Wines2Whales 2018 – Event Report

The W2W is one of South Africa’s most iconic MTB events and this year it celebrated its tenth anniversary. It is a three-day stage race contested by teams consisting of two riders each. Due to its ever-growing popularity there are three races to choose from. The Chardonnay took place from 26-28 October, the Pinotage from 29-31 October and the Shiraz from 2-4 November.

Entries are notoriously difficult to obtain. I was lucky to be invited to participate in the Chardonnay by Werner de Wet, a friend with whom I completed the Solo Desert Dash during December 2017.

All three races follow the exact same route, starting at the Lourensford Wine Estate en ending on the coast in the picturesque town of Hermanus.

Stage 1: 69km and 1650m of climbing

W2W D1The climbing starts straight out of the start-shoot up the Lourensford Neck. The temptation is there to get sucked in by the hype, nerves and excitement of the start and race up the hill but that would be something you’d pay for dearly later on in the race. The ideal is to get into a rhythm early and to race you own race.

Once up the the hill you are rewarded with spectacular views of Stellenbosch and Cape Town before descending down a long and steep downhill. The first water point sits at 18km. It’s then another 20km to the second water point at Idiom Vineyards but between these two refreshment stops is the notorious Vergelegen climb – the toughest of the entire race. We encountered temperatures in the high 30’s, low 40’s making the ascend a brutal affair. Shortly after the climb the track winds down through some vineyards which was also the scene of my first crash. At nearly 40km/h I missed a route marker and my attempt to turn only served to send me flying over the handlebars and into a vineyard. Apart from minor damage to my front brakes and ego I managed to limp into the second refreshment station unscathed.

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Shortly after my fall – that white cycling jersey would never be the same again…

Shortly after the second water point, the Gantouw Pass – a compulsory portage section – provided the iconic challenge of the day. Carrying your bicycle up the steep incline in soaring temperatures was tough to say the least. The reward on the other side was some of the best single track in the country.

Day 1 was made all the more difficult by the extreme temperatures and a word of advice would be to take it easy on day one. The best is still to come.

Stage 2: 66km and 1350m of climbing

w2w d2Dubbed “Play Day”, Stage 2 is one of the race’s many drawcards, with sublime single track, manicured berms and mind-blowing descends. The first 25km flies by with the real fun starting as soon as you enter Paul Cluver via the new Rietvlei Roller. The thrills continue on the feature-laden rollercoasters of Raka, Swing, Ark, Cobra, Mamba, Boomslang, Pofadder, Jakkals and Pine Singles. Despite the heat and the exhaustion it is nearly impossible to wipe the smile of your face.

The Thandi switchbacks, which appear just after water point 3 at the 52km marker, are a sting in the tail before the thrilling, purpose-built KROMCO-PERI Bike Park.

On Day 2 I managed to stay on two wheels and it was definitely the most fun I had on a bike in a long time.

Day 3: Distance 72km and 1250m of climbing

w2w d3The third day is a challenging affair. Most of the climbing comes in the last 30km of the race so it would be wise to not empty the tank right from the start. The trickiest section of the stage is the Kat Pas descend just after the Houw Hoek trails. Caution is advised as this is a particularly fast descend on a rocky, loose and rutted surface.

The first water point (24km) is located at the Botrivier School where hundreds of school children line the streets, cheering on the riders. The next 20km takes in a large portion of the Wildekrans trails before rising to water point 2 at 43km. Its wise to pace yourself through this section as a nasty series of ups and downs await – the breathtaking Gaf-se-Bos and Hemel and Aarde trails will take your breath away (literally). The last few kilometres drop you into Hermanus and the magnificent Marine Hotel where we were welcomed by the very whales that inspired the event.

The FNB W2W is an event not to be missed and if you haven’t experienced it before it should be right up there on your bucket list.

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Kaokoland – All Roads lead to Puros

The Community Camp at Puros is Kaokoland’s best campsite. I know, there are other camps with better facilities. But there’s not many other camps where you can be seated on the “throne” with an elephant showering in the cubicle next to you. The place is simply special.

Getting to Puros is half the fun. From Sesfontein you can either take the gravel road (D3707) or you can follow the Hoanib River to Amspoort and travel via the Ganias or Giribes Plains. I’d suggest the latter option (9 hours). Although, following the gravel road will take less than half the time, you’ll also arrive with less than half your teeth still in your mouth – the corrugations are terrible.

