24HR TOLLFREE
EMERGENCY ASSIST

+27 011 966 5004
0800 005 688

Cross Country Drive
Login

Pilgrim’s Rest Reinvented

Gold panning in the streams of Pilgrim’s Rest. All Photo Credits: © Jacqui Ikin

As a child, I remember going to Pilgrim’s Rest en route to the Kruger Park. Not once, but many times. It was enchanting, a settlement lost in time, with stories of the early gold prospectors, highway robbers, Jock of the Bushveld and gold nuggets in clear running streams. I remember stepping back in time when we had lunch in the old Royal Hotel. It was all simply delightful.

This is a tale of reinvention, a tale of a town rising from the ashes to create something even better than before. In October 2019 I took a group of people to this quaint little town and you honestly couldn’t ask for a better experience, better value for your money or a larger variety of activities to keep you occupied for an entire weekend.

I was warned that Pilgrims Rest was “no longer what it used to be”. I did my research and decided to persevere – and I am so very glad I did. This little town has quite literally been pulled up by its bootstraps. The change we saw apparently started at the beginning of 2019. We had the most amazing time, it was great value for money, and … well, let’s start at the beginning!

Leaving Jozi mid-morning, we arrived in Dullstroom for lunch at the new “Udderlicious Milkshake Bar” in the main street. Their sandwiches are man-sized layers of deliciousness, and their milkshakes are something to behold.

Suitably refreshed, the roads from Dullstroom on to Pilgrim’s Rest were beautifully scenic, with a spot or two where one needs to pay attention to potholes. Arriving in Pilgrim’s Rest, it’s easy to see why the whole village was proclaimed as a National Monument in 1986. Checking in to the Royal Hotel just before sunset, we were allocated our Victorian rooms. Each room is individually decorated, and true to the period. Quite an experience – and VERY comfortable.

We met up in the Church Bar just adjacent to the lobby of the hotel for a pre-dinner drink. The hotel was built in 1894, and the bar (once the Roman Catholic Chapel of the St. Cyprian’s School in Cape Town) was purchased, dismantled and shipped from the Cape to Maputo (known as Delagoa Bay in those times). It was then transported to Pilgrims Rest by ox-wagon! Rumour has it that, back in the day, many a drink was paid for with a gold nugget! Dinner was a traditional affair served in the hotel dining room.

The next day we visited the Austrian Coffee plantation, which was a revelation. This wonderful venue lies at the end of a red dust road. The owner, Walter, took us on a tour of the plantation – explaining the cycle of coffee, from seedling to coffee in the cup. The fascinating tour ends on a huge veranda overlooking a valley. Brigitte offered us freshly brewed coffee and cakes still warm from the oven. This elderly couple are sprightly and work really hard, but clearly have a passion for what they do – which we were later told is essentially their “retirement”. As we sit and enjoy the delicious coffee and cake, the vistas remind me of scenes from “Out of Africa”! The landscape is spectacular…

Next on our agenda is the only commercial silkworm farm in Africa – appropriately named African Silks. The farm also has vast groves of Macadamia nut trees. The tour starts with a talk explaining the life cycle of the silkworm, and also how silk is made. 

We then got to walk around the farm, and all things silk were practically explained to us whilst viewing the actual operation. 

The group, both adults and children, were entranced. I had forgotten how interesting these little worms were, and the tour reminded me of keeping an array of them during my school years (until they hatched in my cupboard where they had been forgotten!). We end the tour in their wonderful restaurant on a deck with delicious homemade ginger beer and lemonade, complete with macadamias to snack on. There are silk products for sale (although their main shop is located on Graskop), as well as Macadamia nuts and avos in season. 

The afternoon was spent wandering around Pilgrim’s Rest’s plethora of amazing little shops to find treasures. In the late afternoon, we gathered at Kuzzulos Emporium where everyone had their photos taken. You get to choose your outfit and take ‘once in a lifetime’ images of yourselves in Victorian costumes. We even had a team shot of the cars! 

Afterwards, we had organised to have a screening of a silent Charlie Chaplin movie – complete with sound effects and popcorn. It was a regular Saturday night at the bioscope!

The next morning, before departing on our return journey, we had a gold panning session in the river. After a short demonstration, it was shoes off and into the river… Everyone had a ball!! You get to keep the gold that you find (the pans are “salted”, so you’re guaranteed a lovely memento!). It is an addictive activity, and one can understand “gold rush fever” a little better after finding a gleaming nugget in your pan…

Our last treat before hitting the road for the homeward bound trip was a ride on the Long Tom Toboggan – located at Misty Mountain.  After much careful planning, this steel monorail track took over two years to complete. The longest toboggan ride of its kind in Africa, it’s a lovely 1.7km “whoosh” down Long Tom Pass, driven by gravity. You hop in a cart, equipped only with a brake, which if you don’t use you can enjoy speeds of up to 45 km/h on your ride through the forests. A quick bite to eat whilst taking in the stunning views on the deck at Misty Mountain ended our weekend together.

What was great about a weekend like this is that you are supporting little towns that are doing their best to survive and regenerate. I found the Pilgrim’s Rest to be spotless, with no beggars and all the shops open and operational. I believe that there are now also some additional new shops which have opened. You do have a lot of car washers – if you don’t want your vehicle washed, you simply put a flyer provided by the hotel on the inside of your window, and voila – they disappear. No issues. Meals, accommodation and all experiences were top notch and great value – and, best of all, your Rands are going towards building our beautiful country up again!!

#TravelLocal #StaySafe #SouthAfricaWillTravelAgain
Jacqui Ikin & The Cross Country Team

Udderlicious Milkshake Dullstroom
064 621 9373

Royal Hotel, Pilgrim’s Rest
013 768 1100

The Silk Farm
Margi / Mpho
013 767 1950
Margiswart.africasilks@gmail.com

Brummer Tours (Gold Panning)
Sherry Goodwin
082 522 1958

Kuzzulos Emporium
Sam
082 444 5648 / 013 768 1296
kuzzulos@gmail.com

Papkuilsfontein

“Oh, the places you’ll go…..” Dr Seuss

Our little stone cottage… All Photo Credits: © Jacqui Ikin

Papkuilsfontein. Doesn’t that sound so delightfully South African? This farm was established in 1742, and in those days all farms needed to be created around a spring – or “fontein” in Afrikaans. Papkuil means reeds / bulrushes. So, the literal translation is “Fountain of the Bulrushes / Reeds”. I had the pleasure of visiting this little spot a year or two ago, and it was simply delightful.

