Blog 22 by Tan: Nothing Like a Flash Flood to Keep Things Interesting
We were informed by the guy at the Skeleton Coast gates that the 4×4 route that hugs the southern border of the national park was the most scenic route inland. He had worked in the park for more than 20 years so we figured he knew what he was on about. Instantly we were met with one of the most eerily scenic and fun remote routes of the trip so far.
Mick skirting the edges of the Skeleton Coast park
A typical Namibian desert road
Mick pondering the change in landscape
As we rode east through the flat, sandy expanse, relict sand dunes were replaced by tilted strata showing awesome bedding and a range of other cool stuff I would have loved to have gotten a closer look at were we not enjoying the ride so much. The road itself was in good condition and belied the 40km an hour speed limit applied to it. In Namibia, many of the roads are gravel but they tend to be in good condition through diligent maintenance but probably more due to the naturally dry conditions.
A beautiful if eerie landscape
We’re pretty happy with our luggage system. The amount we carry allows us to be comfortable and pretty well self sufficient but still able to go just about anywhere.
Sand gave way to gravel as we approached Brandberg and the only colour that broke up the beautiful yet monotonously brown landscape was the green sprawling leaves of the Welwitschia plant, which tenaciously clings to life in the harshest of conditions and for centuries at that. The big ones are said to be up to two thousand years old. It is hard to imagine any water ever having touched this place yet things survive. We saw groups of springbok running around and we couldn’t help but think “What are you doing here? How the hell do you survive here? Don’t tell me you live on horse shit too?”
The Welwitschia plant is known as the ‘living fossil’. 2000 years old is not a bad innings at all.
A beautiful but inhospitable place
See what I mean?
Soon enough the landscape changed again and we got our first glimpses of the famed folded mountains of the Ugab River. As we rode closer to the Ugab river valley, rocks replaced gravel and we braced ourselves for the dreaded pinch flats that fortunately never came despite the harshness of the trail.
Ominous clouds so into the wet weather gear
Mountains – folded ones
Another terrain change
Upon arriving at the remote and deserted Brandberg West Rhino Camp our GPS showed two trails to Twyfelfontein, our next destination. We passed a Swiss couple in a Landrover (first car for the day) who said they had amazing views through the river valley. We started along what we thought was the right trail before doubling back when it turned north out of the riverbed. Not wanting to miss the amazing scenery, we found a trail heading down the river valley proper with what looked like fresh tracks so figured this must have been the way the Swiss had come. And as a bonus the GPS informed us this way was slightly shorter. So we went for it, and were soon greeted with deep river sand.
Mick taking a breather at Rhino Camp
It was challenging but good fun. However, it wasn’t long before the sand became really serious. For me it was some of the hardest sand we’ve ridden as the grains of sand were so coarse and so well rounded that they seemed to roll underneath the tyres like tiny little marbles. As we continued we came across sections of waterlogged sand which made the bikes work like crazy. There was no respite whatsoever, it was standing up all the way, leaning back and powering through. It was so physically taxing, to turn in the stuff you weren’t merely leaning on the pegs but having to throw your full body weight around to get the necessary traction.
The start of the diabolical sand…. I know it doesn’t look like tough sand but it was
Sand riding – love to hate it – hate to love it
The hard physical riding combined with the high temperate and high humidity left me sweating like a gypsy with a mortgage, as the honeybadger would say. I found this rather strange as it is not typical to work up such a sweat through uninterrupted riding. We hadn’t stopped to pick up a dropped bike or to dig one out of the sand. The bikes were working just as hard though, we stopped every 20 minutes or so to cool them down a bit when our warning light indicated over 140 degC. Due to the amount of sharp rocks around we decided to keep the bikes at gravel road pressures; 20psi front and 25psi rear. While far from easy it was fantastic forced upskilling in sand riding.
Fantastic views all around
These random rocky sections meant dropping pressures wasn’t an option
I was extremely anxious about possibly running into one of the valley’s black rhinos. There are supposed to be a decent number of them there so we had our intercoms on and eyes peeled, however the deep sand and steep valley walls was hardly a good place to outmaneuver and outrun a charging rhino. Fortunately it seems that rhinos know that vehicles contain humans which they have learnt through sad experience are bad news for them. They apparently run for their lives at the sound of an engine which is a sad reflection on us and the effects of poaching, but we were glad for it – it increases the chances of both parties living a full life.
On our ride down the riverbed we were treated to the most remarkable display of geology I have ever seen. The folding was more impressive than anything I have ever seen before in real life or even in a textbook. It is a rare thing indeed to see such wonderful displays on the kilometre scale. Utterly remarkable. River valleys often reveal incredible geology but this was just ridiculous.
And more of the same
The geology just got better and better but sadly we were too busy staying upright to capture a lot of it
Finally we came upon what the GPS told us was our route out of the valley and onwards to Twyfelfontein. It was a steep track up the valley walls over wet, sharp and slatey rocks. It was such a narrow track it looked like it could only just fit a 4WD. By this point we were certain the young Swiss couple didn’t come this way but we weren’t at all certain we could manage it on the full loaded dirt tractors. Mick went ahead first to prove the route and if it was alright he’d honk his horn to tell me to come up. Not long afterward Mick came down and said that route was not really suitable for us (read:me) which was a rarity as our DRs can really get just about anywhere and I can generally hold my own. But the bigger issue was that we didn’t know how bad it would get and for how long.
Link to Video hosted on Vimeo
VIDEO Attempting Divorce Pass on slippery wet rocks. Hard work.
So we continued on up the riverbed looking for a better way out of the steep sided valley. After all the river sand, Mick did some exploring for a better, more hard-packed line near the valley walls. What he found however was the absolute opposite, a total quagmire. He managed to get his bike proper bogged in a slimy silty mess at the same time as I hit thick mud and buried my bike about 100m away. Both bikes were so stuck neither of us could extricate themselves without help. We managed to get ourselves covered head to toe in mud in the process but we go the bikes free and resigned ourselves to the thick sand in the middle of the riverbed. I’ll take sand over mud any day.
Just at that point however it started to rain pretty heavily. Now things were getting interesting. Bloody serious in fact is probably a more apt description; a riverbed in a downpour is hardly a place you want to be. However, it seemed the best thing to do was to continue up the valley and find some higher ground.
Ah shet, ah shet, eim bogged, eim bogged as bru…
The start of the flash flood. Giddy up.
So we rode onwards. And the river rose to meet us, going from empty to 20cm of fast flowing sandy water in just a minute of two. It was quite a cool, though slightly tense experience riding against the current in a rising river. Things weren’t out of control but far from ideal either. We weren’t all that worried by the riding as we both have experience in deep water, but what was quite worrying was the pretty limited number of options we had. We were stuck in a sandy steep sided riverbed quickly filling with water….
It seemed best to just keep going while we still could and find some higher ground ASAP. One thing in our favour was the river valley was pretty wide so it would take a lot of rain to leave us with no options for escape. If worst came to worst we could gun it out of the main track (which was now the river) up the walls of the valley and drag the bikes up as high as we could go and perch ourselves there until the water receded.
