Since our son Anton left for Namibia to join the Tracks of Giants as one of the back-up team (bicycle mechanic, assistant driver / cook / photographer) we have been tantalized by sporadic SMSs and brief phone calls whenever he has reception. Then last night Sharon McCallum, friend and Tracks of Giants Logistic Manager came for supper with photos and stories – a wonderful feast of news.
Three weeks ago on 1 May the Tracks of Giants Team set off by foot on a 5 day trek along the Skeleton Coast and up the Hoarusib River to Puros a Himba and Herero cattle station. Conservationists, Ian McCallum and Ian Michler who are walking, cycling or paddling the entire Tracks of Giants from West to East across Africa were accompanied along the first leg in Namibia by local leaders in conservation. A party of 11 hikers were led by legendary guide Chris Bakkes, his fox terrier Tier and Festus Mbinga, both from Wilderness Safaris, and Mandla Buthelezi from the Wilderness Leadership School.
After the trekkers disappeared over the dunes toward the Hoarusib River the backup crew enjoyed the cool air at Rocky Point on the Skeleton Coast and Anton had his first experience of getting stuck in deep sand and learning from Frank Raimondo how to get unstuck.
In photo below Chris Bakkes and dog Tier lead the hikers on the final stretch. They are a formidably experienced pair with scars to prove their ability to survive the odds. Chris lost an arm to a crocodile in Kruger a number of years ago and Tier lost an eye to a hyena. When the hikers walked into Puros Camp they had tales of temperatures between 38˚ & 42˚C which forced them to start early and rest in the shade during midday. Extracts from Ian Michler’s account of their hike up the Hoarusib opens a window for the rest of us into this incredible landscape. “After a somewhat emotional send-off from the back-up team and family on 1st May, we headed …along the endless beaches that dominate the far northern reaches of the Skeleton Coast National Park. Hours later, the route took us into the mouth of the Hoarusib and away from our last comfort – the cool sea-breeze that sweeps in off the cold Atlantic waters. …the next few days passed in a blur of tremendous rock and dune scenery, thirst, and the ever-present banter of a growing camaraderie. At first sight, these landscapes appear barren and seemingly devoid of life, but time soon unveils the faunal and floral delights, and the intricate balance that defines every plant and creature’s existence.” They did get to see the desert elephant as well as oryx and springbok at the water seeps and the occasional jackal and ostrich. Their last evening on trek provided a real thrill: “the sounds of a grunting leopard echoed along the canyon walls. And then as we set out in the first light of the last morning, the squeals of two brown hyenas broke the dawn.” Read Ian Michler’s full account on the Tracks of Giants Blog at http://www.wild.org/blog/tracks-of-giants-crossing-the-desert/
An SMS from assistant camp cook Anton had us chuckling as he related that feeding 19 people meant that as soon as lunch was finished he had to start thinking about supper and once cook duties were finished so was he!
From Puros, the two Ians set out to cycle to the Botswana border. For the first section of the cycle, they were joined by Garth Owen-Smith and Margie Jacobsohn, founders of IRDNC (Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation) a community-based conservation organization instrumental in the success of northern Namibia’s conservancy policy. Garth cycled while Margie assisted the back-up crew.
Photo of Anton with Garth Owen Smith and Ian McCallum. Garth’s book Arid Eden is an enthralling and comprehensive account of his love for the Kaokoveld and the years that he spent learning to understand and support the fragile relationship between its wildlife and the Himba and Herero communities. Anton set off on this journey with books by his favourite author Tolkien as well as a copy of Arid Eden!
From the many photos that Sharon showed us it is clear that the cycling was extreme. While the landscape as they cycled through south of Etosha was magnificent with rugged mountains and vast pastel plains, the going through thick sand, loose gravel and treacherous corrugations in intense heat was seriously challenging. Wildlife sightings including elephant, a cheetah with cubs, aardwolf, bat-eared fox and giraffe were highlights as were the interactions and discussions about land use and conservation that they had with local people – which is what the Tracks of Giants is about.
It appears as if it was not all hard work. They even got Anton to join in with yoga on the veranda of the Etambura Lodge during a rest day. He also had a break from camp and photography duties and joined the cyclists for a day. Note his Zambian print signature shorts which he appears to be wearing in every photo we have seen of him so far!! Anton on the RHS with friend Liam Michler. Together they keep the team young and explore this remote landscape with fresh eyes.
The team reached the 1000 km milestone which represents one fifth of the Tracks of Giants journey on Saturday May 19 and are on track to cross the Botswana border on Tuesday, May 29. I have just received a facebook message from Anton. Here are some highlights: “At Otavi Namibia, 25 days down 108 to go. It is amazing to constantly be on the move. I have been given the opportunity to leave my city lifestyle behind and adopt a nomadic lifestyle. I’m seeing Africa in a different light. Sleeping under the Stars every night is truly magical.
