On the road to Otjinhungwa. 2006.

So here I was, travelling in the inhospitable northern Kaokoland, following hundreds of vehicle tracks, in some places up to 100 metres wide. They all headed to a point on the horizon called Otjinhungwa. Huh! What do you mean? You haven’t ever been to Otjinhungwa? As you can see, all tracks lead to Otjinhungwa. It’s a small Himba settlement along the Kunene River on the Namibian and Angolan border. The closer I got, the wider the landscape of tracks became. Oh! Blessed Lord of Sand! It seemed that that every Tom, Dick, Harry and Jane had driven this way. With black empowerment gathering pace, there were new tracks made by Stofhile, Xholi, Ntombekekhaya and Saartjie. Driving at 30 kilometres per hour and letting your tyres find their own way, steering becomes almost unnecessary. For minutes I could leave the wheel and study the passing landscape – sandscape — trackscape.

When I had satisfied my thirst for visual information on the right hemisphere I decided to check out the view on the left side of the world. To enable myself to sit in the passenger’s seat, I had to wedge the accelerator pedal down with a scuba weight belt to enable the bakkie to continue at about 30 kilometres per hour. Ah yes! You must be wondering what I am doing with a scuba weight belt in the middle of the desert? Diving down to find the Lord of Sand? Ag-ge no man — I lie, I just use it to stabilize my tripod during long exposures. Having secured the acceleration pedal, I then moved over to the passenger’s seat to observe the other half of this wide panorama. The incredible thing was that it looked exactly the same as the other view.

After a while, I got bored of this and climbed over to the back seat and retrieved a cold Windhoek from my vehicle fridge. I drank this on the back seat. Having rapidly added 5% of alcohol to my bloodstream, my reckless rods stiffened a little and I slowly climbed out of the driver’s door and went to sit on the roof rack. Now I had a wonderful, moving view of the road to Otjinhungwa and the distance hills of Angola. My bakkie happily followed its two sandy grooves. Over me the sky arched its immense blue. In the empty cabin the man in black sang “ You got to walk that lonesome valley, you’ve got to walk it by yourself, nobody else can walk it for you, you got to walk it by yourself.” I watched a Land Cruiser approach from the opposite direction.

As it came closer, I saw that they had all the paraphernalia that an overlander could have. You know, the high lift jack, the petrol canisters, the rooftop tent, a spade and sand ladders tied to the side of the canopy. As it passed a couple from metres from me, I could see that the driver was wrestling with the steering wheel. The couple looked  just like Hans and Gretchen from Leverkusen. When they glanced at me, I gave them the wide African smile, thumbs up, thing. Their facial expressions  showed pure amazement at the ghost pickup driving itself, with a strange creature waving at the world around him. This was their moment of horror on the road back from Otjinhungwa.

 

The road to Otjinhungwa

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