As a theatre maker I came up
with a plan for a journey.
A journey of a little girl on a
tractor. A journey to the end of
the world, and back. But what
is the end of the world?
If I was a child, I would say: the South Pole! As an adult
I said: the worst war-country
I can imagine. Both voices,
The one of the child and the one
of the adult, said: We want to go!
Then I thought: All right,
we'll just dó that.
Many people talk about it,
but few actually do.
Fear holds people back,
Held-back people have regrets.
Fear and regret are damaging
to people's lives, are damaging
this world. Governed by fear
and regret, there's no room for
Southpole challenges those fears.
It tries to encourage.
Southpole is about the will to face
the world with an open-minded
attitude. The will to face world's
Southpole does not want to be
afraid. Southpole asks:
What is it you fear?
What is it that makes you happy?
What gives you courage?
As a child I mount a tractor
and head for the South Pole.
As an adult I'll make sure I
make it home safely.
One more month !!!!
Swakopmund,18-09-2008: One more month and I’ll have finished the african leg of this trip!
2000km is the equivalent of driving from Amsterdam to Madrid by tractor…Piece of cake!
I hope to be meeting my South Pole Expedition guide, Matty McNair around the 20th of october in Cape Town. (see: BBC Top Gear’s race to the North Pole, 2007. Matty and her sledge huskies against a 4 x 4.)
We’ll be traveling to the Cape of Good Hope, as a gesture of hope toward the wish that all the dreams that I’ve collected along the way will come true. After that, we’ll visit the Simonstown penguins in order to anticipate the last leg of the journey in epic fashion: the South Pole.
The expedition will start in november of 2009 (we’ll need a year of preparation), and will consist of me, Matty and a mechanic.
After our arrival we’ll build a snowman, containing ‘the world’s dreams’. The world’s dreams, frozen for eternity in the antarctic ice…
A day in Windhoek…
Biba is driving me to Windhoek
I’m in Swakopmund, staying on a compound together with a complete film crew.
I’m invited and I’ve accepted to come to Windhoek. I find myself a lift. Driving toward the capital of Namibia, we spot a road accident. A truck, loaded with edibles, had a tyre blow and did a somersault. There’s a huge crowd. Waiting, with African politeness, until the owners have collected any recoverable items.
There’s a lot of laughter, apparently there’s less consideration for the victims. After a short while, the man of the wrecked truck gives a short speech: ‘Go ahead and come get what you can, just don’t start any fights.’
That seriously gets the party going.
As I’m in the newspaper’s bakkie, I take my photographer’s duties very serious indeed…
Windhoek is a grand, nicely built, well maintained and clean city!
The woman who invited me has taken the liberty to make me a schedule. The day is turning into a genuine publicity-fest: TV-channel ‘One Africa’, National adio 99, …FM and the paper The Republican, that has been following me for a few weeks now. I visit the dutch consul and tears fly at the sight of a dutch flag. Not. But the conversation was fun!
I would like to use this opportunity to thank al the Namibian news-media for all the attention!
I also visit a project. The manager isn’t in at the time, but I’m deeply impressed anyway. It’s obviously run with plenty of heart and soul. And by a local woman in local circumstances, I like that. Close to the people. Real.
The children and their minder.
Hand prints on the wall of their future home…
‘Moria Grace’ is a project of a local Namibian lady who takes in street kids and (mostly AIDS-) orphans. The children are being raised in local circumstances, in a loving manner, and they are all attending school.
She wants to keep the setup small scale and local, without foreign influences. A foundation oversees her funds. And in a month, the children are going to be rehoused in a bigger house, around the corner. Nice, simple, clean. They can barely believe it themselves. That’s why they got to paint the wall next to the house: This is your new home, really!
Himba boy making jewelry (yes. not in folkloristic garment, this is the city, dude.)
The plastic templates, in which the silver is poured. (only for generic jewelry)
In Windhoek, I purchase new underwear and a pair of jeans.
really really neccesary!
