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Technology Detox - Crossing the Namib on a Guided 4x4 Tour


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I have just returned from my third trip to Namibia, after 2004 and 2006 another two weeks in this former Germany colony. The first seven days were spent with what the operator calls a "technology detox" tour - crossing the Namib Desert from east to west, from Solitaire to Walvis Bay on a guided 4x4 trip. Close to 96 hours without any contact to any other human beings, except your fellow tour members and moreover, 96 hours without any phone or internet connection (of course, for cases of emergency the guides carry a satellite phone).


Now I am not going to write a trip report, not even a short summary,@Ritsgaaihas pretty much said all there is to say about this tour

and those who search will find quite a few vlogs on YouTube. However, since the trip @Ritsgaai participated in was compromised solely of South Africans (which seems to be the norm, not the exception), I would like to point out a few things to consider if one of our non-South African members (like me) contemplates a similar adventure.



Edited by ice
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Operator and Rental Car Companies


I was told that only two or three operators have the rights to cross the Namib and from what little research I did, that seems to be true. To my understanding @Ritsgaai was very satisfied with the service LiveTheJourney offered, so I chose to book with them, too.




Now obviously all the South Africans who book tours like these will come along in their own vehicles, whereas I decided that my personal vehicle, well-equipped for speeds and conditions on our autobahns, might not be the ideal car for crossing some of the highest sand dunes in the world, hence I was kind of forced to book a rental car


Tempo auf Autobahnen: 30 Prozent schaffen 200 km/h - firmenauto


Again, it seems like only a handful of Namibian Rental Car Companies allow their vehicles to be taken out on this tour (forget about 20 km/h max on low range) and Africa on Wheels is one of them. In fact, on their webpage they advertise with a photo that was obviously taken on one of the desert tours




Mind you, LiveTheJourney will help you arrange the rental because obviously they have year long liaisons with these companies. 


However, most of us know that a lot South Africans are crazy about their cars - those on my tour and those I met on safaris in places like the KTP certainly were. Half the time they talk about engines and tire pressures and what not, whereas I consider a car simply a mode of transportation...me, I'd have a hard time telling you the power of engine or the pressure of the tires of my German car. At the "high end", on our desert tour we had what was described to me as follows:


Modified Jeep Wrangler with 6.2L Hemi Hellcat engine with supercharger. Kicks out 707hp or 512kW. 8-speed Automatic transmission


I have a general idea about what all these specifications mean, you South Africans around here will certainly understand the finer details. The point I try to make is: with a rental vehicle like mine, a Land Cruiser 79 with 110 kW (if I am not mistaken) you are seriously underpowered.






I (obviously) did not know that when I made my rental car booking but even if I had, I am not sure African on Wheels could have / would have provided a stronger engine. On some parts of this trip, especially those moments the guides call "playtime", it is all about engine power, speed and momentum - if you don't have it, you are not going to make it, simple as that.




That, in the distance, is the a.m. Jeep Wrangler, crossing one of the playground wholes. Before the ascent on the other side you will need a speed of at least 80 km/h, better even more...which brings me to my next point.

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Type of Transmission


Our convoy consisted of 14 vehicles, twelve tourist cars, one car for the lead guide and one recovery car. Out of these fourteen cars twelve had automatic transmissions. Unfortunately mine was one of of the two with a manual stick shift. I say "unfortunately" because, as pointed out before, for countless times on trips like these the answer to the question if you are going to conquer a certain dune or depression will solely depend on the speed and momentum you are able to build up.


On this depression pictured above you will need all the speed you can get, meaning that without an automatic transmission you must (in low range!) manually shift from probably 2 to 4 and that as fast as possible. "Fast" is obviously prone to mistakes - while trying to switch from 3 to 4, for less than a second I could not find the correct position for the stick shift (in a car I had never driven before) and that was the end of it, no chance to master the ascent, whereas most of the cars with automatic transmissions sailed through it and thus obviously had blast.


Again, I am not sure if my provider would have offered me a rental car with automatic transmission, had I known about the huge advantage in this kind of environment, but it is certainly something I would push to get, did I consider a similar trip in the future.



