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

Stepping bravely into the unknown…

In our previous issue, George van Deventer and Marlene Hurter and the group of intrepid explorers on the Trans Africa Self Drive Adventures & Tours recce trip to Zambia were brought to a halt by a broken bridge… Did this mean the end of their adventure?

Former Zimbabwean politician and author of The Light in the Heart, Roy T. Bennett, once said: “Until you step into the unknown, you don’t know what you’re made of.” This quote rang quite true as we were faced with a choice at the broken bridge over the Musa River… We needed to step into the unknown because turning back was not an option. As overlanders, we aren’t being tested when we’re in our comfort zones driving on beautiful, tarred roads or graded dirt tracks. Our test lay before us.

The problem was two-fold. The bridge over the Musa River was not simply broken – it was gone! But not just gone… It had a washout of about 2.5m high with bridge rubble and huge rocks all over the place! And to add insult to injury, the river was flowing quite strongly. The other option was to go left, but towards that side, the embankment became even higher and more inaccessible.

Improvise, adapt, and overcome

This is the motto I live my life by. It comes from my army days, when we were taught that giving up was never an option. This was it – we had to improvise and adapt to overcome! We had two feasible options. We could turn around and drive 350km back via Roy’s Kafue Camp like we came, or we could find a way across the river to complete the 40km to our intended destination. After a quick caucus, we all agreed that option two was the one to explore. The feeling was mutual that we could not turn back without at least trying! This is the spirit we are committed to at Trans Africa Adventures, after all! So, we headed back to the proverbial drawing board – or in this case the GPS and topographic maps – to find alternative routes.

On one of the mobile digital maps, I noticed an old, deserted road with a crossing about 300m downstream. No other options or roads were available to us. We backtracked about 500m and saw what looked like it could have been a road many moons ago. It was completely overgrown, with the faint two-spoor road barely visible. In fact, it was littered with young trees that had rooted and grown for quite some time. I left the comfort of my vehicle to see if it would be drivable to the river and if it would be suitable for a crossing. This was the scariest part since we had seen massive lion tracks in the sand just a few kilometres back… We were in their territory now! I made it to the river and saw a sand bank that could do as a wild camping spot, and since it was already quite late in the afternoon, we decided to settle there for the night before scouting for a crossing the following day. The good news of a possible crossing was met with joy and enthusiasm, as was the prospect of a night of wild camping amongst the big cats… We had to forge our way through the bush to the sandbank because the old road was not accessible due to even bigger trees that grew in and across it. This in itself was an adventure! The mood in the camp was cheerful, with everybody feeling a sense of true adventure. The girls in the group set up a makeshift spa and gave each other pedicures and foot massages as the guys sat with our chairs in one of the sidestreams, enjoying a cold one as we contemplated different routes across. At this stage, we were only speculating because we did not know how deep the river was and if the reed bed would even be accessible – it made for riveting conversation, nonetheless!

With darkness came the sights and sounds of the African bush. We were treated to lions roaring and hyenas whooping, while thousands of frogs serenaded us to dreamland. As I was lying in my tent, waiting for Mr Sandman to bring me a dream, I could not help but feel extremely privileged and fortunate to be able to experience Mother Africa this way. What others would define as a significant crisis was a blessing to us. If the bridge was accessible, we would not have blazed a new trail or experience this wild camp in the middle of nowhere in Kafue on the banks of the Musa River. With this feeling of happiness and a sense of gratitude, I fell asleep. The next morning, we were awakened by what sounded like a choir of thousands of birds. Adventure was calling – we had a river to cross!

Walk the line

The first rule of crossing an unknown river is to “walk the line”, as per a famous 4×4 TV host. But, walking the line over the Musa River is a tad different than that of, say, a river in the Karoo. In this river, some creatures could devour you for breakfast! It is home to hippos and crocs, not to mention all the big cats that might lay in wait on the other side.

With that in mind, I decided to saddle up our trusted Trans Africa workhorse, Braap (who has since sadly ‘passed on’). This would not be our first rodeo, and I trusted the rig’s capabilities. Geoff Buurman took a handheld radio and went up to higher ground to guide me through the reed bed. This was the trickiest part, since I could barely see a metre in front of the vehicle, and I had to exit the reed bed at a specific point to cross… or at least try to cross the river.

