Two Twins hit Namibia

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by 1NiteOwl, Oct 20, 2011.

  1. 1NiteOwl

    1NiteOwl Office Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2007
    Oddometer:
    88
    Location:
    Southern Africa
    Namibia, more particularly Kaokoland, has been gnawing at me since I first read about it on this website in 2005. This year the stars aligned and it finally all came together when I found a riding partner for the trip.

    This is the land of the Namib desert, the Epupa waterfalls and Spitzkoppe, interconnected by gravel highways, sandy washes and rocky passes. I bit the bullet, packed an SLR and booked my leave before the sweltering heat of summer: by mid-September it was all systems GO.

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    Since we don’t like trailering or backup vehicles, we need to ride wherever we want to be. In this case, that’s quite a long way: Namibia only begins about 1600km from home, near Rundu, a good three day’s riding. The good stuff starts 1000km further still, near the Angolan border post at Ruacana.

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    Things start badly: to get to our rendezvous point, my riding partner, Errol, has ridden ahead from the Free State to Ellisras near the Botswana border. On Friday night whilst clearing my desk I receive a worrying SMS: his bike’s handling is terrible, he’s sure the steering head has had it.
    After a fruitless search for a new headstock bearing set the next morning, I get an update that it’s actually a tyre problem with the request for a new Heidenau K60 to replace the newly fitted Michelin Desert.

    September is the start of spring in the southern hemisphere. Traditionally, the veld gets set alight at the end of winter to burn off the old grass and make way for the new. Here’s what it looks like before the new grass sprouts up as I eventually get going:

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    Along the way, the ubiquitous South African potholes are being replaced by endless roadworks.

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    There’s a great biltong shop after Vaalwater, with advertising boards a kilometer on either side of the entrance.

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    The shop is built like a fort. I use the good opportunity to stock up on some dried kudu meat and wors for the road.

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    There’s a long bridge across the Mokolo river just before Ellisras (Lephalale) where Errol is waiting for me. It’s a quad playground of note.

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    After trying in vain to exchange some Rands for Pulas, we set off on the gravel road through Stockpoort where there is a small kiosk selling odds, ends and Pula (BWP- Botswana currency).

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    Across the Limpopo and hey presto, we’re in a new country! Clearly the summer rains have not arrived yet.

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    More maintenance on the other side of the border.

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    The roads through Botswana are rather boring as the country is pretty flat, with sparse vegetation due to the hot and dry climate.

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    The only fences in Botswana are the veterinary fences put across the road to control the spread of foot and mouth disease, so herds of goats, cows and donkeys graze all the way right up to the verge of the road, where they will somnambulate in the way of passing vehicles.

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    At least some of these mobile road hazards are put to good use…

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    …and some of the locals have made an attempt to keep their livestock fenced in.

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    By late afternoon we reach the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, more than 500 km from home. Not a bad start.

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    The campsites are spaced quite far apart around a few ablution blocks, and we spend the evening shooting stars (with the camera) after preparing some steaks over the fire. The wide open space is relaxing.

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    Our next goal is Maun, the gateway to the Okavango delta, a similar distance to the previous day. The road skirts the southern edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans before climbing northwards. It looks like the dried out lake that it is.

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    This satellite photo shows the Makgadikgadi Pans in the lower right hand corner, the netwrok of the Okavango delta in the centre and the Caprivi strip where we are heading on top (dark lines are the international borders).

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    The water running into the delta actually comes from the Angolan highlands, but instead of draining into the Atlantic ocean, it all ends up inland- Maun in Botswana is 500 ft lower than Rundu in Namibia- from where most of it evaporates. The lakes, Canals, and swamps between the islands support a wide variety of game and are a spectacular sight from the air as well as the water.

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    #1
  2. thealaskan

    thealaskan Adventurer

    Joined:
    May 3, 2010
    Oddometer:
    31
    Only spent a couple weeks in So. Africa back in 07, but I truly loved it. Looking forward to more of those DSLR pics & ride report.

    ps: somnambulate, now that's rarely used English in these parts, had to look it up ! lol
    #2
  3. poolman

    poolman Gnarly Poolside Adv.

    Joined:
    Feb 11, 2010
    Oddometer:
    807
    Location:
    Darnestown, MD
    This looks like the start of a great adventure! Nice pictures; I look forward to following the ride report. After riding in Peru this past April, Namibia would be quite a contrast for 2012.
    #3
  4. mightymanx

    mightymanx Cheap-ass KLR rider.