Sofar I have been able to maintain my routine of wearing my favorite shorts everyday for 27 days and counting, but please remember that I wash them out every evening before going to bed.
Would you believe that i get up at 4:45 every morning? True story – the Ians cycle out of camp around 6 and we get up and have breakfast with them and then pack up and leave after them. Also MOM you will be pleased to know that i am keeping a daily diary.”
We will keep you posted! To read about the route, the reason and core team members of Tracks of Giants go to: http://scenicsouth.co.za//2012/04/tracks-of-giants-expedition-from-the-skeleton-coast-to-cape-vidal/
KimK (Anton’s mom who makes no excuses for the focus on him in this write-up)
To read about the team kayaking through the Okavango go to : http://scenicsouth.co.za//2012/07/tracks-of-giants-hippos-are-not-hot-favourites/
Official Tracks of Giants MEDIA RELEASE MAY 2012 – First leg of TRACKS of Giants expedition successfully completed
Three weeks into the epic, five month Tracks of Giants expedition, the team is getting accustomed to the physical demands of the course as well as the harsh Namibian environment.
The Tracks of Giants expedition kicked off on the Atlantic coast of Southern Africa in Namibia on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 and will see the team transverse Southern Africa to finish their journey on the east coast in KwaZulu Natal on 5 September, 2012. Conservationists, Ian McCallum and Ian Michler will be doing the entire journey without the use of mechanical transportation.
The team reached the 1000 kilometre milestone on Saturday, May 19. There was much celebration amongst the team members on completing one fifth of the journey. They hope to cross the Botswana border on Tuesday, May 29.
The toughest part of the journey so far has been dealing with the extremely high daytime temperatures which have forced the team to travel in the early hours of the morning, rest during the heat of the day, and continue their travels in the early evening. The average daytime temperature has ranged between 38 and 42 degrees Celsius.
The first five days following the launch on May 1, saw a group of eleven “trekkers” travel on foot from Rocky Point on the west coast of Namibia to Puros. The group was made up of Chris Bakkes and Festus Mbinga, both from Wilderness Safaris, and Mandla Buthelezi from the Wilderness Leadership School who led the group. For this leg, the team were also joined by Vance Martin from the WILD Foundation in the USA, John Kasaona and Boas Hambo from the Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC), Jerome Mukuyu, a university student from Windhoek, and Robin Uatokuuta who works at the Puros Conservancy camp site.
According to Ian Michler, highlights of the first leg included “a close-up sighting of an elephant, plenty of oryx and springbok and the occasional jackal and ostrich.”
Founders of Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC) Garth Owen-Smith and Dr Margie Jacobsohn have joined the “Two Ians” for the second leg of the Namibian section. IRDNC is an influential community-based conservation organisation which has been instrumental in the success of northern Namibia’s conservancy policy. Their early work laid the foundation for the now national communal conservancy movement which covers nearly 17% of Namibia.
“We were delighted to be able to join the Tracks team when they visited a number of the remote north western conservancies,” says Dr Jacobsohn. “Namibia’s considerable conservation successes are directly due to the partnership our government has formed with the 71 communities who have registered conservancies and manage their wildlife sustainably. Our community conservation experiences are thus relevant to some of the other countries Tracks will be visiting.”
Cycling through the Namib desert, the team has come across diverse wildlife in a seemingly barren landscape including elephant, a cheetah with her cubs, aardwolf, and a bat-eared fox. Michler notes that although the journey has just begun, it has already highlighted a number of conservation issues including land-use competition, tender and stakeholder disputes, human-animal conflicts and the vital need for corridors for both wildlife and the rural nomadic Himba people. “Our most demanding challenge is going to be recording these disputes, challenges and successes as accurately and authentically as possible,” he says.
The “Two Ians”, cyclists and the back-up team arrived at Ongava on May 17 where they rested for a day. They are currently heading towards the Botswana border, with a stop-off at Tsumkwe on May 28. From there they will head towards the Botswana border which they hope to reach by May 27.
The Tracks of Giants expedition will explore various models that include ecological thinking and implementation, bridging the gap between the needs of humans, wildlife, and the changing environment.
National Geographic is a digital media partner and will document the trip via extensive coverage on multiple digital platforms. The trip will also be closely monitored on dedicated social media sites, all drawing from the TRACKS Media Centre. Follow the Tracks of Giants on:
Website: http://tracksofgiants.org/ to read the personal stories of the trailists via their blogs