SOOS DIE KRAAI VLIEG
(22 December 2015)
“As the Crow flies”
Michelle (Kraai) went on a solo expedition to Namibia. Here is her story of adventure.
"Vision without execution is hallucination."
A few months ago I saw a mesmerising photograph of a room with a doorway filled halfway with sand. It reminded me of a playground place I used to visit (or maybe imagined) as a young child. In a burst of naivety I proclaimed, “I WILL VISIT THIS PLACE!” - not having the faintest idea where it is or if it even exists. I reverse-checked it on Google and lo and behold, it’s in our very own neighbouring country, Namibia, at a ghost town called Kolmanskop.
I will find this doorway.
Flying there and back will be no achievement. Riding in a car even less. Kapow just returned from a super-service with F-ken Conrad at Offroad Cycles, and he was just amped to get on the long road again. So, I loaded him on my bakkie in Pretoria and made my way back to Kimberley to start packing for this brave expedition.
As you might know, I usually travel with the bare minimum of the barest necessities.
“Going to the Botswana border? Who needs tyre repair kit? Pfff!
Mozambique in the thick sand with tools? Are you kidding me?!?
Extra clothes for a long weekend? Nah.”
We always end up only packing a tyre lever (Lawrd knows why), spare underwear, and Jack Daniels for any and all ailments.
As I would be doing this trip alone, in a foreign country, for an extended period of time, I assumed I better start compiling a proper packing list with like… tools. And, uh… first aid kit and stuff.
Packing done, I set off early morning to arrive as close to the border on day one as I could.
The plan was to ride to Askham and sleep in the Kalahari under the stars before crossing the border at Rietfontein early the next morning.
As I approached Vanzylsrus, this finely planned program came to an annoying bloody stop. Right there in the road. I mean sand. Right there in the sand, Kapow came to a magnificent halt and threw me off like a rodeo bull. Unladylike I hit the Kalahari sand face first with my dignity, my big vision, and my memory out the door. There I lay in the blazing sun with blood running out of my face, without ANY recollection of where I am, WHY I am here, and WHY THE HELL am I here ALONE?!?
After a phone call back home to Skinny, she calmly explained to me that I probably have a severe case of the concussions and will need to stop a passer-by to assist me.
Can you hear the cicadas…? As far as I can try to recollect, I have not seen another vehicle, let alone another human being for the last couple of hours. Just as I let out a scream of disbelief, I heard the rumble of a bakkie coming down the road. SALVATION!
Mr. Municipality Bakkie did not seem to think that a bike on its side and a person with a bloodied face called for any sort of alarm or even a slower pace.
Lying in the sand trying to remember my mother’s name, I heard another vehicle. A very kind family stopped and immediately assisted me - cleaned my face, picked up the bike, and tried to swing it over. Not only was every single indicator broken off (for the 208th time) but Kapow refused to even make a sound. Peter loaded my luggage in their van and took me to Vanzylsrus Hotel.
Arriving there, Hannelie, who seems to be the hotel manager / mother / angel, called the local police woman to take my statement and complete an accident report. I assume other than the odd donkey-cart falling over, this is probably a big deal for them.
Hannelie showed me to my room, and promptly organised for Kapow to be fetched next to the road and be dropped off at the hotel.
The phone rings. It’s Skinny. I am starting to get my mind back slowly, but clearly I am not a smart person. She says she’s on her way to come and fetch me, and wants to know if there is anything she can bring with.
Yes, please can you bring Brom...?
After a 750km ride, she arrived at 01:30 AM - battling the sand-boss for 20km with her small karretjie and the trailer with Brom. That karretjie has the ground clearance of a toddler’s skateboard, so how she managed it in the dark, I don’t know.
Maybe she really does have super powers…?
The following morning we switched the GPS bracket from Kapow to Brom and tried to fasten a few loose things (including some of my body parts).
We loaded the sad looking horse on the trailer, and as quickly as she came, she left. Like Superman who only sweeps in for a few seconds, saves the drowning kids in the runaway school bus, and flies away in a jiffy.
There goes my lift.
Every single aching part of my body was screaming at my mushy brain to WAKE UP, call her back, and get into the car.