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
    331
    Location:
    Land of the Sasquatch and Mossbacks
    Sounds like the beging of an awsome trip and you are lucky enough to be riding the bike I lust after, but can't get in the states.


    I am green with envy.
    #4
  5. edgy

    edgy Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2007
    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    Gtown,SA
    Awesome stuff so far buddy!:clap
    #5
  6. 1NiteOwl

    1NiteOwl Office Adventurer

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    Southern Africa
    As we cross the Boteti river and approach the delta, it’s clear that the rains in Angola have already started. There’s plenty of water about and the locals are out fishing with metal baskets.

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    In Maun, the traditional approach seems to be favoured.

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    There are campsites and chalets all around Maun, most of them bordering the delta. We end up at Audi Camp, a few km north of town, and enjoy a bar lunch and cold beer. The décor is “reptilian”. Even in the ablution block.

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    Maun is starting to look like a South African town, with the same shops, fast food outlets, banks and chain-stores providing most of the services and goods one may need. We manage to drop off the spare tyre at one of the operators shuttling regularly to South Africa.


    The next destination is Drotsky’s Cabins, not far from the Namibian border and right on the Delta. It’s not really noticeable, but we are actually riding uphill towards the source of the Okavango.

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    The amazing thing is the contrast between wetlands and their abundant life right next to sandy swathes where people have settled without planting or irrigating anything, presumably living off fish...

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    ..like catfish (barbels) ..

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    or tigerfish:

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    Drotsky’s turns out to be well appointed, but pricey. At P20 for one beer, it’s twice the price charged in Maun.

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    Splashing out on a sunset cruise on the Okavango as well as a sit-down supper, we manage to run up an impressive bill.

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    What the hell, you only live once!

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    There are lots of crocodiles sunning themselves along the bank. According to our guide they are drawn by the annual “barbel run” . As are the tigerfish, which feed on the barbels which feed on smaller fish between the papyrus reeds.

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    The birdlife around the water is prolific. These are the nests of carmine bee-eaters along the riverbank.

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    Some of the residents, on the opposite side.

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    The marine life also draws plenty of kingfishers, such as this giant kingfisher drying his wings.

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    A dikkop keeping a beady eye on us.

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    The fishing boats come in as the sun sets over the water. It's time for supper.

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    #6
  7. dave6253

    dave6253 GCBAR Explorer

    Joined:
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    Phoenix, Arizona
    I always love your reports and excellent photography.
    #7
  8. Kyler

    Kyler Confused Hack Nut

    Joined:
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    Location:
    51st State - Western MD
    :lurk
    #8
  9. VikB

    VikB Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 9, 2011
    Oddometer:
    794
    Location:
    Victoria, BC, Canada
    Great photos - thanks for sharing...:evil
    #9
  10. 1NiteOwl

    1NiteOwl Office Adventurer

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    Southern Africa
    The monkeys are a nuisance around the campsite, as we discover next morning when my trusty GPS V fails to find any satellites. Quite difficult without an antenna, which is nowhere to be seen.

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    With my speedo already having packed up the day before, and all the planned routes on this GPS, dead reckoning does not hold much appeal this early in the trip, until I spot the camp attendant and try to explain what I am looking for until I see what he has in his hands:

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    What are the odds of finding such a small, black part over such a large area? My spirits restored by this stroke of good fortune, we wind our way back to the main road under the leafy canopy.

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    Down the road, some muti for sale.

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    It looks like an honesty bar; nobody is manning the store. Just leave some money and a message on the number provided.

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    Drotsky’s is a mere 30 km from the Mohembo border post. Our entry into Namibia is uneventful as we enter the little Mahango game reserve. There is some small game about, but we forego the circle route to make more rapid progress from gravel back onto tar, for lunch at Rundu.

    The increased level of activity and industry in Namibia compared to its eastern neighbour is immediately noticeable, as well as more effort to keep things organised, maintained and comfortable.

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    Let’s see what the locals are up to.

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    Here’s the man of the kraal bringing home the bacon (fish, actually).

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    Inside, child labour, grinding flour. My intrusion is not exactly welcomed by the lady of the kraal.

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    Our passage disrupts the nearby school somewhat. Motorbikes and even bicycles are not common around these parts- too much sand, too many thorns.

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    Along the way, wooden poles for fencing and huts are on sale, as well as thatch for shady roofing. Metal structures are hard to come by, and unaffordable for these people.

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    Not very straight, but certainly rustic.

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    Thatch, collected and getting sorted into bundles with strips of tube.

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    Beans, anyone?

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    There are curios for sale too, but what one can do with these small mokoros is a mystery to me. Only fiberglass boats are actually used on the delta these days.