In Windhoek koop ik nieuwe onderbroeken en een spijkerbroek. Hehe, dat was nodig!
Run Biba, we need to get to Cape Town!
Himbas and Birthdays…
Himba woman in Kaokoland, Northern Namibia…
I pass by the village named Ruacana, at the Angola border. Because of the distances still before me, I decide to move on. Later on, at the Ruacana gas station, I’m being told that a large group of people were waiting for me with cameras and messages of welcome. To encourage me.
…So much for being speedy…
I enter Kaokoland, Himba territory. I greet the people I meet, friendly and careful, I’m hoping to have a nicel time with these special people. But they are less instantly forthcoming than most people I’ve met so far in (unwesternized) african countries. I offer a lift two my first Himbas: two drunk Himba men, wobbly entities climbing on, observing me with a friendly glint in the eye. Trying to manoeuver their crown jewels to some safe distance, away from the cold tractor metal. (Traditional Himba fashion consisting of a single loin cloth, a full body-coating of ochre dye, hair braided with clay and handmade jewelry)
Night is falling. My phone rings. Andriette from Rundu calls to ask me how I’m doing. Wow, it’s a minor miracle that I’m still within range of a network. A 4×4, stuffed with tourists, pulls over. And another one. And another one!
Andriette tells me to head for Kunene River Lodge. At the same time, the Germans in the 4×4 loudly inquire ‘wo ist der Kunene riverlodge?’ up to me. (Apparently, they’re convinced that this is what local farmers look like). I haven’t got the faintest notion of the Kunene River Lodge location, I gesture downward, while Andrietta once again tells me to go there, as camping in the wild is strictly prohibited round here.
The Himba men are quite flabbergasted by this sudden flurry of synchronised communication. My cheeks flush red from all this consternation after a day of peaceful traveling. I kill the phone with a ‘Yes I’ll go to the Kunene River Lodge’, while signing the germans that they should follow their gut instinct, since that is what I’ll be doing. Then I follow them, slowly.
I arrive at the site in deep darkness. Grmbl, this is exactly what I don’t like. Too long a day, too fatigued of bobbing and bouncing on unpaved tracks. I keep to myself.
The proprietor silently fixes me dinner, triggering an instant defrosting on my part. Just goes to show how little one needs to be oneself again.
‘Epupa falls’ Northern Namibia, bordering Angola…
Next morning. Day off. The campsite boys drag me toward a rafting adventure. ‘Fear of heights?’, one of them asks me.
‘Err. No, not that I know of’.
And that’s how I, (after an eternally long slight hesitation,) throw myself off a rock, into the wild roar of the river below. Just an eight metre jump, but still high enough to trigger the mental inquiry whether I might have finally gone out of my freaking mind. Somehow I manage to trust my body, not just my instincts.
The river is utter beauty. The ‘pistes’ not to hard. It turns out to be a day of bucketloads of fun and adventure. A bit of swimming, pushing one another off rafts, rowing backwards, chewing bread by the waterline of a patch of beautiful, rugged, silent nature. An Eden-ish river, seemingly designed for adventure rides. I’m not doing this often enough, I mutter to myself as I return to tractor and dog.
That night, I talk to the prorietor. He tells me he used to work as a pilot at the antarctic. He spent whole seasons at the British science base. Turns out he knows some of the people there with whom I’ve been in contact, and with whom I’ll have to work later on.
‘Mike Sharp, I’m finally getting clo-o-se!’
It’s so much fun listening to his stories. Quite unreal, being in Namibia, near the Angolan border, in the ‘tropics’…
Himbas have a sense of chastity too. Squatting in front of the tractor (I asked her to pose) the woman starts to laugh, and to look uncomfortable. I’m not getting it, until I realize that she fears that her skirt might be too short… between women, we all laugh about it!
A deaf Himba girl.
After a few days I reach Epupa falls. This is where I take my first pictures of the Himba tribe. They charge money (about 5 to 10 cents), and I pay up.
