On the second day of an otherwise fabulous vacation, I took a wrong turn. The much bigger problem than the mistake itself was that this wrong turn was straight off the only road running through a nameless arid expanse of the Namib Desert in Namibia. This was long before mobile devices and navigation systems were standard (do you really need navi in a country with 6 main roads?).
About 50 meters off the gravel road (pictured) that served as the region’s highway, our sturdy pickup truck sank soundly into the soft desert sand. Had we bothered to ask the car agency for a quick tutorial on the truck’s unique all-terrain features? Um, no. We just jumped in and started down the road on vacation, confident we’d figure all that out when we really needed it. My husband and I got out of the truck, quickly looked around for any animals that might try to eat us, and then had a very loud discussion of blame and counter-blame. It didn’t matter how loudly we argued; the Namib was a vast moonscape devoid of people, buildings – and water. It offered no mercy.
How did we get here? We had booked our vacation through an agency in Germany that had a good reputation for planning tours in Namibia – complete with bed-and-breakfast bookings, day tours, language services, and a very reliable map (after all, only 6 roads, right; what could go wrong?). The agency was well rooted in the region and routinely vetted all of its recommendations and routes. The problem was we detoured from the main road to take a shortcut through a creek bed that was recommended in our backpacker’s guidebook. This was supposed to save us all sorts of time. It was dumb to listen to the advice of a few adventuresome trekkers talking it up in a guidebook instead of sticking to our agency’s map. More to the point, does anyone really know what a creek bed in the desert looks like? Pretty much like every other pile of rock and dust. We made the turn where we did only because the road dipped and we thought a creek bed should run through a dip in the earth, right?
Now as I stood next to the road, I contemplated one thing: my basic survival. I decided that’s all I wanted out of the situation. In the hour that we stood there under the African midday sun two cars passed by us, looking at us with puzzlement as they drove on. Finally, we were picked up by Wesley and Adele, a gregarious retired couple from Durban who were on tour. They took us to the nearest village, which was 26 miles away. From there, two local men drove us back to our marooned truck and assessed the situation (“Really? You got this [truck] stuck? How did you do this?” one asked in sincere bewilderment as he stroked his chin). Then, with a quick adjustment of the external locks on the wheels, they were able to drive the truck out of the sand and back onto the road. The world was right again, thanks to the kindness of strangers. We took the men back to their homes and were on our way again.
About a half mile down the road from where we got stuck we spotted the real creek bed. Forget that, we said. This time we were sticking to the main road. We arrived at our inn many hours late into the night. The innkeeper, a local of German descent, told us he was just getting ready to go out looking for us. He had a pretty good idea of where we might be; two Dutch tourists had just made the same mistake the week before. Contemplatively, he said, “I’d thought about putting a sign out at that spot.”
Sometimes the sound guidance of someone who knows the local trails can save you a lot of unnecessary trouble. SAP puts its own signpost in the road with a new partner program – helping you to avoid getting stuck on the road less traveled. Read about it in SAP.info: SAP Partners Bring in Leads.
I took two lessons from my experience: Always lock your wheels in the Namib and follow the guide you trust.