Southern Africa Road Trip: A Flat Start

(This is the second post in our Southern Africa Road Trip Series. Feel free to start at the beginning: Let’s Road Trip Through Southern Africa!)

Our road trip through Southern Africa got off to a rocky start. First, we had a few problems picking up the camper: we were running late, the company staff couldn’t get the camper door opened, there was no GPS, and the weather was terrible. We spent our first night in a campsite just outside of Cape Town where it was about 40 degrees, windy, and raining.

Because we were rushed when picking up the camper, we didn’t get a full demonstration on how to attach the rain cover to the pop-out bed, just a quick “You’ll pop it out, the rain cover is here, it slips right on, you’ll see.” Well, it didn’t quite work like that. In fact, the rain cover slips on but is then supposed to be pulled taut with a few metal poles that were missing, so the cover just kind of draped over the top of our bed and collected water. Because the cover wasn’t completely waterproof, the pool of water slowly dripped through to the canvass roof of our pop-out tent, which then slowly dripped through onto us inside. Coupled with the cold (we could see our breath inside the camper), this made for a very long night.

We awoke to slightly better weather in the morning and realized that the campsite next to us was occupied by this behemoth:

Izzie, a 34 year-old refrigerator truck that has been converted for long-term travel.

Izzie, a 34 year-old refrigerator truck that has been converted for long-term travel.

We lingered around while waiting for the rain cover to dry a little in the sun, hoping to meet the people who were driving the thing. Just before we left, our delay tactics and borderline stalking paid off as we caught one of the owners walking back to the truck from the bathrooms. The occupants are a Belgian couple who are driving their 34 year-old converted refrigerator truck, named Izzie, around the world. We only talked for a few minutes, but they are obviously awesome so we encourage you to check out their Facebook Page and their Blog.

After seeing Izzie, we no longer thought of our vehicle as “large” which took away some of the mentally daunting part of the trip. Sure it’s bigger than other cars I’ve driven, but it’s no Izzie and if they can drive around in that beast, I can surely handle this little pickup truck. And handle it, I did. We drove as planned to Springbok, near the border of Namibia without any major problems besides road construction that stretched for about 100 miles which seriously slowed us down. We were hoping to arrive in Springbok around 4:00pm so we could get our bearings before the sun set, but due to the construction, we didn’t arrive until closer to 7. Oh well.

The open road in Southern Namibia

The open road in Southern Namibia

As we approached the town, we were looking for the campsite using the directions we were given: “About 3km outside Springbok, you will see our sign.” That was the extent of our directions and we didn’t have a GPS (thanks, Zebra Camper Hire!), so we turned on our brights and kept watch for a sign reading “Namastat Lodge & Caravan Park”. The town came and went with no sign so we drive 5k up the road past the town, thinking maybe “3k outside Springbok” meant “to the north”. After 5k of driving, still no sign. We called for directions, and Danielle had the following conversation with the person who answered:

Danielle: “Hi, we’re in Springbok and looking for the campsite. We know you are 3k out of town, and we’re on the N7, but can you tell us if you are 3k north or south of Springbok?”

Lodge: “That depends – which city are you coming from?”

Danielle: “Uh, I don’t know, but I just need to know if you’re north or south of Springbok.”

Lodge: “Ok, which city are you coming from?”

Danielle: “I don’t know – why is that relevant? Where I’m coming from has no bearing on whether you’re north or south of town.”

Lodge: “Ok, which city are you coming from?”

We eventually received the extremely helpful directions that “You just stay on the road for Springbok and we are 3k outside. You will see our sign.” We had seen signs for other campsites, so we decided to just cut our losses and head to one of those. We arrived at a decent place that was about the same price, cooked dinner, and promised ourselves that we’d arrive at our next stop prior to sundown to make things like this easier.

The next morning we headed into Springbok proper and bought some more food and other supplies, including a GPS that cost $189 (thanks, Zebra Camper Hire!). This took a little longer than we had expected, but our drive wasn’t going to take long and we figured we’d have plenty of time to make it to our campground at Ai-Ais, Namibia before the sun set. Everything went right that day right up until the point where it didn’t.

When we were about 3 miles from our campsite with the sun still shining brightly above the canyon walls, we were high-fiving and celebrating our first fully-successful day of the road trip. Right around that time, I noticed that the car was starting to pull to the right pretty hard, so I pulled over to the side of the gravel road we were on and took a look at the tires. The back right tire’s sidewall had blown out, and what was left was absolutely shredded (we’d later learn that the tire was probably overinflated – thanks, Zebra Camper Hire!) We had about 45 minutes until sunset and were tantalizingly close to our campsite, but our hopes of getting there and setting up in the light were pretty much shot, now.

Our poor tire.

Our poor tire.

Changing the tire as the sun sets and the moon rises. Gorgeous scenery for a tire change, though!

Changing the tire as the sun sets and the moon rises. Gorgeous scenery for a tire change, though!

The truck had two spare tires, one underneath it and one up on top of the cab. The one underneath had barely any tread left (thanks, Zebra Camper Hire!) and wasn’t the same size as our other tires, so we chose to use the one on top of the cab which, while also not the right size (thanks, Zebra Camper Hire!), at least looked to have plenty of tread. Getting the tire down was no easy feat because it easily weighed 65 pounds, was awkwardly large, and I couldn’t get my body into a position to lift with anything but my outstretched arms. After 3 minutes of effort, I managed to get it down. Removing the destroyed tire and jacking up the truck went smoothly, Danielle had sourced some big rocks to act as blocks for the tires, and after 40 minutes of labor, we had switched the tires.

Then came the hardest part – after spending all that energy getting the tire down, getting the car jacked up, removing the flat tire, putting on the new tire, and tightening the 6 lug nuts, we had to lift the (bigger, heavier) destroyed tire up onto the cab of the truck. Because of the way I had to stand to reach the top of the truck, I couldn’t simply lift it myself, so Danielle helped and although she’s not much of a weightlifter she “baby-under-a-car’d” the thing up to me so I could haul it up onto the roof. Exhausted and feeling like I just completed some kind of ridiculous crossfit-type workout (side note: Alex, when we get back to San Diego, we obviously need to sign up with Fit2Ripped), we climbed back in the truck just as the sun finished setting and rolled into the campsite in the dark.

Continue onto the next post in this series: Southern Africa Road Trip: Our Luck Changes

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