/a'an ku sê enough.

After the tour, we gorged ourselves on arguably one of the best meals of my life and then we had run riot in the gift shop, practically purchasing the entire thing. With ice-creams in hand we retreated to our rental car - a Toyota Hilux. At this point we were still unsure of the car. Every time we got in and started it up, the car would judder as if you'd left the parking brake on, flashing a warning light. Yet the parking brake was off! The company had told us to ignore this when we inquired the previous day. This was one of many warning lights. So, it's safe to say we hadn't quite made friends with the car yet.

However, the worst was yet to come. As we began our journey, leaving N/a'an ku sê behind us and heading north to begin our journey to Etosha, we found ourselves sticking to the seats (yuck) in heat. The air-conditioning was on full whack with the temperature as low as it could go. I was sweating profusely so wound down the windows. The air coming out of the air-con was warm. It was nowhere near cold!

"Let's give it a moment." I conceded.

The outside air wasn't enough to cool us down. I mean it was 35°C out there! We put the windows up again, trying to give the air-con a chance to redeem itself. It may have just been slow to cool down, after all it was so hot in the car.

Nothing. Just warm air was wafted at our faces. I swear we had sweat dribbling down our cheeks. We gave in and pulled over, bickering with agitation. There was no doubt about it - the air-con was broken. How were we supposed to endure a 2-week road-trip through deserts with no air-conditioning? It was ludicrous!

Toyota Hilux 4x4 with roof-top tent near Windhoek in Namibia

The last photo we ever took of our car

We rang the rental company and explained the problem. They told us to drop the car off for the mechanic to take a look at. It was so fortunate that we were so close to Windhoek. If we'd began our journey to Etosha yesterday, we'd have been (to put it frankly) screwed. In fact, we were meant to drive through Windhoek that day anyway to get to our next campsite so it was of little inconvenience to drop the car off with the mechanic.

When we arrived at the renal company I explained the problem. I was fully expecting them to brush it off or to claim it was working and merely hand the car back over to us. I'd have been fuming if that had been the case as no one could have possibly endured sitting in that sauna of a car for up to 6 hours in one day.

"Yep, it's not working." The mechanic agreed.

Phew. I hadn't had to put up a fight at all. I was so relieved.

"We'd have to buy a new air-con unit for the car so we'll have to give you a replacement. You're so lucky we have one."

I couldn't tell if I was lucky they had a replacement or unlucky that they hadn't given the car a thorough check before they'd handed it over to us. I clarified that the new car was exactly the same as I had paid extra for it to be an automatic and have other features such as a double-fuel-tank. Satisfied, we moved over to the new car.

Toyota Hilux 4x4 with roof-top tent in rest camp in Namibia

Our brand new (and fully-functioning) car

In fact, the new car was so much better than the old car. There were no warning lights at all on its dashboard. No issues with the parking brake and it looked like the ABS actually worked - hoorah! I guess the air-con going was good luck disguised as bad luck. Our new car had also only done half the mileage of the old car. Oh, and best of all - the air-con actually worked!

Now that we had a brand new set of wheels, it was time to hit the road again. We travelled north from Windhoek down a long, straight tarred road. The road to Etosha was a long one and I'd known all along that it would take more than a day's worth of travel to reach it. So, I'd arranged a stop-over at a rest camp.

After 2 hours of driving, we reached our campsite - the Ombo Rest Camp, just north of the town of Okahandja. We arrived quite late-on and it didn't take long for the sky to darken which wasn't ideal considering we had to cook our dinner outside in the dark. Head-torches are good but they attract countless moths! I shudder.

A private function was being hosted at the campsite that evening. They enjoyed games of football before eating a BBQ and then singing. The singing was traditionally African with lots of hand-clapping and swaying. I relish different cultures and was delighted to get to hear the beautiful tunes. The singing continued well into the evening.

This campsite had private toilet-blocks - well, nearly private. We were only sharing with one other couple. I love having my own toilet! It means the walk isn't far. The toilets were almost perfect if it wasn't for the countless beetles barging themselves into the rattling metal door. I only had one beetle on mine so I could live with it. My partner, however, said he had to have the speediest shower in history as it sounded like the beetles were 'trying to barge the door down' with their head-butting. Two had somehow managed to get into the shower and whack themselves into him.

That night we spent it in the car again instead of the tent. After the traumas of last night, we weren't quite ready to brave the tent yet incase we really did find it too small and claustrophobic. I wasn't prepared to feel sick again. The sound of singing gradually died down and we allowed our bodies to give into exhaustion.

Ella McKendrick on Black Rock Viewpoint, Kenmore Scotland

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16 thoughts on “Driving through the Scorching Namibian Desert with No Air-Con”

  1. Whaw, what an adventure. Can’t believe they gave you a car with broken air con in such conditions in the first place. Lovely blog btw, will be reading more about your travel experiences.

    1. Thank you so much! I know – it’s something they definitely should have said before handing over the keys to us. A road-trip in a car with no air-con is just a recipe for disaster ????

  2. I so want to visit Namibia! I’m glad you didn’t have to drive in tremendous heat. Road trips and hot cars don’t mix well. ????

    1. Namibia is definitely worth a visit. It’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before. You’re so right – road-trips and hot cars certainly don’t mix well ????

    1. I am too – I hate arguing my point and I would have struggled to continue with my journey in such a hot car.

    1. I know what you mean. Sometimes the most difficult times that don’t go to plan end up being those funny things you remember for years to come.

  3. That is crazy they would tell you to ignore the warnings! Glad you were able to get a replacement. The BBQ and singing sound like so much fun though.

    1. I know right! I didn’t feel entirely safe with a car that didn’t seem to function properly, despite what the company said. It was great to see the locals and hear them singing African-style as I love to learn about different cultures.

  4. Whew! I felt I was with you while reading this. I got tired! LOL! Without AC was a nightmare. But I’m pretty sure you were captivated by the beauty of the place.

    1. Haha! Glad I could make you feel like part of the story. Despite the ups and downs, the novelty of being in an incredible country with beautiful scenery everywhere you looked far outweighed any difficulties.

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