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Language Barrier


As you also all well know, (white) South Africans tend to talk too each other in Afrikaans and so do a lot of Namibians. If you do not speaks Afrikaans, on a tour like that you will as sure as the sun rises in the east, sooner or later be left out in conversations, especially when folks talk to each over the radio. Our guide Rudi did his best to try and remember to relay is instructions in English (and some of these instructions are really important) but even he forgot sometimes (for which I don't blame him). 


For me, this was not really a problem, not even around the campfire or the breakfast tables, more like a nuisance, I just felt I should mention it.




This and that


Tours like these are all about flexibility. Unlike @Ritsgaai our did not start in Solitaire but one night earlier in the Tsauchab River Lodge, where the plan was for the guides to gather all participants up and then give a lecture about what to except as well as the do's and do not's.




However, the guides arrived late (which seems to be the norm, according to the folks at the Lodge) and half of the participants decided to have dinner in the camp and not with the rest of the group at the dining room, so the talk of the talk was given in the Desert, before we entered the dunes.


What I am trying to say is: I am sure if your flight details would make it impossible to join the group at Tsauchab, I am 100% sure you could meet the following day at Solitaire.




To sum it all up:

If you are a South African or a Namibian, the trip report of @Ritsgaaitells you all there is to know. If you are not

  • try to get a rental car with as much power as possible
  • try to get a rental car with automatic transmission
  • be prepared that you will most likely be the only person who does not speak Afrikaans
  • be prepared that you will get stuck or have to try more often than drivers with more powerful engines and / or automatic transmissions

Also, me personally I would only attempt to do this trip in the winter months. Even in July we had temperatures around or above 30°C / 85°F. One the final day my AC died on me and to open the windows instead was usually not an alternative, because of all the dust and sand the cars in front of you stir up.




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Very interesting @ice. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. 

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Thanks for this @iceit did two things for me.

Reminded me of how much I love self drive in Namibia and convinced me that wild horses, with mega brakehorses or kW, could not get me to sign up for a trip like that.

My occasional drives in the sandy bits are for enjoying the tranquillity and remoteness.:o

Gawd! , Some even brought their kids with them. 

 Well done you for sticking it out.

Edited by Galana
added text.
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actually, there were quite a few trips on this trip, almost ten, ranging from 7 months to seventeen years. But I agree, a baby that can barely walk should have been left at home.

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I've only looked at your intro photo so far, that's a badass cat!


Now I've checked out the rest. You picked a good time of the year for your detox.  Thanks for the vehicle tips.

Edited by Atravelynn
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  • 4 weeks later...
On 7/28/2022 at 7:54 AM, ice said:

Modified Jeep Wrangler with 6.2L Hemi Hellcat engine with supercharger. Kicks out 707hp or 512kW. 8-speed Automatic transmission

Wow! Any remarks about how thirsty such a beast is?!

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10 hours ago, xelas said:

Wow! Any remarks about how thirsty such a beast is?!


no, never asked. I know though that they also "only" carried two extra jerry cans of diesel

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  • 1 year later...

You raise some interesting points @ice.


Some thoughts from my side: this particular trip is less about nature, and more about vehicles and driving, and a lot of the people who do it are "petrol heads" first and may not have any interest in nature.

So while I don't for one minute dispute that lots of South Africans (and Namibians) are "petrol heads", there are other tours that are more nature-orientated there would be somewhat more balanced fireside conversation. Unfortunately you will still have the language problem, because as you say we do tend to lapse into our home language.


As you have said, power is important in this type of driving. However, a lighter vehicle will also fare better. If I had to do it in a hired car in Africa on Wheels' lineup, I would hire the 2.8l Hilux without the roof-top tent, and just take a small 2-person hiking tent, and most nights I would probably just sleep outside, next to the car. Apart from the wind, this is the ideal opportunity to do that, and you will probably never see more stars than by doing that. I see that it is also available in automatic. 


A sideways comment about the big Jeep: that vehicle was almost certainly modified especially for this trip. That engine is a petrol engine, not diesel, and would probably get around 2-3km/l of fuel when going hard in the sand. I bet it has long-range tanks installed everywhere they can be made to fit. The owner probably does the trip every year.


While this is certainly a trip that is on my personal bucket-list, I think there is a very good reason very few overseas tourists sign up for it.

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