It took a lot of time to work up the courage to ask them for permission to photograph them. I didn’t want to leave the impression that they are just animate fairground attractions. Circus freaks for tourists. So it’s mainly pictures of people who don’t mind. The ones who make souvenirs and jewelry, and sell those to tourists. First I start a conversation (take my time, African pace, respect) after which I ask them.
I pay them what they ask for, hoping that that way I show respect to their culture. Hoping they won’t lose that.
Even though Namibia is empty in many places, western culture and western people are always around (goes for the whole of Africa, by the way). You can’t hold back time, not even here.
Many ‘how are you’s’… and lifts later…
Ochre prints everywhere, nice!
Biba makes friends whereever she goes…
Around noon, one day of the weeks traveling Kaokoland, I meet a group of Hiba women by the side of the road. In a rather commanding fashion they gesture at me that I should stop. And I think (like your genuine tourist/ Also, I don’t like to be bossed around by anyone):’Here we go, they must want money’.(There is some begging going on in these touristically known areas.)
And also:’They want me to buy their jewelry’. But I do stop.
Especially because I detest myself for displaying the loathesome trait of thinking I know other peoples’ minds.
Turns out they could use a lift.
The whole commanding bit is the result of frustration, being passed by, by drivers (mostly tourists) who don’t want stains on and in their cars. Well I don’t mind a bit of stainage on my tractor!
Four women holding three babies mount my vehicle. Two younger girls with kids on the right mudflap. A baby carried on the back, one baby in a blanket on my lap, recently born. They are on their way back to their village after the birth. Of the two older women, one stands between me and the dog, the other on the footrest by the big back wheel. They giggle as they get on.
We exchange some pleasantries, after which I shut up. Slowly, the ladies start to relax and start chatting full throttle.
Suddenly the girl next to me starts fussing. She giggles, gestures to the girl next to her. I follow their gaze and see a car has appeared on the horizon. Frantically, the girl tries to cover her upper legs.
A shared orange…
For the second time I meet the group of tourists. They’ve been at Epupa Falls (which I left days ago…), and already on their way to whereever-it-is-that-tourists-end-up. We talk for a bit while being surrounded by villagers, coming and going.
Two kids on donkeys observe us in solid fascination. A dog, a tractor, an open-top truck, French people distributing candy.
Before I leave, the truck people hand me two fresh, delicious oranges. As I re-mount the tractor, now again the only vehicle by the side of the road, I notice the two little boys looking at me.
I’m still holding the oranges. These guys have probably never even seen an orange (Too dry for agriculture around here, it’s all cows and goats), so I say ‘It’s more fun to share’… Donkeys and tractor seperate and there’s a lot of waving going on.
Selling of hand-made jewelry and beautiful faces
The hot springs of Warmquelle. Day off. The word ‘Hot’ might be construed as a bit of a hyperbole. But the tiny waterfall and its natural open air swimming pool make a beautiful snapshot. A refuge from the heat, under the trees near the local community campsite. Wash clothes, a dust removal session for hair, a heat removal session for body, a dirt removal session for stuff and a reorganizing session for the tractor case.
And, the nicest thing of all: a few hours of no people at all. Pure, undiluted privacy!
My days are long, but I can’t seem to get on with it.
The farther I travel, the more it becomes obvious that local peoples take their inspiration from tourist-style dome-tents. Not that I’m an expert on this, but regularly I see safari dome tents in gardens, next to clay or stone huts. The one above is hand made. How’s that for colours?
Elephant crossing the road? well… yes, almost…
Kaokoland and Damaraland: home of the desert elephant!
In Damaraland I pass through tremendously beautiful rock hills and desert panoramas. At one particular site it’s possible to do an hour-long downward slide off a hill without any engine power. Its slope is so gradual that I’m still at a steady 20 km/h. It’s magic!
travel is hard
Piramids, if only!