I want to see the room filled with sand in our neighbouring country, for Pete’s sake!
I stayed in bed for a day. Later the day I rang up our Namibian Bodyguard – Braap Elvis. Clearly I needed adult supervision and Braam is the perfect man for the job.
Elbie, the owner of the hotel, offered to help me get to the border the following day to avoid any more unfortunate dismounts. I still get the heebie-jeebies just thinking about sand riding.
He loaded Brom onto the trailer and Susan, the other owner of the hotel, drove me to the Botswana border so I could embark on my journey from a non-violent tar road. Thank the Pope.
Botswana? This was not part of the program. I would drive on the border all the way on a beautiful tarred road, and go out again at Bokspits Border post. This is located close to the Rietfontein border post which is my point of entry into Namibia. The fuel in the tank and in the fuel-cell bag would last me up until I reach Rietfontein. Little did I know that the bag had a leak from the crash, and was pêssing out petrol as far as I rode, like Hansel and Gretel leaving a trail.
At the Bokspits exit I met two of the nicest border police ladies. They wanted to check the VIN number on Brom, and I immediately left a mark in my favourite shorts… I realised with a terrible shock that I was on Brom… but carrying Kapow’s licence and registration papers. This might not end well.
Clearly from the above, it did.
I made it to the border with a hick and a cough, 230km on one 12L tank. Go Brom! Here I met up with Braam and Francois. Braam would accompany me to Kolmanskop and make sure I stay on the bike all the way through Nam.
Riding a motorcycle has a way of messing with your mind. It gives you a sense of enthusiasm, despite any current, daunting situations.
We set off on the dirt road to Aroab. Here we refilled our tanks with beer, and set off to Keetmanshoop where we would spend the night.
The following morning Francois left for Windhoek, and it was up to Braap Elvis and Kraai to find this door.
Travelling from Keetmanshoop in a westerly direction, we stopped at Aus. This quaint little town is situated smack-bang in the desert. Aus was formerly the site of a prisoner-of-war camp established by the South African army in 1915 to house German prisoners captured during the First World War.
Just west of Aus there is a herd of feral horses living in the desert. Their origin is unclear, but today there is a population of between 150 and 200 horses which have adapted to the unforgiving environment. They urinate less than domestic horses and can go five days without water. They drink at a water hole at Garub Pan where a structure has been built to allow tourists to watch the animals without disturbing them. Apart from one lonely Gemsbok, we unfortunately did not see any horses there.
“If I paint a wild horse, you might not see the horse... but surely you will see the wildness!”
The wind started to pick up, and getting closer to Lüderitz, we hit a severe sandstorm. Or rather, a severe sandstorm hit us. With wind gusts averaging at around 78km/h, we struggled to keep the bikes upright and in the left lane. We passed Kolmanskop on the left side, but I could barely see it through the sand and felt like Lawrence of Arabia during a revolt in the desert. I can now clearly understand how so much sand can get into a room. It’s going to take me months to get all of this sand out of my ears and underpants!
Upon arrival in Lüderitz we did a quick inspection of the steeds. Both the bikes were severely sandblasted on the one side. Brom is now a duller shade of matte black, with an immaculately clean header pipe. I don’t think Skinny would mind. Our helmets took a bit of a sanding as well, giving us misty vision out of the one eye – sort of like what we saw a couple of months ago waking up in the motorcycle museum in Deneysville after several alcoholic beverages.
The town of Lüderitz is famous for its colonial architecture, dating back to 1883.
In 1909, after the discovery of diamonds nearby, Lüderitz enjoyed a rush of prosperity due to sudden development. What we saw riding through the town are the sad, lonely leftovers of a once lavish town, now bearing only a remembrance of its former beauty. Shops are closing down left and right, and tourism is infrequent.
We did as tourists do, and went for fresh Atlantic oysters. What a feast!
During our one-day stay in Lüderitz we went to see Dias Point. The bay on which Lüderitz is situated was first known to the Europeans when Bartolomeu Dias came across it in 1487. He named the bay Angra Pequena (Small Bay) and erected a stone cross on the rocky beach.