The first part of getting to the other side was as tricky as the reed bed or the river itself because I had to make my way across a sand bed with deep, loose river sand. Luckily, I remembered to deflate the tyres to 0.8 bar before I started my venture across and this helped a great deal. Next up was the reed bed, the most challenging part of the exercise. The ground was littered with big rocks and boulders that you could not see due to the density of the reeds. I went extremely slow in low range, first gear and sometimes came to a stop against a huge rock. From his vantage point, Geoff had to navigate me in a different direction until I made it out of the reeds.

Now came the scary part – I had to cross the river. The unknowns made me extremely nervous. I did not know how deep it was or what the riverbed beneath the water looked like. Would it be mud, rocks, holes, sand, logs, branches, or debris from the washed-away bridge? Only one way to find out, I guess! The crossing through the river was about 30m, and I knew I had a winch should I get stuck and, should the water be deeper than the bonnet, I would reverse and look for another crossing point. I took a leap of faith as I entered the river with my eyes fixed on the exit point on the opposite bank. I made it across in what felt like an eternity. We now had a better idea of what lay beneath, so the others could follow suit.

Words couldn’t describe the joy and relief of succeeding at something that had looked impossible 30 minutes before. This feeling was short-lived, though, as the opposite bank had another curve ball to through us. It was the stuff serious 4×4 trails were made of, as the old road was completely washed away, and only deep ditches and giant boulders remained. At least I could walk the line now, looking for the best possible route. Braap did his thing as I steered him over, out and up the embankment. Reaching the top, knowing I had made it across, was and still is one of my overlanding highlights. This was it – I improvised, adapted, and overcame a serious obstacle. I made it! I crossed the Musa River without damage or injury. And I had a great story to tell. The quote by the ‘Islamic Marco Polo’ Ibn Battuta comes to mind: “Travelling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” And boy, did this group have a million stories to tell!

Trans Africa Tour Focus: Welcome to the true wild frontier

George van Deventer and Marlene Hurter from Trans Africa Self Drive Adventure and Tours (TASDA) pride themselves on offering experiences with a difference, often venturing way off the beaten track. One of their upcoming 2023 calendar highlights is the Northern Namibia/Kaokoland/Damaraland tour, taking place during April/May 2023.

22 April- 4 may 2023 | R9900 per person sharing

Kaokoland has so much to offer in terms of natural beauty. The life-giving Kunene River has many waterfalls and rapids, of which the Ruacana and Epupa Falls are the most spectacular. The Marienfluss area – famous for its beautiful ‘fairy circles’ – is a long, wide valley covered in soft, waving grass for most of the year, set between high, stark mountain ranges. Explorers can enter it in the south via the challenging Van Zyl’s Pass or on the track passing Rooidrom.

Due to the remoteness of this vast wonderland, it is almost essential to travel in a group – so why not join TASDA for an epic adventure into this wild frontier? The seclusion of the Kaokoland is the reason the semi-nomadic Himba Tribe can continue with their traditional way of life. The beautiful women and children of this tribe are unusual and striking with their red ochre-coloured skin, intricate hairstyles and handmade jewellery. The Kaokoveld in Namibia is also home to unique flora and fauna, including the desert-dwelling elephants, rhinos, giraffes and lions. In this region in northern Namibia, you can experience cultural interaction with the Himba, track African wildlife on 4×4 trails, and witness fascinating Kaokoland sunsets.

Places on the itinerary:

  • Windhoek
  • Etosha National Park
  • Ruacana
  • Epupa Falls
  • Van Zyl’s Pass
  • Marienfluss
  • Puros
  • Himba Living Museum
  • Rooidrom
  • Hoarusib River
  • Palmwag
  • Namib Desert
  • Huab River
  • Hoanib River & Kunene River
  • Sesfontein
  • Damara Living Museum
  • Brandberg

What you need:

  • A reliable serviced 4×4 vehicle with a fuel range of 500km (including extra fuel containers like long-range tanks and jerry cans)
  • Camping equipment and cooking/braai accessories
  • Fridge/freezer or cooler boxes
  • Food and drinks (including water) for 12 days

Price Include:

  • Camping fees
  • Conservation fees
  • Park entry fees
  • Experienced tour guide and medic
  • Two-way radios supplied for the duration of the trip

Not included:

  • 4×4 vehicle hire
  • Fuel
  • Food and drinks
  • Daily activities
  • Transfer fees
  • Game drives

CONTACT: +27 82 093 9984 (Marlene) / +27 82 688 1431 (George) info@transafricatours.co.za | www.tasda.co.za

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