Things were getting interesting
Our old road and new river
We continued on like this for another kilometer or more, by now we were riding in 30cm of fast water and rising. The water had a decent current behind it and we were occasionally dropping into a half meter deep holes eroded by the flowing water and negotiating sizeable submerged rocks to boot. It was a case where you do your best riding when the stakes are high and no bike drownings occurred. In fact, it was great fun. The added bonus was that the bikes were getting a thorough cleaning with fresh water after our time on the Skeleton Coast. The salt from us blatting up the beach had done a total number on our brand new chains and sprockets and the bike as a whole. We couldn’t spare a drop of precious drinking water to rinse them off so instead had covered the chains and frame in WD40, with marginal success. Now, still far from fresh water sources we get an unexpected bike bath. We were thrilled.
Eventually we came upon some higher ground that would get the bikes about 3m and the tent about 4m above the valley bottom, and decided to stop here for the night. There was about 2 hours until sundown, but it was still raining, the water was still rising, there were nasty clouds in the distance upstream and the ground was higher here than any place we had seen it in the last 15km. So we maneuvered the bikes up as high as we could and set up camp. We got to have a good bath in the river and took the chance to filter some drinking/cooking water with our excellent little MSR gravity fed water filter we carry for emergencies. In these parts of Namibia we were looking to carry about 12L each, including our bashplates 3L of emergency water at all times.
By consulting the map and the GPS together we realised we had definitely taken a different route to Twyfelfontein than the one we had intended. Our current ‘incorrect’ route would take us down the Ugab and back towards the White Lady Campground that we had come from days previous. This is why a GPS alone is not so good. We would have learnt this earlier had we consulted the map while at Rhino Camp and had not assumed, like a total geologist, that the poor Swiss people would (in their second language) correctly identify what exactly constitutes a river valley. Our immediate thought was that we had inadvertently stumbled across what would have to be one of the coolest off-road routes in all of Namibia; White Lady<->Skeleton Coast in the Ugab River. Epic riding, complete with desert rhinos, elephants and lions! We had the will and enough water and food to continue but we had insufficient fuel to sensibly add about 90km of tough sand riding to an already long route. Our fuel consumption in sand like this can be as low as 12km/L.
Our home the next morning – gear spread everywhere in the sun.
More significantly though, we had no intel about the trail whatsoever and with on and off rain through the night there was obvious further floodwater risk. We were kicking ourselves for not talking to more people about potential routes and filling the secondary tanks. We are calculated risk takers and don’t mind pushing the envelope once we’ve done the necessary preparation but being off the cuff reckless is just not how we roll. We aim to be self-sufficient at all times and never want to feature in the many cautionary tales of biker folly. So we resolved to put the Ugab River valley ride on our future riding bucket list (outside of the wet season) and to be grateful for the awesome and unintended trail we had done to this point.
There was nothing else for it. We had to do the riverbed in reverse and get back to the main track. Fortunately, despite our extremely isolated location, we were able to drown our sorrows/celebrate the days difficult ride. Our friends Freidel and Tony in Windhoek had given us baby Amarula bottles to open in case of emergency. This seemed like as good a time as any.
Open in case of emergency baby bottles of booze
Though all the excitement we unfortunately forgot that our GoPro was not in its waterproof casing. We did having more pressing matters to attend to after all. Having a high cost bit of kit die on the trip is really disappointing but what can you do? First a camera, now a GoPro… Gutted!
It stopped raining hard and we settled in for the night. We whipped up a not so gourmet meal of soya mince and instant mashed potato. I went to sleep feeling a bit unwell and woke up in the middle of the night and managed to get my head out of the tent before vomiting. Like a lot. Mick, with his iron clad guts, was totally fine apart from having to hear me violently rid myself of the soya chunks mascaraing as mince, potentially over a bunch of our stuff in the vestibule. For me, what I found most disturbing, was that the taste of the soya mince coming up was near indistinguishable from its taste going down. I have thus resolved never to partake in soya mince again. I had already been perturbed by its tenuous claim as a food fit for human consumption for some time.
It was one of those bouts of vomiting that is remarkably therapeutic. Immediately afterward I felt excellent and went straight back to sleep. I’m not sure if it was the highly salty soya mince after days of bland food that disagreed with me, bad water or heat stress from the day’s riding that was responsible. Perhaps it was a combination of all three. Either way the worst was over.
I made the mistake of forgetting to take some rehydration sachets after the episode so really suffered the next morning. I struggled to eat anything and only managed a spoonful of peanut butter and a handful of nuts.
Feeling less than awesome. Note the freshly exposed rocks everywhere, and the pushed over grass, which hid the rocks and holes. Mick meanwhile is “hurry up and spew lady we’ve got riding to do!”
Once our gear was dry we packed up camp and started on our way back to Rhino Camp. By now the water had receded completely and the route was filled with fine silt, exposed rocks and many holes. I already tired myself out getting the bike bogged in the mud almost instantly and then, just as I was getting a rhythm going, I rode straight into a deep hole. The bike’s front wheel went straight into the gaping chasm and not having had the reaction time to brace myself, my face went straight into the fairing and the GPS mount as I had neglected to shut my visor due to the heat. I absolutely smashed in and was surprised to see the fairing still intact. It bloody hurt and I’m not going to lie – it made me cry. Fortunately though I was wearing my large fox sunglasses which absorbed a lot of the impact. Though I was still bruised and swollen for a few days. If I’d been wearing my other sunglasses or none at all I could have really done some damage. My new sunnies that I got for Christmas paid the price, and were now all covered in scratches…… and this is why I can’t have nice things.
30km of HARD work
Once we got out of the mud and onto the sand I felt bloody awful, my face hurt, I was overheating and wanted to be sick. I had no idea how I was going to manage this bloody sand again. I knew if I had just one fall, that would be the very last of my energy reserves gone. It made a huge difference having the intercoms working again as Mick was able to ride behind me shouting encouragement and kindly agreeing with my deluded claims that I was riding just like Laia Sanz.
When the terrain gets really difficult I prefer to be in front. While I lose the advance warning of hazards and the benefit of knowing the better wheel track to take, I gain by being able to focus better. I also find I struggle more if I see someone in front of me struggling. It’s really off putting to me. It is almost like if I see them have difficulty I give myself permission to similarly struggle. Mick and I often joke that I need to see a motorbiking councilor. So much of my riding is based on confidence not ability and it frustrates Mick to no end watching me negotiate a heinously challenging obstacle with ease one minute than struggling the next minute with something easy ‘because I have a bad feeling’. Really it is pretty stupid and amusing… but more stupid than amusing.
Using our emergency water storage
Somehow I managed to pull it off (seriously I was on fire that day) and before we knew it we were back at Rhino Camp. What a route it was! What a challenge! What a view! What an awesome wrong turn to have taken! Once there we refilled our camelbaks which were bone dry with our efforts in the sand. Not knowing what was behind my vomiting episode we thought it safest for me to stick to the best source of water we had, which in this case was the 3L of bottled water that was stored in my bashplate. While hot enough to brew tea or sterilise medical implements, it was the safest bet as a second dehydrating episode would throw a massive spanner in the works for our plans to do some serious, remote riding further north. It was summer, there was near to no-one around. We couldn’t afford to get dehydrated again.
The way we should have been going all along
Got knocked way off line by big slaty rocky which tipped over and dropped it. Not happy.
Coming out of the “Valley of Desolation 4WD Trail”, as named on Tracks 4 Africa
The trail was not technical but just relentless up down left right rocks sand constant non-stop.