Travelling up from Cape Town, at Vanrhynsdorp you take the R27 and head up Vanrhyns Pass. This pass, originally designed and built by Thomas Bain, is considered one of the top ten passes of the Northern Cape because of its breath-taking views, tight corners and good condition. Stop at one of the designated spots and admire the view – you can see for miles over the Knersvlakte. You climb 595m up the Bokkeveld Mountains, and the pass takes you from the Namaqua coastal terrace and the arid Knersveld Valley, up onto the escarpment and the Koue Bokkeveld Plateau.

On reaching the top, there is a distinct difference in the vegetation and the air itself, and the first town you come across is Nieuwoudtville, an area is known as ”the Bulb Capital of the World” (it has the highest speciation of indigenous bulbous flowers on Earth). 

Don’t be fooled into simply driving through the town. As you enter the town, you pass a Caltex Service Station – “Protea Motors”. If you’re a petrolhead of any level, take the time to stop and pop in. Behind the unassuming exterior lies an incredible collection of antique motorbikes (apparently over 400, although not all are on show). 

Also worth a view, if you’re into architecture, is the Neo-Gothic towers of the sandstone Dutch Reformed Church completed in 1907.

Through Nieuwoudtville and out the other side, you will eventually reach the farm Papkuilsfontein. You’ll get directions from the owners to whichever accommodation you have booked – ours was a lovely old stone house about two kilometres from the main the main house. There was a traditional farm dam nearby where we took a dip, a welcome relief from the December heat, and then explored the surrounding ruins. There are hiking trails on the farm, and by the end of August 2020 they will have created a variety of mountain bike trails too. 

Our three-course dinner was delivered to our accommodation just as the sun was going down, to be eaten by candlelight as there is no electricity. The dinner was sublime, and we opened a bottle of red to celebrate the end of a wonderful day. The stars hung low in the sky. As we finished our dinner, a huge full moon rose, tinged with copper. The night was still hot – the rock on which the cottage stands holds the heat of the day. The nearby ruins were etched silver in the moonlight, and I remembered a paragraph out of “Story of an African Farm” that describes a similar scene. As the night cooled down, I slowly drifted off to sleep. 

In the morning, after a quick outdoor shower, we took a drive to the canyon. It is spectacular, and we enjoyed a walk along the edge, clambering over rocks, and climbing higher to get better views. One needs to be careful – there are no railings, and the canyon is 180m deep. The words of Oriah Mountain Dreamer came to mind: “I will take you to the places where the earth beneath my feet and the stars overhead make my heart whole again and again” – there is a wild beauty here that restores one’s soul. After returning to the main house for a delicious breakfast, we were once again on our way. 

One last spot to explore before leaving the area is the Oorlogskloof Glacial Pavement – a set of grooves created by ice flow (yes – in the Northern Cape!) over 300 million years ago when southern Africa (as part of Gondwana) migrated over the South Pole.

Just over 70kms away (which in this part of the world is considered a mere stone’s throw away), along the R537, is Loeriesfontein. Roads out here are long and lonely, and whilst they may not be 4×4 roads, many don’t see much traffic and often don’t have signal. There is often quite literally nothing to see for miles and miles. 25km north of Nieuwoudtville you will find the southernmost and second largest quiver tree forest in the world. Only blossoming after 15-25 years, these trees can take 100 years to mature fully. The estimated age of the trees in this forest is between 150 – 250 years.  The San used their hollow branches as ‘quivers’ for their arrows. This forest is easy to access, but pleaseremember that as the quiver tree forest is situated on the Gannabos Farm itself, it still remains private property. 

The reason you would make this journey to Louriesfontien would be to visit the quirky “Windmill Museum” – one of only a handful in the world. There are around 27 windmills on display, many with enchanting names like Hercules, Star Zephyr and Gypsy Wonder, and some dating back as far as 1880! During the flower season, the adjacent Fred Turner museum is open, depicting the way of life of the early Trek Boers of Namaqualand. With more than 1000 items on display, including a trek wagon, an equipped tent and some lovely old maps, it is a worthwhile stop.

The reality is that, wherever you find yourself in this beautiful country of ours, there is a story. Fascinating things to see. Delicious local food. Photographic opportunities whichever way you glance. And the coolest part of it all? By travelling local, beyond saving thousands of Rands, you are enabling local tourism, keeping your money in your country, and making it count….

#TravelLocal #StaySafe #SouthAfricaWillTravelAgain

Jacqui Ikin & The Cross Country Team

Papkuilsfontein Guest Farm
Mariëtte van Wyk
Cell: +27 (0)72 555 1416
Tel: +27 (0)27 218 1246
Email: info@papkuilsfontein.com
www.papkuilsfontein.com

Seriously Belgian. Naturally African.

Between the weather and the pandemic, the world has a little less sunshine and happiness than before. That said, we need to remember that this is temporary… What is interesting is the new nuances of “local”, and “stay close to home”. In travel terminology, in the past this would infer that perhaps you were going to stay in South Africa as opposed to travelling overseas, or even holiday in your province. Currently, these terms could mean staying within a 50km radius of your home. 

As we slowly open up, the progression from home to province to South Africa to International is going to be gradual for tourism. It is rumoured that this will be one of the last industries to open up completely. That said, we’re all experiencing some levels of cabin fever, so let’s make the best of a difficult situation – why not explore your home town? It is time to become a tourist in your own city, wherever that may be…

More than that, it is time to carefully consider where you spend your disposable income, and whom you support. Make every penny count towards building our economy and supporting those lovely, quirky entrepreneurs that have managed to survive the last few months. They are all really in need of our support – the large corporates will survive, but for smaller companies the future is less certain.

