Travel & Outdoor
I, for one, am a great lover of Africa, and more so about southern Africa. I am of the opinion that you should not travel overseas before you have done at least one excursion into the wide open spaces of this continent, north of the South African border. Doing so by yourself only heightens the experience of meeting the local people, experiencing their traditions and their great country.
One of my favourite places to visit is the absolute wide, desolate openness of the Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana. My first experience of the awe-inspiring flatlands of the pans is during a solo bike trip, cross-country from Gauteng.
Getting there is part of the adventure. In a small village on the outer edge of the pans, Mmatshumo, at the Gaing-O Community Centre, visitors are advised to follow the road with the most tracks. But then, there are many routes going in the same direction. It is a matter of finding the one that makes for the easiest-going.
Riding a bike on sand is hard work, and once you stop or fall, getting back on the move can be tricky. For many travellers, the ride to and on the Makgadikgadi Pans is a bucket-list affair, and to others it is similar to a pilgrimage.At the heart of the pans, Kubu Island is a dry granite outcrop that looms magically on the horizon, becoming reality with its baobab sentinels reaching out their branches to the powder-blue sky. This truly African oasis, with its iconic trees, is bound to calm your soul and make you a master at producing spectacular sunset images. In the early evening the calls of the guineafowls are a reminder that you are not the only traveller on the pans.
The camping facility on Kubu Island has the bare necessities, and it is essential that you take your own food and drinking water for your stay. There are no ablutions for showering and only a basic toilet. Be sure to take your litter with you when you leave and to preserve this memorable place for generations to come. The entire island is a national monument and is revered as a sacred site by local people. The word “kubu” in the Kalanga language means “large rock”. The Makgadikgadi Pans span over a vast area of approximately 16 000 square kilometres.
Crossing the border between Botswana and Namibia at Mohembo looks more like driving into a national park. It is here that you are introduced to the well-maintained dirt roads of Namibia. The dirt gives way to the tarred road that runs along the Okavango River.
Traversing this road from Katima Mulilo to Rundu on a late afternoon reminds me of the Anneli van Rooyen song ,“Groot Okavango”, although she actually sang about the Okavango Delta and the Chobe River.
In the small town of Rundu in northern Namibia the coolest place to be is at Rundu Beach.
The whitewashed sands of the Okavango River form the perfect beach to enjoy a well-deserved cocktail after a long day on the road. I am fortunate to camp on the groomed lawns of the Tambuti Lodge and enjoy a view over the river.
Going from Rundu to Ruacana on the main road across the north of Namibia, the landscape soon transforms from bush to sparse bushveld and arid grasslands. But it is at an overnight stop in Oshakati that I’m reminded of valuable advice once read in The Adventure Motorcycling Handbook.
The first mistake is travelling almost 500km in one day. The second is making assumptions and being stuck in Nkurenkuru with an almost-empty fuel tank waiting for the supply truck. But I am cheered up by one of the boys arriving on their donkeys, saying I should swap my bike for a donkey as they don’t use petrol.
I am delighted to find these friendly people direct me to a local spaza to speak with the owner. She kindly sells me 17 litres of unleaded fuel and sends me on my way.One of the goals of my trip is to photograph the Himba tribesmen and -women living in the north-western districts around Opuwo and Okangwati. A quick search on Google, supported by research on tour operators’ websites, indicates that Kaokoland is known as the home of the Himba tribe.
Visiting one of the kraals near Opuwo is a humbling experience. I have been advised not to arrive empty-handed. The gift of mielie meal, tea, sugar and the luxury of a packet of sweets for the kids seems a meagre price to be invited into the kraal and permitted to photograph the family who live there.
The Himba tribe live a nomadic lifestyle and their cattle is their wealth. Most of their shoes and clothing are made from the hides of goats and cattle. My toes are a source of humour and the woman from the campsite also advised against swapping my shoes for the hand-fashioned Himba ones.The tribe members speak little to no English and because of their lifestyle, very few of them are educated.
The children only attend community schools when they are close by. In the dry season they move their cattle to better grazing and water access and these posts are typically further away so the children are unable to attend schools. It is not only the wide, open spaces and the unspoilt nature that attract thousands of tourists to Namibia every year. The well-maintained dirt roads and way-out routes also draw the adventurous 4×4 and off-road motorbiking enthusiasts to the impressive scenery and remote places. Experiencing the far-off, out-of-the-way places of Namibia is exhilarating and not to be missed.