View Full Version : The Hakskeen Pan expedition
28-07-12, 11:01 PM
With the majority of BB'rs living in Britain I want to share this with you since you might find it interesting. I'm going to do this in installments since I'm quite caught up in the NMS knife project. When taking a break from the grinder I'll continue here.
A Brit is going to attempt a new land speed record on an ancient dry lake called Hakskeen Pan here in South Africa. He plans on doing a 1000mph in a jet/rocket propelled car called the Bloodhound. It was scheduled for 2011 but postponed to 2012 due to a flooded pan, something I kind of foresaw in 2010 already.
Hakskeen means 'heel', an Afrikaans word of foot anatomy used to describe this pan. "Pan" is a word used here to describe a dry lake, usually geologically ancient, water that is no more due to milleniums of weather changes. The high mineral content trapped in the soil by evaporation prohibit anything from growing on the surface.
Hakskeen Pan is situated in South Africa where 3 international borders meet in the Kalahari semi desert, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.
I'm facinated by the 'pan' geological phenomenon. I have a constant yearning for wide open spaces. Having grown up in rural Namibia and now living and working in Johannesburg, a metropolis and bustling financial hub in Southern Africa, social and sensory overload hits me from time to time like a sledgehammer urging me to just "out", anywhere, somewhere, where there are no people in sight.
Even though man is a flock animal there are times when man must be on his own to replenish his soul, to 'chill' or to simply talk to himself.
I've been doing this all my life and spent weeks of solitude in weird far off places, Kaokoveldt, Naukluft, White Namib, Red Namib, well, anywhere commercialised tourism has not set in yet.
Fortunate for me my wife share my sentiments, some people call it 'soulmates' because we are in sync emotionally so when I mentioned to her it's time for 'out' she asked what to pack and how many business meetings to cancel.
It's getting more and more difficult to find 'untouched' places so when the Bloodhound project surfaced in the news in 2009 with Hakskeen Pan being chosen above Verneukpan (the Bluebird world surface speed record was set there) I had a quick satellite peek at the terrain and knew Hakskeen Pan was an urgent priority to be visited before the Bloodhound event turns it into yet another commercialised trampled bit of Africa.
Scrutinizing topographical maps of the area revealed that it's 'no man's land', government property never privatised because it has no commercial or agricultural value. Normally this means nature is so harsh there that it's uninhabitable and even if there's mineral wealth there's not enough water to make it commercially viable to disturb nature there. These areas marked 'unalienated state land' on maps are my havens, I've seeked them out and spent time there, making sure I leave no traces behind of my brief presence there, it's a respect thing, for nature, not for government as such.
Like with most of these impulsive trips intensive and quick planning is crucial with survival being the crucial factor. No cellphone reception and refusal to use sat phone backup provide the 'adventure' element to these trips.
I'm not ignorant as to the dangers involved in visiting uninhabitable terrain with a single vehicle so planning involves a 'walkout' plan. Water and food rations in relation to distance from civilisation are never allowed to drop below a level that would prevent me from reaching civilisation on foot. This is calculated taking natural food and water resources and type of terrain into account.
In semi-desert and desert areas this distance is rather small. Often re-calculation is necessary once you get there after familiarising yourself with the surroundings. It does become a 'feel' after time, neck hair standing on end when your instinct tells you you are out of safe walking range should mechanics or electronics fail you there or you mistake the abilities of your vehicle or equipment.
Hakskeen Pan would be a breeze, it's not far from a small village called Philandersbron and there's a border post not far from there. Space could be allocated to some luxuries, the metal detecting equipment could ride with. I'm a professional photographer and a lot of my work comprise fine art classic nude photography for collectors. These almost surreal locations combine well with natural figure photography and the contrast seeing the female form in these hostile rugged environments is often breathtaking. So some props for a photo shoot was also packed.
28-07-12, 11:01 PM
It was 4am when we left a sleepy and rainy Johannesburg, the plan was to sleep as close to Hakskeen Pan as possible that night covering as much as possible of the 1000 odd kilometers there.
A strong wind at breakfast time indicated some weather front moving about.
Driving into the afternoon and nearing our destination I got worried when seeing scattered thunderstorms on the horizon. A sudden rainstorm could turn a dry hard surfaced clay pan into a muddy bog in minutes.
