18th May 2012 – Eighteen days and 880 kms later, its rest day at Andersons Camp in the Ongava Concession that lies adjacent to the Okaukuejo Gate of Etosha National Park. Thanks to Mike Wassing, Lious Nortje and all the staff at Wilderness Safaris for providing this sanctuary of comfort.
Since the last rest day at Etaambura Lodge, it’s been 9 days of cycling – mostly extremely pleasant and rewarding, but it has to be said, not without the odd day of agony and humour failure. Leaving the rugged beauty and tricky dirt roads of the highland regions, our route took us down to Opuwa, and shortly thereafter on to the primary arterial roads for the first time. These long open stretches of flat tar have certainly upped our average speed, but there is an element of unease that comes with the odd truck whizzing by inches from your handlebars. Once past Kamanjab and beyond, we reverted to the gravel back roads that link the commercial cattle ranching districts and numerous wildlife conservancies edging Etosha’s western and southern boundaries. While not as scenic as the drier highland regions, the ‘issue-levels’ have again ticked up as we have cycled through areas beset with human-animal conflicts.
Two days back we had a particularly worthwhile interlude when we stopped off for early morning coffee and sandwiches at the farm Vreugde belonging to the Brand family. Danie Brand Jnr got to hear about TRACKS through the local Namibian press and then took the trouble to contact us via the website. Our thanks go to the Brand’s for their generous hospitality and for taking time from farming duties to spend an hour or so discussing the range of attitudes that exist amongst those that ranch cattle and sheep alongside wildlife areas.
Given the value of these exchanges to the TRACKS information database, we would like to encourage others living or working along the route to be in contact. Whether a farmer, conservationist, researcher, ecotourism operator or someone that simply has a story to share, leave a short message on thePress/Media Page with a cell number and precise address, and if time and distance allows, we will endeavour to visit you.
Thanks also to all those wonderful supporters sending good wishes and messages of encouragement – they come from family, friends, sponsors and followers from around the globe. Your inspiration helps keep the focus – TRACKS is primarily a conservation awareness initiative that will hopefully bring greater understanding to corridor and transfrontier projects. It is also our way of collecting the stories of those conservation Giants, and others, that are so actively involved in the challenges of the day.
And then like any tightly-knit unit, spirits within the core team remain high. The daily task roster has been streamlined and tweaked, while everyone is getting time on the bicycles. And this morning’s game-drive into Etosha was a huge success – Mandla came back brimming with joy at his first Namibian lion sightings. For Frank and Anton, “it’s a huge privilege to be involved with TRACKS”, and for Frank, he has been particularly “impressed with the attitude of everyone we have met, especially the hospitality of the lodge owners and farmers.”
Tomorrow, we head due east along the entire southern edge of Etosha, before swinging south through Otavi and on to Grootfontein. With three consecutive 100 kilometre plus rides looming, there are going to be some long and butt-burning days in the saddle. And then at Roy’s Camp, we look forward to welcoming Dr Julian Fennessy and his wife Stephanie to the expedition. Julian is the Director of the Namibia Nature Foundation, a well established and highly regarded NGO dedicated to promoting sustainable conservation and development programmes across Namibia. Established in 1987, the NNF is now involved in over 90 projects on both a local and regional level. Julian will ride with us to Tsumkwe, where and he and the NNF have facilitated various interviews and visits involving the local San community.
It’s then a short hop to the Namibia/Botswana border and another exciting day – if all goes to plan, Tessa van Schaik, my beloved partner, and Liam, our adorable son, will be there to meet us. They will be driving in from Maun with PJ Bestelink, a great friend to both Ian and me, and one of Botswana’s ecotourism pioneers and a “Giant” of the Okavango Delta. PJ has been a mentor, and both Ian and I have been fortunate to have had many incredibly valuable times, as well as much fun, with PJ and his wife, Barney, over the years. He will be our guide through the first stages of the Botswana section – what a true pleasure and privilege to have him along.