The end of the road, at least for our Safari
First thing to remember, is that it could have been worse. A lot worse.
Was this the good deed that saved us? Irrespective lets start there.
Sat-nav / watch log data for beginning of day. We left the Brandberg White Lady Lodge at 07:37:49 and retraced our steps to the C35. On Google Maps 21°01'19.2"S 14°40'58.8"E or -21.022000, 14.683000 and on Garmin S21°02.757' E14°42.298'.
We had left the Brandberg White Lady Lodge and decided not to follow the possible sightings of Desert Elephant along the Ugab River, which was of course, just a dry river bed. Not because of worries about flash floods but more about getting stranded without any off road equipment or any other traffic. How many days would it be before we were found if we got stuck in the river bed. The host at the lodge thought it would be a good route, but we were not so sure.
We kept to the road. Just after we joined the D2139 we crossed the river bed we could have driven along. We stopped and looked for evidence. Indeed there was evidence of recent elephant activity. They had already passed us by, so unless there was more than one herd moving along that particular river bed, we would not have seen them. It was a nice change to see so much green vegetation. Never mind, there would be more opportunity at Palmwag.
Our good deed was at the junction of the D2139 where it joined the main road. All things of course being relative. The main road was still a small corrugated dirt track, just not as small as the previous one. There was a woman standing in the shade of some empty stalls, in the middle of nowhere, gesticulating for a drink. It was about mid 30s C in the shade, but much hotter in the sun. Writing this, much latter, and looking on Google Maps satellite image there was a very small community not very far away which would explain the tables set near the road, presumably for locally produced goods to be sold to tourists, in the high season. Now this is not that much of a good deed. not sufficient to crow about, but maybe, just maybe, it made a difference. Little acts of kindness, and all that. We stopped, and gave her a bottle of water. We don't carry much food as it was always provided by the lodges we stayed at. We may have given her an apple as well as the water. She was amazingly grateful for the water. We joined the road and continued towards our rendezvous at Palmwag.
Our next night stay was due to be under canvas, away from normal habitation. We were due to meet our guides at 15:00 at Palmwag. We would leave our car and go into the bush. According to the itinerary, 'Here you will leave your vehicle and be met by the guide from Etendeka, who will drive you the final 18km into the middle of one of the most remote and beautiful areas in Namibia. Etendeka is a legendary eco camp where you can enjoy the total solitude, the magnificent scenery and with luck Damaraland’s famous desert lions, elephants and black rhinos along with all the usual plains game.' As it was we were doing OK and would still have time for lunch at Palmwag before the meeting time. There have been good things said about lunch there.
Driving at normal speeds for dirt corrugated roads, well within the speed limit, we approached an easy bend on a slight rise. Similar to many before it. There was a road sign to give warning of the bend, again not unusual. However, this time the car and the road decided to have a falling out, a bit of a spat, for no apparent reason. It started with rear end step out which became a spin. That was controlled to an extent, but the straight line it settled on was unfortunately not the same as the road. The path can just be seen on the photo looking back towards the bend.
It had set its course towards the desert scrub beside the road. That would be OK you would have thought, it was a 4 x 4 and should be able to cope with a little off roading. However, the side cast created at the edge of the roads by the graders, is less soft than one might have suspected or hoped. Instead of a bumpy leaving of the road going over the hump of the berm, it became flying lessons in the desert. A crash course in flying, in a car, in a desert, is not recommended.
A mangled car was the result.
That is pretty much the end of the bad news. However is is still not an easy article to write and will probably take awhile.
It could have have been worse, but of course it could have been better. No disagreement between tyre and dirt would have been much better. Even a slight rear end step out. There was even a minute moment where the car was again travelling along a straight trajectory. Unfortunately not along the same line as the road. A tweak of the steering wheel to correct the angle? Just right, or back end into the side cast, followed by another spin, or a sideways roll over the berm. Break heavily to reduce speed whilst in a straight line? Was it totally straight? Either way, it would be a nose down, approach to the rapidly closing grader side cast. An approach with minimum suspension when maximum was required. So, in that minute moment I choose to bump over the side cast and stop in the desert. Then check if it was all caused by a blow out. Look round for any damage. Relax for a while and then drive back onto the road and continue our journey.
