Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

A glimpse of light

Many people travel simply for leisure, and for the team of Adventure Afrika, it’s usually in pursuit of adventure. However, some trips are for a much greater cause. Anton Willemse Jnr recently embarked on a cross-country journey to raise awareness for childhood cancer and bring joy to a few inspirational and wonderful children.

Last year, when I started working as a journalist, I had the privilege of participating in a crosscountry trip alongside Kia South Africa, an amazing opportunity any aspiring travel journalist yearns for. We were to embark on a massive journey around the country to visit seven towns in seven days. The goal of the Seven7 Drive – as the initiative is known – is to travel around the country and visit pediatric oncology wards with gifts for the patients. The 2021 trip was a milestone moment in my life, and it made me aware of the struggles these kids, their families and the courageous healthcare workers fighting alongside them have to endure. I fell in love with the Seven7 Drive and vowed to be a part of it, in some way or form, the rest of my life.

Getting started

So, on 20 September this year, Danie Botha and I met up at Kia’s headquarters in Edenvale, from where our journey commenced. The first leg was a relatively easy drive to South Africa’s third most populated city, Durban. We came in via the N3 and were greeted by some truly awful weather as it was pouring down with rain. Nevertheless, we made it to the Parklands Hospital to drop off the first of the gifts. As we entered the the colourful pediatric oncology centre to hand over the gifts, we saw a little boy crying in pain as a nurse attempted to draw blood. He was no more than eight or nine years old, and his father was beside him trying to be strong and keep his composure for his struggling son. The kids and parents were trying their best just to make it to tomorrow and beat this awful disease. Once again, this initiative’s mission became clear. Danie and I were determined to bring as much joy and hope as possible during our trip across the country.

Adventure calls

On the second day, we had to make the eight-hour drive to Rhodes, a beautiful little town nestled in the Drakensberg south of Lesotho. We needed to leave at sparrow’s to give us time to spare on the gravel road because weather reports suggested that we and our trusty Sorento were in for a challenge as there were reports of snowfall in the region.

We departed from Umhlanga at around four in the morning and followed the N2 along the coast until we turned inland at Port Edward, as we followed the road curving through the mountains on our way to Rhodes. We saw mountain tops capped with snow and felt like we were travelling through Europe rather than South Africa in what was supposed to be spring. The tar soon gave way to gravel or, in this case, thick mud courtesy of the previous day’s snowfall. The road was nasty in some parts, and I doubted whether a bakkie could get through, never mind this so-called soft-roader we were in. However, the mighty Sorento was unphased as it took everything in its stride.

We inched closer and closer to the mighty Naude’s Nek Pass, the highest pass in South Africa. It zigzags its way over the southern Drakensberg and has an average gradient of 1:41. In some parts it measures a staggering 1:7.

As we came closer to the pass, a local farmer, Donie Naude, intercepted us and warned us that the pass might be closed because of the snow, and he didn’t want us to go over it unassisted. He invited us to his farmhouse for coffee with his wife, Juan-Marie, while he tended to some work around his farm. We learned that Donie is a descendant of the original builders of Naude’s Nek Pass and after a few coffees and a proper chatting session, he was ready to guide us over. We followed him into the pass and before we knew it, we were surrounded by snow. It was a winter wonderland and it felt like we’d teleported to the Swiss Alps.

As we slowly crawled up the slippery and steep pass, we became more and more impressed with the overall off-road performance of the Kia Sorento. It was way out of its comfort zone, but managed to keep up with a Land Cruiser thanks to its terrific all-wheel drive system. We soon reached the summit, and I took the opportunity to make my first-ever snowball. I wasn’t going to risk throwing it at my driving partner though. After taking in the truly breathtaking views, we meandered down the mountain into the quaint little town of Rhodes. We settled in at the Walkabouts Inn, where a splendid evening of wine and music was to be had.

We met with singer Mathys Roets, who was doing a concert to help raise additional funds for the Seven7 Drive. Mathys delivered a terrific performance, telling great jokes and stories in between his soulful singing. He spoke openly about his time in hospital after his accident, explaining how difficult life is when confined to the four walls of an ICU room. The small victories and the tiny glimpses of hope are what motivated him to get out of the hospital. That sentiment of helping those in need and giving them hope, albeit just a glimpse, that’s the mission for both the Seven7 Drive and Cupcakes of Hope. We try to be that glimpse of light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

It seemed that the entire town had crammed into the Walkabout Inn to enjoy each other’s company and Mathys’ show. For Danie and I a late night wasn’t an option though, as we would have an early start to the third day of our mission.

Rude awakening

Early the next morning, we left Rhodes way before sunrise as we headed on the gravel road toward Barkly East for the 564km journey to Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth). We made good time and arrived at our destination way ahead of schedule.

This gave us plenty of time to check into our hotel and head to the local provincial hospital, which is arguably one of the most beautiful old buildings in South Africa. It’s a proper old colonial building with a more modern hospital surrounding it. However, like most public hospitals, it has fallen into disarray due to a lack of funds and improper management.

At the oncology ward we were greeted by the familiar faces of the nursing staff. There were about ten patients, most of them in isolation. However, Danie and I had the privilege of meeting two very young patients, one just over a year old, and the other only seven months. I then realised the brutal reality of this awful disease and the terrible treatment for it. These two patients got to me. They were so young and so defenceless. But it did also remind me why we were there: to make their lives just a little bit brighter. Danie and I headed back to our hotel and took time to gather ourselves before dinner. That’s when Danie started harassing me. He had shaved his head before the trip to support the cause and tried to persuade me to do the same. At first, I wasn’t keen, but I eventually warmed to the idea.

