Desert Knights – a Namibian mountain bike adventure

 

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Photo courtesy of Desert Knights Gallery

Being spontaneous has its rewards.  I got offered the amazing once in a lifetime opportunity to go and partake in the Desert Knights mountain bike adventure in Namibia!  Frankly, when I got the message I thought it was spam, but I had nothing to lose by responding and hey, presto, it was genuine!!!!  It’s an event I had looked at previously and thought looked like a bucket list must.  Who doesn’t want to cycle through the desert during full moon and canoe down the Orange River?

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Photo courtesy of https://tfcaportal.org/desert-knights-2

 

The event takes place in the Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park and combines 5 days of cycling and 1 day canoeing down the Orange river.  I have been lucky to spend a few holidays in this region and absolutely love it (read here). So we start on the Namibian side  of the park in Hobas and end on the South African side in Sendlingsdrift.  What is so unique is that the event takes place during full moon and most of the cycling is done from late afternoon and into the night.  How incredible to cycle to the Fish River Canyon and watch the moon rise over this iconic and beautiful place?  Or to camp in the dry river bed of the Gamkab Canyon?  As you can tell, I am beyond excited!

Our route area map

Having only gotten my entry a week ago, one week before departure, means that I haven’t had months to prep and train.  But here is another bonus, this is a tour, not a race.  You are supposed to enjoy the scenery, stop and take pictures and generally just appreciate the area that is truly a magical place on earth.  Luckily I ride regularly and am pretty fit….well here’s hoping.

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Photo courtesy of Desert Knights gallery

So I am off tomorrow and we start on Friday.  It has been a bit of a scramble getting my bike together as I was waiting on a part from the UK, but all is sorted in the nick of time as well as having to have the clutch replaced on our Toyota Fortuner.  But all was packed this evening and I am ready to get going early tomorrow morning.  Hopefully the sun will be shining and I will get to see some of the flowers through the Namaqualand en route which will be a treat.

This will be a solo mission, Simon and the kids will sadly remain at home holding the fort.  But a solo adventure isn’t always bad, it is good for the soul to have time to think, meditate, appreciate and rest and this is something that the silence of the desert does bountifully.

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Photo courtesy of Jacques Marais Media

If you would like to follow my adventure on this event I will be posting to my personal Instagram page and to our Family On a Mission page.

Here is to a Bucket List Must!

Who needs Mars – go to the Richtersveld?!

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The van Nierop’s – Simon, Tammy, Jesse (8yrs) and Olivia (6 yrs)                                                              The van Lierop’s – Deon, Nena, Noah (10yrs), twins Zoe & Liam (turned 8yrs on the holiday)

My mum always says that if you want to jump off a building then maybe you should go bungy jumping first!!! She always wonders how many people have thought half way down, “flip, now this is a bad idea”.  Yes, my mum is a little unconventional.  So, for all those people who volunteered to go to Mars, then I think they should go to the Richtersveld first.  Well, that is if we are to apply my mothers wonderful logic.

This last Easter School holidays, South African schools had nearly three weeks instead of the usual one week.  So we spontaneously decided to go camping with our friends, the van Lierops. (Yes, I know! We were the van Nierop’s and van Lierop’s)  Everything in and around Cape Town was pretty booked so we suggested the Richtersveld.  Many people do the Orange River, but going into the Richtersveld is largely overlooked by families.  Well, most of the families I know have never been.

Below the kids saw their first Petroglyphs.  So sad that people have felt the need to draw on the rocks.  Maybe in a thousand years time they will be seen as ancient Petroglyphs too 🙂

From black pyramid like hills jutting out of yellow ground to huge boulder like mountains to a green river valley with the Orange River running through, it is a truly amazing place.  We built cairns, hunted for scorpions, fished, put fluospar rocks in the fire to see how they burnt green, drove to a spring up a barren river valley, saw petroglyphs, went for early morning runs, climbed up some amazing mountains and windmills, and spent quality time as a family.

We took five children between two families ranging in ages from 6-10 years and it was magical.  As a family going into wild places, this is one of pretty low stress.  We didn’t have to worry about the kids too much as there are no lurking predators.  So, if you want to go somewhere that is remote and dramatic and slightly otherworldly and isn’t going to be a one way ticket in 40years time, then we would recommend this dramatic beauty.

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I will post soon on the various places we camped and what was loved and what was seen as torment and suffering by some very vocal children.  Until then, dream big and dream different, anything is possible!

 

Irish Soda bread in a pan

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Our recent trip to the Richtersveld was magical and this is a pic from our buschcamp at the fluospar mine.

When you are in the middle of nowhere your options for buying bread at a corner shop are….well….not possible.  So you are either left with stale Woolies rolls which last so long because I dread to think what is in them.  Otherwise dry provitas or rice crackers….which lose their appeal after a few days.  Wraps last pretty long and are lovely with salads and veg.  Again, fresh ingredients are limited in the middle of nowhere and there is only so much tuna mayo you can eat in a wrap before gagging.

We do have a cast iron bread pot, but by the time you have set up camp and got supper ready the last thing you feel like doing is kneading bread and leaving to rise etc.  I always have these grand ideas to make bread everyday and pre kids I did it quite a lot on our trips.  But the reality with kids and camping make it seriously unlikely.  My time is now spent finding toys left in cliff holes or rounding up kids from chasing the locals goats up the mountain or stopping them from scorpion hunting without gloves..  The glamorous life of parenting!

Yet again my friend Elaine came to my rescue!  She gave me the amazing beer bread recipe.  I was moaning about the limited option while chatting through logistics on one of our sanity cycles (she is my cycling partner, so many hours are spent together on our bikes).  She then said her family had a recipe, one of those passed down from the grandmother to mother, where you make a semi flat soda bread in the pan and it all mixes together in one bowl and no rising and kneading needed.  I begged and pleaded and promised lots of chocolate in repayment for the recipe.  Woohoo!