Many of us are based in Jozi, which I think is one of the most interesting cities in the world. I am particularly intrigued by people who have left our shores for many different reasons, and who choose to come back. Somehow it reinforces the fact that the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side. One such individual is Vicki Bain. 

Vicki Bain, chocolatier extraordinaire

She has a background in environmental law and sustainability, and her passion was and still is this beautiful planet that we have borrowed from our children.  Her career took her to France and then Belgium, consulting to companies on how to comply with the various environmental laws and regulations in different countries. Whilst in Belgium, she discovered another passion, falling deeply in love with chocolate!  It was an easy conversion to a profession that combines both art and science. She was incredibly homesick, and chose to return to her roots.  She was raised in Johannesburg, and has a deep love for the country that has surrounded her for most of her life. And now, the Chocoloza that she and her team have built combines her passion for environmental protection and celebration, but also women’s empowerment and supporting the local economy. 

‘Seriously Belgian. Naturally African.’  This means they use pure Belgian chocolate and the typically Belgian approach to pralines, but the rest of their ingredients are as fresh and local as they can get…

“One of the many things I love about our country is that we are so spoilt when it comes to food.  Having lived in Europe for 14 years, I now have a deep appreciation for the quality and availability of our fruit and nuts and dairy – something that I might have taken for granted previously.  As an environmentalist living in a cold, northern country, if you want to eat seasonal, fresh fruit and veg that hasn’t been shipped from the other side of the planet then you are very, very limited.  When you are eating a steak that has been industrially raised on a very small plot of land and raised to get the most out of that, you just can’t compare it to a beautiful piece of fresh, Karoo lamb which has been raised in one of the most glorious spacious places on the planet. I’m not much of a meat eater, and I will not eat a battery chicken or anything with an unhappy story, so the difference has really stayed with me. I will tell anyone prepared to listen how lucky we are to be living in this country of ours, and how spoilt we are for food.

The same thing applies to fruit and veg and nuts and dairy.  At Chocoloza we use cream that comes from Mooberry Farms, from free range cows that have been raised without growth hormones or routine antibiotics – and you just cannot compare the taste of their cream.  So, we use that when we make our ganaches or our caramels.  If you ever come to our flagship store at 44 Stanley, you will see the glass-fronted workshop behind the counter and you might find us making tonka caramel – a big, steaming pot of boiling cream infused with fresh, grated tonka beans being poured into another big steaming pot of caramelised sugar, and the big, willowing clouds of flavour and scent just can’t fail to make you happy.  

Another favourite recipe of mine is our Granadilla Passion, which has become our chocolate tribe’s most favourite praline (next being our Lime & Basil, and our Salty Tango).  It’s a white chocolate, which is interesting because a lot of people think that they don’t like white chocolate because it’s generally too sweet.  But it absolutely should NOT be too sweet – sugar is one of those things that we use very little of, because it’s mostly used as a cheap way to fill things up and extend the shelf life.  It doesn’t add any flavour of its own, and in fact it tends to mask the flavour of whatever else you are creating.  So, our Granadilla Passion is made with fresh granadillas from the lovely Laiken and Jason who run Ganico – an organic farm out in Muldersdrift.  We use their granadilla pulp, sieve it and reduce it (another good time to come and take a big, gulp of the air in our workshop!) and turn it into a ganache using Callebaut high quality white chocolate, which is full of flavour and cocoa butter but not full of sugar, so you get all the flavour of the granadilla coming through. It’s a real explosion of flavour. It really is true that when you focus on great quality ingredients, prepared with love and care, and without artificial flavours or preservatives or palm oil, the result is something exceptional. 

On the other end of the scale, we make a wonderful praline that we call our Madagascar Marble, which is made with single-origin Madagascan chocolate and plenty of girlpower!  Madagascan chocolate naturally has a bit of a fresh, fruity, almost berryish taste – all naturally present in the cocoa.  Cocoa is a lot like coffee or grapes – if you don’t blend it with other origins, you really get the flavour of where it’s from. If you come and join us on one of our Chocolate Adventure Evenings, you’ll leave with a full insight to where that flavour comes from (as well as box of chocolates that you have made yourself in our workshop) but suffice to say, we are often misled by looking just at the % and not at other aspects like the origin and traceability of that cocoa. How was it grown, was it gentle with the earth and our people, how does it actually taste?

I also love that our Madagascan Marbles are made with African cocoa, the same way that our Creamy Coffee ganache is made with African coffee beans from the lovely humans at Bean There Coffee.  Our raspberries come from Mama Lungi’s Field Berry Farm near Walkerville, where she grows the most beautiful quality berries imaginable.  And I will often volunteer to go and pick up our stash just for the beautiful drive out there. It fits with our mission to try to source as local as possible, to try to keep our economy supported but also because we really should be very proud of our local goods – they are such excellent quality. And how can you not love ingredients that are grown in this gorgeous part of the world?  So, we don’t have pistachio as an option (until someone starts growing them locally!) but our selection is really a celebration of the best that South African and Africa has to offer!

Chocolate really is both art and science.  The science lies in getting the cocoa butter (as well as the chocolate) perfectly tempered – something that all of our chocolatiers can do on sight alone. And then combining it with our azo-free colourings that we use to give that splash of colour, and beautiful shine on the pralines.  It requires perfect knowledge of how to get those little cocoa butter crystals to behave perfectly, the skill to airbrush the colour on or hand-decorate it.  And then we mould them nice and thin, so that they crack open quickly in your mouth – giving you a burst of the flavour and happiness inside.  The art is in the flavour combinations, in the careful decoration of the pieces, in the love that goes into creating pieces of chocolate art.  The science is in making it look easy. 

As I write this during lockdown, Chocoloza is at work and selling from our 44 Stanley and Checkers Sandton outlets, and we have plenty to keep us busy.  But my little soul is longing for the Karoo, for the open veld, for Suikerbosrand, for whatever open piece of our beautiful country we can get out to with binoculars and our well-loved bird book.  And when I get there, I want to know that I have done everything in my power to keep it that way.  So, for us, that also means that our packaging is all locally made from local materials.  Our boxes are made in Joburg from 100% recycled board, and when you refill them, we’ll give you a free, extra chocolate in your box.  We are completely plastic-free, so even the little transparent windows in our Easter egg boxes are made from wood cellulose instead of plastic.  Whilst I might not be advising big corporates on how to comply with their air emissions or waste permits, at least I know that my team and I are doing as much as we possibly can to celebrate and protect our little corner of the Earth.”