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    Clearly, many mouths to feed.

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    Even the termites seem busier than in Botswana. This mound is probably about 2 ½ metres high.

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    Rundu is a big town, and along with Katima Mulilo, Ondangwa and Ruacana hosted the air force bases from where South Africa launched its planes during the Border War. Supplies came from the logistic base at Grootfontein, 200km south of the border, our next stop. Today, the infrastructure left behind has been complemented by fast food outlets and we cool our heels at the local Wimpy.

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    Our hosts at Drotsky’s have recommended Roy’s Camp 60km before Grootfontein. It’s apparently quite popular with overlanders, but we decide to push on to Tsumeb.

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    The scenery between Grootfontein, which calls itself an Agriculture Paradise, and Tsumeb changes dramatically: from flat shrub plains we suddenly find ourselves among rolling hills.

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    We check in at the very well appointed municipal campsite in Tsumeb. We forego the Spur steak ranch near the entrance and stock up at the shop instead, getting some free firelighters from a pair of teachers doing Cambridge education in the area and camping nearby.

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    #10
  11. Ford_Prefect

    Ford_Prefect Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2011
    Oddometer:
    280
    Location:
    Afghanistan... Lovely place minus the heat & dust!
    Oh NO! That sucks!

    (I have gotten to the end of the ride report, to date...)

    I was really enjoying this too, I guess I just have to wait now. Thanks a lot for sharing this with us!

    Regards,
    Brian
    #11
  12. fishhead

    fishhead Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2007
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    21
    Location:
    Santa Cruz, California
    Great report!
    Can't wait to hear the rest!
    #12
  13. GB

    GB . Administrator

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
    61,664
    Fantastic ride, report and pics! Thanks for the detailed report and sunny pics! :thumb

    :lurk
    #13
  14. Elenore

    Elenore Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2010
    Oddometer:
    178
    Location:
    Germany, in the wild WW
    :clap:clap:clap:clap:clap
    Great report - I'd love to do Namibia! How did the AT handle in the sand? They were fully packed!! And your choise of tyres were rather slight offroad. Did you have to go through deep sand?

    I love the pictures - great colors!!!

    Thanks for sharing!
    #14
  15. 1NiteOwl

    1NiteOwl Office Adventurer

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
    88
    Location:
    Southern Africa
    Instead of moving on south-west around the Etosha Pan the next day, we decide to take a look at Lake Otjikoto, about 20 km out of town on the Oshakati road.

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    The plaque at the entrance tells the story.

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    There’s a rusty old steam generator nearby that was assembled on-site from the imported parts, now overgrown with weeds.

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    Instead of doing the scenic route around the south-western corner fo the Etosha Pan, we relent and carry on with the road we are on directly to Ruacana.

    It gets noticeably busier as we approach Ondangwa. Here are the local restauranteurs on the main drag, serving their fare.

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    The driving is something to behold, even by African standards. Vehicles turn and stop unexpectedly, and drive on all sides of the road- with inevitable results. During the short trip from Ondangwa to Oshakati we witness two accidents and the dust-coated wrecks fill the scrapyards scattered around on either side of the road. Getting spares here is clearly not a quick business.

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    The further north we get, the more water there is and locals fish it extensively.

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    These guys are dragging a net across a pan trying to catch something for the pot (inevitably catfish), but unsurprisingly the pickings are slim.

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    I’m curious as to the source of all this water until we see a large canal along the road. It brings water inland from the Calueque dam on the Kunene river to the Olushandja dam and all the way to Ondangwa.

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    The canal network was built in the 1960s and its many arteries distribute drinking water to nearly a third of Namibia’s population living in this area, almost down to the Etosha Pan. Needless to say, lots of people bathe and do their laundry in it.

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    At Ruacana a pipeline is used to pump the water out of the Kunene river basin up to the inland plateau and the Cuvelai Basin. It's like descending into an oven- we have to close our visors to keep out the blast of hot air that greets us.

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    It’s quite a substantial pipe.

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    We turn into Ruacana town (not to be confused with the border post indicated here).

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    After stocking up on fuel and supplies for supper, the next stop is at the Hippo campsite at the end of the tar. It is a “community campsite”, meaning it is run by and for the benefit of the local people, like Mina here.

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    The setting is magnificent, and we have the entire camp to ourselves. My spirits soar when I gaze at Angola across the water and crack open a cold beer while the sun sets. Does life get any better than this?

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    We collect firewood and sit around enjoying the soothing sounds from the river while preparing supper.