We found a tourist lodge just before sunset, we were still on the main route to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park, a commercial game reserve. This would be the last chance to re-fuel and enjoy a warm bath for a few days so we booked a chalet and used the last daylight to talk to locals to try determine the condition of Hakskeen Pan.
We were told that heavy storms were seen to the west so Hakskeen Pan might be under water. There was time to go scout a neighbouring pan, Knoppieskraal Pan with a gravel road going there so we set off only to find the pan under water, the gravel road across it merely passable.
Sitting outside that night enjoying a cup of coffee before bed Linda noticed something move next to me, it was a massive scorpion. I fetched my UV torch (I'm a sucker for gadgets) and found the scorpion to indeed "glow" under UV light as claimed by scorpion collectors.
The general rule to scorpions in South Africa is the bigger the safer. The really fatally poisonous ones are the small ones. Shaking shoes before putting them on in the morning is always a good idea in the bush.
A last quick weather update while internet connection was still possible showed a heat wave approaching which might result in more scattered thundershowers in the region. And a heat wave it was.
My plotted route to Hakskeen Pan would have us leave tar road onto a disused gravel road which would take us to a series of dunes to be crossed to get to the pan. The disused road crossed a small pan with unusual colouration due to mineralisation of the clay and evidence of rain from the night before.
A herd of horses indicated that someone was farming around there.
We hit the thick sand and it was time to let down tyre pressure and select four wheel drive. The sand got looser as we started crossing the series of dunes and the day got hotter.
Sand is more dense when cool at night and early morning and could mean the difference between using low range or normal 4WD. Low range means excessive fuel consumption and less range but travelling at night means no sight seeing.
All visible tracks led to shade, beetle tracks:
The Pajero handled the sand well as always, even with trailer in tow. It's the baby Mitsubishi Pajero IO 1800cc fuel injected. 4WD, low range, central diff with lock and front and rear diff locks.
The central diff means I can use 4WD on wet tar or save fuel doing 2WD on dry roads and in town. This is also my daily commuting vehicle and very fuel efficient in town by 4 wheel drive standards.
I've always been a great fan of smaller lighter 4wd vehicles, they are just so much more agile and manauverable and usually outdo much bigger Cruisers and Rovers in soft sand because they don't sink into the sand due to their lighter weight. Fuel consumption becomes an issue in unpopulated areas. I prefer a small vehicle and trailer. The trailer gets left behind or used as 'base camp' when the going gets tough. The best 4wd I had was a Suzuki SJ410 fitted with wider tyres and a 1600cc Ford motor.
This little Jeep lacked fancy electronics and the simple carburettor straight four crossflow motor could be maintained with a minimum of tools. I do not take my house with when exploring so never needed much "motor" to get me where I'm going. Reliability is the essence and could mean the difference between dead with luxury or alive with a basic vehicle. The Pajero already has more electronics than I could care for and I even lug a multimeter around in my toolbox. Nobody makes small light 4WD's with low range and diff locks any longer. The Suzuki Jimny is the only one left, at a price tag of a large 4WD.
We encountered some family bird's nests, a conglomeration of 'flats' where hundreds of birds live in the same tree. These are usually found where trees are scarce.
A secretary bird indicated that there might be snakes around, even in these arid conditions, their main diet.
I held my breath as the GPS indicated that we were about to cross the last dune to the pan. If the pan was flooded it would mean the end of our 'out' and a u-turn back to civilization..
I brought the car to an abrupt halt when the scene unfolded in front of us:
It was only when I got out the car and gasped for air, not only because of the beauty of wide open space in front of me, but also of the heat that I realised the forecasted heat wave arrived at Hakskeen Pan with us. I'm talking 43degC (110degF) in the shade.
As we decended down to the pan we came across Lukas and his dog, a cattle herder on foot searching for a missing cow and gathering firewood. He wanted to know if we did not perhaps come across his cow on our way here.
I asked him about who's property we were on and explained that I'd like to set up camp on this side of the pan. My maps and GPS indicated no-man's land but we were the foreigners here. He said the farmer lives in Klein Mier, a village to the north of the pan but he keeps some livestock here. We could find him at the pan, he's 'transporting water'. We left Lukas behind after filling his empty water bottle for him, he could now extend his search for the missing cow. We soon passed the last shade tree in the vicinity of the pan. The tree bore witness of a hard waterless existence.
