Deeper into the desert

We had so far been on the safer side of the desert, always near the sea or near a town. It was time to test Gigi a bit, to see how she (and ourselves) would do in the desert. It was tougher than expected. 

From Walvisbaai we planned to drive to a famous town in the middle of nowhere. The name, Solitaire, says it all, solitary. The town mostly comprises of a fuel station, a bakery and a lodge with a campsite. There is a makeshift garage for car troubles, but the work there is mostly patch ups to hopefully get to a bigger town. This town is clearly set up for tourism. 

The road from Walvisbaai to Solitaire leads along the Namib Naukluft National Park. The views were stunning and the road was fairly decent. This did not mean that the trip would be a walk in the park, though. The heat was terrible and what we had feared, quickly became reality. The temperature gauge, thankfully it was properly working, slowly went up again as we drove further into the desert. 

One by one we turned off the electronics to make sure Gigi didn't have to work harder to power the batteries. First thing to go was Mai. The views were beautiful, but we did not really use any of the footage Mai was making anyway. There were also so few cars, that we did not expect to need Mai's emergency footage, so bye Mai. Next thing to go was the music. We have brought our boombox from the Netherlands, so we could listen to our music from there and not burden Gigi powering the stereo and bluetooth. After that, the lights had to go off. In Namibia it is compulsory to turn on the lights outside of the towns for safety reasons. Due to the heat, oncoming cars are difficult to see, so the lights shining through the haze help spotting traffic. Unfortunately, safety was a luxury Gigi could not afford. Finally our A/C had to go. This was definitely the most burdensome on Gigi, but also the most needed in the desert. 

Without A/C, driving through the desert was tough. We opened the windows a bit, to let some wind in, but the air coming in was over 40°C. We were slowly cooking in our own furnace, but we had to continue. Turning off all these electronics did not mean we could easily drive though. We constantly had to keep watching the temperature gauge. If it still moved up, we had to slow down, making sure the gauge slowly went back again. We had to continuously monitor the speed (between 30 and 40 km/h on the gravel roads), the RPM of the engine (below 2.000) and the temperature gauge. We had seen before that within a few seconds the gauge can go (almost) to the red area, so we had to check every 5 seconds maximum. The combination of having to keep watching the road for the corrugation, watching the RPM, watching the speed and watching the temperature gauge, was extremely tiring and we had to alternate the driving more often than before. Finally, we arrived at Solitaire, where we had been looking forward to. 

The bakery in Solitaire is famous for its apple crumble pie and the campsite is said to have a lovely pool and a lot of shade to relax in. When we arrived, we were so overheating (not only Gigi had this problem), that we had really longed for a cold drink, some apple pie and a relaxing dive into the pool. Maybe we had expected too much of it, or maybe the quality has gone down a bit since the original owner of the bakery had passed a few years ago, but the apple pie disappointed us. It wasn't as good as we had hoped and all around us people seemed to compete on who could speak French the loudest. We did not identify a clear winner. 

After the drink and the pie, we went to the campsite. There were not really sites with a lot of shade under which we could fit our car with rooftop tent, so we took the site with the best view. We then changed and went for the pool. It might have been a good idea to check first, because when we arrived, in swimming gear and with our towels, it turned out that the pool was empty. The restaurant was very hot and we did not find any place to cool off. 

Still overheating, we felt a bit down again. It was not too late, so we considered just leaving again to drive further. We were planning to go to Sesriem, but the campsite we wanted to visit did not show any availability for the same night and we were not able to contact them via phone call. Not really having any idea what to do and still feeling like we were in an oven, we got a bit annoyed (with each other). The place we wanted to visit in Sesriem, was fully booked for the next night and as we could not get in touch with them, there was no way to verify. Either we had to leave immediately (to avoid driving in the dark) and risking having no place to stay, or wait for the next day and then decide. We ended up not really deciding. Emma went to the campsite and Jeroen was still trying to find out options.

Emma's idea clearly seemed to be the best. After some time Jeroen also got back to the campsite, to see Emma in the shade under the lapa with her feet in a big bowl of water. It seemed silly, but it really helped with cooling off. We decided to add some wet towels to put over our faces and with a slight breeze, we finally cooled off, even to the point where we felt a bit cold. With our temperature, also our annoyance went down and we were able to think again. The campsite we wanted in Sesriem was booked, so we had the option of going there the next day and just trying, or going to the official NWR in the park. This campsite had quite some negative reviews on iOverlander and it was quite expensive, but it had one big advantage. Since it was inside the national park we want to visit, we would be able to drive into the park earlier than everyone staying outside the park. We opted to go safe and book the NWR campsite, not think about the costs for this and just accepting this as the best option. 

After dinner we went back to the campsite for an early bedtime. The view of the sunset was beautiful from our site and we saw many stars. We decided to remove the 'roof' of our tent to sleep under the stars. This was something we wanted to do for some time. In the middle of the desert seemed like the best place to do it. No risk of rain and very little light pollution. It turned out to be a wonderful choice and we admired the starry night before falling asleep. 

The next morning, we fell in love with Solitaire at last and of course some wildlife had to do with it. We woke up quite early, since we wanted to try to beat the mid-day desert heat with Gigi and as we were packing our tent, we saw some animals that looked like a combination of ground squirrels and mongooses. We also saw actual ground squirrels hopping around, so it was clear these mutation-like animals were different. We were able to take some nice pictures of them and it turned out there were many yellow mongooses around! Animals we hadn't seen before, so we were quite excited about that. 

Solitaire itself was also much nicer than the day before. There were no people walking through the town and no cars, other than the ones that have been decaying there for some time. Without people shouting in French all around us, we really had time to enjoy the oddities of the town. We took some pictures, had some breakfast with apple pie (still not the best unfortunately) and we went on our way to Sesriem. Obviously the pictures above are from the morning, when we were the only ones wandering around the odd little town. We unfortunately did not feel like taking many pictures when everything was completely packed, as there were cars and people everywhere. 

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