Now on the ‘right’ back trail to Twyfelfontein, it was hot and we were knackered but there was no escaping the fact that the trail was fantastic fun. It was worlds easier than the way we came from but hardly easy and in our mind it didn’t warrant the comment on our GPS maps that it was for serious 4WD vehicles only. It took us almost 2 and ¾ hours (with ample photo stops) to do the 75km. It was constant off-road, though not all that technically challenging, it was absolutely relentless rocks and sand and corrugations. There was barely a moment you could sit and switch off. So much so that it made me think there was no way the route was designed by a non-bike rider. It has to have been to most fun, winding, inefficient, not-direct line of a road I have ever taken. Despite my aching muscles and fatigue I found it rather fabulous.
The bush in the background is one of a couple highly toxic plants in Namibia, known to kill people who use it for cooking. Its is attributed to the deaths of 11 miners in Uis
Getting close to the back of Burnt Mountain now
Some nice views looking down from Doros Crater
Road signs Damaraland….. it would be possible to navigate without a GPS but you would need a good set of map and be seriously on the ball
The last bit of trail. Nearly there!
We were so relieved to arrive at Twyfelfontein as we were in desperate need of food and a rock shandy. We fronted up to the Twyfelfontein Country Lodge and we found it was so far outside our budget that we felt embarrassed to have even enquired. However, we could afford their rock shandys and annihilated a couple of them in quick succession. I then begged the closed kitchen to make us some food, pleading that a microwaved potato would suffice. They sorted us out with one of the best toasted sandwiches and hot chips I have ever tasted. Seriously is there anything better then getting through some epic riding in tough conditions, eating and drinking your fill and recapping the riding with a cold beverage in hand? I think no. Not that day anyway.
‘Maybe she’s born with it….maybe its Maybelline’
Exhausted to infinity
And this is why you wear a jersey
San rock engravings at the lodge
Leaving the lodge. It was way above our budget.
We then made our way to an impressive resort called Mowani Mountain Lodge. I’ve mentioned before that Namibia has camping or luxury lodges and nothing in between. Well, the benefit of this is that often the expensive luxury lodges have a campsite as well and while I’m sure they prefer to keep the camping riffraff away from the facilities meant for the $400 a night people, our experience is that workers from these establishments are generally too polite to tell us to push off and be poor in the confines of the campsite. So we just set ourselves up on the comfortable sofas of the lodge, enjoy the views and indulge in the four/five star trapping at campers’ rates. We may have pushed things a bit far one day by taking a piece of the complimentary afternoon chocolate cake that was probably left out just for lodge guests. But seriously, what kind of person puts a chocolate cake unsupervised, near me and expects it to sit there unmolested? A fool, that is the kind of person. A damned fool.
Crossing the Aba Huab River on the way to Mowani. Any shallower and we’d need a bongo truck…
Not a bad spot at all
Anyway we decided to have a rest day at Mowani, which was spent catching up on blog writing and eating fresh vegetables and fruit (a luxury in itself) and skillfully avoiding the stink eye being shot at us from the stroppy South African lady who managed the place. Whatever lady, we were the only people there and we bought lunch so the lodge was fair game to us. The campground was far from cheap at $22 per person per night but it was worth the expense. You got your own impressively decorated toilet and shower block which looked nothing like an outdoor toilet block at all. Every evening and morning before you awoke a worker would come and light a fire under the simple wood-fired heat exchanger known as a donkey in these parts. This gave a huge supply of hot water morning and night.
Sundowners at the lodge
An added delight of the place was that there were amazing granite boulders everywhere displaying the full range of textures and various other geology-like things that I shall resist the urge to bore you with. The most exciting stuff however was the examples of thermal shock. Thermal shock happens when the boulders get so hot through the day only to have rapid cooling occur over night that causes rocks to split apart. Here is a stellar example.
Seriously think how this would have to have happened to end up this way
Like a lot of places marked on Namibian maps, Twyfelfontein isn’t actually a town at all and there is pretty much nothing there but a handful of lodges and the stone engravings that make the place famous. The name Twyfelfontein means “doubtful spring” and it only takes a few minutes outside for the name to make sense. It is a desolate, dry and hot place to put it mildly. However despite this we again found ourselves having to negotiate the flowing Aba Huab River, this time with a respectable level of water in it. With the country up this way being so flat lying, rivers can become torrents without a cloud in the sky as rainwater gets carried from great distances. There were buses of tourists waiting for the river to go down enough to cross. Mick crossed first while I watched his line. This gave the tourists enough time to notice I was a chick and let out an excited laugh that translated to ‘Ha! This will be good’ and whip the camera’s out in morbid anticipation. I was thus faced with the conflicting desires of wanting to put on a good show demonstrating textbook technique and wanting to keep my boots dry. I settled for a middle ground of going in fast in the shallow part, staying upright and lifting my feet as I got further away from the peanut gallery. I figured impressing a bunch of Germans in socks and sandals would be little consolation in the event of foot rot.
Finding a nice little deep spot that wasn’t supposed to be there….that is why you take it slow though water….unless you have random elderly European tourists to impress
Trying to keep my feet dry
Our first task for the day was to source more fuel and we had been told by people and that fuel was available at Twyfelfontein workshop. Unfortunately while that was once true it was no longer the case and they were only selling diesel. We did a stocktake of the contents of our tanks, including a bit left in my secondary tank and the 800mL of fuel in our stove container, and estimated that we probabely didn’t have enough to see the sights of Twyfelfontein and then get to the nearest fuel stop. It looked for a while there that we’d have to pool fuel and Mick would ride the 2 hours to Khorixas and back to get fuel for us both to continue. Not ideal. Fortunately though the guy who managed that garage thought he could spare a bit of his own and kindly sold us 10L which we figured, with efficient riding, would get us around Twfelfontein and then to Palmwag where we could fill up again.
Decanting fuel from the secondary fuel tank. Only the top third flows to the carburetor under gravity. The last 6L has to be decanted manually
We headed to the Unesco World Heritage rock engravings of Twyfelfontein and found that all pretty interesting. Created by the San bushmen, they are the most significant and the largest group of rock art in Africa. They are thought to range from 2000 to 10,000 years old and were produced by people scrapping/striking away the red surface of the rocks to reveal the light coloured rock beneath. Oxidation and the dry conditions have done a lot to emphasise the petroglyphs and preserve them over time.
This rock is referred to as ‘the classroom’ as it depicts the various footprints and the animals they belong to. They suggest that it was used as a place to educate young San on tracking
Lionman – the most famous of the petroglyphs. Look closely and you will see he has an animal in his mouth. You’ll also notice he has five digits on his toes where a lion only has four so they say this is a depiction of a shaman taking on animal form
The petroglyphs include depictions of human and animal tracks and a huge array of animals and symbols said to indicate the locations of water sources and their reliability. Very interestingly, the symbols used for permanent water source (circle with a dot in the middle) and temporary water source (circle with no dot) is the same as used by aboriginal Australians. Giraffes are a common feature of the engravings as they were a sacred animal to the San that, they were never hunted as they were seen as the harbingers of rain and could lead them to water sources.
This was one of the rare depictions of humans in the engravings. He is choking an ostrich – no, that is not a euphemism for anything. He is literally choking an ostrich.
The Pacsafe security mesh bags have been a really worthwhile purchase. They serve as a great visual deterrent for thieves and can be looped through any additional tyres we might be carrying as well as both pannier bag locks. We can also expand them and shove in our body armour and boots for when we want to do some touristing in regular attire.
