Sand dunes and prop-er engineers
For our first day in the truck we headed out of town to a nearby sand dune called "Dune 7". Despite its name, it's actually the tallest dune in Namibia. A regular stop for tourists and locals, there is a picnic area at the base from which people climb up the dune. It doesn't seem that high but each footstep displaces sand and your foot sinks back. Even a large stride ends up being a relatively small but exhausting step. By the time we had reached the top we realised that we are both thoroughly out of shape. Thankfully Walvis Bay benefits from a near constant wind from the Atlantic to cool down. The view from the top of the dune is impressive and allows one to see both desert and sea. On the adjacent dunes local kids effortlessly play football on the irregular landscape against a backdrop of German tourists farting around on quad bikes in the sand. The way down has the opposite feeling of the way up and one can descend two metres in a casual stride.
We visited the nearby and eponymous mall to pick up groceries and use the free wifi then headed to our camping spot for the afternoon and night on a sand spit beach. We had to pass a shack within which a 'guide' gave us some advice about driving in sand which we ignored and a crude map. We headed along a sandy road on top of a sand spit, water one side and salt the other before reaching a small car port.
The relentless wind and falling temperature drove away the tourists, 4wd enthusiasts, and fisherman in that order and by sunset we had the beach to ourselves. After cooking dinner we read our books and were then gently rocked to sleep by the wind.
The morning brought with it new challenges. In our haste to leave the UK, some jobs and issues with the truck were postponed, to be dealt with in Walvis Bay but we had put thoughts of these to the back of our minds. Unfortunately they were forced back to our attention and another joined the list. We had attempted to turn around just off the road and got stuck in some deep sand. The original tyres on the truck are only 12 inches wide and each one has to support 2 tonnes. I engaged the diff-lock for the first time but the sand proved too much. I was out of the truck, debating between deflating the tyres (a compressor was still on our list) and using wooden planks to back out onto harder sand when a group of eager lads in kitted out 4x4's stopped to help.
They fetched a bungee strap and I opened the jaw of the front tow hitch and put the strap inside. Then I followed tried to follow their instructions and "spin the wheels" as the pickup on the other end of the strap lurched away and jerked to a stop. Eventually the truck was freed, we shook hands and they went on their way. As they left the driver of the pickup was gesturing a whiplash motion to his buddies.
The difflock light remained on despite disengaging it in the cab, reversing a bit and the other usual tricks. The factory warning sticker became brighter. Before the road turned from sand to tarmac we pulled over to investigate. The pneumatic actuator which engages the difflock was depressed and would not return to its disengaged position. It couldn't be pushed up manually either. After some debate I decided that there was too much tension between the front and back axles. Unfortunately our jack wasn't tall enough to lift a wheel off the ground and we needed some blocks but were surrounded only by sand. Instead I decided to remove the rear-prop shaft to release the torsion. I got to the last bolt but was worried about removing it forcefully. Kim found the number of a truck mechanic but I was told that there are no DAF engineers in Namibia and basically TTFO.
Shortly after some real engineers pulled over, they were driving a corolla towards the salt-mine where they presumably worked. The older one asked questions (did I try reversing it? Do I have a jack?) and had a look at the prop shaft. After conversing with his colleage in Arabic, he said he knows a guy who will come and to wait here, and they drove off.
10 Minutes later an extremely tall engineer pulls up, wife in passenger seat. His name is Callie and he wastes no time getting under the truck to look at the problem. We go threough the problem checklist (did you try reversing it? Can you push the actuator manually? Do you have a jack?) and we get to the prop shaft. He starts telling me a story of some colleagues of his who got themselves into the very same predicament. He loosens the nut off the final bolt holding the prop shaft on and goes back to his truck to get a large hammer. "They tried to do the same thing here, now one has no teeth!" he laughs. Then, keeping his distance, whacks the prop shaft with a hammer and it flies loose with violent energy. "See!" he exclaims laughing. I was glad I didn't try to force the bolt out. We manually pushed the actuator then put the prop-shaft back on.
We agreed to come to his workshop later to sort out the other issues, grease the joints etc. We have lunch near a pier in town and wait for his call. Later at his workshop he greases the joints, inspects the diff and gearbox oil by dipping a finger in and smelling it, and gives me a list of places to go for my issues. His yard is full with a huge MAN truck owned by Desert Catering. The chassis has cracked and needs bracing and welding. The owner arrives and, sensing our green-ness, starts listing advice. Carry some spare engine belts, and a tensioner. How many spare tyres have you got? Get another. Have you got a compressor? Get one. etc. Callie and him chat in Afrikaans and then Callie starts listing the places we need to go the next day.
The leaking fuel lines - go to Hyflo.
The snapped intake bracket and wobbly gear linkage- Go to MB engineering
Cummins spares - Namib-diesel.
Tyre pressure valve - Cymot.
"Tell them Callie sent you" were my final instructions. We optimistically figured we could get all these jobs done in a day, but they actually took 3 full days. To save boredom, I can summarise our experience:
Recovery and consulting from Callie: 2 hours and £30
Hyflo: 8 hours, new fuel lines and air hose, £35
Intake Bracket: 2 workshop visits, 2 hours, £20
Gear linkage: 3 hours, £0 ("welcome to Namibia")
Cummins spares: 2 hours, fruitless.
Much cheaper than the avaricious mechanics in the UK and everywhere within a few blocks of each other.
After three days in Walvis bay getting the truck sorted we were ready to get on the move. On our way out of town we stopped at a dilapidated building, paint peeling from the walls and dust covering the "ministry for environment" sign. There was nobody in sight and no front door but round the back there was an open door which led to a series of storeroom-size offices. Sitting patiently at a desk in one of these was a uniformed official (like a park ranger). In the wall was a blued poster from the 90's depicting venomous snakes of Namibia and their regions. It reassured it's readers that "only 50% of snakes in Namibia are poisonous or venomous". We bought a permit from the official who recommended a campsite within driving distance.
We headed out on the tar road, which gradually worsened until it became a corrugated gravel road. The rattling of the truck was un-nerving but we kept our spirits up by telling each other that it was designed for roads like this. A few hours later, we had turned from the main gravel road, to a minor gravel road, to a side road. We stopped seeing cars at the side road and about an hour before sunset, we arrived at a beautiful campsite. Desert vista, with sun-silhouetted trees in the distance. We took some pictures and watched the sun set before cooking dinner and looking at the Southern Hemisphere stars with zero light pollution or clouds.
What an adventure! Very jealous. I haven't converted to instagram so keeping tabs here.
Duely noted ;)
Great blog, keep it coming.
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