Today the day has finally come where I will trade my hallucinations for actual vision – a goal achieved, no matter how feeble and insignificant it might seem from the outside. I will see that door with the sand; the ghost town that was once, as with Lüderitz, a shining diamond in the hand of Africa.
In 1908 Zacharias Lewala found a diamond while working in this area and showed it to his German boss. Realizing the area was rich in diamonds, German miners began settlement, and soon after the German government declared a large surrounding area as a “Sperrgebiet” (forbidden area).
Driven by the enormous wealth of the first miners, the residents built the town in a German colonial architectural style, with amenities including a hospital, ballroom, power station, school, skittle-alley, theatre, casino, ice factory and the first x-ray-station in the southern hemisphere, as well as the first tram in Africa.
The town declined after World War I when the diamond-field slowly exhausted and was ultimately abandoned in 1954.
I am standing here, in this rich heritage of a town, so short lived. It is an euphoric moment realizing I really made it - with a concussion and a broken nose, lots of bruises, lots of kilometers, and lots of saddle eating butt-pain. I am at Kolmanskop to take the photo of the sand in the doorway.
The enraptured moment was short lived, as we had to saddle up and get to Ai-Ais, our next destination en-route back to South Africa. This time, I could not get a trailer-lift through the sand, and had to shimmy my way through the occasional grit and powder puddles on my own.
From Rosh Pinah the road took us through the Richtersveld National Park, crossing the Fish River Canyon, with beautifully winding roads, some parts with the mountains and cliffs hanging like heavenly curtains, other parts the flattest of deserts where you don’t see anything for kilometres at end. This is the most breath-taking landscape I have ever come across – salient in its absolute nothingness.
Arriving at Ai-Ais we were greeted by a large family of baboons. I assume they took residence in room number B12, as they took whatever they fancied from the terrified campers, and carried it up to the first floor. I like the local inhabitants already!
Ai-Ais means “burning water” and refers to the sulphurous hot springs found in this area. The springs originate deep under the riverbed and form an oasis in the extremely arid area. The thermal water has an average temperature of about 60 °C – too freaking hot to cool off after a day’s riding in the desert!
After spending the night, we had breakfast with a few black starlings. They were a loud bunch, but wonderfully amusing.
The road homeward bound took us through the same breath-taking mountain thoroughfare we used on our way in, with a pair of wild-looking ostriches running along the side of the road, as if greeting us farewell. I smiled broadly in my now-expired helmet at the beauty this country comprises of – the sheer vastness of the landscape.
I greeted Braap Elvis at Grunau where he headed north, back to his hometown of Oshakati.
As I took to the tar road and made my way east to cross the border at Ariamsvlei, I breathed a sigh of accomplishment. Against the ever so evident odds, I found my doorway in the sand.
If you're familiar with the rural concept of the honesty bar, this honesty newsletter ain’t much different… I’m a completely un-paid journalist, relying instead on readers using the honour system. You read the newsletter and then leave an amount you see fit for the entertainment you’ve received.
If you don’t find it particularly amusing, then you fork our NO dosh. I won’t stop sending you the letter – it is still mahala to those that count their coins and… I love sharing my stories.
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Hoekom is ek hier alleen?!?
Travelling in Botswana could be compared to being stranded on a deserte
You WANT to see live footage of Kraai eating sand – you WANT to see this!
And to see her trek through Nam to find a sand filled door, follow this link:
Guess where Kapow is getting medical treatment…? F-ing Conrad at Offroad Cycles has just order a whole new box of indicators – marked specially for Kraai! Whatever you need for your sand-machine, just bel F-ing Conrad.
All your honesty donations this month will be handed over to Kraai, to assist her with Kapow’s hospital bills.
If you're familiar with the rural concept of the honesty bar, this honesty newsletter ain't much different... I'm a completely un-paid journalist, relying instead on readers using the honour system. You read the newsletter and then leave an amount you see fit for the entertainment you've received.
If you don't find it particularly amusing, then you fork out NO dosh. I won't stop sending you the letter – it is still mahala to those that count their coins and... I love sharing my stories.
As requested by my overseas readers, you can donate to this newsletter on my PayPal account:
You can do an EFT transfer to the account below
Hoekom is ek hier alleen?!?