We had been talking about Namibia’s Omaruru river for the last three days. I had never seen it but according to Jack the driver and the person who was showing me the ropes, the last he’d heard, it had been rendered impassable by a flash flood.
He feared we would get bogged down in it and with that would come an array of problems. The alternative was: deviate from the original itinerary via a circuitous route and still make it to the Brandberg Lodge, which was the day’s destination, but it would mean more driving and a later arrival.
Jack lent his ears to other drivers on the matter but received no definitive answer, so he called the lodge and the people there assured him that the river bed was dry, as it would be for the rest of the year. His concerns placated, we drove.
The Dry Riverbed
I would have missed it had Jack not pointed it out. The desert road in front of us was the same pristinely graded dirt road we had been driving on for the last 300 kilometers. The only thing hinting that was a history of flowing water was the flatter strip of terrain that intersected the road at a perpendicular angle.
Jack slowed, changed down, and with clenched teeth, drove the truck towards it. The crossing had an immediate effect on the vehicle. The engine note changed and the truck slowed until it stopped, shuddered and refused to move any further. We debarked, clientele and crew alike, and saw that the back wheels were axle-deep and the river sand below the surface was as moist as ever.
Myself, the trainee, the cook, and Jack, got out and started digging immediately. The idea was to clear the sand in front of the back wheels and create gradually gradiented ramps with rocks and branches for traction, that would lead up to road level.
The Stuck Truck
Failure came at the first attempt. The truck’s wheels skidded against the rocks but made no purchase, instead churning up more sand and sinking deeper. We tried again – I delegated the clients into teams, some passed drinking water, and others fetched rocks while the rest of us dug. On the second attempt, Jack floored the gas while twenty souls pushed, but the ten-ton machine sank deeper still – only this time it’s differential was touching the soil.
Jack surrendered to the realization that we were not getting the truck out and needed local help. He hiked in the hot sun that is so characteristic Namibia, to higher ground where he hoped to find a cell phone network. When he returned, he did so with the news that help was on the way.
When help arrived two hours later, it came in the form of two tough-looking Namibians and a Ford Courier pickup. They dropped off a cool box full of coldish beer in the way of greeting and got straight to it. Their equipment wasn’t high-tech, but they were all business. One produced a snatch strap and attached one end to the pickup’s tow bar and the other to a hook on the front of the truck. It became obvious they planned to tow the truck out of the ditch.
Getting Towed Out
As many guests as could fit on the back of the pickup (armed with well-deserved beers) were instructed to alight, and then the process began. The leader of our two technical-looking rescuers started his little beast and Jack started ours, and together they revved and tugged until the big, green, overlanding machine shuddered and succumbed to the smaller vehicles’ efforts.
At dinner that night I welcomed the guests to Namibia for the what was probably the 30th time, thanked them for their participation and gleefully told them that this is exactly what I meant when I said that it was an adventure – not a holiday.
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