As we pull onto the highway away from Windhoek, Namibia, the first car that passes the taxi is a red Honda S2000. My taxi driver scrupulously obeys the speed limit, and we're soon passed again, this time by a black BMW M3 convertible. Then another M3 convertible goes past. The dueling M3s are soon forced to slow down as a crowd of baboons crosses the highway. BMWs negotiating a baboon chicane: Welcome to Africa!
I made a conscious decision to avoid learning anything about Namibia before coming here, so the Bimmers and the primates are both a surprise. Usually you want to prepare for a trip by studying up on your destination, but how often do you get a chance to go to a place about which you have zero preconceptions? So here's what I know about Namibia: It's on the west coast of Africa, the next country up from South Africa. Its currency is the Namibian dollar, which is referred to as the NAD, and one U.S. dollar equals an impressive 7.5 NADs. Finally, BMW holds its X5 Driver Training program there.
The last item is the reason that I'm in a taxi in Africa listening to a local-dialect talk-radio show that sounds like a ping-pong match overdubbed with a lip-smacking competition. The X5 Driver Training program is BMW's way of showcasing the X5's off-road abilities, which is to say that it's BMW's way of showcasing that the X5 has some off-road abilities. Trips are held several times a year and are open to anyone who has roughly $5500 and a keen desire to spend a week abusing X5s in Africa.
When I arrive at our base camp, the Okapuka Ranch, I discover that I'm the last one to arrive and thus get last dibs choosing a vehicle. While there are V-8-powered X5s and twin-turbo-diesel X5s, I wind up with a single-turbo diesel. Boo. Well, how fast can you even go in Africa, anyway? I assume that the single-turbo's 235 hp should be sufficient. But you know what they say about assumptions: when you assume, you eventually get stuck in the sand dunes in Namib-Naukluft National Park because your single-turbo X5 can't pull second gear uphill with the tires aired down. But that's getting ahead of the story.
When we gather 'round the battlewagons the next morning, I find that our group is split between ten or so adventure-minded German tourists and the four Americans of Team Automobile. Photographer John Roe and I are joined by video producer John Jones his production assistant, Kerry. Jones and Kerry have an interesting professional dynamic, owing to the fact that they're married.