So I tried it on our recent trip to the Richtersveld and it was amazing…well the third attempt was.  In typical me fashion I didn’t read the recipe properly.  I was so eager I scanned over it and assumed by the name that baking soda was used….a whole whopping two teaspoons!  The first ‘loaf’ looked amazing and I thought it smelt a little strong, but without trying it I promptly made a second (we were having bacon and eggs for breakfast).  My husband sneaked past and nabbed a piece…and promptly nearly threw up.

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It tasted disgusting!!!!!  I re read the recipe and suddenly realized it was baking powder and not baking soda.  Stupid name!!!!  It was also a weird yellow color when done with the baking soda but I had ignored that as well.

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Anyway, attempt 3 and 4 worked out a dream and what a brilliant, quick and tasty bread.  I made it a few times on our recent Richtersveld holiday.  So without much ado, here is the recipe:

INGREDIENTS

2 Cups Flour

2 tsp Baking POWDER

pinch of salt

(mix dry ingredients through with a fork)

270ml warm milk

(will flop if milk isn’t warm)

METHOD TO MAKE

Put all dry ingredients in, run a fork through and add the warm milk.

Mix together using a spoon.

I used a 25cm pan and I lightly olive oiled it but you can use butter too.  We just didn’t have much for our trip.

Pour batter into pan.  It will sort of lump in the middle.  I then dusted my hands in flour and could then spread it out on the pan with my fingers.  You sort of work it outwards.  Put over a medium to low heat and cover and leave.  When the sides start to look more ‘cooked and firm’ and you can get a spatula under, then flip.  Roughly 5mins a side….very roughly as I never timed it.

Then slice horizontally and eat warm with whatever you have available or wrap in tinfoil and keep for lunch.

I made 2 ‘loaves’ and they comfortably served 4 adults and 5 kids.  You cut the loaf into 4 triangles and then in half horizontally.  You then get 8 ‘slices’ per loaf.

As I said before, it’s the small things that make trips to remote areas heaven 🙂

 

It’s the Little Things that count

Just because you’re in the middle of nowhere doesn’t mean you have to suffer.  I have come to realize that when you are out in these remote amazing places it is the little things which just ‘make it’.

 

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Finding a small shop in the middle of nowhere and getting some ‘luxuries’.  Below is a picture of the shop….we nearly missed it

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So here are some of my non negotiables to making all things good while camping:

  • Good coffee – thank God for aeropress
  • Good wine – pack more red than white so don’t have to worry about chilling
  • Good food – you can do more than just braai on a fire
  • Clover full cream or low fat long life milk tastes the best (it doesn’t kill the taste of your Rooibos tea)
  • A comfy pillow – I will sacrifice clothes for my pillow
  • A sheet or kikoi to sleep on – it really makes a difference
  • My Paez shoes – they pack flat, light and are closed! Socks and takkies can get very hot but slip slops aren’t always practical and your feet get dirty
  • Facial wipes – means I can wear some make up 🙂
  • The solar shower bag – nothing better than a shower after a dusty day
  • My kindle
  • Good music
  • A good comfortable camping chair (a lot of time is spent sitting round the fire)

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Bees and Desert Camping – not a match made in Heaven

I thought the puff adder was bad but the bees were something else!

In 2014 we were on Khiding pan in the Kgalagadi.  Water is scarce in this area and animals come for miles to the water holes.  We had a beautiful campsite overlooking the pan with not a soul in sight.  We arrived quite late in the day, so by the time we setup camp dusk had fallen. In the morning once the sun had come up we started to hear a bee or two.  Within 30 minutes there was a low din and within two hours the campsite was swarming.  They were trying to climb up the trailer taps, in the kettle or any water bottle left out.  Any moisture left on any surface was infested and they only left at sunset.  They were relentless!  Olivia got stung for the first time and luckily wasn’t allergic.  We ended up just going for drives in the car to get away.  Any other car we stopped to ask had no bees in their campsite, we were just unlucky.

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We had left a small bowl of water out to rinse hands in and soon it was filled with drowned bees 😦

And we thought it was a once off but in 2016 we were in the Hoanib valley in Namibia looking for the desert lion and elephants.  The wind was howling and we spent most of the morning trying to find a valley to camp in that was slightly sheltered.  We finally found a spot at lunch time and again, within an hour of setting up camp, they started to arrive.  But this time it was 50 times worse than Botswana.  The water is so scarce that they were desperate.  We put the kids in the bubble tent to play and watch a movie but they had water bottles and the tent was soon crawling on the outside with bees trying to get in.  The kids were beyond freaked and on top of that boiling hot.  In the end we again ended up having to climb in our cars just to get away as it was too hot to lie in the tents.

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Me trying to see if sitting under the mosquito net would help at all – it didn’t but at least it provided some amusement.

We had planned to spend two days in that valley but as soon as the sun rose the next morning they already started arriving so we had to pack up and go find another campsite.

Being no expert this is what I have learnt from these two experiences:

  • Fruit scented dishwashing liquid makes it muuuuuuuch worse
  • Citronella candles do nothing to keep them away.  We were burning 5 of them to try and get the lunch out but they still were everywhere
  • Anthisan works better than calladrel for the stings
  • The mozzie net helped a bit but ours had a stupid split in the middle to tie closed so a full one would work better
  • Basically, if they start arriving rather pack up camp and move
  • If you can’t move, grab snacks and drinks and rather go for a drive till sunset
  • As soon as the sun goes down they leave

So here’s to hoping that we have a bee free trip up next