We checked out the nearby ‘Organ Pipes’, which is said to be one of the best examples in the world of columnar jointing with the exception of the Giant’s causeway in Ireland. I had to agree it was impressive and I couldn’t help but think all my nerdy geo mates would be green with envy over my last two days of rock fixes.
The dolerite magma penetrated the surrounding rocks parallel to the rock layering so as they cooled they formed into regularly orientated columns like the ones you see here
Mick waiting patiently to leave
Link to Video hosted on Vimeo
Leaving Twyfelfontein and crossing the Aba Huab for the 3rd time. Check out Tanya’s bike get knocked downstream a bit by the fast flowing water.
Our next stop was the Petrified Forest, which was rather mind blowing too. We arrived at closing time but the staff were nice enough to let us in to check the place out alone which provided me with considerable temptation to steal a nice sample or two. But seriously, what kind of person puts petrified wood, unsupervised, near me and expects it to sit there unmolested? A fool, that is the kind of person. A damned fool. But as it was a national monument I am proud (though slightly regretful) to say I didn’t take a thing.
In my element
This was the largest trunk we saw at 30m long
The Petrified Forest is not actually a forest but an accumulation of the petrified remnants of huge tree trunks that were uprooted and transported down ancient rivers at the end of one of Gondwana’s many ice ages about 280 million years ago. The scale of a flood that destroyed a forest of trees over 30m tall would have been of the proper eco-catastrophe kind and would be unimanginable to mere human types. A huge amount of mud and sand was also transported and covered the trunks to such an extent that they were denied the atmospheric conditions needed to decompose. Due to enormous pressure over many millions of years the tree trunks got preserved though the infiltration of silica rich fluid. The trees have been so perfectly preserved that the knots, rings, bark and grain of the wood appear exactly as they would have all that time ago as in the silicification process every single cell is the tree is exactly replaced.
After the petrified forest we high tailed it to Palmwag where we desperately needed to get fuel, Mick estimated we would hit reserve about 30kms out which would be pushing it a bit. On our way there we spotted our first desert giraffe beside the roadside which was really exciting. The scenery as ever was fantastic and we couldn’t quite believe the variation in terrains and views we had seen just the last few days riding. With some gentle conservative riding we only went to reserve about 5kms from Palmwag and found the servo closed for the evening. So at the Palmwag Lodge we camped for a small fortune and headed to the bar and the cool, refreshing embrace of a rock shandy.
Our first desert giraffe – not to sure how they survive out here but survive they do
I don’t know I could capture the feeling as we watched the sunset over the deck. We had been near overwhelmed with the trails and scenery served up to us over the last few days. We were gloriously exhausted and contented and the real kicker was that we knew the ‘good’ stuff had only just begun. Just a little further north was Sesfontein, the gateway to Kaokoland – our anticipated highlight of our time in Namibia. All the remained was to see if it lived up to the hype and for us to survive the experience.
The main road north. Doesn’t look like it, but it is
Blog 21 by Mick: Alive on the Skeleton Coast
Was it ever nice to be riding again! We had run a few little errands before leaving civilisation, and with those done we roared out of the big smoke after a bit over 3 weeks of the sedentary life. After watching the Dakar and even staying one extra day in Windhoek to see the finale, and ecstatic with Toby Price’s very impressive (but not unprecedented) third place on debut, I couldn’t help myself but have some fun on the gravel, sticking my leg out and making braaap braaap noises in my helmet (ok, the second bit I didn’t actually do, but it was great to be riding again nonetheless). I had been cautiously optimistic about Toby’s potential in the race, knowing full well the bloke is ballistically fast and probably capable of a stage podium, but I had expected him to do the usual talented rookie trick and impress for a couple stages, then get lost or crash and lose a couple hours or worse; basically “do a Sam Sunderland”.
Interestingly, the only other bloke to podium on debut was also an Aussie, Andy Haydon, who has a great story worth recounting briefly. A well respected and insanely fast off-road racer from South Australia and 2 time Oz Safari winner, Andy proceeded to gather some support to attempt the Dakar. He raised just enough money to get himself and his bike to France, and left Dakar a couple weeks later with 2 stage wins and a third place over all, all as a privateer on a basically stock KTM 620! The Dakar in the late nineties being even more Euro-centric then what it is now, he couldn’t gain enough publicity in Australia for himself and his sponsors to attempt it a second time, so never returned.
This is our way out of town, on our map spelled “Bosua Pass”, on the sign “Boshua Pass”.
Anyway back to us. Windhoek might be the capital city of Namibia, but it only has 3 tar roads out of town; one west, one north and one south. Thankfully we were heading east towards Bosua pass so we had some great gravel riding on empty roads through the hills and managed to see some Kudu, which we were able to warn each other of with our now functioning again intercoms. Before leaving Australia we each bought a pair of custom molded earphones made by the Aussie company Earmold. They don’t come cheap but they are one of our favourite bits of kit; they are made from medical grade silicon and are very comfortable, significantly reduce road noise and the sound quality is great. Unfortunately the headphones we got had some issues with the cables and have been discontinued, and upon learning that both of ours had problems Earmold swiftly replaced them. Unfortunately it has taken us a long time to receive them as for months we’ve lacked a fixed address, however having some down time in Windhoek meant we got them delivered there. We were stoked to have them back again right in time for us sourcing some new batteries for our Sena intercoms which had also both failed.
Tan enjoying a Rock Shandy, a drink we have only found in Namibia and what we think might just be the most refreshing thing in the world. Its half lemonade, half soda water, a generous shake a bitters and some lemon slices.
Turning right after Bosua Pass, we headed north for Hohenstein Lodge. When we had the hire car before Christmas we had dropped by here as we had heard it was possible to do a tour of the small miners who mine the nearby Erongo mountains for minerals specimens and gemstones. It wasn’t possible at the time due to the festive season, so we decided to come back when we had some 2-wheeled transport.
Enjoying a swim at Hohenstein Lodge.
And the view of Hohenfels, our destination for the next day, from the lodge.
We had an early start the next morning and made our way up the mountain. It wasn’t a tough climb and soon we were in the cave that some of the more senior miners call “home”. The unemployment rate in Namibia is about 30% and people have to make a living somehow, so these guys manage it by mining by hand for tourmaline, aquamarine, topaz, and other minerals. The best specimens get sold to traders who come from Europe. A top quality tourmaline specimen might sell for up to US$100k. The miner will probably only see about 10% of that though, the traders pocket the fattest bit of the deal for the doing all the hard work of buying the specimen and selling it on. Well done lads, the world sure needs more middlemen.
Rest Stop #1. They are sure organised these guys….
Hiking near the top of the trail.
This is an impressive Tourmaline piece at Hohenstein Lodge with an iPhone for scale. We were told this one was probably worth about USD10000.
A nice piece of topaz
This is a pretty standard collection. The black ones are tourmaline, the blue ones bottom right are aquamarine, the green ones are fluorite, and the rest are a collection of bits and pieces.
There was a real spread of miners, some of them had been on the mountain for 40 years while some were as green as grass, and they were from every corner of the country. One of the older guys was an informal chief for the miners on the mountain and would settle disputes and evict unruly and unwelcome miners who were causing trouble.
This guy was the informal chief, and here he is displaying some of his specimens.
