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Day 132 Wednesday 10th August (RS): Fish River Canyon

Posted by Peter Douet on August 15, 2011 at 5:05 PM Comments comments (0)

I woke to find that we were not as remote as we had though: a few hundred meters away was a house! There was no sign of anyone and nobody seemed interested in our presence so all good.

I headed off for a long run whilst the others snoozed. Whilst we were packing the Surf up we spotted that the perculiar noise of dripping that Jen had heard the night before was probably related to the fuel system: we had a leak. Unable to find the source of the leak and heartened by its slow rate, we decided to drive on and see if it diminished when the fuel level dropped. The poor Surf: she was now needing a push start too as the electrolyte levels in her one remaining battery was low and we could not find distilled water anywhere!

As we drove the few remaining km to Fish River Canyon, the Captain receives a text from Pete H who had also planned to be at the Canyon today: the Rangie had a cracked head and the Cruiser had to tow her back to the last campsite: rubbish news!

The Canyon is stunning: 2 levels of cliffs descending hundreds of feet and formed over billions of years. We drove from viewpoint to viewpoint gazing down the beautiful cliff faces to the water below.

Pete and I decide that, despite a sign strictly forbidding day hikes into the Canyon following an incident where a tourist died, we still wanted to hike down. It was still possible to do 5 day hikes down and through the Canyon without a guide but we found that the start of the walk had too many people and we did not want to draw attention to ourselves as we did not have the huge packs of the other hikers. We found an emergency exit path marked on the map and headed for that. So, camelbacks ready and fleet of foot for the first section so we could get out of sight swiftly, we headed down. The path was generally good but there were loose sections where a spot of scrambling was required. The way was generally marked with cairns although we did have one or two off piste moments requiring a spot of climbing!

It took an hour to get down to the bottom and our knees were grateful that we had ceased descending! After a 10min stop for photos and to appreciate the view, we started the ascent. We had left Jen at the top and so wanted to return asap although both of us thought that it was going to be really hard work getting back up.

As it turned out we climbed faster than we had descended: 54 mins to reach the top! Two hours of great exercise in the open air with absolutely stunning surroundings: this is what life is all about! Life just does not get better than this! (Well, perhaps a cold beer waiting at the top?..)

We drive further along the cliff top enjoying the vastness. Although this is smaller that the Grand Canyon, you have more access to it and there are fewer people: it truly is a great place to visit and perhaps next time we will have enough time to do the full 5 day hike.

As we head off to meet the Cloggies our thoughts turn to the Rangie and hope that they have managed to get somewhere towards a repair. James,. Robbie and Pete want to head home a week or so earlier and so we have a provisional container booking from Cape Town which means we have to off load the vehicles on the 17/18th and go into the offices on the 15th. However, given the Rangie’s state., whether they will make Cape Town for the 13th as planned is uncertain. Jen, Pete D and I plan to carry on and therefore only plan to stay in Cape Town for a couple of days: fingers are therefore firmly crossed that they will success in a swift repair!



Day 131 Tuesday 9th August (RS): Soussesvlei – Fish River Canyon

Posted by Peter Douet on August 15, 2011 at 5:05 PM Comments comments (0)

A day of driving today but, apart from the first 160km, it is mainly on tar: the bikers are glad indeed too see tar again, as were we to be free from dust. We pause briefly for second breakfast and internet and head on to kill the kilometres.

Another stop in the middle of nowhere for lunch and another great view: we really are very lucky!

The Cloggies decide to stay on tar and avoid the canyon roads and we head on to find a bush camp as close to the canyon park as we can get in the fading light. We find a turn off from the main road which we take, driving past 2 rangers in a parked vehicle. In our complacency born of having successfully bush camped for months, we drive only a couple of km in and just off the edge of the track where we gather wood and start a fire for dinner. We watch as the lights of the parked vehiclc now heads towards us: we have attracted more attention than we would have desired.

The rangers tell us that we are on private property, not the national park, however they insist that we are not allowed to stay the night, even though they do not work for the owner and have no means to contact the owner so that we can seek permission. After a frustrating discussion we move on, back to the main road and find a spot beside the road.

It turns out to be a great camping spot, seemingly in the middle of nowhere: no lights to be seen at all and the stars are beautiful. A delicious dinner of roasted veg and sausages cooked on an open fire (we had liberated the wood we had collected at the earlier stop).



Day 130 Monday 8th August (RS): Soussesvlei & Deadvlei

Posted by Peter Douet on August 15, 2011 at 5:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Whilst I go for a run through the stunning countryside, the captian and Ralph set about adapting the clutch lever from the chopper to fit Ralph’s BMW: they even make a spare from the brake lever! Fantastic work chaps!

We head for a fun filled day in amongst the sand dunes. Unfortunaly, motorbikes are banned from the national park and so we offload some kit and squeeze all 5 of us into the super Surf. It is stunning driving into the sand dunes, among the valley floor with the red walls rising up either side. We stop and the much photographed Dune 45 where we have fun climbing it and trying our hand and sand boarding on home made boards: still needs some finessing I think as speed was not an issue! We tumbled down the slope arrving at the bottom full of sand: everywhere! The Captian and Hank had work sandals or flip flops and their feet had been royally cooked by the red hot sand: ouch!!

We drove into Soussesvlei: the 5km form the 2WD to the 4WD car park were hilarious as the Captian gave it full beans through the sand, throwing his passengers around in the back and further testing his ever faithful Surf.

The ground in Soussusvlei is hard baked mud, curled at the edges and the valley is surrounded by enormous red dunes which contrast beautifully with the blue, cloudless sky.

The group (less Hank of the prawn-pink feet) walked through to Deadvlei and Jenni shows us her stunt woman abilities (you’ll have to ask!) This valley is totally different from Soussusvlei and is a place where time forgot. The bottom of the valley is white, hard baked salt, from wich rises the black trunks of long dead and preserved trees. The red walls rise steely, flashed with patches of green grass and topped with an expanse of blue sky: it looks like a child’s drawing using just red, green, blue, black and white: stunning indeed.

We linger to enjoy the shadows cast by the setting sun and time our departure just in time before the gates close. After reloading and collecting the bikes we head to a picnic site for a Gippo camp beside the road: not the quietest spot but all we need.

We enjoy wine, beer and spag bol cooked on a fire of liberated wood: good work Captain! Our entertainment is reviewing the photos and videos of the day and those from earlier in the trip: an absolutely cracking day and great to look back on earlier fun times too.



Day 129 Sunday 7th August (RS): Swakopmund – Solitaire

Posted by Peter Douet on August 15, 2011 at 5:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Kathy and Jo plan to go sky diving today: a fabulous tandem jump from around 11000ft and Robbie wants to peruse a second hand shop which seems to specialise in Hitler stuff: the boy is obsessed! The Captain and Lady Jennifer were heading to Soussesvlei with 2 Cloggies (Dutch) that the had been travelling with and I decided to jump in with them rather than spend a day hanging around.

The Cloggies are Martin (aka Marvin, Hank) and Ralph and are a couple of lads doing the same route as us but on BMW motorbikes. The whole route is on gravel which makes live difficult for bikes but they had had plenty of experience in the miles driven so far and, due to the dust, ride in front of the Surf. The scenery is stunning and we stop several times to take pictures of the valleys, the Tropic of Capricorn, and for lunch.

Disaster strikes: the dust in front of us clears and we see a bike lying in the middle of the road, kit scattered everywhere, 2 vehicles stopped, people everywhere…….fortunately Ralph is standing up and is OK! He had been riding at 120ph on a straight piece of road and suddenly lost it. We collected everything, moved the bike to the side and assessed the damage: broken clutch lever (no spare), severely bent out of shape pannier detached from the bike, broken laptop (screen smashed): all in all, not too bad!

Jenni and I set about reshaping the metal pannier which took some time and a large hammer. Jenni and I also made shims for the broken clutch lever from a couple of large flat washers using a hacksaw and mole grips as a clamp. Unfortunately the araldite we had was not man enough for the job and Ralph had to drive with no clutch, Pete pushing him off to start.

He made the remaining 70km to the nearest town, Solitaire, and we pull into the petrol station where we also find camping and, amazingly, the frame and fittings of an old chopper motorbike: earmarked for spares in the morning light!

It is a relief to shower and enjoy cold beers and, for Martin, to have somewhere where he can sleep as he had been sick all day! I don’t know, one Cloggie is throwing up and the other is throwing his possessions all over the road!



Day 128 Saturday 6th August (RS): Grootfontein – Swakopmund

Posted by Peter Douet on August 15, 2011 at 5:05 PM Comments comments (0)

We had planned to head toTorro Bay and the Skeleton Coast but unfortunately had to cut this out as we were running out of time. Only a few km from Karmanjap and the Cruiser is playing up again: more issues with the fuel system. Fortunately, Pete discovers that there is a blockage and manages to clear it within half an hour: please no more breakdowns!

We continue on, all girls in the Cruiser today as Kathy has joined us too, when the boys in Rangie see a chance to rescue a VW pickup which had plunged head first over the edge of the road and into a dry river bed: ouch! Somehow the 4 occupants, some of whom had been travelling in the open pickup back, were uninjured! Rangie sonn winches it out and we discover that they are transporting a butchered cow in the back. Within minutes of us freeing the vehicle another vehicle turns up to transfer the load into: can’t waste the meat! The driver claims that the steering system broke and, indeed, on wheel was broken off the hub completely but we suspect that the bald tyres showing exposed metal wires may have had something to do with the accident. The driver claimed that the front offside tyre, which was in the worst condition, was the spare and therefore this was ok!

As we progress the landscape changes from flat desert as far as the eye can see to mountains and hills. We pass a town called Uis which seems to be only the name depicted on the hillside in stones!

Just north of Swakopmund we hit the west coast of this vast continent: amazing that we have crossed it, even though at a relatively narrow section. We spy a ship wreck on the beach and venture towards it over the sand for a closer look. First James takes the Rangie into soft sand, much to Robbie’s disgust, and then Pete cannot be outdone by his younger bro and so brings the Cruiser to the same spot. Both cars were on the brink of getting stuck requiring yet more digging and the boys were lucky indeed to free their chariots.

We arrive in Swakopmund in time for sunset over the pier: a lovely sight indeed. Just as we are pulling in we meet the Surf: reunited again after several more days than intended! We had last seen them in Kasane in northern Botswana and had planned to catch up within a day or so after we fixed the Rangie’s cooling system issues. That was before we spent far,. Far too long in the Mkgadikgadi!

We all camp in the Youth Hostel: a glorified car park with poor facilities although it did boast hot water and was only £2 per person. Unbelieveable that the nice campsites we had been staying at could not muster hot water, despite it being advertised, but the run down YHA could!

We dined out all together and enjoyed swapping stories. Team Surf had had a great time, tearing across the Mkgadikgadi chasing ostrich: weighing almost a ton less than the other 2 vehicles seems to have made all of the difference! They had also driven through Etosha and been treated to a close up of cheetah and a lion kill: awesome.



Day 127 Friday 5th August (RS): Grootfontein – Karmanjap

Posted by Peter Douet on August 15, 2011 at 5:00 PM Comments comments (0)

We opt for a leisurely start this morning; Pete takes Billy bicycle out and Robbie and I go for runs. The main road is so quiet that it is easy to run along and get lost in thought, gazing at the uninhabited countryside.

Whilst the rest of us catch up on the internet, making arrangements for the end of the trip, James attempts to fix the printer driver for the friendly German lady owner: this takes over 4 hours and remains unsuccessful: rubbish! Only a few days left and we have lost yet more precious time.

We eventually get underway for another 400km journey mid afternoon and complete the distance with no incidents: thank goodness! Jo and Pete had swapped places so we had a girls car in the Cruiser and a great time chatting about anything and everything and generally putting the world to rights.

Oppikoppi campsite was recommended to us as a place where game meat is available and you can camp for free if you eat and drink in the bar/restaurant: perfect! We receive a warm welcome from Wim, the somewhat eccentric manager, who kicks off proceedings with a round of Jaegermeister on the house: a somewhat messy night ensued! After a few more rounds Jo took up the gauntlet by stitching up others for more shots: Robbie reaped revenge by adding more gin to her G&T!



Day 126 Thursday 4th August (RS): Tsumkwe – Grootfontein

Posted by Peter Douet on August 15, 2011 at 5:00 PM Comments comments (0)

The Hawkins boys spend the best part of the morning welding re-bar to a scaffold pole to make a rigid towbar to make life easier on the 300km journey ahead. At last we set off and not 15 mins into the journey, Pete tries the Cruiser engine under no load (he has removed the prop shafts to enable towing without damaging the gearbox) and the engine idles perfectly: typical. We decide it is worth trying it out properly and so Pete once more crawls in the dust under his naughty motorcar and refits the prop shafts. 20 mins later and we are ready for the off: only to find that under load, she is not having any of it and coughs and stalls: back to towing! Rubbish!