At the edge of the pan where Lukas indicated we'd find the farmer I stopped for lunch and to assess the terrain. There was no shade tree in sight anywhere, the highest vegetation was chest hight and very sparse.
Food on trips like these is simple, dried meat (biltong), dried sousage and minced dried fruit cubes for me and an assortment of biscuits, canned vegetables, canned tuna and vacuum packed salads for Linda.
I pre-cook a dozen of eggs to last as long as the coolbox stays cool, normally 3 days.
Only thing that's not negotiable to me is good coffee, so the plunger and ground coffee goes with the small Gaz camping stove and sweetened condensed milk which don't need refrigeration.
I could see a speck of dust to the west on the edge of the pan. After lunch the speck became a Mahindra 4WD truck with a very small almost bucket sized water cart in tow. Abraham, a sun beaten guy emerged from the dust covered Mahindra, the glance from piercing squinted eyes under his hat brim suspicious. I greeted and explained that I'd like to set up camp on 'his' land. He wanted to know how I knew about Hakskeen Pan so I whipped out the SAT pics and explained that a world land speed record was about to happen here. Nobody informed him of this so Abraham became even more suspicious and wanted to know if I'm a government official and started to explain that he inherited the land from his deceased aunt and that the paperwork was not done yet. I assured him I was not an official determining land rights but a city dweller looking for inner peace and photographs of this beautiful place. He relaxed, I offered him a cold Coke from my Coleman which still had the luxury of ice in it and we sat down under a blistering sun to exchange information.
Abraham ran a 9 kilometer 1/4 inch PVC pipe from some water source away from the pan edge to 'his' part of the pan to water his few head of cattle. He showed me the small reservoir where his pipe ended, it was dripping water at about 40 drops a minute. In heat like this, he explained, the cattle consume more water than his pipeline can deliver. He nodded to the little water cart behind the Mahindra and smiled triumphantly. "Man is master of nature, God said so." This man was making a living here against all odds of nature indeed. He lived in Klein Mier (Small Ant) where his wife owns a small general dealer shop that serves the population of about 150 low income people.
He agreed to me setting up camp. I ensured him it would be 'dry camp', meaning no camp fire and no intervering with nature, in heat like this no fire is needed and firewood scarce. I always camp dry in desert areas, that's what we have butane gas, battery packs and LedLenser torches for.
Abraham heeded the following warnings; No water, closest would be Klein Mier, lots of snakes around, soft sand, DON'T get caught on the pan if it rains. What's on the pan stays on the pan for at least two weeks when it rained until the clay hardened again. With the pan surrounded by sand dunes negotiating a route out would be difficult even when caught on the pan edge after rain. Also, rain happens quick here, flash flooding the pan once a year. Lastly, he's taking his wife to Upington for her bi-monthly shop stock replenishing so he won't be able to check up on me for a week to see if I'm ok. He seemed very worried about us so I re-assured him by telling him that I grew up in Namibia and served in the 'border war' up North, I can survive without camp personnel and guides and I'm familiar with desert terrain. I've driven the Skeleton Coast sands and lived to tell the story. I also assured him that I carried 75 liters of water, maps, compass and GPS and that I knew how to handle an emergency snake-bite, God forbid. He was relieved when we parted.
I started scouting for a campsite. We drove further South along the pan edge, going was slow in the soft sand along the edge. I found a nice level spot, just high enough not to be swamped in if it rains but still with a view of the pan. The tents would be shielded from view by a low dune and the car tracks by hard surface.
When negotiating remote places like these you only encounter two kinds of people on the very odd occasion: An academic, like a geologist or a crazy professor doing research on some little creature that only lives there, or worse, poachers that would not hesitate to kill to hide their identity and presence. The latter would be well prepared to take advantage of the remoteness of their crime.
Unfortunately life has become as cheap as a cellphone or bling wristwatch in South Africa. It's wise to always be alert in the bush. I do carry a licensed sidearm that I'm quite competent with and have the small dogs as mobile alarms for when I sleep. Also, having a woman around complicates the security situation slightly. Under dicey circumstance in places with known crminal or terrorist insurgent activity I'll pitch a tent, make sure last torchlight is seen in the tent then go sleep a few paces away from the tent, sometimes running fishing line tripwires through the campsite attached to empty tins.