The camp itself is well shaded. Large camel-thorn trees provide ample shade and the ablution facilities is well concealed in the salvadora bushes scattered throughout the camp. Most of the time there’s running water, flush toilets and warm showers. The camp is however not elephant proof and when these mammoths do come for a visit it is not unusual for them the ‘interfere’ with the water supply to the ablutions.

But you’re not there for the toilets or the showers. You’ve traveled to Puros to experience a bit of Kaokoland’s magic. The camp is situated on the banks of the Hoariseb River. The riverbed is frequented by plains game such as Springbok, Oryx and Giraffe. I have alo been lucky enough to spot a lioness with her cubs 3 km’s downstream from the camp.

Then there’s the desert elephants. They love the Hoariseb River. Drawn to the riverbed by its many natural springs and ample food supplies lining its banks. They also like the camp, frequently visiting, especially “after hours”.

When camping at Puros it is a good idea to park the vehicles in such a manner that it forms a laager of some sorts. The idea is to keep the elephants out. They are curious and can smell an orange from a mile away. If you want some “action” during the night, stick a few oranges underneath your mother-in-law’s tent, and wait…

Like I said, the ablutions are particularly well concealed in clusters of Salvadora bushes. The bushes however do not prevent the elephants from entering a shower or a toilet cubicle. It was September 2012. We were camping at campsite no.3 (my favorite) when shortly after dinner auntie Karien went for a session on the “throne”. She was already safely seated when a large bull appeared between us and the ablutions. Pierre was visibly nervous knowing that his wife is blissfully unawares of the elephant lazily grazing on the branches directly above her. It was only when the elephant rounded the corner and entered the shower cubicle next to Karien that she became aware of her predicament. The only thing separating Karien and the elephant was a flimsy make-shift barrier of dry reads. The elephant, not bothered with Karien, proceeded to dismantle the shower plumping and after (what must have felt like ages for poor Karien) taking a drink, nonchalantly turned around and made its way out of the shower, past Karien and off  into the night. We had to “sedate” both Karien and Pierre with a 12 year old whiskey…

The Puros area also provides one of the best sun-downer spots the Kaokoland has to offer. After making sure there is no edible temptations lying around in camp, grab a cold bottle of sauvignon blanc and head out to the Jan Joubert Koppie. “The Hill” is situated on the eastern bank of the river and it takes about 15 minutes to get there from the camp. It offers spectacular views of the Hoariseb Valley. Enjoying a glass of wine while the sun sets over the flat-topped mountains to the west is a truly enjoyable experience.

If you’re going to visit the Kaokoland, make sure you spend at least two days at Puros. I’d recommend three.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring the Hoanib River

Definitely one of the most spectacular and scenic riverbeds of Namibia’s north-west. As with the Khowarib Schlucht I recommend exploring the river from east to west (and in a proper 4×4 vehicle with low range).

Several routes provide access to the riverbed:

  • The Ganamub 4×4 Trail
  • Crossing the Okambonde Plain
  • The D3707 via the Hoanib Gorge
  • The Palmwag Crowther’s 4×4 Trail

I prefer crossing the Okambonde Plain and to enter the riverbed just east of Elephant Song (a camp deserted due to lions). Crossing the Okambonde Plain can however be a daunting prospect due to the hundreds of tracks picking their way through dust holes  and scattered mopanie trees. Keep too far to the left and you end up in a gorge missing the entry point altogether or stray too far to the right and you get cut off by a small mountain range requiring a detour via the Ganamub River.

Once in the riverbed roll down your windows and go slowly. Natural springs at Elephant Song will make the going slow anyway but by going slowly you’ll have the best chance to spot whatever animals there are to see, and to really get a feel for the river.

The Hoanib is probably the Kaokoland’s most populated riverbed when it comes to animals. It is home to large numbers of plains-game as well as several herds of desert-adapted elephants. Being home to animals such as springbok, oryx, kudu and giraffe also ensures a healthy population of predators. On several occasions I have had the privilege of spotting cheetahs and hyenas, but catching a glimpse of the deserted-adapted lions is by far the most exhilarating experience I’ve had in the Hoanib.