A glimpse of hope

Once again, we started bright and early on day four. We left Gqeberha before sunrise and travelled through the beautiful Eastern Cape. We were heading toward the beautiful Karoo, all the while travelling parallel with the glorious Outeniqua mountain range. After passing through De Rust it was on to the beautiful Meiringspoort Pass, which slices through the Swartberg mountain range.

After Meiringspoort we headed into Klaarstroom to explore the beautiful little town. It’s almost a second home for Danie and I could see how his face lit up as we entered it. It is nestled in one of the most beautiful parts of our country, in the shadow of the Swartberg Mountains and surrounded by the desert. Every building looks like it’s been around for ages, and the entire town is filled with history and character.

We had to get over the mountains once more, but for the sake of adventure, we decided to take the road less travelled. So, we opted for the Swartberg Mountain Pass. It is extremely long and beautiful, curving first through a stunning valley and then climbing up into the clouds over the summit. The best part of the pass is how quickly the flora changes as you head up. One side of the mountain has more desert-like flora but once you reach the peak, the flora transforms into beautifully lush and green fynbos.

Soon we were on our way to Cape Town and the Tygerberg Hospital, where 11 patients were awaiting our arrival. This visit was a special one as it was my first opportunity to interact with the kids and the families.

Two kids, in particular, stuck with me. The one girl was just a ray of sunshine. She was so happy to meet new people and discuss her condition and her journey with us. One of the gifts she received was a tub of playdough, and she explained at length all the things she was eager to create as soon as she got home. It was so heartwarming to meet somebody so kind and positive in what is usually a somber environment. The other child who impacted me, a boy, was just as excited to receive his gifts. You could see just how much this little glimpse of hope meant to him. It revitalised us, gave us a massive boost, and gave us the strength to finish this trip.

The long winding road

Once again, Danie and I were on the road bright and early. We had to make the long trek through the Karoo into the Kalahari. We even got to see the remnants of the flowers in Namaqualand. It was strange to think that we were in a desert, only days after being in the snowy mountains and hours after being at sea level. This trip across the country gives you a genuine appreciation for the diversity of its beauty, both in biomes and its actual population. We’re truly blessed to call this our home.

After a wonderful drive through the barren and quiet Karoo/ Kalahari, we arrived in Upington. Our first task was to find a barber because, as I mentioned, I had to shave my head. After no success, we opted for the next best thing and bought a clipper. That’s when I had an epiphany. Why not let the kids shave my head? Danie liked the idea and when we arrived at the public hospital, I had an appointment with an impromptu hairdresser. It was clear that she enjoyed her task very much and although I had lost my hair, I loved it as well. We then learned that she was a Cupcakes of Hope patient and that, thanks to their support, she is nearing remission. It gave me hope for all the little patients I had met on our journey and reminded me why we do this.

Nearing the end

After our successful day in Upington, we had another early start as we made our way out of the Kalahari to Thabazimbi and then the popular Marakele National Park. We arrived just in time for sunset and drove up a mountain and enjoyed our final sunset of the trip. Afterwards, Danie and I spent the night around a campfire, reflecting on our journey. We continued the Seven7 Drive tradition of braai-ing for the final night and tucked in early. The final leg of our seven-day trip took us through the Waterberg Mountains and we enjoyed our last bit of scenery before heading back into town. Our first destination was the Polokwane Provincial Hospital. It is in awful condition and the oncology centre itself is housed in an asbestos building without airconditioning. Luckily for these children, Uncle Bobby is always there to bring a ray of hope. He is a father figure for these children and as a cancer survivor he has great empathy for their situation. He truly goes above and beyond the call of duty for these children and we were honoured to be able to contribute to his efforts.

After a successful drop-off in Polokwane, we made our way to Pretoria via the N1. We were sad that our trip was coming to an end, but also eager to return home. Our final stop was at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital, where we met up with Lori, a volunteer from Cupcakes of Hope. This visit was one of the most profound experiences of my life. The ward was almost full, with nearly 30 patients. Everyone was so excited to see us, and I got the real sense that our visit was a highlight in their otherwise dreary days. It was also great to see the passion of the staff working in the ward.

Where last year’s trip made me aware of the effect this disease can have on patients and parents alike, this year’s trip galvanised it. This cause will always be close to my heart, and it will always be something I care about deeply. We managed to raise more than R60 000 this year, thanks to some donations, the Mathys Roets concert and a wonderful Dinner for Good at our final stop of the trip, Forti Too in Lynnwood (Pretoria). That’s a truly remarkable sum, and it speaks volumes to the commitment of those associated with the endeavour. It’s a beautiful trip across a beautiful country for a truly beautiful cause, and it was an honour to be a part of it once again.

All for a sweet cause

Cupcakes of Hope is a Non-Profit Company and a Public Benefit Organisation with the aim of raising awareness around childhood cancer and the warning signs associated with it. They also support affected families in need of medical assistance. This is done through the network of Cupcake Angels’ love of baking this sweet treat that is almost always sure to bring a smile to kids’ faces. The foundation hosts several fundraising initiatives during the year, with the main event being South Africa‘s National Cupcake Day 4 Kids with Cancer in September.

CONTACT: +27 79 182 7558 | info@cupcakesofhope.org | www.cupcakesofhope.org

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