It's fairly easy to spot sign of human presence where nobody normally treads so I keep a constant eye open for tracks that do not belong to me or my vehicle. I'll also circle my own campsite in the morning to look for sign of human or other nocturnal visitors spying on me. It's impossible not to leave tracks in soft sand at night, human or animal. Don't get me wrong, I'm not paranoid, nor am I the Rambo type but being able to take precautions I've been able to enjoy freedom of movement where the average people won't dare go,my kind of places :)
So we set up dry camp, 43degC in the shade, only, there was no shade so we made a shelter by stringing up some canvas groundsheet between the Pajero and the trailer.
The little physical activity made me realise that we'd have to guard against de-hydration. It happens before you know it and can be a real fun spoiler on a trip like this. It took me 2 liters of water to just fix a slow puncture that became a full blown puncture with the tyre deflated on the hot sand. I did not even remove the wheel, found the nail that I must have picked up while still in civilisation, pulled it and inserted a tubeless puncture plug. The mini 12volt compressor did the infating while I stood looking while sweating like a pig. It was really hot, too hot to move about during mid day. Luckily it was dry heat so wearing natural cotton slows sweat evaporation down enough to have a cooling effect. That's why Arabs wear robes in the desert.
We sat out the heat of the day under our makeshift shelter, sipping good coffee and generally unwinding while enjoying the magnificent view over the pan. 15x9 square kilometers of table top flat open surface with only mirage creating the optical illusion of water and movement. A lone eagle circled the campsite to check out the intruders.
The dogs were lazing away under the car while dung beetles set out rolling the dog food pellets uphill over the small dune to go bury it somewhere. Linda was helping one along with a dry twig to get his burden uphill. I caught an unusual movement from the corner of my eye just beyond where Linda was. It was a 4 feet long snake making it's way to the shade of the tent. Linda was in it's way and I did not have time to explain so I instructed her to "run to your right NOW". My tone of voice told her to act without asking so she ran and the snake passed the spot where she stood 2 seconds later. If she could have stood still it might have passed her without drama but I was scared she might react on seeing it and her sudden movement would guaranteed have prompted the snake to strike. Four and a half hours hard driving away from the nearest hospital with anti venom..
Day one saved so I got the dogs into the car and ushered the snake out the camp with my small spade.
We would walk 'loud' from now on, meaning you tramp your feet hard on the ground walking in shrubs so you don't surprise a snake. They will make way when hearing you approach. Only, once home I looked up the kind of snake we saw, it was a Cape Cobra, the most poisonous cobra in Africa and also a very agressive cobra so it might stand it's ground when approached. First time I saw one and I've seen many snakes on my travels.
As the formiddable sun sank to the horizon the heat became more bearable.
Thanks for reading, to be continued...
29-07-12, 12:47 AM
Absolutely fascinating post; thanks for taking the time. I'm looking forward to the others.
29-07-12, 09:56 AM
Really great read, thanks.
Bloody good post! thanks:)
29-07-12, 11:08 AM
Looking forward to your next update, some great reading and some exellent pictures.
29-07-12, 11:42 AM
a fantastic post. huge thanks for taking the time to post it. glad you like the io, we have em as pinin's over here and are great little trucks. the 4wd system works really well in snow as well :D. their only snag is that it is really hard to lift them a bit as the front suspension has not been designed to make this easy. in fact i have one in a garage awaiting some welding.
from someone who lived in ZA as a kid, i really enjoyed ya post.
29-07-12, 02:43 PM
Really great read, thanks Derek!
29-07-12, 03:20 PM
Great read. Bia danke.
29-07-12, 04:41 PM
29-07-12, 05:25 PM
31-07-12, 11:03 PM
Thanks for all the kind comments guys:)
We started scouting around on foot when temperature dropped. The absolute determination of the few living things to survive under the extreme heat and drought conditions of desert landscape never fail to amaze me. It fills me with respect to an extent where I'll try not to even step on a small plant if I can help it. This bit of grass grows on top of the scorching hot sand with only two roots to anchor it.
Bonsai is one of our hobbies and seeing these little natural bonsai trees had us in awe. Naturally dwarfed by unhospitable weather conditions, literally on the brink of death but yet clinging to life.
As darkness fell the scene underwent a metamorhosis, we could hear insects and I had to flee to the inside of the car to switch on the laptop to download the day's photos. Thousands of insects, bugs of all shapes and sizes got attracted by any light source. I had to put the neon light a few paces away from the campsite to keep the insects away from us while we prepared food.