The heart and soul of Chocoloza is women empowerment and their love for our country. They are a team of 13 women, all of whom have been trained at Chocoloza to be top quality chocolatiers. They recruit on passion – people who want to grow and learn and be part of a team that wants to take on the world together.  Their focus on passion has given them the most incredible team (they have people who used to be transport drivers, domestic workers, night club managers) together making the most incredible team you will ever come across in the world of chocolate. 

This is what we are talking about!! Spend your money with those who put our earth, our beautiful country and her people first. Make every cent really count…

#StayWarm #StaySafe #ExploreLocal

Jacqui Ikin & the Cross Country Team

www.chocoloza.co.za
Instagram/Facebook: @chocolozabelgianchocolates
Twitter: @chocoloza 
Shop: 44 Stanley Ave (Milpark), Johannesburg
Tel: 010 900 4892

The Rooibos Tea House

Photo Credit: © Jacqui Ikin

A recent adventure route took us past the village of Clanwilliam. The area in general is known for rooibos production, but I had heard that the “Only Rooibos Tea House in the World” was located there and was determined not to miss it.

When on a journey, the real magic is often in the spaces in between, in the pause before the destination. You miss out on so much if you are simply determined to do the miles… 

The N7 is a well maintained road, with great views. The R364 to Clanwilliam is clearly marked (and you would have seen the beautiful expanse of water where the Olifants River is dammed just prior to reaching the turnoff).  One of the ten oldest towns in South Africa, Clanwilliam is also known as the “Rooibos Capital of the World”.

The Rooibos Tea House is enchanting, and we spent a pleasant hour doing a tea tasting. The British believe that drinking tea when it’s really hot cools you down. Well, the temperatures were well over 40 °C, but the jury is still out on whether drinking tea cooled us down!! 

Photo Credit: © Jacqui Ikin

We learnt so many fascinating facts during our short time there… 1kg of seed produces about 120 000 seedlings, but collecting seeds is not easy in sandy soil – collectors need to sieve the sand under the bushes (or look in ant nests – certain ants collect and store the seeds in their nest, where you can gather up to 200g of seeds)!! 10 000 seedlings cover a hectare of ground, and farmers harvest around 450kg of dry tea per hectare per year. Around 400 cups of tea can be made from 1kg of dry Rooibos tea… and many more!

Photo Credit: © Jacqui Ikin

Since our visit, the Tea House has moved to the Velskoendraai Farmers’ Market – which is one of the first buildings on your left as you come off the N7 (just before the town actually starts). It is now run by Louise Nortje, and all her details are in the block below…

Jacqui Ikin & the Cross Country Team

The Rooibos Tea House
Louise Nortje
Mobile: 083 460 3773
E-mail: info@velskoendraai.co.za
www.velskoendraai.co.za

Quirky, Eccentric & Delicious

Part of the lure of travel for me is inspiration…. Take a milkshake for example. An everyday drink, freely available on most menus. Transport that concept into a dorp called Williston, in the middle of nowhere, deep into the Northern Cape, on a blistering day where the temperatures were well over 40°C. Add two long distances travellers,  weary of the flat landscape, the grey bossies and the blazing sun. Starting to sound like “High Noon”? Well, not quite…. This scene is taken directly out of Alice in Wonderland! 

Driving into Williston, the streets are, quite literally, deserted. I have, however, heard of a spot known as The Willison Mall, and we slowly wend our way there. Alas, it is closed! I have my heart set on a milkshake though, and this gal is not easily dissuaded. I knock on the front door, and lo and behold the owner Pieter Naude opens. He patiently listens to my saga about being on the trail of awesome milkshakes in the Karoo. Smiling, he invites us in, producing what I believe to be one of the best milkshakes in the land!!

This extraordinary venue is jam-packed with arts and crafts, memorabilia, old cars and fifty shades of all things eccentric. They also serve food, have accommodation and regularly put on festivals. Just phone ahead to make sure that they’re open….

Jacqui Ikin & the Cross Country Team

Williston Mall
3 Hodgson St, Williston
Pieter Naude
+27 53 391 3659 / 072 0187288
FB: Williston Mall

 

Roaming Overland

Adrian at Kubu Island, Botswana.

ROAM is an acronym for Rugged Overlanding Adventure Movement. When I was asked to interview the owner, I was pleasantly surprised to ‘meet’ Adrian Abrahams – a humble, quietly spoken, unassuming young man who was a commercial photographer for the first eight years of his career. Slowly this evolved into cinematography and making films. For his 21st, his parents took him on a nine-day tour of Scotland in a rented RV. It was one of those life-altering experiences. Retrospectively, this was the trip that really “put a fire in his belly,” and planted the seed that grew into his new life.

In 2016, he purchased his first ‘bakkie’, kitted it to suit his purpose and the type of travel this enabled started to resonate. “I found things in myself that I loved, and slowly my passion for travel in wild places grew.” A completely new chapter of his life started just after the New Year celebrations of 2017, around the third of January. He had packed his vehicle and headed to Lesotho for the first of many of his “trips of a lifetime”. The bug had bitten, and he was – quite simply – happy. Sitting in that campsite in Lesotho, he decided that he wanted others to experience the same – to “share the joy”. And that was when he decided to create a blog.

He soon came to realise that words and still images were simply not enough to share the magic, and thus started adding his skill as a cinematographer into the mix. His first trip using video to share his experience was his trip into the Richtersveld. Soon after the trip, he bought a Suzuki Jimny, and started the video blog (vlog) of the build. 