This guy had been on the mountain the longest – over 40 years.
And he loved a smoke. Local style – rollies with newspaper.
The miners were very keen to see us as it was an opportunity to sell some of their wares without having to leave the mountain. Plus I think it broke up the monotony a little. We looked trough all the collections and bought at least one item from each guy to try a spread the wealth a little. A nice tourmaline specimen could be had for about US$3 to 5, and topaz for 4 to 10 bucks depending on size and quality. Aquamarine sat somewhere in the middle, and quartz and amethyst really varied. There were some other noteworthy pieces there, including some native iron which had grown in platelettes, and some livid green flourites.
We got an interesting native iron piece from this guy
And a couple tourmaline and aquamarine pieces from the “chief”. He had some of the best and most unique pieces.
These are a nice aquamarine on feldspar and a perfect fluorite cube also on feldspar
A columnar aquamarine
And a black tourmaline with perfect cleavage… Yes that is the correct term.
It was interesting discussing the trials and tribulations of the miners. They generally can spot evidence of a vein from the surface and will sink a shaft down on it, following it down hoping to find an elusive “pocket” – a vuhg (sorry, that’s a geo term for an opening in a hydrothermal system) in the vein where large crystals can grow and be easily recovered without damaging them too badly. If the vein doesn’t amount to anything, they try again somewhere else. However, if the vein produces some crystals, they will mine it down to a depth of about 25m, by which it becomes too slow to remove the waste, too hard to pump out if it rains, and far too dangerous. Falling from that height is akin to jumping off a 7 or 8 story build – rest assured it is a one way trip. And sadly it does happen – if the miners haven’t seen someone for a day or two, they will start looking for him first in his shaft, and occasionally find a crumpled mess of a person at the bottom.
The entrance to one of the many many shafts
Safety First! Who needs engineered anchor points when you’ve got “a dead shrub”.
Tan having a squize. Note the rope looped around the root for extra safety!
And inside, you can see evidence of one of the veins in the wall. We only went a couple metres down.
However more often they’ll find a guy on a mission. If a miner does hit a “pocket”, they won’t stop until it is mined out, which might take anything up to 3 days of non-stop digging. This is done to obviously maximise their pay day when they take the booty into Windhoek to sell, but also they don’t want to leave any crystals in the shaft which can be robbed. This act is apparently one of the leading causes of eviction off the mountain, in addition to violence, stealing and not paying debts.
The view from near some of the shafts.
A handful of guys lived in this cave. They had a reasonable little setup.
And had a couple of pretty healthy and happy dogs for company, but mostly to scare the baboons away so they don’t come into the cave and steal food while they are in the shafts.
Discussing the mining itself with the guys, the parallels with the modern mining industry were uncanny, just on a micro scale. They younger guys lamented the costs of mining, at having to hire generators, pumps, and electric jackhammers off of the more established older guys. It immediately struck me that their overheads were massive relative to their modest revenue (hiring about $1000 or more of gear and fueling a geni to sell crystals for $3 each?) and must consume the vast amount of their income, a fact sadly confirmed by the younger miners discussing how hard it was to get started. They really needed to hit a massive pocket to finance their own gear and lower their production costs, however the hire arrangement makes this a very difficult thing to do, as not only do they pay a fixed component for using the gear, but a variable component as a split of the profits made from the shaft. The older guys make more money hiring gear out and letting the younger guys do all the work. Now that’s a capitalist scenario that is surely familiar?
This young guy had not been on the mountain very long.
But already needed a new pair of boots.
We hit the road in the afternoon for the short ride north to Brandberg, the tallest mountain in Namibia and home to some famous San Bushman rock paintings. We arrived at the White Lady Campground, set up camp by throwing our cots on the sand and suffered through a quite average and overpriced dinner.
Saying goodbye to the Erongo Mountains.
Sleeping on the ground – the easiest way to go!
Our tyres now had over 5000kms on them and that is a fair run for a Pirelli MT21 knobby. The centre knobs on the rears was no more than a 1mm high by this stage and the traction was pretty woeful on the sand around Brandberg, and especially in the Ugab River bed which is the White Lady campground. We had brought replacements for our assault on Damaraland and Kaokoland, so I figured this was a good chance to change them. With my tyre off I found the rear wheel bearings starting to get a little notchy, so both of those and the cush drive bearing (had about 20000kms on them so not too bad) all got changed in the campground.
We woke up in the morning an found this – tracks of a big male elephant
And this is how close he came to us – about 30 or 40m. Apparently he went to the lodge and tried to break into their orchard. Elephants are insane for citrus, and with their incredible sense of smell there is no hiding it.
While under my bike I noticed the bash plate had come loose again. When I built the bashplates I used the factory mounting holes for convenience and to save time rather than make extra mounting brackets like the B&B plate uses; that was a decision I was now regretting. The factory mounting holes have captured nuts with minimal engagement and the threads had been damaged mounting and removing the bashplate multiple times. Through experience I found its much too easy to cross thread these when trying to balance the bashplate in one hand and index the bolt with the other, especially as the front mount is tightened it pulls the plate forward thus increasing the likelihood of cross threading even more. I’d been getting by for a while now with very little engagement on just a turn or two of decent thread and lots of Loctite, but even liberally Loctited the last bolts had fallen out anyway, and now the threads were completely buggered. It is times like this that I thoroughly get the shits having to maintain and repair two bikes getting the workout these two do.
Rear wheel off and resting on the peg leg.
New rear tyre, new wheel bearing, and tube slime.
Some more troubles….. bloody hell.
The following morning I got up bright and early and went to the workshop at the campground. The previous day we had spoken to the proprietors and they had generously offered the use of their workshop and tools to fabricate some new mounts. Unfortunately though, there was a shed with no vice, which would make fabrication difficult, and welder with no rods, which would make fabrication impossible. So we packed up the camp and headed back to Uis where we had been told there was a mechanic that could help us.
We tentatively pottered back to town. Even on the main road there was a number of whoops and washouts which would be rather easy to bash the exposed motor on some rocks. We found the mechanic no problems and I explained to him the predicament and my idea for fixing it, which wasn’t my idea at all as all I wanted him to do was make some mounts exactly like the B&B bashplate has. I explained and drew what I wanted and he assured me he understood completely; a bad sign if ever there was one.
The sandy trails on the way out of the campground and back to Uis.
We went and had some lunch at the Rest Camp in town while he got to work. Some beers and a good feed later I made my way back to the workshop just as they were fitting up the bashplate. He had kind of understood what I wanted, but arsed it up pretty thoroughly. Seems just because you can pull the trigger on a drill and strike and arc with welder doesn’t mean you can fabricate. Or even bloody measure it would seem. My bashplate now had some mounting bolts coming through some poorly aligned holes so the exposed nut and thread of the bolt was at about 70 degrees to the bashplate and doesn’t pull up even close to square, in addition to a hole drilled through the plate about 40mm away – how he had mis-measured so badly God only knows. Anyway, it was my stupid fault for leaving the bashplate with him as even at the time I wasn’t overly convinced he had understood or was capable of what I wanted. But leave it with him I did and lesson learned, don’t trust people nodding profusely with confusion in their eyes.