It was 2012 and my wife and I were leading a convoy on my “Five Rivers Adventure” when we spotted fresh lion tracks near Amspoort (Amspoort is close to the Skeleton Coast Park’s border). A few minutes later we spotted five cubs (they would later become known as the “Five Musketeers”) and followed them up the bank where we greeted by two females. They gave us enough time to take a few photographs before disappearing into the basalt hills on the southern bank.

Chances are best to encounter the elephants after passing through “The Poort”, a narrow gorge flanked by spectacular rock formations on either side. It is here where the Ganamub River joins the Hoanib. While the first section of the riverbed (from Elephant Song to “The Poort”) is beautiful, passing through the gorge is like driving into Kaokoland heaven. Large Anna trees (faidherbia albida) make for excellent, shaded picnic spots. The banks are littered with bright green mustard bush (salvadora persica) providing cover for a healthy population of predators such as lion and cheetah.

The river cuts through breathtaking desert scenery. Towering cliffs covered with a splatter of dune sand blown in on the east winds. Travel further west and the rocky cliffs make way for impressive vertical sand cliffs. Even further towards the Skeleton Coast the river slices through the Namib’s northern dune belt.

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Sand cliffs of the lower Hoanib

Camping wild in the Hoanib is an awesome experience. There are however a few things you should keep in mind:

  • Don’t camp under an Anna Tree – elephants like them, they are likely to come pay you a visit during the night.
  • Don’t wander off, especially not during the night – lions sleep during the day.
  • The area is sensitive – stay on the tracks and take your rubbish with you.
  • Don’t make large bonfires.

Sleeping under the stars in the Hoanib is an experience that will linger in the memory for years to come.

*A permit is required to enter the Hoanib Riverbed and can be obtained either at Palmwag Lodge or upon entering at Elephant Song.

 

 

 

Mingling with the Maltese – First Impressions

I’m 43 years old and this is my first time going “overseas”. I’m accompanying my daughter (Elisbè) on a trip to Malta where she will compete in an international gymnastics competition. After a ten hour flight from Cape Town to Istanbul and a three hour lay-over we board another Turkish Airlines flight to Malta. It is 08h20 in the morning and I’m beyond tired.

The breakfast is crap. Watery scrambled eggs with a tasteless pastry of some sorts. But I’m hungry so I force it down. Sitting in an isle seat I can’t make out much through the window except for ascertaining that it’s a bright sunny day. We’re approaching the runway and I get a first glimpse of the buildings near and around the airport. My first thoughts are that were about to land in a shit-hole. Dilapidated,  run down shabby buildings as far as the eye can see. Oh my goodness, I hope my daughter likes this because it has cost us an arm and a leg. We’re quickly through customs and about to get our first taste of Maltese hospitality.

The buses that were supposed to pick us up are not there. More waiting, more frustration. Eventually they arrive. The driver is rude and unfriendly. And as we’ll discover, character traits of most of Malta’s bus drivers. Elisbè wants to sit with her team mates. Perfectly understandable. I end up right behind the driver with my backpack on my lap sitting next to a “gymnast- mom” I don’t know. I’m sweaty and irritated. I try not to stink.

From the airport we head northwest, traveling through the “interior” towards St Paul’s Bay on the north shore. More shoddy buildings and neglected dwellings fly past. Every second person on this island seems to be either a second-hand car dealer or a repairman of some sorts.  The streets are dirty. Silently I pray that we’re just passing through a “bad neighborhood” and that things will look up when we reach the coast.

And they do. As soon as we reach the outskirts of St Paul’s Bay the shabby buildings make way for upmarket hotels, cafes and shops. The bay is littered with boats and yachts of all sizes. A smile slowly creeps across my face. The Mediterranean is turquoise-blue and calm.  This is better.

The bus pulls up in front of the IL Palazzin Hotel. Techinically we are staying in Qawra, but still part of the bigger St Paul’s Bay area. From the outside it does not look bad. Granite stairs lead up, past a large swimming pool, to the front door. The manager, Simon, is a friendly chap and first assists with getting the gymnasts and coaches to their rooms. There seems to be a problem with my booking. They expected my arrival the day before and since I didn’t show, I lost my room. This is the start of their season and hundreds of Brits flock to the island for their mid-year holidays. The Hotel is full and Simon instructs me to wait in the foyer while he makes a plan.

