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Landing in a Thunderstorm in Namibia – The Time Our Car Brakes Failed

Savannah and trees on campsite near Windhoek in Namibia

I sat with my face pressed against the glass of the aeroplane, my camera in hand. I could feel my heart pounding with excitement as my eyes soaked in the vast landscape below. The world underneath us was a very different world from that which I had come from. There wasn’t a settlement in sight – just unspoilt natural landscape. The earth was a sandy colour, shrubs and trees protruding up with only small distances between them. Jagged mountains stood proudly, breaking up the landscape every now and then. The only evidence of humans was the odd road, carving through the natural wilderness in unnaturally straight lines. I had never seen roads so straight in my life. It looked as if someone had built the roads using giant rulers.

I had been to Namibia before but last time I landed here, it was nighttime and I had missed out on the spectacular views that both myself and my camera were lapping up excitedly. I wanted to absorb every moment of this adventure and wasn’t going to let a moment pass me by. Just thinking that I would be on those roads, driving into the unknown made my stomach flip over. I couldn’t believe I was here!

Of course, flying here hadn’t been a breeze (although it was a lot easier than actually booking these flights! You can read all about that saga here). I was on my third and final flight. Namibia isn’t a particularly well-known country so there are no direct flights. I had to fly from Manchester to London (40 minute flight), London to Johannesburg (10 hour flight) and finally Johannesburg to Windhoek (2 hour flight). I don’t mind flying at all. In fact, I relished the lengthy flight between London and Jo’burg as it was an opportunity to sleep. I slept virtually the entire way, albeit it was rather interrupted sleep. I have come to love flying long haul which has been made even better recently by having long haul flight essentials.

Everything was fairly smooth apart from one episode in Manchester airport. I’d been queueing in Costa Coffee for a while, trying to buy a toastie. Suddenly, I realised people were overtaking me in the queue! I was confused but I’m too polite to say anything. I just made sure I got to the counter next.

“Excuse me, ma’am, there’s a queue.” The woman at the counter told me as I arrived.

Excuse me? I was horrified and recoiled slightly in anger. “I have been queueing.” I stated, slightly louder than I’d intended to.

The woman just stared at me and I looked behind me at the queue, hoping someone would back me up. I knew I’d been queueing because I’d arrived before there was a proper queue. Everyone stared at me blankly and I wonder if I was unknowingly glaring in disgust as some people seemed to shift nervously. I think I have a ‘resting bitch face’. I can’t help it. I always think I look calm but based on everyone’s nervous attire, I must have looked angry.

The woman served me anyway and seemed apologetic after that. I tried to be as friendly as possible but I honestly was struggling to hide my upset and embarrassment. I shouldn’t have felt embarrassed as I did nothing wrong and I was angry that the woman had made me feel this way. Honestly, that whole encounter put me in a sour mood for a while. It was disappointing considering I’d been so excited about the adventure ahead of me.

Ella travelling in Heathrow Airport, London
Ella on plane flying to Windhoek, Namibia
View out of plane flying to Windhoek, Namibia
Ella on plane flying to Windhoek, Namibia
I quickly cheered up as we started our journey

Fortunately, I was way to excited about my up-coming adventure to get bummed out so as soon as I was on my first flight, I forgot about the irritating Costa mix-up and enjoyed my journey. My excitement peaked when we were descending and out of my plane window I saw a dark figure amongst some trees. As I looked closely, I realised it was an ostrich. My first wildlife sighting and I hadn’t even landed in Namibia yet!

We landed and I exited the plane to a burst of warm air. The sun, at last! The sun’s valiant rays shone down on my unbelievably pale skin as I walked to the airport. It wasn’t too long before we met with our transfer who was taking us to our rental car in the capital of Windhoek. It was a 30 minute drive to the capital which was a little taxing considering we’d been flying for over 24 hours. In hindsight, a rental company at the airport would have been preferable as we actually had to drive past our first campsite to get to the city. Honestly, because I’d left the car so last-minute (if you’d actually call 2 months in advance last-minute?), there weren’t that many cars available to hire in Namibia so we didn’t really have the option to opt for a car company located at the airport. If you are considering hiring a car in Namibia, definitely think about the company’s location as a 30 minute transfer to the airport may not seem long but when you’ve been travelling all day, it really can be ‘the straw that breaks the camel’s back’.