As he started living the life of an adventurer, and continually travelling further and further from safety, there was always a slight niggle at the back of his mind, commonly known as “What if”… In these remote places, what if the unthinkable happened? He needed someone to have his back. Often whilst travelling alone he needed a “partner in adventure”, someone who understood the realities of the life he was living. To date, he had simply insured with the company his parents had historically used. But that was no longer enough. Speaking to his broker, he was introduced to Cross Country Insurance Company (CCIC). He immediately realised that this was the kind of product he was looking for, exactly what he needed. “CCIC gave me the confidence that, as I moved further and further away from the known, I had a team looking out for me,” he quips.

“In life, you always have choice. You can partner with any number of companies. As soon as I heard about the solutions that CCIC offered, I realised that this was the company for me. My exact thought was: Yes, this is soooo awesome!” 

Adrian’s deep desire is to make beautiful films, meaningful content that will encourage others to go and explore this beautiful continent. He defines himself as a “Travelling Film Maker”… 

Judging by his success with his YouTube Channel to date, I think this young man is clearly doing something right! Adrian’s positivity and passion are a breath of fresh air, and I for one will be waiting to see where his enthusiasm takes him…. 

Cross Country is proud to be a part of your adventures, and we wish you all the very best in your endeavours Adrian! May you always “Take us with you” on your journeys…. By choosing us, you’ve become a part of the Cross Country family!

 #SAWillTravelAgain #StayAtHome #BeSafe 

Jacqui Ikin & the Cross Country Team

WebSite: https://roamoverlanding.com/

FBhttps://www.facebook.com/RuggedOverlandAdventureMovement/

Instagramhttps://www.instagram.com/Roam_Overlanding/

YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSlXivA3y502y5dRAp4ZGJg

The Wild Horses of the Namib Desert

The Wild Horses of the Namib. Photo Credit: © Jacqui Ikin

Horses have always enjoyed a close bond to man – kindred spirits filled with grace and beauty. When those horses are running wild and free in one of the greatest deserts on earth, that’s a tale worth telling.

As a child, I saw a magical shot of wild white horses racing through the marshes at Camargue in France. Completely intrigued with the idea “wild horses”, it was only later in life I realised that one of the very few places on earth to see them was practically on our doorstep. 

The Namib, oldest desert in the world, has some of the highest dunes on the planet. However, it is not on the dunes that our story begins, but at the Garub watering hole just off the B4 that runs between Aus and Luderitz in Namibia. This 350 km² area, known as the “Restricted Diamond Area 2”, was integrated into the Namib Naukluft Park in 1986. It was here that I was lucky enough to get a glimpse of the fabled “Namibs” – Namibia’s Wild Horses.

Their origins are open to debate, and still largely a mystery. There are two theories that seem most likely. The first takes place during World War 1, when 10 000 soldiers with 6000 horses were stationed at Garub. A borehole was used to provide for locomotives for the railway and supplement the town of Luderitz. On 27th March 1915 bombs were dropped onto this camp and the 1700+ grazing cavalry horses. The theory is that not all the dispersed horses were rounded up. 

The second, more credible, theory involves Emil Kreplin (mayor of Luderitz 1909 – 1914) who had a stud farm at Kubub (south of Aus) breeding workhorses for the mines and racehorses for Lüderitz, which had boomed in the 1908 diamond rush. Kreplin later lost his fortune and it’s assumed that the abandoned horses slowly scattered into the surrounding environment.

Whatever their origins, these horses have been around for more than 100 years, surviving in a barren, harsh landscape – mostly without human assistance. Rainfall in this area is rare and unpredictable, and the consequent droughts take their toll on the horses. 

There are various controversies surrounding the horses. The area in which they live (the state-owned Namib Naukluft Park) is considered a biological hotspot with more than 500 plant species, some of which are endemic. Concerns have been expressed that these horses (obviously not indigenous) are impacting on this system. However, biologist Telané Greyling’s research on the wild horses over twenty years has revealed no indication that the horses have impacted negatively on the environment.

​Others have questioned how these animals should be dealt with in the park’s management plan – should they be treated like game and simply left to survive (or not) the droughts, or should there be some intervention? 

The final, and most hotly debated controversy, is that of the spotted hyenas. A wet cycle from 2000 – 2010 increased the number of prey species in the area hugely, with a concurrent increase in predator species. The size of the surrounding hyena clans also increased, leading to a need to disperse to new areas, including Garub. This did not bode well for the horses…

Drinking at the Garub Water Hole, with Gemsbok in foreground. Photo Credit: © Jacqui Ikin

In 2012, 49 foals were born providing easy prey for the hyena. By the end of 2013, the clans had learned to ambush and take down the adult horses. That year they caught and killed 100 horses, 50 of them foals. In 2015, due to drought and the subsequent drop in condition of the horses, permission was granted by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to feed the horses. By 2016 the hyenas were taking down three to six horses a month!

Decent rains fell in February 2018, and the resultant good grazing improved the condition of the horses immensely. All supplementary feeding ceased. Since the adults (no foals had survived since 2012) were now in such good condition, the hyena moved on to farmlands, looking for easier prey and five were destroyed by farmers. Every single foal born in 2018 was still killed by the remaining hyenas.

In March 2019, after two failed attempts to catch and relocate the hyenas, three were euthanised, and three were eventually removed to another area of the park. Between 2013 and 2019, the wild horse population plummeted from 286 down to only 79 horses. 

 A foal born in February 2019 has survived, and she has been named Zohra which is Persian for ‘flower blossom’ and Arabic for ‘Venus, jewel of the sky’. This little filly has a jewel-like star on her forehead. Shortly thereafter, a colt was born and named Mirage. The last report I can find dated 5 February 2020 states that there are now 15 new foals. There have been no more recorded incidents of predation by the hyenas. Hope springs anew for the survival of the Namib horses…

A colt enjoying a dust bath. Photo Credit: © Jacqui Ikin

This incredible saga plays out in the middle of nowhere, at an easy-to-miss waterhole a short drive off the “main” road. Beyond discovering gems as you go, it is always worth taking some time to research an area you are going to visit. Without investigating prior to my trip, I would have missed this magical experience…

#SAWillTravelAgain #StayAtHome #BeSafe

Jacqui Ikin & the Cross Country Team

PAUL OWEN’S AFRICAN ADVENTURE (Part 2)

(as told to Jacqui Ikin. Images: Paul Owen)

You will remember last time we left Paul, he was swerving to avoid a huge truck …… 

Let’s continue!

