Travels with V
The loneliest place in the desert
We’re now in the toughest part of our entire Namibian journey. From Walvis Bay there is first the desert, dry, flat, without hope. When that finally ends there is a rollercoaster ride through weird mountains where the roads are so bad it must be a national low record. We drive at just 20-25 km/hour and our kidneys almost shake loose.
Feeling like ice cubes in a shaker we finally leave the mountains and drive down to more flat lands again. Turning south we pass the Tropic of Capricorn, which is kind of exciting, that’s not something you do every day!
Two hours later we spot some buildings way out in the sea of sand. As we drive closer we see an iconic windpump towering over some rusty car remains. Most of all it looks like something out of a western movie. On the map this is just a tiny dot, aptly named “Solitaire”.
Solitaire is the most unlikely place, a waterhole in the middle of nowhere. And that’s just what it was for many years since the last farmer abandoned it in 1968. By then it had a petrol station and a shop. Today there’s also a bakery and café, a lodge and a restaurant and a tyre repair shop. According to most sources on the internet this development just sort of happened, but the dutch film maker and writer Ton van der Lee (see below) writes about a series of dramatic events that helped create today’s success story. Of course everybody passing stops here, they have to. It’s the only petrol station between Windhoek and Sossusvlei.
Ton van der Lee came to Solitare by coincidence in the early 1990’s, when he was searching for some deeper mening in life. He had no plan but when he came to Solitaire he stayed for three years. He was in the company of two other white men who had tried, but failed to make a living here. They didn’t even have enough money to buy petrol for the pump. But Ton was an entrepreneur type and started a camping site. More and more tourists turned up, so they expanded the place with a restaurant and it just went rolling from there. In the end it was so busy that Ton had to go away to be able to fulfil his dream about the solitude of the wilderness.
There is some wildlife even in Solitaire. You’ve already seen the yellow mongoose, and there are also chipmunks, small birds and enormously irritating flies that are hellbent on crawling up your nose. It’s their season now, we’re told. Everybody in Solitare is beating the air in front of their faces.
One of the pioneers that was here when Ton arrived was Percy Cross McGregor, a big friendly fellow that later started the bakery. He was legendary and apparently made the best apple pie in southern Africa. “Moose” as he was called, died in 2014, but he’s still in the bakery, looking down from a wall in the café where they serve you Namibia’s best coffee.