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    Pilchards, smash and sweetcorn. We eat like kings.

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    Tomorrow the real riding starts. In my ignorance I’m not too concerned (it’s only 150 km), but Errol is pensive. Five years ago he and two mates wanted to ride the River Road from Epupa that we are about to do now, and were talked out of it by an old 4x4 hand who had just spent the entire day covering it.
    #15
  16. Tom-Traveller

    Tom-Traveller Adventurer

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    Switzerland, near the border to the BlackForest
    :clap:clap:clap:clap:clap:clap:clap

    excellent pics and story, keep it coming

    :freaky

    Thomas
    #16
  17. ata

    ata expat in the jungle

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2007
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    2,336
    Location:
    Bilbao, close to the fu****ng Guggenheim
    is even better than a National Geographic documentary

    fixed
    #17
  18. KnobblyTyres

    KnobblyTyres Lets ride

    Joined:
    Jan 2, 2010
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    18
    Splendid RR! Keep it coming.:clap
    #18
  19. Vinbowie

    Vinbowie Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2007
    Oddometer:
    433
    Location:
    Maryland
    Namibia is a beautiful country. This is a wonderful adventure.
    Thanks for sharing. :clap



    :lurk
    #19
  20. 1NiteOwl

    1NiteOwl Office Adventurer

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
    88
    Location:
    Southern Africa
    We sleep soundly until sunrise. Today Errol officially hits the mid-fifties. :beer
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    I want to see the sluice upstream before breakfast. There is a hydro-electric power station here, so I cross the bridge and enter Angola to take a look.

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    At the outlet of the tunnel there’s an ultrasonic level sensor for the control system.

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    Clearly some long-planned expansion has yet to materialise here, as does basic maintenance.

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    We eat our porridge and fold the tents. The first section of talcum-white gravel to Swartbooi’s Drift is great riding - ignorance is bliss.

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    We meet our first Himba. He looks undernourished, despite all the weaponry.

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    Some settlements along the way.

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    The surface alternates between sandy and rocky, with even some water features thrown in here and there. Nice!
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    Until we get to Swaartbooisdrift.

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    We turn off to the Dorsland Trekker memorial before continuing westwards along the Kunene. It commemorates the migrant boers who set off from South Africa in 1874 in search of greener pastures up north. (Dors = thirst in Afrikaans). Many died along the way.

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    They crossed the arid Kalahari and entered Angola at Swartbooisdrift. They never integrated into the Portuguese culture and returned some fifty years later to settle in the area around Grootfontein. The thought of their hardship to travel this far with ox-wagons and without the modern technology we take for granted makes me feel quite unworthy.

    "Hierdie groep het so swaar gekry dat hulle water vir mense met teelepels afgemeet het."


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    We pass the Swartbooisdrif River Camp and follow the smooth flow of the river.

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    There’s quite a lot of shallow water about. That’s fortunate as the temperature touches 40C, and the traction is good.

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    It gets steeper and slippery when we get to the pebbles.

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    Some Himbas who know something that we are about to find out.

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    They follow us to see how we handle the ruts (clearly not very well).

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    The first lesson for me is to deflate the tyres from the highway pressure I have been running until now. It’s essential to get grip on the loose stuff and the smooth stuff in between. The terrain gets quite broken. [click for video]

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    What goes up must go down. Whilst watching Errol on the next downhil, a sympathy fall is the result.

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    Traction is a problem on these loose surfaces and once a wheel starts sliding it’s difficult to stop a heavy bike from going down. Lack of momentum, on the other hand, gets you stuck on the steep sections. Like this one.

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    Big rocks + big bikes = hard work. Despite both of us being reasonably fit, the heat is energy sapping.

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    But we get the hang of it: take it easy, find the best line, clear away the biggest obstacles, change track where it’s necessary, go slowly but keep momentum.

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    We sweat like pigs and drink like fish ;) Luckily there’s a whole river of water nearby, and we cool down by soaking our hats and shirts every now and then.

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    Where I tend to be too careful and stall on the steep bits, Errol tends to look up and open up. The result is a spectacular dive into the bushes below the tracks. I’m amazed as he gets up from this fall amongst the rocks without injury- his body armour is really effective.

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    We drag the bike out of the bushes, swing the tail round, get it upright again and with a push and a shove get it back on track. From here it gets easier but we are still 40 km from Epupa.

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    The light fades as we cross the river bed for the last stretch, but by now we can almost smell the beer waiting down the track and we get to Epupa Camp without stopping just before the bar closes. Happy birthday, Errol!

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    Guess who was riding behind?
    #20