“There was only one thing to do, and that was head for the bush, which I duly did – straight into a culvert where I came to a grinding halt. Fortunately, I had managed to slow down to just under 40 kms/hour, but still it did not bode well! Once the truck had passed, I managed to collect myself and reversed out to inspect the damage. On the surface all looked well,  but as I drove off there was a terrible grinding sound and a ping on the dashboard and a message telling me there was a suspension problem, do not move, do not pass go, do not collect R200. Contact your closest Land Rover dealer – IMMEDIATELY. 

I was literally in the middle of nowhere. I hadn’t seen a human for miles, and the temperature was already well above 30ºC. I was also stuck on the side of the road so if another juggernaut came hurtling along with no place to pass, I was ‘dead meat’. To make matters worse, I had used up all my Tanzanian shillings and only had limited airtime on my phone in anticipation of entering Burundi shortly and stocking up on airtime and local currency there.

I thought my first priority was to make my plight known to other vehicles, so in good African tradition I went 100 meters either side of the vehicle and placed my triangles as well as bunch of branches in the road knowing that the branches sent out a better message than the triangles in Africa.

By now, the air suspension had lowered the body of the car right down onto the wheels. I had two choices. To wait until someone came along, or to start walking the 16 kilometres to Kasulu to get help. However, before either choice, I thought I would start the car and see if I could at least edge it along. Low and behold the suspension raised a few centimetres above the wheels which I deemed okay to drive, and the warning light had gone off. I gingerly inched forward, accompanied by a horrible grating sound. I inspected under the vehicle as best I could but didn’t see anything bent or catching. I decided to continue. After about 150 meters the warning light came back on and the body sank back onto the wheels, rendering the car immovable or running the risk of bursting the tyres.

I waited another 15 minutes and tried again. Same story.  I calculated that it would take about an hour to do 1 kilometre, or 16 days to get to Kasulu!! I needed to get the car off the road properly before abandoning it to walk. Suddenly I see a guy coming toward me on a bicycle. Good news, there’s life out there! I wave him down and (with his no English and my no Swahili) I manage to ascertain that there’s a village not far ahead. Hmmm, not far by African standards could mean anything, but I bid him farewell and limp off again. Sure enough, not 150 meters further on there is a village and an area to pull over.

I have no idea if the village has a name, but I parked outside J J H Ntuyamale Guest House, and it’s likely that I am the first international visitor to grace their establishment. A very helpful young guy is running the place, and I manage to convey that the car is broken and that I need to somehow buy airtime so I can get help. No problem. Good old Vodacom. There are airtime shops in the most remote places! He duly leads me into the village with about 200 gabbling, laughing children in tow, as well as an assorted bunch of misfit adults shambling along.

I get airtime, but now the question is: where is there signal? Nothing is coming up on the phone. I learn that the signal is very intermittent but to be patient and it will come…… Would I like a beer and something to eat. I explain that I only have 2000 shillings left after buying airtime (about R15) and that I have food and drink in the car. No way! His treat, no payment necessary. All mimed like a Christmas variety show. Eventually at around 14h00 I get signal and am able to talk to my wife Sue explaining my plight, and requesting that she get hold of Cross Country.

Between Sue and Cross Country, they manage to locate a garage in Kigoma that should be able to help. By now I’ve had a better chance to survey the damage and can see that the front left brake calliper’s broken in half, and the whole air suspension has been damaged and punctured. The car will have to be extracted on a flatbed. Sue managed to contact someone and negotiate a price They will send a truck that afternoon and Cross Country have given clearance to go ahead. Then, change of plan. They won’t make it that afternoon, but by 08h00 the next day. A bit disappointing, but not the end of the world. It will give me chance to get to know my hosts who have insisted I stay in their home. Not entirely happy about that but, not wanting to be ungrateful, I accept.

The room is somewhat suspect to say the least, but after a restless night, I’m up early in anticipation of the arrival of the flatbed at 08h00. After much delay, and Sue calling the garage numerous times, it eventually arrives at 17h00. 

My heart sinks – it’s a closed back truck and I can see that there’s no way the vehicle is going to fit. By manage to call the garage and ask them what is going on They knew the make and weight of my vehicle. There was also no foreseeable way to get the vehicle up onto the truck. To add insult to injury, there’s now a request for extra money for the fuel and a bigger truck. I’m angry that they are trying to leverage all financial possibilities by taking advantage of my situation. Sue calls the garage and gets the extra costs, then contacts Cross Country who again given clearance to go ahead.

Many apologies later I have a sincere promise to get a proper low bed before 08h00 the next morning. What can one do but wait? The garage tells the two mechanics that accompanied the driver to stay the night, so there would be no delays in the morning. I gladly offer my room and tell my hosts that I would sleep in my rooftop. At least I know I’ll get a good night’s sleep. By this time I have got to know a few of the locals and the breakdown guys, so it looks like it’s time to party. All sorts of food and drink arrive, and my hope of an early night go out the window.

At 07h00, a bit thick headed, I pack away the tent and go and tackle the “ablution block” in anticipation of my truck. Eventually at 10h30 I get signal, make a call and am told that, although the truck left at 07h00, it was pulled over at a police roadblock and impounded for some infraction owner is trying to arrange for its release. Now I’m seriously anxious and really not wanting to spend another night out in the village….

I then get another message to say a third truck is on its way and should be with me shortly. In the interim, Sue and Cross Country have been organising some accommodation for when I get back to Kigoma! At about 16h00 the truck arrives. A flat bed, but not a low loader – which will require some serious ingenuity to get the Landy onto the back! With the help of a mud bank, some serious rebar ramps, and a lot of manpower it’s eventually hauled onto the back and strapped down. We set off for Kigoma at about 18h00 and arrive in Kigoma late that evening in one piece. The vehicle is deposited at Toyota Kigoma of all places. I arrange to come back in the morning to discuss repairs and spend an uneventful night at the Imperial Hotel.

