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Flat Tire…Bad Spare…Stranded in the Middle of Namibia

Hanging with a Cheetah

Today did not go as planned.

…was how Colin started his daily journal entry. How right he was. That plan involved leaving at 6am, driving 3 1/2 hours to the red dunes in Namibia’s Soussevlei Desert, exploring the park, then, driving back to our lodge where Rhinos and Cheetahs awaited us. And, a swimming pool.

Most of our drive would be on gravel which I could comfortably move at 50 mph in our eight-person van while the locals moved at an unsafe 70 mph. I wasn’t slowing traffic down because in the first three hours we only saw a handful of cars — none going our way. Even during the afternoon peak time we saw a dozen vehicles. This was not a popular route nor a place you wanted to be stranded.

The Road

After visiting the dunes, we filled up on gas at the last town for 160 km (100 miles) and headed home. And I use ‘town’ generously as the nicest food establishment WAS the gas station. To quote a local, “It was a one-horse town and that horse left a long time ago.” How right he was.

All was going well on our drive home until 60km into the trip when I felt the car pull left on this gravel road and heard rubber flapping. The front tire had blown. More specifically, disintegrated. I wasn’t too worried as this is common on these roads. I figured we’d just put on our spare and take it easy for the rest of the way. As my dad removed the wheel, I got the spare and figured we’d be moving within half an hour. How wrong I was.

Hmmm, this isn’t good.

As I set the tire down he looked at me and said it is low on air. I soon realized why when I noticed a hole the size of a quarter in the side-wall. We were in the middle of a 100-mile stretch on a minimally traveled road, in the African sun with a van that wasn’t going anywhere. And, our AAA card was useless. The word “Avis” was then preceded by several inappropriate words.

About 15 minutes later a local, by the name of Harvey, drove up in 1956 beat-up Jeep and asked if we needed help. Yes, we did. Harvey was soon to be my new best friend. My dad and I jumped into his Jeep with our useless spare leaving Audrey, my mom, and the kids on the side of this African road as we searched for a tire. Digging through his garage we found several tires. Unfortunately none fit.

He lent me his phone so I could call Avis and express my dissatisfaction with being sent into the African desert with no functioning spare tire and find a solution to our problem. They said they would get me two tires in about 5 hours. That meant if all went well, our car would be ready to drive at 8 p.m. Too late as driving at night isn’t safe. Roads are hard to see, a lot of animals in the area, and nobody on the road. If something else happened, we’d be spending the night in the car. A few hours later the tire guy arrived — without tires. His plan was to take our two wheels and come back the next morning. Argh!

Soussevlei Sand Dunes

Earlier Harvey mentioned that he had just opened up a B&B for which I said, “I may need a room” half joking. Well, at least I thought I was half joking. Now realizing that we weren’t gonna make it home, I said to Harvey and his wife, Jackquie, that we’d be staying for dinner and needed 6 beds. He said, “No problem.”

All our clothes, toiletries and jammies were back at our lodge 60 miles away as we were only supposed to be out for the day. Fortunately, Decker had packed his blankie for our early morning drive so all was fine according to him. I, on the other hand, wasn’t feeling great.

When cars breakdown, I am like a fish out of water. I am not mechanically inclined so didn’t feel good about our situation. I slept very little that night.  As Audrey has said, “I don’t have to worry because I know you are.” We make a great team. At 8:30 the next morning, our tires arrived and car was fixed. 28 hours after leaving on our day trip, we returned to our lodge.

Harvey, Jackquie, & The Gillettes

Colin’s journal entry was accurate. And while it wasn’t the day I had hoped for, it is all part of this crazy adventure. During this post-Thanksgiving weekend, I am thankful for people like Harvey and Jacquie who stopped what they were doing and made sure we were o.k. This was just another reminder of how wonderful people are all over this world. Fortunately they had no guests and could take us in. But then, even if they were full, I am confident they would have found someplace for us to sleep.

If you ever find yourself near the Soussevlei Sand Dunes in the middle of Namibia, stop by Harvey & Jacquie’s Barking Gecko B&B. You will feel like you are staying with long-time friends.

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Bryan Gillette

Bryan Gillette is the founder and principal consultant for The Summiting Group focusing on Leadership and Organizational Development. He has traveled extensively for both work and personal reasons visiting almost 60 countries and 40 United States. He is an avid runner and cyclist and ran 200 miles around Lake Tahoe in 76 hours as well as cycled across the United States. He recently spent one year traveling the world with his family.

This Post Has 5 Comments
  1. That’s one crazy day (and night and day)! I’m glad everyone is safe and you met new friends. My thinking, but you got to hang with a cheetah. All is good.

  2. We love reading your posts. I think about you all often as I pass by your home here walking the dog. But as I read your posts there is a feeling more and more that the world is our home and we are all connected and taking care of each other. If we are not taking care of each other, we all suffer. Thanks so much for taking the leap and all the chances for plans to fail to demonstrate to us all that living within the world and not just your own backyard is more than possible!! Many more crazy adventures to you all and may they all be safe!! Xoxo -Gia and family

  3. Dayna and I spent some time with our friend Jeam in/near Nairobi, Kenya. We were to visit his brother who owns and operated a tea farm. The car to get there looked good but was held together by bailing wire. . . There was no such thing as a repair garage. We made it at last. . . Csrs in Africa are an adventure!!

  4. What an adventure but the peoples of Africa are just wonderful – all of them! Of course, you are also blessed. Stay safe and keep sharing these stories.

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