IT had started as such a calm evening. Beers at the rather plush campsite bar and a reasonably early night ahead of a pre-sunrise alarm call to head out to the dunes of Sossusvlei.
But at some point in the early hours, the best-laid plans were blown away and we became little more than ballast to prevent our tents flying off across the campsite.
The events of our night at Sesriem are proof, if any is needed, that even this supposedly easier stretch of our Trans African adventure is capable of throwing up the unexpected challenge.
Admittedly, we have been spoiled over the past few weeks with comfortable beds, hot showers, cold beers and usable wi-fi (the complete wishlist of the jaded overlander) outnumbering campsites and even more spartan bush camps.
But my return to life in the mosquito net coincided with a run of nights when the wind whipped up and forced my Moroccan rug to be dug out from the depths of the locker to form a remarkably comfortable, warm cocoon with my unzipped sleeping bag.
Getting out was not always easy as, even with one end tethered to Michael’s tent (my bolthole in the event of rain), it was likely to lift off in a strong gust – ensuring comfort breaks were anything but, undertaken as they were with one foot kept firmly in contact with the other end.
For the first two nights, spent in the latest of a long line of old quarries and on the picturesque banks of a reservoir, cold was more of an issue than the wind, but the rug ensured a decent, relatively toasty night’s sleep – at least until back-to-back early starts, one unwittingly early on breakfast duty after none of us realised Namibian clocks had gone forward while we were in South Africa.
But on the third night, things blew to a whole new level.
The first sign something was amiss came some time after 1am as the first gusts of wind started to blow blasts of sand across the previously serene site, but wrapping myself firmly in the blanket, it was nothing to worry about too much.
Right up until the point when the door of my tent – really just a flap – blew in as the temperamental zip finally gave up its battle with the elements, allowing the first of a constant stream of sand to start building the dune which would form across everything in the tent as the battle began to repair the zip in the escalating wind.
Finally it was forced shut, just about the time that realisation dawned it was only going to open one more time and the need to open it and use the facilities – or as far away as possible with one foot weighing it down – was rising.
Which created an uncomfortable hour or so as, pounded by wind and sand, cries for help broke out around the campsite with anyone in a single tent unable to answer them for fear their tent would be blown back to South Africa.
Eventually, with a 4.30am alarm call still some way off to head up Dune 45 at Sossusvlei for sunrise, it was time to admit defeat, pack up everything as best as possible and, with everything still inside, fold up my tent and carry it (wind assisted) to the nearest toilet block to pack it away in relative calm.
Everyone made it through the night in one piece – although one tent did have a nocturnal flight across the campsite, despite having two people inside – while others slept through the whole thing.
Our reward was a fairly spectacular sunrise as most of the group battled through the wind to the top of the dune – some of us opting for a slightly lower vantage point – and an unscheduled stop at the hugely impressive Sesriem Canyon, before heading back to camp to pick up the straggler who had opted to stay behind and sleep off his rather eventful day and night before.
A far cry from the relative calm and comfort of Cape Town, a city which won many of our hearts and has plenty of plans forming to head back and explore at more length.
Conditions were kind to us throughout most of our stay, providing some amazing views from the top of Table Mountain – certainly much clearer than some of our heads after one or two fairly riotous nights in the bars of Long Street, which comes across as a little bit like Bourbon Street in New Orleans without the jazz, the strip clubs and the dirty streets.
Robben Island provided a fascinating – and refreshingly balanced – view of life in the prison which housed Nelson Mandela for 18 years from a former fellow inmate, while the malls and stores of Cape Town took a battering (along with our trip funds) as we took the chance to refresh our wardrobes and replace the bits and pieces we had lost or broken along the way.*
Bolstered by three new arrivals for the second half of the journey, we waved a sad farewell to Drou, Roxy, Paisley and Saskia, members of the extended truck family, and, most pertinently to Steve, who has driven us down, around, off and into the roads of West Africa.
Steve has been more than a driver, taking on the role of Mr Fix-It, oracle (if you mistakenly chose to believe anything he said), confidante and, most of all, good friend. He will be missed by us all – especially as we shared a slightly warped sense of humour and had the ability to set each other up to deliver punchlines pretty much from day one – after calling time on his overland days and heading back to a simpler (really!?) life Down Under.
His replacement Gareth took no time in becoming part of the group, delivering a masterclass on Namibian diamonds to a bemused bush camp audience which really was not suitable for a family audience.
He has also been busy at the day job, driving us north out of South Africa (via a second stop at the blissful Highlanders, complete with Springbok shots and accompanying dance) and into the vast expanse of Namibian desert and extraordinary natural wonders – such as the vast Fish River Canyon – which mark this country out as something special.
He even dragged a few of us away from the bar (which sort of came with us) and the wi-fi in our weekend base at Swakopmund to experience the sight, noise and, above all, smell of the Cape Cross Seal Colony.
With up to 100,000 seals sprawled along the shore – and around, under and even on the visitor walkway – it is an assault on all of the senses, but well worth the trek half a dozen of us made up the coast.
And it marks just the start of a stretch of the journey crammed with wildlife.
Not just on the truck.
* The last post mentioned me getting into a pair of shorts four inches smaller than my previous ones after my weight loss over the past five months. Getting in was one thing, actually moving in them was another – still a way to go.