On arriving at the garage, I find that they have already taken the front apart. They show me the damage. Both Brake callipers and the shocks are beyond repair and will have to be ordered from Dar Es Salaam. I agree, requesting a quote before anything is done so I can get it cleared with Cross Country. When I get the quote I nearly pass out. What should cost around R20,000 is being quoted at R80,000. What to do? I’m stuck and they know it. There are no other garages in Kigoma, and I am worried that the repair might not even get me home. The most sophisticated electric appliance in the shop is a kettle. Cross Country tell me that is the write off value and they will only cover me up to R30,000 as per the contract (which is understandable), and I will have to pay the rest. I have no option other than to say go ahead and order the parts. Cross Country have already obligated to pay the retrieval cost on the flatbed, the hotel bill, the food, so this one’s on me…….

After deliberating all night I decide that I’m not going to be ripped off and held to ransom, so I phone the garage and tell them to hold while I look for other options. Scrapping is not an option as the cost of repatriating the car is just too much. The only other option is to rail the car to Dar and book it into Land Rover proper. I put all the costs together and present to Cross Country and they agree it’s the way to go. Kigoma Toyota say that they have already ordered the parts and if I cancel I am in for costs.  I request a figure and they revert with R18,000. Unbelievable. 3 x transport bills for 3 trucks, cancellation of the order at 10% of the value and 8 hours work done. It had taken them just over an hour to extricate the 2 broken pieces. No pay, no release of the car. Eventually I manage to get hold of the top guy in Dar, and manage to negotiate a reduced fee for cash.

In the interim I have relocated to Jakobsen Beach and rented a cottage. I am to spend the next ten days there while I try and arrange to get the car shipped to Dar. Couldn’t have found a better place to be stuck. I had all the food from my freezer, a great room and the most beautiful spot on Lake Tanganyika. Once the car was in Dar, I flew there as I had to organise getting the car out of the rail yard and to Land Rover. Then found that parts were not available and that Kigoma Toyota had never ordered the parts. It would be 15 days to get the parts flown in from UK at huge expense. In the end I sourced them in SA and my oldest son flew to Dar for the day with them in his hand luggage. That meant another 10 days hanging around in Dar Es Salaam and only left me 7 days to get back to SA for my son’s birthday. I managed to get there in time after being away for almost 3 months to the day.

In all the time I was away I never once felt threatened. Despite a few frustrations with the unscrupulous owners of Kigoma Toyota, I found everyone I met friendly and helpful. A big thanks to Oddvar and Ingrid Jakobson in Kigoma, and all the help and understanding from Cross Country Insurance Company, especially Cal, Lyle and Shavell.

Would I do it again??  Hell yeah! In a Landy??  Hell Yeah. On my own?? Hell yeah!!

PAUL OWEN’S AFRICAN ADVENTURE

(as told to Jacqui Ikin. Images: Paul Owen)

Being an avid birder, a lover of places “off the beaten track” and an adventurer at heart, Paul decided to head out on what he called his “Bucket List Journey” into Africa. His Grandson Ozzy was born on the 26th August, and whilst his wife’s full attention was on the baby and their daughter, Paul took the gap (after meticulous planning) and set off alone on the 3rd of September.

“Friends and family said I was mad to travel on my own, especially in my old 2007 Land Rover Discovery. General consensus was that I had a better chance in my wife’s Yaris because it was a Toyota! I told them I’d rather walk!!!  I am very comfortable with my own company and have blind trust in my fellow man and never look on the bleak side.”

His route would be roughly North, keeping to the East through Mozambique, Malawi, and Tanzania. Then taking in the Albertine Rift countries of Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, where the potential to tick more than 400 new species was a huge attraction. From Uganda, he would head back via Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and then home. Estimated travelling time was three months, as he had promised to be back in SA for his youngest son’s 30th Birthday at the end of November.

Prior to leaving, he had a chat with Cal (Masterten-Smith) at Cross Country, who tailor-made an insurance policy covering him for all eventualities – just in case of mishaps. A quick aside – Cross Country are one of the few insurance companies that will insure you for an overland trip that is longer than two months and he planned to be away for three months. (Their territorial limits are: South Africa and Angola, Botswana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe).

He equipped the Landy with all the basic essentials: a freezer of pre-cooked meals, a cooler box, four ammo boxes of rations, lots of tennis biscuits and peanuts (his favourite), a rooftop tent and a handful of US Dollars. “Food has never been a big priority for me. I eat to live and not live to eat……..Oh, I forgot – also many bottles of gin hidden all over the vehicle and lots of tonic.”

The Southern Africa Birdfinder dictated his route through Moz, Malawi and on into Tanzania. Where possible, he took secondary roads, and deviated on recommendations from other travellers met in campsites on the way. The beautiful and remote Maputo Elephant Reserve is a must, ideally accessed along the coastal route from Ponta Malongane through the Southern Gate. Gorongosa National Park, home of the elusive Green Headed Oriole, is essential. Due to political unrest, Mt Gorongosa was off limits unless accompanied by armed guards which proved to a logistical nightmare, so that major “tick” was forfeited. 

The road from Maputo to Inhassoro is great and, provided you stick to the speed limits, very uneventful. North from Inhassoro to Save, across the Zambezi and on to Inchope and Gorongosa. This part is not a road, it’s a pothole! Just over 300kms took him a good eight hours. From there, on relatively good gravel, he went via Villa de Senna and on to Malawi, crossing at Mulanje – a really small and friendly border post. Camping two nights at the Mount Mulanje Golf Club on lush green grass under huge Spithodias, with the run of the clubhouse for showers, loos and pub grub was a steal at the equivalent of R50 a night.

From Mulanje he headed on to the legendary Monkey Bay Beach Lodge for five days on Lake Malawi.  The snorkelling was fantastic! Four nights followed on the “Mushroom Farm”, a camp site up on the escarpment at Livingstonia overlooking the lake. Super chilled with travellers from all over the world and very accepting of a 60+ pensioner still hankering after his hippy days. Being naturally reclusive and shy, he found that travelling alone slowly drew him out of his comfort zone and he happily conversed with strangers. 

