During the morning of the 18th of September 2009, a group of 21 women arrived at the International Airport of Namibia. Their aim was to walk 100 kilometres in the desolate but ruggedly beautiful Damaraland. Funds raised by this ambitious trek will be used to assist less privileged people in the UK to gain economic independence by setting up their own businesses.
Following is an account of this walk as seen through the eyes of Kobus Alberts, guide of Wild at Heart Safaris.
One by one the women that would join us on the trek came through the sliding door at the International Airport of Namibia. Fiona and Lynne, the organisers of this event were known to me, so the greeting was full of smiles and happiness to see each other again. As the other ladies came to join the group I could see different reactions in each face. There was confidence, Kate comes to mind. There was bewilderment, Mel comes to mind, and so it continued.
All 21 ladies eventually got onto the coach and the journey towards the Ugab River started in all earnest. At about 16:00 the coach arrived at the designated meeting place. Faan Oosthuisen of Kaurimbi Expeditions was waiting for us. Disembarking from the coach everyone got into Faan’s truck, and the next part of the journey started. About 6 Kilometres from our first camp, everyone disembarked and walked into camp.
Crossing plains covered mostly in gravel the group made good time, and all arrived alive but tired after their long trip.
Camp consisted of pitched tents, bright green toilet tents, and the kitchen next to the truck.
Clifton and Kennedy were busy preparing dinner, while the ladies got a chance to acquaint themselves with their surroundings.
After a lovely dinner, a general discussion was held on the route and how it is laid out. Albert Hays, our esteemed medic for the trip, then had an in depth discussion about general health and hygiene in and around the camp.
As luck would have it, we were visited by a large Solifuge (Roman spider) as well as a splendid scorpion specimen, while sitting around the camp fire.
The first full day of walking started after a warm up session. The dune fields that lay ahead would be the first obstacle for this trek. As the group traversed the dune field, snakes and other interesting insects were found and discussed. Trees and other plant species were discussed as we came upon them.
At the first water break Faan left us a box with a Puff Adder inside. It was a very good specimen and very docile. Everyone got a good look at the Puff Adder before it was released into the wild again. As the day progressed the dunes became slightly higher and the day became slightly warmer. Walking to the top of the last high dune before lunch break, there was mostly silence in the group, as everyone was concentrating hard on their breathing and on keeping on walking.
Lunch was had under a canvas canopy and was a welcome relief for most of the ladies.
Leaving at 14:00 again, the heat was really on. At about 14:30 the temperature stood at 41 degrees Celsius. Due to the lack of any shade whatsoever, we had to keep walking, and eventually this heat took its toll.
Just below the next ridge the group found a tree with enough shade for about 8 ladies. Several ladies were not feeling too well, suffering from heat exhaustion so Albert decided to call in the roaming vehicle to assist us. “Mustang” Sally was one of several very strong walkers that had to bow her knees before the heat of Namibia.
The rest of the group continued walking, and found our camp for the night pitched under the shade of a huge Mopane tree.
That night Albert had his first “clinic” of the trip, which was well visited by the ladies. Slowly but surely blisters were appearing. Luckily the ladies that had been evacuated during the afternoon were now in much better shape after a rest and the chance to cool down, so they could carry on with the rest of the trek.
The 2nd day of walking started off by following a dry river course and then veering off into the mountains. A small hill was climbed to get a better view of the surrounding area. During this period several game species like ostrich, giraffe and oryx were spotted. The way to lunch would take us over a huge plain, which eventually will end in the hills before the Goantagab River. Kate and Alex veered slightly off the designated route, but after realising they were totally alone in Namibia, eventually made it back to the group. Some believe they were just too keen and got lost others think that it was the guide’s little practical joke to send them in the wrong direction. Who knows? (Laughter is food for the soul.)
After lunch we tackled the hill country. These “badlands” are very rugged and littered with sharp broken stones and rock. Luckily for us the weather played along, and a cool breeze from the West kept everyone cooler. On exiting the “badlands” we crossed a wide plain towards some granite outcrops on the horizon. The camp was splendidly hidden from view, so it came as quite a surprise when the ladies turned another corner and lo and behold, there was the most stunning camp they could ever have imagined. The evening was overcast and a few rain drops were felt later in the night.
The last full day of walking lay ahead. The terrain would be the most challenging the group would experience so far. Contouring along mountain ridges, crossing dry river valleys was the order of the day. At one stage the group were slowly gaining height to a relatively high mountain ridge. Once on top of this “crocodile back ridge” the view was just spectacular. One could see for 360 degrees, yet see only the wildness of Damaraland. This was the time to take a few moments of stillness to reflect about the trip, reflect on the ones you love, and to reflect on life in general. For a few minutes every single person sat alone with his or her thoughts. The greyhounds of the soul were running free in this desolate, yet very beautiful place in Namibia. (Ironically the peace was rudely interrupted by 2 vehicles passing by, the only sign of other humans they had seen during the whole trek.)
Lunch was ready on our arrival, and everyone had a good meal. The last bit of the last full day started 13:45. Once again the weather was playing along, and it was overcast most of the day. After having an earnest talk to the group about what lies ahead, we set off. Following mountain ridges we slowly made our way towards the Ugab River. We went down a very steep incline, and every single one of the ladies made it down. For a couple of metres we walked in a river bed, and then we climbed the next ridge. In a straight line from where we started and once we were out of the river bed again, it was only 50 metres. In total we must have walked about 2 kilometres to gain those 50 metres, but that is what walking in Damaraland is all about. Finally, way down below, we could see camp, but to get there we once again had to go down a very steep hill. Walking in front of the group I could only imagine the number of “daggers” that were thrown in my direction. There were several very loud utterances of despair, probably anger, but once again every one made it down, alive. Once inside camp, there was a tangible feeling of relief. Everyone was laughing a lot, there was amazement on other faces, and the anger soon turned to delight and pride. That night around the campfire, the adventure of the day was relived and told by everyone.
The last half day saw us covering 15 Kilometres to the finish line and the coach back to Swakopmund. That evening everyone was unrecognisably “scrubbed up” and all enjoyed the Gala evening and sharing stories and memories.
100 Kilometre in 3 days and 6 hours. Not too bad at all I must admit. To have seen and experienced this committed trek across Damaraland, made me realise how much life there is to be lived.
Well done to Lynne and Fiona for organising this amazing event, and keeping up morale when it was most needed. Congratulations to the 21 ladies who each embraced their own Namibian Challenge, all for the good cause of Fredericks Foundation and to make a difference to the lives of people less fortunate.
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