The final day of trekking was always going to an easier one. The plan was for the usual early rise and to complete our journey with a few miles in the morning, finishing up before lunchtime and then a transfer to Swakopmund.
The trek went well, following the Ugab riverbed as it wound between some hills on either side. We were in a single big group for this one and taking a slower pace to make sure everyone stayed together. It felt at this point that the previous day was the real end to the trek and this was just wrapping things up, but it was still a pleasant walk.
Our outstanding support crew had powered on ahead of us and had set up a finishing line. Given everything they had done for us, they still managed to exceed all expectations as we finished the last few steps – with a finishing line set up and champagne corks popping as we crossed the line. Standing in the middle of nowhere in the desert drinking cold champagne at 11am is a surreal experience but one that had been earned by this point.
And with that short morning walk, we had done it. I never did get the final distance covered but expect it to be around the 139km we set out to trek a few days earlier. Although the walking was finished, there was still more to come…
At our finishing spot there was meant to be a coach waiting to take the group on to Swakopmund, where the plan was relaxation for some, skydiving for others, and a group dinner in the evening to celebrate the end of the trek.
With no bus in sight as a couple of hours ticked by, eventually a rickety looking vehicle makes it way towards us with a cloud of dust behind it. Picture a shaky looking bus, wing mirrors held on by cable ties. The driver edged nearer… then for some reason takes a sharp turn, into sand. He was stuck.
It took 45 minutes, pushing from 15 or so people and towing by a jeep to get the bus out of the sand. And when we did get moving, we didn’t get far.
Further down the single track desert road, one of the tyres blows. The driver, who should already have been mortified at his earlier exploits, had no key to access the spare, and no compressor to change the tyre anyway. After a bit of debate, three goes at making it up a small hill (eventually achieved when the bus was given a bigger run up), we were back on our way, minus a tyre.
I snoozed at this point and can’t be sure how long we continued for, but figure it wasn’t more than a mile before the bus came to a halt again. “Everybody off!” The tyre with additional weight on it had shredded. Disintigrated.
Picture the scene… We’re in the desert on a rickety old bus which is now two tyres short. We’re 40 miles from anything. There is no phone signal. There is no hope of anyone passing along this road – potentially for days. There is nothing round about us, not even a bit of shelter to go to the toilet.
While half the group sat down, some in silence, some chatting, the other half took to a makeshift game of rounders, using a water bottle as a bat. We could be stuck for a while.
A couple of guys from the support crew took it upon themselves to fix this – breaking open the door on the bus to access the spare, using engine oil to loosen wheel nuts, eventually managing to change the tyre. It took time but it worked, much to their credit. We were on our way to Swakopmund, albeit many hours later than expected.
The Strand Hotel in Swakopmund was superb and the shower and shave were absolutely spot on – just what was needed after several days in the dusty desert. And dinner and drinks at the Tug was amazing; a fantastic, relaxed atmosphere for the entire group after the exploits of the past few days.
As a final, late piece of drama, we were told that the bus company had screwed up and our transfer to Windhoek airport the following morning would arrive at 5.30am. Being told this as we’re still on our night out with just five hours until the bus arrives is not fun, which meant a hasty end to the night for many to catch a few hours of much-needed sleep. Others hit the town in Swakopmund for the remaining few hours in Namibia.
It felt like a bit of a sad end to the trip as the group numbers dwindled over the next few hours. First off, half of the team were on a connection via Dubai so left on an earlier flight. Others said cheerio at Windhoek airport as they caught connections to elsewhere in Africa to extend their stay. More still said goodbye in Johannesburg to spend a bit of time in South Africa. And for the now much smaller group who travelled from Johannesburg to London, it was a quick cheerio at Heathrow as bags were collected and people went in different directions.
For me, I made my way across London to Stansted to stay the night before catching an early flight for what was a secret trip, organised entirely by my awesome other half with the destination not revealed until a few hours before we were due to take off.
Reflecting on the Namibia trek, initially it was something I was anxious of after signing up but turned out to be something that I found a lot more straightforward than expected. The walking part of it I built up to nicely so had no issues with, and I do a lot of walking anyway. The heat could have floored me but thankfully the temperature peaked in the mid 30s (still too hot!) and cooled towards the end, rather than the relentless, blistering desert heat I was expecting. And spending a few nights camping, with no chance to shower away the sweat and sunscreen, that turned out to be fine.
Most memorably, the scenery and the company were awesome. The chat was fantastic along the way, people helped others who were struggling a bit and it became what felt like a close group towards the end. The scenery was spectacular across an ever-changing landscape varying from absolutely nothing ahead to beautiful, barren desert scenery.
If one picture summed up the trek, it’s the sight of the group walking ahead into the desert with absolutely nothing ahead of us, emphasising how isolated we were out there.