The long journey is gradually beginning to take its toll. Days are long and I sleep in the wild. However hard I try, all day long, I can’t seem to travel beyond 100 clicks a day. It’s another 3000 before I reach Cape Town. Another 30 days, but there’s no way in hell that I’ll make that non-stop. Still, it’s my intention to arrive there in 45 days. Especially since I’ve just heard that my south pole guide (who lives near the arctic) happens to be in Cape Town by then. It would be nice to celebrate my the last stage of my african journey with her. So, time pressure it is.
The tractor doesn’t allow haste though, this is as fast as she goes.
Another thing. Three years of continuous travel have basically exhausted any remote chance of original thought. Not a single bit of personal history that needs to be dug up again, dealt with, buried again. I’m quite through with all of that.
I would really, really like to get on with my life please. Like, the rest of my life? Unfortunately I still have a long way to go before I even begin contemplating THAT. I spot a piramid-shaped mountain, and I sincerely wish for some kind of milestone, like the piramids, lightening the load of this slow, wobbly trek.
Instead of feeling better, my thoughts are heading for a steep drop. The last mile is the longest, as they say. Whoever ‘they’ may be, I’m starting to think they might be right.
‘I’m almost done’, I tell myself. ‘But there’s no one around to record it.’ For weeks I’ve been passing through this beautiful environment, but it’s almost invisible to me. And when I do notice, I have a hard time making pictures or recording video. It’s too big. And I’m not enough of a professional.
So where’s my cameraman? Where’s my film director? A documentary? BBC? hello? It’s such a beautiful voyage, and I can’t seem to get it filmed. Everybody is going to be totally dissapointed that there’s nothing to show, the things I’ve done, the places I’ve been. And even then they won’t even know why they are dissapointed because they won’t know what they’ve missed. So it’s going to end up with me being most dissapointed after all. Shouldn’t I have done more, more, more? bettah, bettah, bettah? Go, go, go!!!
Okay, I know that this is ‘one of those days’. My general all-out disposition of unspoiled optimism sufferds badly when these thoughts/days drop on me. It feels as if I suddenly realise that my unconditional positivism has blinded me from the fact that I’m not doing very well, that my project is failing.
So I therapeutically relieve myself of all this, talking to the camera from the driver’s seat. ‘You’ll laugh about this later’ and ‘This ‘ll have value later on’, I think to myself, appropriating the role of film director by default. While I’m having my fruitful discourse with Sony, the faithfully listening friend, a mega huge tourist-stacked bus appears. Currently, I’m crying. I manage to shoot off ‘Oh isn’t this bloody friggin’ wonderful. Another batch of day-trippers. Gotta sing, gotta dance. Tell my story. That’s exactly what I don’t want right now’ into the camera, before I put it away. ‘But what do you expect, sitting in the middle of nowhere, on a tractor.’
People are hanging out of the bus windows.
I swallow and inquire: ‘yes?’
I’m expecting something like: ‘Gosh, pray tell, what’s the concept here?’
But a lady asks me If I’ve stopped here because I spotted some rare species of animal.
‘nope. I’d say that you spotted something rare though. A crying girl on a tractor.’ A truely rare specimen indeed.
They come out of the vehicle. Put chocolate and cigarettes into me. Some sort of schnapps for easy recovery. A hug.
Well, one can’t keep fretting. I’ve never had this happening before. Me, in my perfectly selfindulging miserable little bubble, and they being so sweet and not running away screaming!
So I’m telling them I’m in for my period, that I’m not entirily sure of the validity of the whole tear-business. They don’t seem to care. The hug-dispensing-lady tells me she’s a photographer, and hopefully asks whether she can take my portrait. Then we look around us, slightly despairingly, at the hellishly bright-lit landscape. ‘bad light, huh?’…
‘yup. some photographers have all the luxury in the world… complete travel schedules adapted just so they get the right light in the right place. But you’re traveling too… meaning that you’re never in the right place on the most beautiful moments.’
Finally, someone who gets it!!!