[Placeholder for GoPro video of accident, if I decide to publish it]
Contrary to conventional wisdom, David being thrown out of the car was for the best. He landed several yards away from where the car eventually stopped. Yes, he was injured upon meeting with the rock strewn desert at speed. However, when sat in the car seat his head was almost against the roof. There is a distance between the seat and the roof which is almost the same as the length of David's spine and head. That distance was considerably reduced in the accident.
By not being in the seat ...
As the dust settled, but wait, I don't recall any dust. As I write this I realise that perhaps I did lose consciousness. Up till this time I always thought it was only David. In fact, thinking about it I don't recall anything after leaving the road, until I look around and see that David is missing. I look around outside the car, and terrifyingly see David slumped motionless on the rock strewn desert behind me. I shout "Are you OK?" David replies, "I could do with some help." Relief. I tried to get out of the car, but was trapped inside. I thought about crawling out of the broken back cab window. Logic won fortunately, and I avoided getting stuck and lacerated by the remaining glass in the frame that I was far too big to fit through. David stood up and limped the 20m or so to the back of the car and climbed onto the now horizontal tail gate. The canopy / hardtop had flown off during the acrobatics and the tailgate opened itself. As soon as he had clambered on, he was off again, and laid himself down on the lumpy desert floor, but under the shade of the tailgate.
We could not see each other, and I don't recall talking about our respective injuries. We did talk about how long we might have to wait before anyone drove along the road, and how we might attract their attention.
In some countries car wrecks are left on the side of the road. Sometimes due to a lack of interest, or apathy, and at other times, as a specific policy, part of the warnings to other drivers to be more careful. Some places even build concrete plinths and place the mangled cars on them to further reinforce the message. I suspect that Namibia is more into clearing away the remnants of any accident and recovering anything of value. This could prove to be in our favour as we might be noticed. We were about 50m away from the road but in plain sight.
The drivers side window was shattered so I could put my hand out and wave vigorously at any passers by. I was still trapped in the car, in the driver's seat.
We were concerned that, based on the traffic we had seen before, that it might be over an hour before anything drove by. That was a long time in that temperature. David had a Garmin Activity Watch and the strap broke on a rock as he landed. The watch itself did not break, just the strap lugs. It sat in the sun where it had fallen. It continued to move time forward, to metaphorically tick, and recorded various metrics, including the temperature. It hit 67deg C before the watch was found and put in the shade. That is hot. It is just over 150 F.
On 4 Sep 2016 - Daylight Saving Time started in Namibia. Clocks, camaras, sat-navs all seem to record different times which need adjusting to make sense of the sequence of events. In 2016 Namibia was in the West Africa TimeZone and used DST. So, on the 7th Nov 2016 WAT was UTC+1 plus another 1 hr for DST = UTC+2. Since then, on the 24 October 2017 Namibia changed its TimeZone to Central Africa Time CAT with no offset for DST making it continually UTC+2. The closeup of the watch shows a timer of 6:13:16 in the below photo, which after starting at 07:37:49 is 13:51:05 GMT or 15:51:05 WAT with DST. The camera time of the photo was 17:01:21, which was adjusted to 16:01:21. A reasonable correlation with just a 10 min 16 sec diferencial.
At 12:08:08 GMT from the sat-nav and the watch tracker, 14:08 local or 2:08PM, on 7th November 2016 we had hit the end of the road for our Namibia Safari in a dramatic and terrifying way in just 13 seconds, and we just had to wait immobile at 20°2'26.377" S 14°2'49.833" E.
According to Google Maps we were 20km past Bergsig, a tiny place we hardly noticed, but apparently the Torra Converency capital. Only 18km away from our 2:30PM lunch at Palmwag.
We were lucky, again. After about 15 minutes, or so it seemed, a car approached from Palmwag direction, I waved frantically, and miraculously it stopped. That was the beginning of our rescue. Actually, using times from camaras and sat-navs and making appropriate adjustments for different TimeZone settings, it was at 14:28, just 20 minutes after the accident. Very, very fortunate.