But at least it was securely on the bike now, which was a lot better than how it was 3 hours previously. And he only charged about US$30 for the job, plus gave us a couple pieces of his homemade springbok biltong, which is the best biltong we have had to date. Anywhere. It was lovely and tender and well spiced, very tasty but not overbearing. I tend to think he should hang up the spanners and open a biltong shop, he would sell it by the truck load. And he let me service the bikes there and leave the old oil, so it wasn’t all bad.
While I was at the mechanic, Tanya organised an afternoon tour of the local Tin mine which the town of Uis was built to service. The mine had opened in the 60’s when the world put trade sanctions on South Africa for its apartheid policies and it could no longer buy tin on the world market, so it started to produce it instead. Problem was the grade was so low that the cost of production was about double the market value of the tin. When the trade sanctions were lifted after apartheid was repealed the mine closed and the town was abandoned.
An enterprising local was doing some aquaculture in the old pit.
Interestingly, Uis was reborn after the entire town was offered up for sale by the company which had run the mine, and bought by a European fella for a steal. He then started offering houses for sale for cheap which attracted people back, and the town now primarily services tourists who come to visit Brandberg, or through town on their way to the Skeleton Coast to the west or Damaraland to the north.
Sundowners on the spoilpile overlooking Brandberg. Was a terrible way to spend an afternoon. Shocking.
Check the sunset. Namibia does impressive sunsets.
Leaving Uis the following morning we tracked around the southern side of Brandberg and headed towards the coast. We were leaving Uis without visiting the White Lady, a rock painting by the indigenous San Bushman and the main attraction in the area, but we were comfortable with our decision. It would add about 60kms or so of riding to our day, plus a considerable walk from the car park to the painting and back. But honestly, the tourist attractions are not the main draw or interest for us in any area. We get so much enjoyment riding from place to place, and understanding and fulfillment from talking to local people when we get there. So learning the history of the area from Basil and sharing a beer and a chat in the bar was easily sufficiently rewarding experience for us. I hope that doesn’t sound too disrespectful to the San culture and I’m sure the painting is lovely, but we cant visit everywhere and we left the area content.
Saying good bye to Basil and his Africa Twin.
The Brandberg Rest Camp – a lekker joint.
Views around the south of Brandberg. Riding is pretty good fun sometimes it must be said.
One more interesting factoid before moving on, the White Lady painting isn’t actually white, or even a lady, archeologists have shown it is actually a painting of a San shaman. That’s another pro for having a beard – I’m less likely to be mistaken for a woman in 10000 years.
Rain clouds over Brandberg. Not people would have been lucky to see the big mountain like this.
Tan got a flat front tyre just here near these Welwitschias.
Anyone thinking “barren”?
We rode down to the coast and arrived back at the salt road, a dirt road running parallel with the beach which has been wet with salt water over the years. As the water evaporates, the salt leaves a hard crusty layer that provides plenty of traction and strength for the trucks that travel up and down. We had been told that the road gets quite slippery with some rain, so we backed off a little as a few light showers passed overhead.
Tan chucking a U-bomb for a photo opportunity. She was a bit generous with the throttle though and nearly dropped it. Didn’t though.
And the photo op. Some lovely outcropping, our first glimpses of the 700 Million Old
Its tough country out here……
We made a stop at Mile 108, which was our first bit of civilisation since Uis and it was a pretty miserly attempt at that. With a motley collection of demountable buildings and a tower of water tanks, it was far more like a camp out of a Mad Max movie than an actual town. We had stopped to see what camping options were available and try and get a hot coffee to warm up a little, but with no hot drinks, over priced camping and drinking and showering water sold by the litre, instead we got some chips for a late lunch and left to see what bush camping options we could find further up the coast.
Mile 108. Strange place.
Maybe only 20 or 25 kms up the salt road towards the Skeleton Coast park gates I noticed an interesting icon pop up on my gps, and with a little investigation I could see there was a shipwreck just up the beach a little. Turning off, we made our way a couple kilometers down to the waterline and found the wreck, or what was left of it after the salt water had eaten it away over the years. It was late afternoon by now with maybe about 2 hours or so of sunlight left, so we decided this was as good a place as any to camp. The weather was quite squally with heavy gusts of wind and showers which would last anywhere from just a couple seconds to a couple minutes.
The Winston Wreck on the Skeleton Coast. We had the place all to ourselves, we didn’t see anyway until some fisherman drove by the next morning.
The skeleton Coast, called that because its gets so little rainfall the dead bodies of animals don’t rot fully. So even on the beach there were skeletons of birds and bones from what could have been seals or something else. Not sure. But there are lots of bones.
We found a spot about 100m back from the beach behind some rocks, which gave us a small amount of protection from the sea breeze and considered our dinner options. Chukalaka (mixed vegetables in oily African style curry) and bully beef; a collection of beef hearts and other questionably edible unmentionables preserved in a can. What’s not to like?
Our camp hiding from the wind behind some rocks. Was a great campsite.
Tan enjoying the serenity on a piece of the Winston.
Down at the beach we were admiring the sunset when I gave Tanya her ring. Back at Onguma in the Etosha National Park at Christmas we had decided that after five and a half years together it was about time we got married, and while waiting in Windhoek for the bike store to open we found a fantastic jeweler to make an engagement ring with a Namibian green Tourmaline set in white gold. I had been joking that I would give her the ring only after completing Van Zyl’s pass, an insanely manic rocky off-road mountain pass that we were planning to include in our route through Kaokoland. But that was only ever a joke; starting off a life-long commitment only after completing a difficult task which could easily end in many tears or even serious injury didn’t seem so clever, even to someone as socially unaware as a qualified engineer.
The light of the sunset through the clouds was pretty special and made for an eerie pink glow.
However a beautiful sunset on and isolated beach was a pretty damn good option. So while discussing the merits of mixing our curried vegetables with canned “meat”, I whipped the ring out of my pocket and asked if she would like to have it, and she did indeed. And that was that. And it turns out mixing the chukalaka with the bully beef was a good idea after all, that on crackers was our dinner and we went to sleep with the sound of wind and rain buffeting the tent.
Bully beef in Chukalaka or Bully beef and Chukaluka? Mmmm? Conundrums conundrums…
We had a very relaxed start the next morning, even by our standards. Tanya couldn’t help herself but pose for a few engagement ring photos satirising the ladies who get their ring shown off in a few photos purely for facebook likes, but with the bike and in all her gear rather than with the usual bouquet of flowers and after a manicure.
Did I ever mention tan is a geologist? Well if I didn’t, here is the proof. She loves the rocks.
We then rode the last handful of kilometers (maybe 5 or 10) north to the entrance of Skeleton Coast National Park and got a few photos of the gates, a tourist attraction in their own right. With that done, we were ready and very excited to head inland and start our exploration of Damaraland. And holy cow was our expectation rewarded!
The Skeleton Coast National Park Gates.
Check out the whale ribs!
And about to hit the Ugab Menhir 4×4 track… Damaraland – we are coming!
Blog 20 by Tan: Hurry Up and Wait
Even though Mick’s engine was running fine, it was making a slight but undeniable rattle/knocking noise. As much as we would have liked to ignore the problem and hope it would go away we knew better than to do that. The timing was terrible as the whole of Windhoek was closing for the Christmas period. There was only one thing for it. Sit and wait for the Suzuki dealer to open in 2 weeks time.
