Thirty-five years ago when I was slightly younger, a pal and I decided to take a 7,000 kilometre / 4,375 mile ride through Namibia in a VW Passat hire car at the height of the struggle for independence.. We stopped for a beer on the way to Etosha Pan. Upon us enquiring, a local suggested we visit the Hoba meteorite. “Just drive fast boys,” he pleaded. “There are freedom fighters in the bush.” Believe me we drove fast.
The Hoba Meteorite in Namibia
The war is over now, and memories and pictures have faded. Can that really be me?
We drove along a road that seemed to last forever without a bend in sight. The best the Passat could manage was 110 kph / 70 mph on a long downhill. At one point, a convoy of portable buildings and centurion army tanks passed us on flatbeds with horns blaring. A half hour later, we reached the old wind pump the local mentioned, and turned off down a sandy track until we ran out of road.
Ahead of us was a rickety farm fence made with wooden poles, wire and droppers. Behind us. thorn trees eked out an existence in the sandy semi-desert. Before us was a flat stone measuring 3 meters / 9 feet square by 1 meter / 3 feet tall. An Afrikaner farmer appeared out of nowhere sucking on a pipe.
His grandfather was building cattle enclosures in the 1920’s with local labour when a spade struck a stone. “The stone is big,” the labourer exclaimed. “Dig it out. The pole must go there. I will be back tomorrow.” When he returned, he found the largest single-piece meteorite ever found weighing an estimated 60 tons. “See,” the farmer said, “this is pure steel. Here is the hacksaw cut where our teacher Mr Brits took a sample. Look how shiny it still is!”
When I revisited Hoba I discovered the authorities had tamed my meteorite. I suppose they had to, because tourists were churning up the sand. I am sad about this. My rock from outer space was a free, unfettered thing until it fell to Earth 80,000 years ago in the grip of gravity. Scientists think it skipped across the earth just like a pebble across the ocean because it is flat. Notwithstanding this, it threw up a range of hills before it settled. I have been there and I have touched a comet, as did these fellows back in 1929.