I collapse onto a couch and stare out the window. This is just great. After 15 minutes Simon returns with the keys to room 601. It’s on the top floor right next to an indoor swimming pool with a large balcony offering stunning views over the bay. The room itself is a bit of a disappointment. The furniture is old and one has to stand in the bathtub to take a shower. The little TV on the fridge is not working but luckily the air-conditioner and the fridge do. I was planning on a quick shower and a short nap. I managed only to tick off the quick shower and although being dead tired, I decide against taking the nap. I’m only here for a week and I certainly can’t spend the time lying on my back in a small, dark hotel room. Feeling refreshed, but still tired I head downstairs, out the front door and into the streets.

It’s warm and humid. A narrow street takes me down onto the main road running parallel with the beach. This is where everything happens in Qwara, or at least that was what I thought. It does not take me long to find a cafe overlooking a large swimming pool and the bay itself. A friendly waitress serves me an ice cold beer and all of a sudden Malta turns into a great place.

After sushi and a glass of the local brew I head north along the main road. More cafes, curio shops and restaurants. The town is bustling with skimpy dressed tourists. From the cafes and pubs relaxing Mediterranean music pours into the streets. Brightly colored street stalls lure you in with idyllic pictures of the many activities on offer. I can get used to this.

That evening I took my daughter for a stroll, keen to show her the interesting little places I discovered on my afternoon walk. For the first time since taking off in Cape Town we really got a chance to share a few moments together. We chatted about our first impressions of Malta and about her expectations for the big competition coming up in two days’ time. That stroll was the highlight of day one.

PS: I now realize that I actually never quite made it “overseas” but only ended up right in the middle of the Mediterranean, next time…

 

 

 

Khowarib Schlucht – Dust, sweat and Beers

“Khowarib Schlucht” – mention those words and it conjures up images of dust, dust and more dust. Probably the Kaokoland’s most famous dust hole! But there’s more to it than just dust.

Where’s the Schlucht and how do I drive it?

The Schlucht is a narrow (and scenic) gorge situated in the upper reaches of the Hoanib River. It is accessible via the Ombonde River Trail, The Beesvlakte Trail or via the C43 south of Sesfontein. The first two options provide access from east to west and are, in my opinion, the best way to drive and experience the Schlucht.

I use the Schlucht as a gateway to the Kaokoland since it provides access to its southern most border, the Hoanib River. And a more practical reason would be that the only accommodation in the Schlucht is situated at its western end. No use driving the Schlucht from west to east and having to exit onto a tar road and missing out on the opportunity to spend a night on the riverbank.

The trail (whether via the Ombonde or the Beesvlakte) is not for the faint-hearted, a proper 4×4 with low range is required. Although not advisable, I once led a convoy of so-called “soft-roaders” through the Schlucht in 2011. They all made it although we had several “tupper parties” along the way as the soft-roaders shed cosmetic plastic. The guide vehicle however was a proper 4×4.

You will encounter soft sand and extreme powder dust. Some of the tracks through the dust are so deep that even with good ground clearance your vehicle’s belly will scrape the ground. Worse even is getting stuck with all four wheels in the air. It is advisable to travel with more than one vehicle. Something I would advise for the entire Kaokoland.

There’s more to the Khowarib than dust

Apart from the dust the Schlucht offers spectacular rock formations towering high above the canyon floor. It is these rock formations that make the Schlucht impossible to negotiate during the rainy season. Apart from the dust turning into a mud bath the narrow gorge turns into a rampaging torrent of water. Stay out of the Schlucht during months February through to April. May might even be touch and go.

The desert-adapted elephants of the Kaokoland also use the Schlucht as passageway to greener pastures to the east during the dry months and similarly returns via the Schlucht to the Kaokoland in months of good rainfall to the west. It is not unusual to encounter these mammoths in the Schlucht.

Other game such as Kudu, Oryx, Springbok and even Giraffe frequently roams the gorge in search of water.  I have spotted Eland in the Schlucht before but that is extremely rare and I wouldn’t bargain on it.

The Khowarib also offers good birding opportunities. Keep an eye out for Rosy Faced Lovebirds, Madagascar Bee-eaters and Hartlaub’s Spurfowl to name but a few.

