How to fly a 4×4 in Namibia

Posted by Tyson Jopson on 26 May 2017

In Namibia, humankind continues its dream of taking to the skies.


Photo by Tyson Jopson.

Now look, I’m not a scientist but as far as my ‘research’ goes the compulsion to fly is one exclusively experienced by humans. No other earthbound creature I’ve met has expressed as much interest in the whole affair. It’s certainly never crossed a dog’s mind; they haven’t even mastered the act of looking up.

It got me thinking (often dangerous, rarely fruitful) about the real reason why we so venerate flight. For a very long time it was the ultimate impossible. And that is what truly separates folk from fauna: a bewildering urge to do what seems impossible. It’s something we’ve developed; an after-market thrill, retrofitted to our DNA, materialising as a stomach full of butterflies and culminating in a lekker story for the braai. The problem is that in our present, carefully kettled habitats there are few moments that elicit that sort of rapture. We have to go find them.

One such moment, one that I’d recommend to everyone and one that I remember with the giddy palpitation you feel just before ordering a Long Island Iced Tea, was on a 4×4 dune tour in the Namib Desert. In her story on page 74, our journalist Melanie van Zyl took me back so wonderfully to the time I joined the very same outfit, Uri Adventures, on the very same tour, to photograph a 4×4 double-cab shoot-out for Leisure Wheels magazine.

There we were, nine brand-new bakkies in a metallic conga line on a desert so silky that it looked like white-gold icing draped over an endless, bumpy cake. At the head of this rather expensive queue was a Nissan Navara. And at the top of the dune, which really looked more like The Wall in Game of Thrones, was a man who would guide us in turning the seemingly impossible task of climbing it into a possibility. His name was Jakkals.

‘Navara, kom,’ rumbled the voice of the man they called Jakkals over our two-way radios. ‘Full speed!’

And that was when we learnt our first lesson: trust. As humans, most of us have a healthy scepticism of people giving us instructions. We still sniff the milk, even though a colleague just told us it was fine; we think the person who writes the assembly manuals for DIY furniture is either a liar or a moron; and when someone shows us how big the gap is between bumper and wall when parking, we only reverse half that distance. Unless you’re my grandmother, who doubles the distance and has taken out two fences and a gate. She has too much trust.

The Navara began its climb, slowly. It’s an adept machine and a great 4×4 but its driver hadn’t applied ‘Full speed’ and, halfway up, it ground
to a halt, wheels churning a shallow grave of shame. Jakkals was back on the radio, ‘Ja nee, Navara. Ek’t gesê “Full speed” hoor.’

Trust: when Jakkals says ‘Full speed’ you go full speed. Jakkals is the kind of person who means what he says and there’s no time for half-arsing in the desert. Reverse engaged, the Navara slunk back to the foot of the dune, where its driver could safely re-evaluate his faith. Next up was the Toyota Hilux – Legend edition.

‘Toyota, kom.’

And boy did that Toyota come. You didn’t need to be in the vehicle to know that the pedal was being pressed so far into the floor, if the driver had applied any more force it would have turned into a scene from The Flintstones. It cruised over the Navara’s grave site like a hovercraft. And then it happened: the most magnificent thing I’ve ever seen in a desert. That bloody Legend crested the top of the dune with such pace that it took off.

It was beautiful, and seminal, like watching an athlete shatter a world record or the Curiosity Rover land on Mars. There, suspended in the air in a two-ton bakkie with blue sky beneath its wheels, was all of humankind’s potential, our desire to reach for the sky, and a driver who stood on that precipice of impossible, hit the gas and really and truly flew.

The next lesson we all learnt from Jakkals was how to stop.


This story originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Getaway magazine.

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Our June issue features a Namibia dune tour, 8 epic Drakensberg hikes, and 22 of the most unbeatable winter deals in SA.


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