We took a stroll in the dark out to the pan with the metal detectors. I had little hope of finding meteorites on the pan since the high salinity would destroy any metal within a few thousand years so only a very freshly fallen meteorite would still be intact. We found a lot of spots where the metal detectors indicated mineral concentrations where something must have rusted away over years.
I found some spent .38 S&W cases, most probably from Webley MK IV service revolvers carried by the South African police pre-60's on border patrol.
Direction orientation on the pan is almost impossible at night with no horizon visible and looking at the ground while metal detecting so I used the GPS to work a grid to metal detect.
The Garmin CS60x always accompanies me on trip, even on foot. I can link the track data time stamps to the exif data time stamps from my cameras and determine exactly where every photo was taken during a trip. This comes in handy later. I for instance did a photo essay for a client in the Erongo mountains in the Namib desert. He was planning on developing a tourist attraction there. I photographed a prospectors pick axe circa 1930 high up in the mountains. Back in Johannesburg the client decided to use the pick axe as his logo and wanted to retrieve it since one of the features on the farm is a zinc mine abandoned in 1934. I could pin point it's location on a hi-res sat pic for his game rangers to retrieve it back in Namibia.
GPS technology has become such an every day part of life that I almost take it as a natural aid, well, until a friend of mine who flies Oryx (Super Puma) helicopters on UN missions in war torn African countries reminded me that a paranoid American only need to throw a switch in the name of "anti terrorism" and every civilian GPS will become a useless piece of equipment that very second.
The military pilots are not allowed to rely on GPS and still navigate by magnetic compass only which makes total sense since in case of world war, the uncoded civilian GPS signals will definately be de-activated and the scrambled signal be reserved for the power in control of GPS sattelites. So I started packing my compass again, just in case, the magnetic North pole cannot be switched off. A magnetic compass only lied to me once and that was because I was in an area with heavy magnetite deposits, once out of it the compass did it's job again. The GPS is a handy luxury.
We bathed in hot water from a black water container I left in the sun during the day before going to sleep. The fresh air and peaceful surroundings makes for a deep relaxing sleep.
Following morning i did the customary camp circling and found some jackal (fox) tracks, these little guys don't miss a thing happening in their neighbourhood.
I also saw cumulus clouds on the horizon, they would be pushed back to the horizon during the days, as if held there by some invisible barrier. At night we could see some lightning very far off over Southern Namibia.
I found this colourful geco sitting on a shrub checking me out without moving.
We started exploring the pan before the heat set in. The surface had different textures. Here salt deposits can be seen:
With nothing to disturb the surface some cracked clay could be seen from the previous season's rain.
I brought these barbed wire balls all the way from home as props, a freaky abstract photo:
We found some interesting geological formations where petrified clay was exposed from millions of years ago. I looked for fossils but the salinity was probably too high to sustain life then already.
This is an excellent example of how a boulder was broken down to pebbles by heat expansion and contraction.
It soon became too hot to function again and we headed back to our shelter to sit out the heat.
We saw a lot of dust devils (micro tornados) on the pan during the day.
It was hard to imagine a hi tec vehicle speeding past at 1000mph on the pan and I could not help to wonder about the technology they plan on using. How many rpm would a wheel spin at 1000mph and what metal would withstand the centrifugal force exerted on it? What if the vehicle encounters a dust devil or any slight turbulence at that speed? They plan on using a jet engine, what would the influence of the extreme temperature on the pan surface be?, jet engines operate at high altitude where temperatures are low.
We did some more exploring before sunset and I marked the spots where I planned on doing the model shoots.
Almost in the middle of the pan we found the most bizarre isolated twin rocks. My first thought was "massive meteorite" but it was only granite. How it got there is anyone's guess. Somebody was there first in 1941.
To be continued....
31-07-12, 11:26 PM
keep it going man, this is great :)
01-08-12, 12:15 AM
Very interesting stuff. I'm learning loads!
01-08-12, 09:06 AM
Yes, plenty more please.
01-08-12, 10:50 AM
Brilliant read. Thanks for sharing.
05-08-12, 12:46 AM
Glad you guys are enjoying it!
A part of the Hakskeen Pan experience that will stay with me forever is the night strolls onto the pan. We would take a blanket and walk straight out onto the pan at night for about a kilometre. Out there were no insects or any other living creatures and we could find our way in the starlight without the head mounted torches.