‘and’ I say, ‘at those moments I’m generally dead tired, making camp and food before I keel over. Or breaking up camp and trying to get as far as I can, before the mid-day heat.’
Ah… I think I might understand myself again. Relativate. I’m doing all I can.
Biba helping out
Tired! muscle cramps! dust! …Good morning!
And yes, my period starts next morning…
My lurking, dark mood is in dire need of a new issue to chew on.
(It’s pretty inconvenient, running out of stuff to think about. I’ve been out of the social traffic system for such a long time, no intimate relationships that provide a cornucopia of issues and spice up one’s life. That’s probably the reason that I’ve got the tendency to attach myself excessively to the people I meet under way.)
Gradually, I sense the oncoming birth of an original thought, even though I’m trying to maintain the neutral current status quo, moodwise:
‘I’ve been on the road for so long…’
Mmm. Never mind. Had that one before too.
‘I’m turning 32 in a few days!?
(IE–IE–IE–IE–IEHH!!! (Insert cheap horror movie soundtrack at will))
I was 27 when I took off.
… I’ve been traveling for… well: ….ever….
And, I’M AGING!
Brandberg, evening before birthday
One morning after?
That morning I come across two dutch people. They had seen my tractor performance at Terschelling, four years ago. They know exactly how long I’ve been traveling. I can see it in their eyes. Some afternoon ( I can’t quite remember which day), I meet a motorcyclist who shows me that I don’t neccesarily need to celebrate my birthday somewhere in the random outback. If I push hard and follow his offroad directions I can make it to the Brandberg, the highest mountain of Namibia. I drive for two days, hoping I’ll make it. I check the time on my phone (Haven’t been in range of a network for weeks now) and the network regio is named ‘Hou moed’ (keep up your courage).
Oh, okay then.
The evening before my birthday, I arrive at this magic mountain
of the Bushman tribe. Famous for its ‘white lady’ paintings. This white lady intends to celebrate her birthday right here. The lodge and campsite people treat me with breakfast next morning, singing me a birthday song. There’s a serious swimming pool here, beside which I’m sitting, sewing a bright felt flower over a hole in my vest sleeve, where it was caught by camel thorn.
Biba plays with the local meerkat, a curious and cuddly little teddybear…
‘Bushman Cartoon’ at Brandberg…
I walk towards the Brandberg to see the paintings, guided by a local boy. It’s an hour’s walk. Right there in the middle of nature, I meet a girl I know, and her boyfriend. She works for Unicef, and during my test drive to Paris, we had frequent contact. At the time very important to me,at the start of this project. It’s pretty amazing that she recognises me. She tells me she has even read my book, and appreciates its honesty. (heh, there I was thinking that it was a huge dissapointment to everyone). When I return to the tractor, I discover that she left me a sweet little card.
And that’s where I realize that this trip is pretty magical after all…
In Uis, I sleep in a different white lady lodge, on a mat on the floor, in between overlanders. Talk talk talk during dinner. When the owner asks me whether he can show me something, takes me to the garage and opens the door, I think : ‘He’s going to show off his tractor, I bet’. The door slides away, and in front of me is a gigantic bright orange and purple wing… thing. It turns out to be a microlight -you know, the kind of tube frame with wings, a seat and an engine. The kind that flies. Within ten seconds, the whole contraption has been moved outside on rails, I’m wearing a helmet and the guy declares that we’re going to fly now.
After the flight (which had been such a surprise that I totally forgot to get my camera) I realize that I can try as I might, but that forcing my head one way isn’t going to happen when the heart wants to go the other way. I decide not to detour toward Windhoek (and news media), but to take the scenic (and shorter) route along Skeleton Coast. Sorry ’bout that!
Biba Tractor desert
Fifty clicks from Uis, the landscape starts to change. After a while I look around and realize that everything is white sand, and absolutely NU-TH-I-N’ else, 360 degrees of it. Woah.
There’s nothing more inspiring than total and utter emptyness.