Along the road, resolutions were made…. Stop at anything that looked interesting. Travel only that distance that enabled one to set up camp before 15h00. Eating, washing, downloading images and communicating with the outside world took up the rest of the evening. “If I managed to find a camp that had WiFi, then I could also FaceTime my wife Sue back home – which was always a highlight.”

Then it was on to Kyela, the smallest border post between Malawi and Tanzania – quick and friendly with a minimum hassle. Travelling on a British passport, visas were very expensive and all in US dollars. On and on he went, eventually reaching Lake Tanganyika, a most beautiful lake – snorkelling amongst the endemic cichlids is something everyone should experience!

Kipali, Katavi National Park, Kigoma, Mpanda, Ndogo and Uvinza. On this often undrivable dirt road,  he learnt the pecking order of vehicles on the Tanzanian roads. “The lowest of the low are pedestrians – they must get out of the way of everything. Bicycles have the right of way over pedestrians. Motorcycles have right of way over bicycles and pedestrians. Next are saloon cars and SUVs. Buses and articulated DAF, Iveco and Mack trucks simply drive down middle of the road and will not move for anything. You just have to head for the hills as they barrel past.”

“Being one of the larger towns, I would normally have avoided Kigoma, but Jakobsen’s Beach Camping came highly recommended. A real oasis, surrounded by natural bush. The next morning, 11th October, I headed out on my way to Burundi…. completely unsuspecting.”

About 15 kms outside the town of Kasulu, fate intervened in the form of a ten-ton Iveco truck, barrelling down the centre of the road with no intention of giving an inch. The pecking order of the Tanzanian roads prevailed, and Paul did the only thing possible, he headed for the bush – straight into a culvert at around 40 kms/ hour, where he came to a sickening halt!To be continued in the next newsletter…

In these uncertain times, don’t risk your vehicle

Words & Picture by Jacqui Ikin

Typically, when you are experiencing financially trying times, you look at ways to decrease or eliminate expenses. In the time of the Covid-19 lockdown, this ranges from cutting down on luxuries and ready-made meals, all the way through to reassessing more serious expenses like car insurance. But before you consider cancelling your policy, let’s asses the situation and review some of the inherent risks and disadvantages, because as we know, there are very few simple answers in life. There are more potential consequences (immediate and long-term) than you may have originally thought…

The safest and most suitable means of transport in these incredibly uncertain times is your private vehicle, which minimises the risk of cross-contamination by ensuring that social distancing guidelines are upheld.  Even though you are likely staying at home, and using your vehicle far less frequently than usual, it is important that it is used responsibly and well protected. Whilst the current circumstances may seem daunting, you need to remember that this too shall come to an end. It is thus important to make strategic decisions that benefit you in the long term, so that when the situation returns to “normal”, you are not left with long term regrets and difficult implications.

The first point to consider is that you will be in breach of contract if your car is financed. In this country, you are required to hold a comprehensive car insurance policy for the duration of the payment period. The consequences of violating your financial agreement vary between institutions, but you could be at risk of losing your car altogether.

The second consideration is that you may need to use your vehicle for an emergency, or to collect essential supplies, or to help an elderly parent… If something were to happen during this short trip, you would not be covered. Many of our clients engage in adventure travel, crossing deserts, rivers and traversing thousands of kilometres of rough African roads. As such, the risk of an accident in suburbia just a few kms from home seems remote. However, general statistics from around the world indicate otherwise, confirming that the vast majority of accidents happen within a short distance from home.

The definition of an ‘accident’ is “an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury”. We’d like to believe that the vast majority of our clients are good, careful drivers. That said, the possibility of someone else causing the accident looms large. To add insult to potential injury, approximately 70% of vehicles on South Africa’s roads are not insured. If you are involved in an accident, you only have a three in ten chance of it being with someone who is insured and thus able to cover any damages. This could leave you badly exposed financially, and possibly legally as well. In addition, the AA estimates that up to 800 000 vehicles in South Africa are either unregistered or classified as unroadworthy. These vehicles pose an even larger threat because they are unsafe – if you were to be involved in an accident with one of these vehicles, who is going to foot the bill if you have cancelled your insurance?

If you happen to be the cause of an accident, and you have no insurance, you are obligated to repair / replace the other vehicle right away (not to mention your own!) – even if you do not have the money. Their insurance will make sure that the money is recouped – one way or another. This could result in costly lawsuits, with the overall bill easily running into hundreds of thousands of Rands. If you’re unfortunate enough to damage a luxury, high-end vehicle, this could even result in you losing your home during the process of repairing that vehicle! You would also be liable for injuries sustained by the other party, which could run into millions. If both parties are insured, as a rule neither party has to pay anything except the excess.

After you have taken care of the other party’s vehicle / injuries, you are left with the dilemma of your own vehicle which you would need to replace / repair, or find an alternative means of transport. This could be financially crippling. Furthermore, public transport is not ideal during the Covid-19 lockdown. If you rely on your vehicle to earn a living, your will be in a double bind!

The South African statistics for hijackings and theft are another motivation to keep your vehicle insured. The numbers may be down during this period (too soon for reliable stats yet), but the risk is by no means gone.

Beyond all of the good reasons above, going forward uninsured drivers also will likely have trouble finding cheap car insurance rates when they shop for a policy. If you cancel your policies frequently, you may also end up falling into a higher risk category, which could ultimately result in higher premiums (or even cause some insurance companies to refuse your applications) in the future.

Cancelling your car insurance is a little like playing Russian roulette… Just don’t do it. It is a quick fix that comes with enormous risks. These challenging and disturbing times will ultimately end, and you need to ensure that decisions you are taking now, in the midst of this crisis, don’t have significant long-term impacts.

Cross Country Insurance Consultants is a versatile, flexible service provider, here to serve you and keep your assets safe in these troubled times. If you are experiencing financial difficulties pertaining to the payment of your premium, please feel free to contact us for a conversation to ascertain how we can best assist you?

Whilst our catchphrase “Take us with you” seems less far reaching than ever before, we believe that we are with you all the way… which includes staying at home. We have no doubt that we will all be out and about, enjoying all this great country has to offer, in no time at all 😉.

#SAWillTravelAgain #StayAtHome #BeSafe

Download our mobile app from the following stores: