Riding The Edge
Words and pics Jacques Marais
Monday 4 September 2017: this was finally our ‘big day’ ... After months of planning and running around like headless chickens, Pete van Kets and I were finally at Serra Cafema, right up against the border between Namibia and Angola.
It was here that our ou would kick off, setting us off on an adventure where we would travel from the Kunene River - using fat-bikes and a pair of Isuzu KB 4x4 vehicles - all the way to Walvis Bay, a good 1200km of pedalling later.
I’ve experienced plenty of adventures in my five or so decades, but this desert route gave me sleepless nights from time to time. The harsh wilderness along the Skeleton Coast is certainly not child’s play, and at times a whole week could pass without you encountering another vehicle or human being.
After an all-nighter navigating the highway from Cape Town to Windhoek, we tackled the monster 20-hour drive to Angola. Moer-and-gone backroads eventually brought us to Serra Cafema – one of Wilderness Safaris’ most remote and beautiful camps - and we could spend the day getting the bikes and vehicles ready for the wilderness route back south.
Peter Van Kets, myself and the rest of the BEYOND EXPEDITIONS Team – Peter and Graham Kirk - had a few hours in which to explore this magnificent landscape, with a late afternoon boat trip on the Cunene certainly counting as one of the highlights. Languorous crocodiles, some local Himba people farming along the river banks, giant herons hunting bream, and the rugged landscape of Angola made it a breathtaking experience.
We were up bright and early on Monday morning and started pedalling (and pushing, and portaging, and swearing under our breath!) along the dunes. Your average old guy on a bike (that’s me …) will take serious stick here, but I did notice that even our Chief Adventurer, Peter Van Kets, was taking some strain.
In the Isuzu KBs with their Grand Trek tyres the going was way easier, with the Kirk brothers scouting ahead to get good video and drone footage. We caught up with them at a tiny Himba village – a smattering of low mud huts, really – to spend time with some of these nearly-wild people of Africa.
There was no end to the climbs and the red sand dunes on that first day, and it took us almost four hours to reach our lunch stop. Fortunately the guide from Wilderness Safaris knew the area well, and the view over the Kunene into Angola made up for those calf cramps on the final ascent.
Fortunately for PVK, it was downhill from here; I had jumped into the Isuzu to let our videographer pedal with Pete for a while. As the riders bombed through a narrow valley, a herd of about 30-odd mountain zebra galloped alongside them for a while, and we also encountered several giraffe, gemsbok and multitudes of springbok along the way.
At night, we camped in dry riverbeds and sat around hardwood fires listening to the surrounding thousand-mile silence. This deep in the desert, you sometimes don’t even hear an owl or a jackal as you lie in your tent and it is eerily silent, quiet enough to hear the occasional scorpion or beetle scuttling by in the darkness.
And this was exactly our idea behind the ‘Beyond The Desert Edge’. It was not to be just another adventure or long-winded ego-crank, but would rather focus on what could be discovered here on the edge of this ancient desert. This is a place where horned adders lie in wait; where thousand year-old welwitchia plants slumber; where dewdrops from the rolling desert fog reflect an entire world; and where scorpions glow jade and aquamarine in the light of an ultra-violet torch.
There are also endless landscapes and fragile eco-systems, where you or your vehicle can leave scars for decades, so one must tread lightly. And all the silence and space mean that you spend a lot of time looking inwards, to ponder where and how you fit into this timeless planet of ours.
This is also partly why the support for ‘Beyond The Desert Edge’ – from sponsors such as Dunlop, Spar, Isuzu, Wilderness Safaris, Hi-Tec, Ciovita, Giant Bicycles, HoldFast, Spot-Africa and DripDrop – was so important to us. In the long run, their assistance meant we could give something back through raising funds for ‘Children in the Wilderness’, a charity organisation that helps to educate children in wilderness areas about nature. Find out more about this admirable cause at www.childreninthewilderness.com There are too many adventures from this incredible expedition to share in a single article, but Peter Van Kets and myself will continue to publish some of the incredible images and footage on our Social Media streams, as will our many sponsors and supporters.
Two easy ways to donate to #CITW:
#CITW has an SA account for donations from SA citizens (you’ll receive a tax-deductible 18A certificate) – details below:
Account Name: Children in the Wilderness (Mkambati)
Bank: Standard Bank
Account Number: 023031735
Branch Code: 001255
Swift code: SBZAZAJJ
An easy way to donate if you are based overseas is via the Empowers Africa Portal.
Just click on-: https://empowersafrica.org/children-in-the-wilderness/ (US donors will receive a 501 certificate for tax purposes.)