Support the local community by staying over at the Khowarib Community Camp. The campsite offers running water, hot showers and you can even buy firewood. The site overlooks a section of the gorge that carries water even in the winter months. If camping is not your thing, try the Khowarib Lodge. The lodge offers luxury tented accommodation as well as a variety of activities and excursions.

*Detailed directions, distances, GPS way-points and estimated times of arrival will soon be made available for subscribers. In the meantime you can contact me should you require any assistance and/or advice in tackling the Khowarib Schlucht.

 

 

 

Kaokoland – Namibia’s Wild West

Where is it? 

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The Kaokoland is a vast area stretching from the Hoanib River in the south to the Kunene River in the north. To the west is the Skeleton Coast and to the east it borders Ovamboland.

“Kaokoland” (some people refer to it as the “Kaokoveld”) refers to Namibia’s remote north-western corner. Until the late twentieth century the Kaokoland was truly one of the few remaining “Last Frontiers”. Remote and isolated. Romanticized as a place with abundant wildlife and nomadic tribes unaffected by the ways of the West. Most of that was true before the late 70’s.

The Hoanib River (just south of Sesfontein) is its southern border and to the north it’s the Kunene River. To the the east it borders Ovamboland while the Skeleton Coast forms its western border.

Planning a trip to the Kaokoland

“Planning” is the operative word. Although detailed maps are available and more and more people visit the Kaokoland each year, it is still remote. It is proper 4×4 country. Things can and probably will go wrong. There are no hospitals, fuel is scarce and cellphone reception non-existent.

You should be entirely self-sufficient and you should plan for the unforeseen. The distance between two places is irrelevant. How long it will take you to get there is the yardstick to be used. Food and water for an extra day or two are essential just as spares are for your vehicle.

Please consider that the Kaokoland is an ecologically sensitive area. Ecological systems operate at a micro level and are easily trampled and destroyed. Take your rubbish with you. Stay on the tracks.

Must-see places

After ten years of guiding in the Kaokoland I developed two routes. The first is for the first-time visitor and includes all the iconic landmarks. The second is for the those who have driven down the Van Zyl’s Pass and have the t-shirt. Those who want to take it easy and experience the beauty of the place.

Route 1 (I call it “The Last Frontier” route) visits the following destinations:

  1. The Khowarib Schlucht
  2. Sesfontein and the Hoanib River
  3. Puros via Amspoort
  4. Orupembe
  5. Van Zyl’s Pass via the Otjihipa Mountains
  6. Marienfluss
  7. Hartmann’s Valley
  8. Opuwo
  9. Epupa Falls
  10. Swartbooisdrift via the Kunene 4×4 Route

Route 2 (The 5 Rivers Adventure) is my favorite route and affords visitors the opportunity to track the desert-adapted elephants and lions; search for black rhinos and camp wild under the Anna-trees in 5 of the most prominent dry riverbeds of northern Namibia. Route 2 meanders through both Damaraland and the Kaokoland and includes:

  1. The Omdel Dam and the Omaruru River
  2. The Ugab River
  3. Desolation Valley and the Huab River (Twyfelfontein area)
  4. The Palmwag Concession Area and the Hoanib River
  5. Puros and the Hoariseb River
  6. The Otjipepa River

Both itineraries take 9-11 days to complete. Route details, distances, packing lists, GPS way-points and travel times will soon be made available for subscribers. In the meantime, should you require assistance with planning for the Kaokoland you can contact me via this Blog.

In the coming weeks I will post a series of articles covering most of the “must see” places listed above.

Bells and Whistles

Accessorizing your 4×4 – a Guide’s view

Making a mistake inevitably comes with a price, failing to figure out the difference between what you want and what you need, is a mistake of the more expensive kind.

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You’ve bought your first 4×4, it’s brand new and the inside smells like a girl in leather pants. And just as you get comfortable behind the wheel, you’re sweaty palms on the steering wheel, Roy Orbison’s “What now my Love, (now there’s nothing…)” rudely interrupts your thoughts. “My ride must get kitted out” you mumble to yourself, but with cash-flow now as absent as that ARB bumper you’re dreaming of, where do you start?