Weird that. Body and mind appear to have more space available to them, details stand out more. And it’s pretty peaceful, for the woman who is already exploding from all the impressions.
Desert on the road to Henties Bay
I meet a guy, alone in his car, on his way to the Brandberg, who stops because he recognises me. I donate my firewood, since that night I’ll be staying at Henties Bay, and Swakopmund the next day. The man tells me he works on a film set, for a film being shot in Swakopmund. When I’m driving again, I finally start to generate some film ideas of my own again.
I record and record, and I take pictures. Energy and inspiration have awakened from hibernation. Fantastic. I’m listening to music while driving, spread my arms, it’s like I’m flying. The open space, the freedom!
I realize that with all that filming stuff, I’ll never make it to Henties Bay that night. Darn, I wish I still had my fire wood now!
A car speeds by and slows down. It’s the same guy, returning from the Brandberg.
A real person!!!
W-w-with a real car!!!
Not long after, we leave the road and he helps me out, building a fire. Tight operation, this. That’s about where peacefullness ceases to be. A car leaves the road and approaches. With the usual amount of total misstakeness I think ‘heeereee we go again… another ranger telling us off for making fire, or camping in the wrong place… But the car produces four bearded, bellied men. They’re from Henties Bay and had heard that I’m on my way there. Sitting at the bar, they spontaneously decided to go and bring me refreshments. They hand me a plastic bag containing cola, Fanta and crisps (provided by the bartender).
They also brought extra cola, whiskey and brandy, boerenworst, and fire wood for a ‘recht afrikaner boeren braai’ (a proper afrikaner boer bbq). ‘How lovely, this is starting to look like a real birthday party!’ And so it is. ‘My alternative birthday braai?.
‘Alternative verjaardags Braai’…
Another family comes over to take a peek. Maybe they’re checking whether we’re in some kind of trouble. Or maybe because the kids will be leaving for Windhoek tomorrow, and they wanted to have a look at me ‘live’ before they depart.
When the party ends and the men get up to leave, it’s completely dark. They tell me they’re leaving because they don’t want me to become anxious about the prescence of so many men around my camp. (I have to admit I was happy that Film Guy was present at first. But pretty soon I knew what I was dealing with here. Men like the waiters in my parents’ restaurant, Gentle. Down to earth. Honest.) They tell me I possess baie (Afrikaner for ‘a lot’) courage. I tell them ‘Baie Dankie’, as they get into their pickup (Bakkie). There’s a lot of key-turning, but a suspicious abscence of ignition going on!
?Towing happens to be my business?, fortunately…
The men get into Movie Boy’s car and take off for Henties Bay, Flick Fellow sleeps in the back of the Bakkie. Next morning we tow Bakkie back to Henties Bay.
Hee, well at least for a few kilometres, I have company. That’s when I experience my first (mild) desert storm. Sitting in the drivers’ seat, it takes approximately no time at all before I’m totally covered in dust, head to toe. Biba is the lucky one today. She had the common sense to choose for traveling in Bakkie today. Seated beside the driver, watching me with healthy interest. After an hour she has vanished. Asleep. We’re not exactly racing here, are we.
Welcome tractor girl
At the Spitzkoppe restaurant in Henties Bay, the men and the bar owner are waiting for us. They tell me that last night, at least 30 locals, dutch tourists and staff have been waiting for hours for me to show up. They had even made a banner.
… So much for being slowly?
Justin, as Motion Picture Man is named, helps me film stretches on the road. When he goes to work in Swakopmund, the owners of ‘Spitzkoppe’ restaurant take over…
Driving along ‘Skeleton Coast’
They help me record the tractor driving along Skeleton Coast and its many shipwrecks. From V.O.C. (Dutch East India Company) days on, ships have been in trouble along this tricky coast, getting stuck or stranding on the beach. I didn’t know it still happened regularly though…
This man provided new front tyres for my tractor
The old ones are currently in service on his donkey cart
May they last for many more years!