While back in Botswana we had put out a call out on the Wild Dogs motorbike forum looking for an address to ship some supplies from Australia to Windhoek. A guy named Johan replied and offered up his address on the quite reasonable condition that we didn’t send parcels full of cocaine. He also kindly offered to cook us a braai and put us up for the night. Johan and his wife Jume picked us weary and dejected travellers up from the bike store and helped us transport our mountain of spare parts and tyres to their house, which was located right behind the Namibian presidential complex.
Namibia’s State House care of their North Korean Hommies and the Namibian tax payer. Apologies for the poor quality (we got it off the net) but we didn’t want to risk taking photos of the place. It is all very odd – the fence around the perimeter is decorated in a clearly Asian gold motif. The North Korean’s received about 40 million big ones (USD) for the project which they spent on food for their people…just kidding I think they built a theme park… and a prison.
The State House of Namibia is a foreboding structure that looks a lot like the kind of building the average James Bond villain would plot world domination from. The aesthetic is unmistakably North Korean; outlandish, oppressive commie-chic to the point that a satirical piss-take couldn’t play to the stereotype any better. It was both designed and constructed by a North Korean company, and finished off by the Chinese, which I guess means they cleaned up the shoddy North Korean workmanship to a slightly less shoddy Chinese standard and installed as much surveillance equipment as the structure could support.
You see the Nambian government, like Dennis Rodman, shares a bizarre and disturbingly close relationship with North Korea. During the war of independence North Korea is said to have provided significant support for the Peoples Liberation Army of Namibia and a number of the now ruling government folk received military training in Pyongyang. The construction of the State House (a ‘symbol of friendship’ between the two countries) and a number of other projects was granted to the North Koreans without going to tender, unlike all the other government projects in Namibia.
From Pyongyang with love. The National Museum of Namibia
Which begs the question….WHAT THE F@$K? The implications of such a close relationship with the social/political pariah state of the planet I am none too sure about beyond the proliferation of intimidating and unattractive soviet inspired architectural monstrosities such as the National museum, Heroes’ Acre and State Complex. What is clear is that it is shady as all get out and you can’t help but wonder if Namibia’s ample uranium reserves have something to do with the North Korean/Namibian BFF status.
When we rode into Windhoek we experienced our first presidential motorcade speeding through town with all lights a’blazin’. Our Namibian friends informed us this was a regular and rather obnoxious occurrence for them having roads closed while some government big wig goes to town for official business and/or late night Nando’s munchie run. We were disappointed to hear that we were several years late for witnessing a ‘real’ Namibian presidential motorcade. The previous president would have a bunch of ‘sweeper’ vehicles plough through town shutting down the streets to allow for the motorcade to come through at break neck speed soon afterward. A bunch of motorcycle cops would ride out in front of the Chevrolet motorcade and the procession of heavily armed military vehicles and bringing up the rear would be, I kid you not, a truck towing an anti-aircraft gun. The cavalcade constantly had to stop to allow the truck to catch up and there was only ever one guy to drive the truck and man the gun. Now I have no idea what uber-militarised, Chuck Norris Delta Force, Die Hard yippie kai yay, Jean Claude Van Dame-y shit he was expecting to go down on his 15 minute commute though sleepy Windhoek but I highly doubt the poor fella in the truck was sufficiently skilled to spot the threat, park up, set up the anti-aircraft gun, aim and blast the baddies out of the sky. The former president’s passionate approach to his own well-being makes me convinced the North Korean built State House came equipped with cinema and library of Chinese pirated DVD’s of every bad 80’s action film ever made.
A pic from the National Museum. See I am not making this up. The North Korean influence is so strong in Namibian politics that the first president Sam Nujoma pulled a Kim Jong-Il/Un and said this back in 2006 – “We have uranium here (in Namibia) and we train our own scientists and engineers and if they (external forces) create nonsense we can make our own atomic bombs”
Now back to the issue that was even more worrying to us as North Korea’s intentions – the sound coming from Mick’s engine. We visited a mechanic friend of Johan’s to get his two cents on the rattling sound. He was of the opinion that it was piston slap. Mick wasn’t so sure and was guessing more like broken valve spring or something more minor, so whipped the top off the head but couldn’t spot anything. One thing was clear however, that mechanical gremlin rattling away in the engine would require parts from South Africa so we resolved to enjoy the downtown as best we could and prepare for a budget hammering.
We were extremely fortunate to have the offer of a place to stay in Windhoek. Without it, the budget would have suffered terribly, not to mention the need to stay that long at a cheap inner city backpackers may have driven us completely mad. Tony and Freidel, our hosts from our previous stay in Windhoek, were holidaying in South Africa and had offered us their place should we need to return to Windhoek. When they extended the offer we thought it very kind but surely we wouldn’t need to stay in Windhoek again. Tony, however, knew better. As an avid flowerer of overland bike trips like ours he thought there would be a reasonable chance we might need a place to stay in the event of unforeseen mishap. So with that, we had a place to stay to wait out the festive season.
Back in Swakopmund we had the fortune of meeting a really cool Swiss family who we arranged to meet up with again in Etosha National Park for Christmas. Over 3 years ago Nicole and Roy departed Switzerland in their Landcruiser for a long dreamed of trip around the world. Plans went a little awry when they discovered in India, 9 months into their dream trip that they had an unexpected guest along for the ride….. they were pregnant. When faced with the conventional option of ending the journey, going home and being parents they instead opted to see how it went having a baby on the road. They travelled from India to Thailand, Nicole getting bigger and bigger along the way until little Kevin was born in Thailand. Kevin spent the first 6 months of his life in Thailand until it was time to hit the road again. Theirs is an amazing journey. You can check it out at www.globexplorer.ch Not wanting to spend Christmas alone and keen to catch up with these guys again we figured we might as well keep our Christmas date and hire a car for a week of conventional touristing while we waited for the Suzuki garage to open. First up though we needed to arrange for a visa extension. Strangely we were only given a month long visa this time instead of the 3 months we received last time. It was a huge disappointment having to pay almost $90 all up for visa extensions on a visa that is free on arrival in the first place. A total bummer!
This is Polo country
We managed to hire ourselves a little VW Polo buzz box for a week and zipped up to Onguma Lodge at Etosha National Park on Christmas eve. I was reminded of my rather strong physical aversion to travelling by car as I was bloody carsick the whole way. We set up camp and celebrated Christmas eve in the not so traditional way by watching a couple episodes of Breaking Bad. We met Roy, Nicole and little Kevin for Christmas breakfast the next morning. The rest of the day we spent relaxing in the beautiful lodge overlooking the waterhole with a drink or 4. That evening we had a lovely Christmas dinner and were really glad we made the effort to get up to Etosha to meet our new friends rather than having a lame Christmas with just the two of us.
Mick with Nicole and Roy. Great company and game steak for Christmas dinner
Mick browsing the interwebs in the comfort of the lodge. Just in front was a waterhole where we’d watch game come throughout the day and visit
Just a few of the giraffe that came in time for our sundowner
A bunch of males ‘necking’ where they fight for dominance and to impress the ladies. According to my extensive investigations (a minute on Wikipedia) these fights are usually pretty harmless, but can end with broken necks and death. But far more often then not they end in the males…er…getting a bit excited and mounting each other. Homosexuality in giraffes is exceedingly common. Who’d have thunk it?
Boxing day was spent driving through Etosha National Park and looking for all the ‘critters’ the place is so famous for. We managed to see a great range of animals (which we will now bore you with) and often very up close and personal, however the big guys like elephant, rhino and lion eluded us.