Chances are good that you’ll start at the wrong place. Being led by your eyes, as opposed to your heart (yes, your heart!), you’ll rush in head first and spend money on all the things that will make your vehicle look good. Because you have a picture of your dream machine in your mind. The problem with your picture is that it’s been Photo-shopped. Photo-shopped by your neighbor’s 4×4 that drives past you every morning on the way to work. The one with the antenna mounted on the bull-bar and the “been there, done that” sticker on the back; Photo-shopped by the magazine-add-mud-sprayed-4×4 posing on a massive boulder with one paw in the air and photo-shopped by the sticker-wrapped fat-wheeled truck hugging the pavement in front of the 4×4 shop… Make no mistake, today’s onslaught on your senses is so effective that before you can say “snatch strap” you’re convinced that what you see is indeed what you need. Adding to the barrage is the large number of possible dealers, shops, manufacturers, fitment centers and brands to choose from. So much so, that even the harde-baard who thinks he knows what he wants gets lost in the maze of choices.

I have categorized 4×4 accessories into three classes: vehicle accessories; house-hold accessories and driver gadgets. Vehicle accessories are all the stuff you can bolt onto your 4×4. Research shows that the most popular items in this category include, bull-bars; after-market suspensions; tow bars and snorkels. Not only do they make your vehicle look good, they also create a false sense of indestructibility.

House-hold accessories are all the things that make you feel more at home in the bush. Topping the list in this category are fridges, tents, chairs, showers and porta-potties. Lastly, driver gadgets are of a more personal nature, fits into a backpack or cubbyhole, can be worn on a belt and have price tags best kept from your better half. Leathermans, GPS’s, Go Pro cameras and headlights head the field.

Most first-time 4×4 owners set off in the wrong direction. They head straight for the nearest fitment center, determined to transform their vehicle into that dream machine they have in mind. What happens next is predictable. A guy dressed in a two-tone khaki shirt, sporting at least 5 “leading-brand” logos on each sleeve, convinces you to fit an after-market replacement bull-bar. There are many reasons to fit one. The neighbor’s 4×4 has one; it will protect your vehicle against damage; it’s imperative if you want to attach heavy duty recovery points and a winch; best for attaching spotlights; increases approach angle etc. Next up, Mr Two-tone talks you into fitting an after-market suspension because the heavy bull bar demands it. The heavy duty suspension then allows you to also fit a replacement tow bar with an extra spare wheel carrier. Congratulations, you have fitted the top three most popular vehicle accessories and you’ve also ticked two of the top five most expensive accessories in this category. It usually doesn’t end there.

Moving on, you invite a couple of seasoned travelers and potential trip buddies over for a braai. Your plan is to keep ‘school fees’ to a minimum when it comes to acquiring house-hold accessories – stuff intended to make life for those dear to you as comfortable as possible. And if that second fridge between the seats you bought for your wife’s and kids’ drinks happen to chill an extra 6-pack of beers, it’s merely a coincidence. So, standing dop-in-die-hand with you around your Weber are that neighbor who towed a trailer down Van Zyl’s pass (stupid thing to do); that skinny chap from the golf club who drove through the Khaudum on his own (stupid thing to do) and your new cycling buddy who has successfully completed a 4×4 course at Gerotek (he is now a pro and knows it all). You listen intently and a list slowly takes shape in your mind: 1. Fridge/Freezer (mmm…must go see Mr Two-tone for advice on a dual battery system); 2. A shower of some sort, with cubicle and porta-potty for the misses; 3. Waterproof roof-top tent; 4. Comfortable chairs (make sure they’re not made in China); and so on…

Luckily when it comes to driver gadgets you don’t need advice. Accessories in this category do not need to be necessary nor practical, their sole purpose is to make you feel in control, even indispensable. They give you that “You’re the man!” feeling. You walk out the store with a top of the range Garmin GPS (you’ll soon realize that your mate’s GPS is loaded with the latest Tracks4Africa maps, therefore rendering your GPS totally useless unless you return to the store…); a Leatherman; a Petzl headlamp; a LED flashlight and Sasol’s latest edition of Birds of Southern Africa. Your wife will have no idea of what you’ve blown on the gadgets but if she does find out, the educational angle supported by the bird book will soften the blow.