It took at least an hour to go through the car with the rental company. We’d booked a Toyota Hilux double-cab 4×4 automatic with camping equipment. We had to approve of every item it came with so that meant looking at the cutlery, fridge, tent, car tools, etc. It was exhausting and a lot to take in. Still, I was thrilled to have my car and it looked awesome!

After picking up our car, our next stop was the ‘Super Spar’ to buy some food for the next few days. It was here hat we encountered our first issue with the car. Whilst reversing into a spot the car started to violently judder and the parking brake symbol came on. That’s strange. The parking brake wasn’t on. We tried taking it on and off a few times but the issue persisted. We rang the rental company whose response was, “Yeah, that happens. Don’t worry about that.” We started to feel a little concerned. We’d already been informed not to worry about the ‘ABS’ symbol that’s on the screen as the ABS (anti-lock brakes) doesn’t work since the car was fitted with a new part.

Toyota Hilux 4x4 with roof-top tent on campsite near Windhoek in Namibia
Our beast of a car

There wasn’t much we could do about that so we went into Spar and completed our shop. Upon exiting the supermarket, we realised that a torrential downpour had started. The sky was black and rain was pelting the roof so viciously that I could barely hear myself think. A claw of lightning split the sky followed closely by the deathly roaring of thunder which sounded like gun-shots. The sky then continually flashed, reminiscent of strobe lights. Great. We were meant to come before the rainy season arrived!

We made a mad dash for the car. By the time I was sitting inside it, I looked like I’d just taken a dip in the river. The violent hum of thunder was all around us as we left the carpark and began our drive to the campsite. At this point, I didn’t realise just how much trouble the rain was going to cause us.

It was when the road sloped steeply downwards that we experienced a terrible problem. I was in the passenger seat, trying to navigate whilst following the sat-navs vague directions through the capital. We started to propel down the slope, gaining a fair bit of speed. At first I thought my partner was just enjoying himself until I saw his face screwed up in terror.

“I can’t stop!” He cried.

Sure enough, the car flew down the hill and through a junction before it eventually came to a stop. Then we were stuck in the middle of the road, my partner frantic with what had just happened.

“We were so lucky there were no other cars. The brakes weren’t working.”

It turns out that what had just happened was incredibly common in Namibia. The country hardly ever sees rain. Therefore oil from cars gradually builds up on the roads. Whereas here in the UK, and most other countries, the rain continually washes the oil away, the oil stays in dry countries. Then, when it finally rains, the roads turn incredibly slippery and car tires are unable to grip the slippery roads. Accidents are incredibly rife when the rainy season begins. This is what we were told by the manager of our first campsite once we explained what had happened.

Sure enough, once we’d finally mustered up the courage to continue driving, we passed two accidents in the capital whilst driving through it. Cars seemed to be sliding allover the place. But the worst accident was yet to come. Once we’d left the capital and were driving down the main road, the traffic abruptly came to a halt. A large bus had toppled over in the middle of the road, taking up almost the entirety of the road. It was a scary sight. I looked on in horror as we passed, the rain still pelting down on our windscreen and obscuring our vision. Fortunately, it looked like everyone in the accident was okay.

Bus accident in rain near Windhoek, Namibia
Wonderful photography of the bus accident. Like was this taken on a potato or something?
Toyota Hilux 4x4 with roof-top tent on campsite near Windhoek in Namibia
Check out the colour of the sky – wow!
Ella with Toyota Hilux 4x4 with roof-top tent on campsite near Windhoek in Namibia
Unloading our camping gear for the night

We finally arrived at our campsite, just as the rain died down. Our first campsite was situated just 15 minutes outside of Windhoek so an incredibly convenient location for us considering we didn’t want to drive much at all on the day we arrived. The campsite was called Trans Kalahari Inn. We’d also booked to stay here for our final night in Namibia so that it would be a short drive to drop-off the car before we went to the airport.

