Day 6 started really early. It felt wrong to start the bikes when the rest of the camp was still asleep but we had a lot of ground to cover. I was expecting to see the true Kaokoland today – the one without the big gravel roads. But first we had to cover the 180km back to Opuwo. I was dreading this a bit as I did not enjoy the road the first time round but it helps when you're fresh. The first bit is the best part of the road and in the cool morning air it was even more special. The road was even better than I remembered because of the lower temperatures and I was riding my heart out. There was no doubt that I had been properly reunited with my flow.
I can't imagine that there's a better way to start the day than with roads like these.
Just don't overcook it:
For some people the lasting impression of Kaokoland is the people, and especially the women in their traditional wear. Maybe I've seen that too many times because, for me, what represents Kaokoland best today are these two road signs. As long as you know that these signs never lie and act on it you'll be fine.
It's probably an indication of my whole attitude towards this trip which was to have the ride of my life and see some of the most awesome places in the world with the best travel companions. I only realised after the trip that I did not take a singe picture of an Ovahimba women in traditional wear. Part of this was that you have to pay them and I wasn't that desperate for a photo. Reading this back it sounds a bit selfish. Too bad.
The road to Opuwo was this time round an absolute joy. Gone was the fear of riding on the marble-like surface. In fact I cruised at probably the highest average speed of the whole trip apart from the last few kilometres to Henties. Now, remember I said that my memory's not what it used to be? Remember the small rivers and the major airtime I got? Well, I did too but somehow did not make the connection when I saw the warning signs. The recommended speed at which to take this particular rivulet is 30km/h and being on a KLR with stock suspension it's quite a safe guide for this particular river as both the entrance and exit is very steep. Because of this the riverbed had been lined with concrete. Anyway, I managed to slow down a bit but still went flying in into the river at 90km/h. I landed in the middle of the river with the bike bottoming out completely and squirming underneath me and before the suspension had time to recover I hit the exit with an almighty bang and then MAJOR airtime and another massive thud as I landed with the suspension again bottoming out completely. My first thought was "Bugger that was close" and then I remembered someone's signature "KLR – flies like a bird, lands like a piano." Very true. This was my closest call of the trip and I can only imagine what would've happened had I come off. Quite sobering.
The rest of the road to Opuwo was uneventful. (Nambabwe: In Okangwati there was a couple of young teenagers in front of the only store admiring the 08 KLR, so while waiting on the next rider, I offered one a ride back thru town and across the river. From his frantic grab around my waist I could tell he had never accelerated anything like this before!!)
About 40km before Opuwo I had to switch to reserve but instead of slowing down I decided to maintain my speed and see how far I can go on reserve while travelling at 120km/h. As it turns out I reached Opuwo without any problems unlike Nambabwe who had to refuel. In general the 08 KLR's fuel consumption was worse than the 07 KLR's. We refuelled and bought some more supplies as this would be the last time we'd see a shop for some time. Opuwo had still not improved but at least there weren't that many dust storms this early in the morning.
Then came my biggest disappointment of the trip. We took the road to Otjihende via Etanga. Last time we did this road in '94 in 4x4s it took us two days to get to Etanga. OK, we weren't in a rush but still. Here's a picture I found on the web which shows what the road looked like back then - this was the good bit. Now, the first 60 odd kilometres are wide gravel roads.
Still, we had some fun, especially when the road decided to turn into this really fine powder and you end up in ruts you can't see hitting rocks you can't see either and all this at speed. Maverick and Nambabwe had a very close call, nearly taking out some kids who had rushed to the side of the road to either watch the spectacle of bikers falling or to come and beg.
Lootch coming through:
Brakenjan did not stick around for this photo shoot and took off at speed. As it was time for lunch I decided to try to catch him. Yeah I know, KLR catching a KTM640 – what was I thinking?? At least it was a fabulous ride as the road gets much smaller after this. It also get's very twisty as it winds its way over one hill after the other.
I finally caught up with Brakenjan just before Etanga – after he stopped. We waited for the rest of the group and the support vehicles.
This guy did not like being disturbed:
Uncle H said that there's a really nice spot outside Etanga in a riverbed. He was right. This is one of the advantages of travelling with someone who's been there a couple of times.
Those of you who know the area might be thinking that we're on our way to the infamous Van Zyl's Pass and you'd be right. You would also be right in being completely horrified at the thought of noobs like us tackling that pass. But, we met a tour operator the previous day at Epupa who told us about a new pass which would be do-able with a VW Golf. He was a bit vague about the exact turn-off except that it's "just before Van Zyl's Pass starts" and evaded the question of whether he'd done the pass with his 2-wheel drive minibus. But, we were keen not to take the long way round to the Marienfluss and even more keen to be able to report that there's now a new road to replace Van Zyl's Pass. This would have a significant influence on the rest of our trip...
Anyway, at Etanga Kaokoland, as I remember it, started proper. The road turned into ungraded 2-track with loads of sandy and rocky patches with thorn bushes lining the road. I was still in the flow and loving every moment of this.
(Nambabwe: Right after the little hill by itself, seen in the photo above, first Brakkenjan and then me had the most unexpected fall of the trip...as the road leaves the river, there is a little ditch where your bike can drift into, and then a sudden dead end of the ditch that will certainly have you exit from your bike across the handlebars, do a search on YouTube for "val sy gat los" and please have the best laugh of the day as I sink my boat!)
I was especially enjoying the sandy bits – particularly after the GS this KLR felt like it was made for the stuff. Moments which I would've described as almost death defying on Day 1 were now just great fun. I found myself wondering whether life could get any better and sitting here typing this I have to conclude that, sadly, the answer is "no".
We found a nice spot in a big riverbed just before Van Zyl's Pass. I did not yet feel like pitching camp so decided to go play in the river. The sand was really quite sticky and for the first time I felt myself whishing for just a little bit more power – or a better power to weight ratio.
Uncle H wasn't very keen on this spot as it was by a watering hole and he was worried about the animal and human traffic. There was however no way we were moving. Anyway, where would you go? This was the last place to camp before the pass. Later that afternoon Uncle H and I went for a drive to see if we could find this Golf pass. We found the road exactly where the tour guide said it would be and even though I wouldn't tackle it with a Golf the road did seem in a good condition although it didn't look like it had seen a lot of traffic. We drove down the road for about 3 kilometres before we turned back to tell everyone the good news. That night we went to sleep all excited at the prospect of riding the new pass the following day.