We eventually make the distance, stopping briefly for a lunch of crackers and cold mash potato left overs, arriving in Grootfontein just before 5pm and a garage. As Pete begins to demonstrate the issue to the mechanic, he notices that the fuel filter is loose, allowing air into the system. Tightening the filter appears to rectify all issues: looks like his welding had done the trick after all but unfortunately, the fuel filter had also been changed during the early stages of diagnosing the fault and was not tight enough: turns out we could have got away without the tow after all!

We get supplies and head for a campsite on the edge of town: a game farm where we discover that not only do they have tame warthogs which like their bellies rubbed (much like a dog) but there is also a caracal and a huge male lion! Thankfully we were warned about it before it woke us in the night, grunting very loudly only a few meters from our tents (I should mention that it was in fenced enclosure adjacent to our camp). Apparently it has escaped previously and killed 2 horses instantly: the owner had to take a huge steak, get the lion to chomp down, and drag it back into the enclosure! Rather him than me! It just goes to show that some animals are not meant to be pets even though we also saw the son call the lion over and pet it through the fence.

We dined in the campsite restaurant that night and what a fantastic meal it was. Most of us opted for Eland steaks and they were lean, full of flavour and very tender: absolutely delicious!



Day 125 Wednesday 3rd August (RS): Namibia (just, aka Tsumkwe)

Posted by Peter Douet on August 15, 2011 at 5:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Despite his best efforts, which involves stripping part of the injector pump and welding the broken section, Pete is unable to fix the injector pump and so it is a day of towing tomorrow: 300km!! Fingers crossed the Rangie holds out!

The rest of us spend an hour or so in the afternoon visiting 3 huge baobab trees: reputed to be between 2500 and 5000 years old (quite a margin!) It is possible to climb right inside one of the trees and there is a little cave like space in the middle.

We are struck by how quiet everything is out here: the only noises are the occasional bird or squirrel or what we make ourselves. In the world we live in this is so unusual that it balances between being eerie and peaceful.



Day 124 Tuesday 2nd August (RS): Botswana – Namibia (Dobe border crossing)

Posted by Peter Douet on August 15, 2011 at 5:00 PM Comments comments (0)

We carry on along the dirt road towards the border taking it easy on the vehicles. Despite our best efforts, the Cruiser once more has a moment and stops dead: the engine just cuts out. Throughout the hours that we have driven this approach to the border we have seen only a handful of cars and there are definitely no garages nearby, let alone Toyota dealers. We prime the fuel and get her going again although at best she can be described as running lumpy!

The border crossing is the best yet: just a tent on the Botswana side with 2 immigration officers. We discover that there are no customs at this border post and persuade the immigration officers to stamp the Carnets to prove that we have taken the vehicles out of the country: hopefully this stamp will pass the requirements!

After a quick pause in no-mans-land where we have to clean our shoes to prevent transference of foot and mouth, we enter Namibia and a similarly small border control, although the buildings are brick rather than a tent.

No customs on the Namibian side either and we are directed to the police station in the nearest town, 50km down the road. Luckily I persuade the border post to write a letter stating that they have directed us thus as, when we arrived at the police station there was some commotion and, unfortunately, no Carnet stamp. The sergeant told us that we should return to Botswana and enter Namibia via a different border which required a round trip of about 500km. Given that the Toyota was still playing up and now would not run at all, we decided to ignore this instruction in favour of trying to persuade the exit border post to stamp the Carnet twice: fingers crossed.

We head to a nearby lodge where Pete can work on the sick car. It turns out that part of the throttle control has broken off: fingers crossed he can work his Hawkins magic!



Day 123 Monday 1st August (RS): Maun – Namibia (almost!)

Posted by Peter Douet on August 15, 2011 at 5:00 PM Comments comments (0)

After a late start as we await the return of the mountains of washing we had off loaded with the camp site staff, all of which was ingrained with salt pan mud, we strike west towards Namibia. Unfortunately, it is the Cruiser’s turn to play up and we are halted part way down the 120km dirt road to a small border crossing as she has a steering problem.

Upon investigation, the Hawkins discover that she has a bent steering damper and set about rectifying the situation using a strap attached to the Rangie. A few good tugs and it is once more straight enough! These boys are getting more and more into the African brute force approach!

As evening is approaching we decide to bush camp and once more are blessed with clear skies and shooting stars whilst sitting around a campfire: lovely!