Relative humidity is very low and there's no light pollution from artificial light sources. Air pollution is nonexistent so the view of the starlit sky was the best I have ever seen. Even in the Namib the humidity from the Atlantic Ocean move in over the desert at night and would add a haze to the starlit sky.
We put the blanket down on the hard pan surface and lay on our backs gazing up into the universe, stars crisp and vividly visible. The sensation was indescribable. It was like sitting on the nose of a space ship. With no horizon visible on the flat surface we had a 180 degree view of the universe in breathtaking detail. It was there in the dead silence that I once again realised just how insignificant I am. A truly humbling experience.
Whether we are happy, unhappy, rich or poor, it has an expiry date of less than 100 years, a half a drop in an ocean of time to the universe. Lying on an ancient lake bed, a million years or older, on a planet 5.54 BILLION years old looking up into a universe that's still expanding and that's older than the human mind can grasp...
I thought about mankind's perception of achievement, traction control for cars, high rise buildings, a mission to Mars, a man on the moon, then, oops, forgot about the rest of life on planet earth so suddenly save the whale, save the rhino, save the ozone layer, you know what, even if we as humans manage to destroy ourselves, earth and all life forms on it, the universe won't even notice, nor stop or slow down. Human ego, human arrogance and his victories over nature is so fleeting. Nature has time on its side, had time on its side even before we evolved into a species. We've managed to alter the configuration of trace elements and molecules to create tools and objects of desire which will inevitably as time passes disintegrate back into what it was before even long before the sun dies.
And I could not help but smile at the thought of how mankind, in its brief existence in the universe managed to channel so much of its energy and recourses to fight amongst each other, to claim ownership for himself of a few square yards of space to call his own for his momentary less than 100 year exisitence.
As time to leave grew nearer we decided to brave the heat and do our photo shoots. We started at the twin rocks. The ground was so hot Linda could not stand on the ground with bare feet for longer than a few seconds so we had to use precious water wet the surface where she stood to cool it down.
The Kestrel handheld weather station indicated a major barometric shift as we progressed, (like I said, I love gadgets:D) and it soon became apparent that the bank of cumulus clouds that covered the horizon managed to overcome the invisible obstacle and were moving in on us. This made for a magnificent backdrop for our photos but the danger of getting rained in on the pan had me on edge and keeping an eye on the weather station.
A major storm was developing on the opposite edge of the pan and suddenly I realised it was an electrical storm. I've always maintained that common sense is the best survival tool and common sense dictated that we were the highest protrusion on a 15 by 9 kilometre square surface, not very desireable in an electrical storm.:O We made a dash for the edge of the pan.
First a sandstorm hit us.
Abraham's cattle came down from the dunes bothered by the sweeping sand.
We witnessed the darnest thing; rain would pour down on the pan only to be driven straight back up into the air by convection currents when it came to within about 50 feet from the surface. Not a single drop reached the pan surface!
It was all over as sudden as it started and we could continue with the photo shoot.
to be continued...
Bloody hell,you know your way round a camera mate.Brilliant:D
06-08-12, 10:09 AM
this post is great;written with real knowledge by the sound;much appreciated derek,as unusual with stunning images;Thanks!
08-08-12, 08:53 PM
Thanks for the kind comments guys.
Back at camp we found our tents and gear covered with a layer of sand but the little chopper tents have the ability of leaning with the wind so they stood their ground.
It was time to leave the tranquillity of Hakskeen Pan:C. I decided to cruise across the pan and exit on the tar road side.
Packed and ready to go:
We got to the West side of the pan and ran into some mud. I locked diffs and negotiated the mud but promptly realised that Abraham knew what he was talking about, there's no way of driving across even with a Unimog :O so I unhooked the trailer and backed out of the super slippery mud before getting the car and trailer stuck.
I'm very wary of decepting salt pan surfaces; I did a trip down the coast of Namibia south of Walvisbay, still had the Isuzu 4wd diesel. Near a place called Sandwich Harbour the dark caught up with me and I decided to pitch camp next to a small dune to shield me from the cold Atlantic breeze that night.
It was a sturdy looking surface of a salt pan. I slept in the back of the truck so made sure it was parked level before I started unloading my gear. 10 minutes later the truck was not level any longer but tilted sideways!:O I realised with a shock that the dry sturdy looking surface was only but a crust 8 inches thick and that the area where the weight of the truck was busy tilting.