Ultimately you end up with a vehicle weighing dangerously close to its maximum operating mass (stupid thing to do) and an overdraft that will ensure an uncomfortable degree of stress even when seated beer-in-hand on a wooden deck overlooking the Okavango River. The result could be arriving at Puros (go Google it) just to find you don’t have a cold beer because your “Afghanistan-proof” battery system’s computer suffocated in the Kaokoland’s dust and decided to stop telling your fridge to cool the beer. Getting hopelessly stuck in sand or mud is now a ‘clear and present danger’ because your vehicle weighs as much as a Unimog but is still fitted with standard-sized tires. Another possibility is tipping over your vehicle with an air-jack because Mr Two-tone forgot to show you how the release valve works. Even more disastrous could be your wife not talking to you for a week because your gas-powered shower-thingy exploded and engulfed her in boiling-hot water and pouring ice cold water over your “it’s just the two of us under the stars”-move.

So where’s the right place to start? A good place would be to go back to before Mr Orbison’s song interrupted your thoughts. Go back to that moment when you decided to spend half a million Rand (or more) on a vehicle. What if the real reason for buying a 4×4 was not “I’ll rather give the money to a car dealer than to the Receiver”, or “a 4×4 will enable us to spend more quality time together – we’ll get the kids away from the TV and cell phone signals”, or “a 4×4 is the safer choice, it handles gravel well and will cope better with a collision than a Corolla”… The real reason for buying a 4×4 will determine where to start. For most this real reason is not that obvious at first and it is this confusion that leads us to spending too much money on stuff we don’t really need. If you bought a 4×4 to travel through Africa, then yes, it will be less of a hassle if you acquired a few extras. A long range fuel tank will keep your vehicle going further and a fridge full of food will keep you going for longer. An after-market suspension will make your vehicle cope better with the load and a waterproof tent will make your dearest cope better with the weather.

But, if the real reason for buying a 4×4 had to do with you wanting something more from life, yearning for an extraordinary, life-changing experience or you wanting to find solace in the flames of a campfire, you should listen to your heart and start by getting into your standard 4×4 and pointing its nose in the direction of peace and quiet. And when you get there you’ll realize that there’s a difference between what you need and what you want. The ‘need’ list is not only shorter, but also much cheaper than the ‘want’ list.

I’ve traveled with people who started there, people who started with what they really need. I remember Oom Johan (‘n aartappel-boer van die Noord-Kaap) in his stock-standard Cruiser bakkie – he even kept the Marie-biscuit tires. “Never go the bush without a shovel” he used to say, “It’s handy if you have to go for a number two; you can use it to defend yourself; you can use it when you get stuck; you can use it to cover your ashes and you can cook a steak on it…” Now there’s some proper advice, make a note of that. He had the time of his life in the Caprivi, in a standard bakkie with two sleeping rolls chucked in the back.

I remember running into Oom Sarel Visser at Epupa. He’d traveled in a Series II Landrover through Kaokoland and with him he had his trusty pipe and hand-drawn map. The sketch was dated 26 January 1965 and it showed the route from Epupa via Epembe to Orumana. “Always make sure you know where you’re going and have a Plan B just in case Plan A fails.” That’s good advice. He told me where to find a spring close to Sanitatas and to sleep there because chances were good I’d spot the black rhino that roams those mountains. He didn’t have fancy accessories or clever gadgets (or GPS for that matter), but he had more stories to tell than all the people in camp that night put together.

I’ve run into his son Bennie, a guy who practically grew up in the Kaokoland, “Make sure you have enough fuel and carry an extra spare wheel” was his advice. “There’s other more important things (than porta potties, 12v hair-dryers, sand-plates and snorkels for example) such as bicycle tubes, pegs, a good tow rope and duct tape.

I recall chatting to Oom Johannes Cilliers. We were sitting bare feet in the sand watching blue wildebeest silhouettes kick up dust over the Liuwa Plains, “You don’t need much to experience this, you just need to get here” he quipped as he raised his tin mug to his mouth. And inside me I whistled “Give that man a Bells”!

I remember crossing the border into Angola at Ruacana, leading one of the first ever commercial tours from the Kunene to the Congo. That almost serene sensation of knowing I was driving where others, not so long ago wavered…and thinking that a passport is probably the best 4×4 accessory I’ll ever own.

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