Monday, February 21, 2011

Solitaire, together (Part 2)

When we last left you, it was New Year's Eve, and we had just pulled over to the side of the road in Middle of Nowhere, Namib-Nauklaft Desert. Our fan belt was broken and we were stuck.

We hopped out of the car and checked for snakes in the high grass. The loud buzz of desert beetles was ominous, but we had plenty of drinking water. I checked the fish--still frozen.

Less than a minute after we pulled over, we flagged down the first car that passed us. In it was a friendly Portuguese family of tourists. They offered us water. We had plenty. They offered us petrol. We had plenty of that, too. The dad offered to tow us to the next town, even though their car was only 2WD. The mom tried to dissuade the dad, in Portuguese.

Luckily, the conversation was moot because a minute later, a huge truck drove by. They pulled over, hitched our car to theirs like they'd done it a thousand times and we were on our way.

(Our view for the next 45 minutes)

We had to keep the car turned off, which meant no a/c. And we couldn't open the windows because clouds of suffocating dust would blow in. A rock shot up and cracked D's front windshield. We were trapped and sweating buckets. Feeling useless, I took it upon myself to make sure we all stayed hydrated, even if the water we had was warm and unappetizing.

The truck driver and his companion towed us to the nearest town, a little rest-stop called Solitaire. It was about 80 km north of Sossusvlei, where we were headed. He dropped us off near the gas station and we climbed out.

We waved at the Portuguese family eating lunch at the little restaurant next to the gas station. They waved back.

(Um...okay, I guess.)

We got the car looked at by a couple of mechanics who had a small repair shop there. They didn't have the right size replacement fanbelt. We called a tow company in Windhoek--it would cost $600 to be towed. Not to mention that it was New Year's Eve and they weren't willing to tow us for a couple of days. We talked to a Land Rover parts store in Windhoek. They'd send us the fanbelt but were we sure it was just the fanbelt and not the wheel that had seized? They were right. The wheel had seized because the bearing was shot (hey, you'd know a lot about Land Rovers, too, at this point). We talked about getting a tour company to drive us to Sossusvlei for the day, but it was expensive and we decided it wasn't worth it. Our car was broken and we weren't going to see the famous dunes of Sossusvlei. We were feeling kinda down.

Then it started to rain.

(Drizzle on Tando's hood--D's car is named "Tando," not sure if I mentioned that.)

Did I mention we were in the desert?

(Someone does a really poor job of filling out this chart, but I gather it does not rain much in Solitaire.)

We were feeling pretty darn sorry for ourselves. But then, the rainclouds lifted. We put up our tents and lit some coals to grill the miraculously still-cold fish. The sun started to set.

(D slept in the small tent and A and I slept in the huge tent. We were carrying jerrycans of petrol in the trunk, and they spilled all over D's sleeping bag and our sleeping pad, so our tents basically stank of petrol. Also, we were highly flammable.)

(Oh wait a minute, it's really beautiful here.)

(I really do wear that shirt a lot! Also, take stupid pictures!)

We got some beers and even a tiny bottle of champagne at the town general store, and started to slow down to the Solitaire pace of life.

(Beautiful sunsets. Grilled fish. Beer. If we'd meant to end up here, it would have been charming.)

That night, we also ran into A's Doris Duke friend and her family, whom we'd seen in Swakopmund. They were on their way to Windhoek the next day and offered to take one of us to the Land Rover store to get the parts we needed. We didn't know how said person would get back so we declined.

The guy who seemed to run most of Solitaire threw a big party that night for New Year's. Lots of people were up late dancing. A and I fell asleep, actually, but we woke up at midnight to light sparklers and drink champagne.

(A ran around waving his sparkler like a kid with a sparkler.)

We woke up the next morning and set out to explore Solitaire. We walked through a flock of peacocks (no idea why there were peacocks) and started our day with breakfast at the surprisingly delicious bakery. Apparently, it is famous for its apple pie. They also had excellent filter coffee (aka REAL coffee). We started to loosen up a bit.

(Thank god for this place.)

(Really good scones, too.)

The bakery was awesome, not only because of the baked goods but because of the eccentric owner and head baker, Moose McGregor (doesn't that sound like a character from a children's book?). Moose was alternately rude and overly friendly, both snapping at me and insisting I check out the burn he'd gotten that morning--on his (rather large) belly.

(Charming Solitaire.)

Probably the saving grace of Solitaire, even more than the bakery, was the pool. Technically, it belonged to the small hotel, where we were not staying, but we figured our situation earned us access. We spent most of our time there.

(I read one and a half books in those lounge chairs.)

On our second full day in Solitaire, we started to get bored. What time was it? Why was it so hot? Was there any cold water? Should I get some ice cream? What's the point of it all?

After two nights in Solitaire, growing increasingly antsy, we were planning to get towed the next day. We were eating breakfast in the bakery, when D started up a conversation with a guy from Swakopmund, also a Land Rover owner, named Charles, who was passing through. Charles told us we were crazy to get towed, and that his son surfed with someone who worked at the Land Rover parts store in Swakopmund and when he got there he would send the part down to us via a tour company. It was a big risk to stay another day and wait for the part, but we decided to put our trust in Charles.

A few minutes after we said goodbye to Charles, the Portuguese family came to the bakery. They were on their way back from Sossusvlei. They could not believe we were still there.

The next day we sat nervously by the gas station, waiting for the tour company to bring the parts. There were so many things that could go wrong--Charles not delivering the order, the store not having the right parts or being closed, the tour company not getting the parts to bring down, the parts not actually fitting onto the car. But amazingly, it all worked out. The bush mechanics fixed us up, free of charge.

That night we tried to celebrate by making homemade pizza over an open fire with bread from the bakery and sauce and cheese from the general store. It did not work.

(The general store where I sat and used the wifi. Of course they had better internet access in Solitaire than we do in our apartment.)

But we didn't even care! We were going home! After five days and four nights in Solitaire, we were finally free! drive to Windhoek, over bad roads and frightening cliffs, and then another 12 hours to Gabs.

And from that day on, Solitaire always held a special place in our hearts as somewhere we never, ever wanted to go to again.



  1. Did people drink the other beers off that sign because it's so hot there?

  2. We all had fun talking to you in Solitaire while we were in La Jolla. Cool to see the pictures now.

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