Look geologist friends – zebra stripes with sinistral off set
Little Kevin noticing Mick’s beard for the first time
And reacting accordingly
Saying goodbye to new friends
After saying a fond farewell to Kevin, Roy and Nicole and arranging to meet up again in Switzerland we left for the Hoba Meteorite site near Grootfontein. The meteorite was pretty rad it must be said. It is the largest single piece of meteorite ever found and the largest single mass of native iron ever discovered near the earth’s surface.
Sorry, but it had to be done….
In the right hand corner of the photo you will see bits of the meteorite have been cut away by both scientists for research and regular vandals
It is tabular in shape, about 3m by 3m by 1m thick and weighs in at an impressive 66t, and the iron oxides in the soil around the meteorite suggests that it was significantly bigger. The most fascinating thing about the meteorite is that there is no crater associated with it. The meteorite was discovered by a farmer ploughing a field, and once they eventually dug around it (it sits in its initial location) there was no sign of temperature and pressure related shock textures let alone a crater. The explanation? It is believed that due to the flat tabular shape it fell to earth at a lower speed and at a low angle, and ‘jumped’ like a stone being skimmed on a water surface until it reached its final position about 80,000 years ago. Seriously, is that not the coolest things you’ve ever heard?! (Editor/Mick’s note: No. Chuck Norris’ tears cure cancer….. thats the coolest thing I’ve ever heard)
The Hoba meteorite is composed of about 84% iron, 16% nickel, and trace amounts of cobalt and other metals
Johan and his wife Jume invited us to drop in on them at the family cattle farm near Etosha where they were celebrating Christmas. Our willingness to gatecrash on any occasion was rewarded with not one but 3 cakes for afternoon tea. I like how this family rolls. Johan’s dad didn’t speak English and was highly impressed (perhaps too impressed) when Mick spoke the only few words of Afrikaans he knew. After that there was no convincing him that Mick actually didn’t speak Afrikaans at all. We had a great time and left 2 sets of tyres on the farm with the plan to pick them up after wearing out our new knobbies in Kaokaoland.
With Johan’s family at the farm
View from the top of the Waterberg
Next up we visited what our map called the dramatic cliffs of the Waterberg. We got some much needed exercise and killer view from the hike to the top before jumping back in the Polo and going to checkout some (sort of) nearby dinosaur footprints. The road there was dirt and sandy and full of ruts, corners and whoops, which made us miss being on the bikes all the more as it would be fantastic riding. However, we were realising that being reduced to travelling by car was not all together a bad thing. For one, it really showed us just how fatiguing it can be travelling by bike. Often we find ourselves arriving at a place of interest and being too tired and to go and check the place out like a good proper tourist. We often just hang out and do nothing for a whole day before forcing ourselves to go check out the waterfall/gorge/historical location/point of interest. We’ve started to feel a bit like lazy bastards. The comparative ease of travelling by car made us realise just how hard we are working all the time so now we wont feel bad by being the bludgers who seem to be doing nothing by just sitting at the backpackers all day.
Dinosaur footprint trail re-enactment
Putting the Polo through its paces. Thankfully hire cars are more capable off-road. I’m sure a hire car would win the Dakar if it was allowed.
Game drive through Erindi Game Reserve
We headed further south to the Erindi Private game reserve. We saw the usual display of African animals and forked out a small fortune for an admittedly good campsite. Then, before we knew it, our little road trip was over and we were back in Windhoek again. New Year’s eve was a very quiet affair which we celebrated with the sound of fireworks and burglar alarms ringing though the night. Windhoek completely empties during the holiday period and the thieves were out in force. After more days relaxing and generally time killing the Suzuki dealer was finally open. Mick took the bike to the workshop first thing and was told by the mechanic he was too busy today but that he would look at it with Michael tomorrow. He had a listen to the engine and also thought it was the piston so that was now 2 for piston, Mick for top end and one guy who thought it was fine but he doesn’t count.
Enjoying the German influence in Windhoek – Porkknuckle-errific
Mick arrived at the workshop bright an early the next day ready to get to work. Unfortunately, the mechanic got pissed the night before and failed to show up. Having been without functioning bikes for weeks we were starting to get fed up with the delays so Mick asked the workshop manager if he could just do the work himself. The manager said ok so Mick pulled out the engine and striped it he found a miniscule amount of play on the big end. He then split the cases and removed the crank and ordered a variety of new parts including a crack pin, con rod, big end bearing, thrust washers, piston and rings, main bearings and gudgeon pin. With the parts ordered we just needed to wait for them to be air freighted to Windhoek.
Mick’s found an apprentice in Johan’s bike mad son, Tiaan
Fortunately the Dakar had just started and we had access to cable television so the days passed nicely watching the live timing feed online and televised broadcasts of the race, we were especially thrilled to see Aussie Toby Price absolutely killing it! 3rd on debut – that fella is a freak. He’ll win it in the next year or 3, no doubt.
Yet another social engagement
Found Australia’s favourite biscuit (Tim Tams) in a Windhoek supermarket and promptly introduced all our new friends to the height of Australian culinary excellence – the ‘Tim Tam slam’. For the uninitiated, this is biting off the end of the biscuit, dipping one end in coffee and using it as a straw.
Breakfast on the veranda with Tony and Freidel
The parts arrived Friday afternoon just in time for the weekend. So… you guessed it… more waiting. The next obstacle was that the crank had to go to an engineering shop to get the crack pin pressed out and the new one pressed in. The usual engineering shop they use couldn’t fit the job in for another week but they managed to find another place to do it a couple days later… more waiting.
Here you can see the damage to the con rod and crank pin bearing surfaces. Was just before TDC. Thankfully the big end bearing was still running on the two outer strips of intact bearing surface otherwise it could have gotten really ugly.
Now a note on the mechanical problem: Mick, the mechanics and workshop manager at the Suzuki dealer had never seen a failure like that before and are not sure how it happened. The bottom ends on these things are renowned for being pretty bullet proof so it is a strange thing to have occurred and was possibly related to the earlier gearbox problem Mick had back in South Africa. Mick’s brother (a diesel fitter) suggested it could have been related to the bike running extremely rich for a good part of its life. Mick’s bike was purchased second-hand sight unseen with 16,000km on the clock. Ebay…yep, always a risk. He later discovered that on top of being a lawyer (should have set off alarm bells) he was also a backyard genius who put a drill bit through the main jet and lifted the needle as high as it could go. The bike was running so rich it was using about 50% more fuel than normal and maybe it was detonating? These are a couple theories anyway.
FINALLY, about 3 weeks after we discovered the problem, the motor was ready to be assembled. The workshop guys pushed in the main bearings and put the crank in and timed the balancer shaft then Mick put the cases back together himself and rebuilt it from there. It was really strange for us that they seemed so content to let Mick do so much of the work himself thus denying themselves of what I would have thought were valuable billable hours. It was great for us as we saved having to pay for about 10 hours of labour.
Saying goodbye to our Namibian friends all over again
The bike was ready so it was just a matter of finishing off minor chores, packing, saying goodbye to great and generous new friends and remembering how to ride again. With our visa extension starting to run out we had a lot of remote Namibian ground to cover. With the bikes in good health and with energy to burn we were off to see just how epic the off-road riding in Damaraland, Skeleton Coast and Kaokoland could get.