When we arrived, we were allocated a campsite. We got campsite 4! The campsites are fairly far apart and come with electricity, benches and a grassy area. I didn’t have much to compare this campsite to as it was a our first one but it certainly trumped UK campsites.

Best of all, the campsite was quiet. There was only one other vehicle there.

Ella with Toyota Hilux 4x4 with roof-top tent on campsite near Windhoek in Namibia
I’ve learnt to embrace annoying thumbs that sometimes creep into photos. Adds a nice effect, huh?
Ella with Toyota Hilux 4x4 with roof-top tent on campsite near Windhoek in Namibia
Unclipping the spare wheel in order to open up the back
Savannah and trees on campsite near Windhoek in Namibia
Ella with Toyota Hilux 4x4 with roof-top tent on campsite near Windhoek in Namibia

We were way too tired to cook that night so we ordered a takeaway from the restaurant to eat at our campsite. We ordered a trio of 3 steaks: kudu, springbok and oryx. It was absolutely delicious and at only N$ 150 (£8), it was incredibly reasonable, compared to UK and Seychelles, anyway. We shared 1 main meal between 2 as I wasn’t feeling too hungry. It turned out just 1 meal was plenty!

Everything was almost perfect. Due to the delays in the day, we didn’t arrive at the campsite till quite late on and by the time we settled down for dinner, darkness was upon us. With the darkness came scores of giant moths, flying at my face and causing me to run round frantically, abandoning me steak. Even now, I can hear their eery fluttering in my ears. I shudder.

I somehow managed to finish off my steaks, despite the moths’ best attempts to terrify my soul. The bathroom was nice yet I had to close all the windows as moths mockingly pressed themselves against them. I fearfully examined the bathroom to see if any had managed to come in. There were 1 or 2 tiny ones and I decided I could just about live with that and enjoyed a nice warm shower.

Upon leaving the bathroom I spotted movement out the corner of my eye. Based on the size I guessed it must be a rat or large lizard. I turned my head to get a better look and my heart stopped slightly at what I saw. Not a rat and certainly not a lizard but instead a huge tarantula. I’m not actually scared of spiders but I was fully aware that I was standing right beside my partner whose absolutely terrified of them (like I am of moths). There he was, brushing his teeth, blissfully unaware of the biggest spider I had ever seen just casually crawling along the floor. By the time he had finished brushing his teeth, the critter had scuttled off. Frozen in shock, I wasn’t sure whether to tell him about the spider yet and instead just told him to ‘watch where he walked on the way back to our tent in case of spiders, scorpions or snakes’. He seemed calm enough. Once we had arrived back at the tent, I told him exactly what I had seen. He was just relieved that he hadn’t bumped into it.

So far Namibia was looking like a country of extremes and I couldn’t wait to enter my first full day here. We settled down in our roof-top tent which we’d popped up earlier (no kidding, it really does just ‘pop up’) and waited for sleep to overcome us.

Toyota Hilux 4x4 with roof-top tent on campsite near Windhoek in Namibia
Ella with Toyota Hilux 4x4 with roof-top tent on campsite near Windhoek in Namibia
On my way to bed! Our car came with a lovely roof-top tent for us to sleep in

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Friday 15th of December 2017

Woow everything looks amazing and the photos, amazing quality on you´re blog! Please visit my blog! :)

Alessa Bernal.


Sunday 3rd of December 2017

Beautiful pictures! Sounds like such an adventure


Monday 4th of December 2017

Thank you. It was a pretty awesome adventure.


Sunday 3rd of December 2017

Beautiful write up I'm originally from South Africa so I'm familiar with Namibia s beautiful landscapes..look forward to seeing the beautiful scenery captures. X


Monday 4th of December 2017

Thank you! It must be so cool to grow up in such an amazing place like South Africa. The UK, where I'm from, seems quite bland in comparison.

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