Needless to say, I packed up in record time and evacuated. I was later told by a chap from nature conservation that a few trucks 'disappeared' on that salt pan, anglers would park there and walk down to the surf line for a day's fishing and find their vehicles sunken away to the bottom of a mud hole when they return.
I still get the shivers when I think of what could have happened if I fell asleep under the canopy on the back of the truck that night..
I detoured the wet area and closer to the tar road we came across these folk on their way back from the small village of Mier. These were the first people we encountered in 5 days.
Back on tar we made good time so decided to go see the Augrabies Falls where the mighty Orange river carved it's way through dolomite over thousands of years to drop over the falls on it's way to the Atlantic.
The water is used also to irrigate vineyards in the semi desert along the Orange river. We stopped to buy raisins, 10kg's of it, I wanted to make a Port wine and the raisins were dirt cheap here. The grapes spread out on concrete slabs to dry under the burning sun:
I had another waypoint on the GPS I wanted to visit on our way back. The topo map only said: British War Graves 1874. It was way off the public road on a farm so I stopped in the small town of Olifantshoek (Elephant's corner) to enquire about whose farm it was. Farmers don't take kindly of unannounced visitors on their property anymore. With a farmer getting murdered about every week in South Africa lately one cannot blame them. The old-timer who's property it was could be found at the local old age home I was told. We found his wife there who said he was on the farm visiting his dog which was not allowed in the old age home. The couple was too old and frail to live on the farm full time and their children who were professional people in a city were not interested in farming.
We found the old-timer and his dog on the farm who told us that the graves were of four British soldiers from the Kimberley regiment. Three were killed in action and one succumbed of his wounds a day after they were ambushed by Griqua tribesmen while on patrol on horseback during the Griqua war of the then British colony of South Aftrica. He said that the graves were in neglect, the ANC government has never maintained them since taking over. The South African army used to maintain them. The baboons repeatedly ransacked the railway sleepers the army would put up around the graves.
He gave us his permission to take to the bush after I assured him I'll find the graves with the help of the GPS.
We found the four unmarked graves under a massive camel thorn tree in a peaceful desolate valley.
Linda took a stroll with her metal detector so I made a coffee and went to sit at the graves in a moment of silence.
The bush was eerily quiet under the scorching African sun. I tried to envisage the scene here a hundred and thirty six years ago. Four men, a hemisphere away from their mother country, fighting a war here in the arid South African bush to die alone here on foreign soil at spear tip. Respect.
I have found so many war graves on my travels, in Namibia of German Schutztruppen, here on South African soil of British and Boer soldiers. Most of these graves are in God forsaken country, long forgotten and off the beaten track. We had the luxury of evacuating fallen comrades by mechanised means during modern warfare; these guys were on horseback in hostile country and had to bury the dead where they fell.
I walked further down the valley, there were a few places where the ambush could have taken place but the most likely was where a dry riverbed meets with the mountainside leaving a narrow passage on solid ground.
Linda found the remains of a badly rusted spearhead, basically only the tang end survived.
Our last stop of interest on the way home; "Wonder cave". It's a geological phenomenon in the sense that the cave runs straight and horizontal into the mountainside, it could be mistaken for a mine tunnel if it was not for the ancient bushmen paintings inside. A settler farmer made this his home and later a paddock for his cattle. It's several hundred meters long and huge enough to take a lorry.
When we arrived home I started my port wine;
In 4 years time it will be a 'tawny port' and in time to open up to toast my son's graduating as electro mechanical engineer from university:).
The dogs slept for the next 3 days solid, they were exhausted from not sleeping at night in the bush. Because they are small dogs they are too scared to sleep in the unfamiliar surroundings in the bush, good dogs;).
Total kms of trip: 2939 = 1826miles
Total fuel used: 311.6 litre 82.16 gallon
Avg fuel consumption: 9.5 km/l
Max temp in shade on trip: 45.8 deg Celsius = 114.4 deg F
Thanks for reading.
08-08-12, 09:25 PM
what a great thread, huge thanks for taking so much time in posting it. i am now waiting for the next expedition :)
08-08-12, 10:52 PM
A wonderful read. Thank you so much for taking the time to share it with us.
08-08-12, 11:15 PM
My pleasure to share guys, have camera will travel :D
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