Playfulness and Poverty

Before we enter the “risk of lions” area, we come across several villages on a Saturday. We are an unusual event and an opportunity for a new experience, food, medicine and fun.

In case you can’t download the video it is very brief and shows two lovely moments that day. One when 3 adults came over to find out what we were doing when cooking lunch and then showed their support for Emma by chanting “Go, Emma, Go!” The other was when two young people, barefoot, rushed to join Emma jogging on the road. They were there for a while.

However, there are also many people begging in this area. This group of children were polite and good-natured whilst asking if we had anything we could give them. They were pleased with tins of tomatoes and delighted with the pack of cards. What inspired the young woman to place the cards just there in the photo? There are no mirrors to check out her styling or magazines in shops to stimulate her imagination? More importantly, what are her opportunities for her creativity?

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 I would have liked to have got to know these children better, understood the roots of their poverty and most importantly to have found real solutions. On the return journey, I looked for them but travelling ten times faster we missed them in the blur of African landscape.  Travelling more slowly gave greater rewards.

A lady comes over to ask for medicine for a friend, the nearest clinic is a day’s walk away. We have a friendly chat and I give her a few paracetemol and rehydration sachets. This isn’t the answer. I am no doctor. I hope it did no harm.

Resourcefulness
Resourcefulness

Other moments are not so positive. A blind adult approaches with his hand on the head of a 4 yr old. It’s an uncomfortable sight and I consider whether the child is being exploited, as a passerby it is impossible to know. In some communities, disabled people find it particularly difficult to make a living. Money isn’t the answer. Not in terms of a fulfilling life, only for survival. But who am I to judge in this moment?

In the afternoon,  a crowd has collected around a bar beside the road and a drunk teenager moves towards Emma with his arms out. He doesn’t touch her, he’s simply being playful, pretending to grab the back of the car as we pass, until he gets yelled at by an adult. Frequently, dogs start barking, heading towards Emma. As long as there are adults present they keep control but these are two of the reasons Mike keeps close to Emma at all times.

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Tim the Nomad in his blog explains a good response to poverty:

” … giving money does not change anything. Instead, people most often use it to buy temporary things, which too often is alcohol or drugs. Better than giving money, she said, is identifying goals. When a villager sets a goal, he or she can assess what is needed to achieve it. One goal at a time, the village discovers that they are not excluded from financial opportunity. Then, in knowing that financial opportunity is something accessible, they find something to strive for. This changes a destructive cycle of dropping out into a productive one of self-reliance. In this way, they can find independence. Instead of depending on federal or foreign aid, they can depend on themselves while maintaining the traditional foods, products, and practices that they identify with. With this financial independence comes sustainability and peace of mind.”

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If you want to help make sustainable improvements in people’s lives please consider donating to the SEED Project or our fundraising page, which was the reason for doing this run and writing this blog (I hope you are enjoying it).

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No of days: 28

Total distance run by Emma: 1193 km, 741 miles

Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 42.6 km, 26.5 miles

Distance run today: 54.7 kms, 34 miles

Elephants!

“There is nothing beyond here, only the bush.”

The policeman, at the entrance to the Caprivi Strip in Namibia, is laughing at me: I have just asked about shops.

This thin wedge of land between Botswana and Angola is renowned for lions, elephants, buffalo and wild dog. Every day is a risk assessment. It will take Emma several days to run through it and her safety is paramount. Lions and other carnivores chase moving objects. We will also be sleeping in our tent on the side of the road. Lions usually hunt when the heat of the day is over and during the night. We enter the area with caution, armed with knowledge from Charlie Paxton as to where along the way we are at risk from which animal. Initially, there are houses and people but these eventually stop and the stillness is eerie. We cannot see any animals at all.

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We aim to keep the car a few metres behind Emma and Mike. This annoys Emma, who hates the car being so close and noisy (it’s really noisy) and creates tension with Woocash who worries Cleopatra (the car) will overheat: stopping and starting is not good for her. I am sitting on top of Cleo with binoculars, wrapped up in clothes in the early morning, as it’s cold, and in the afternoon, as protection from the sun. It is wonderful to be out in the fresh air. The others seem unduly worried that I will fall off. But I have myself snuggled in well, with handholds planned in the event of sudden breaking or accelerating. In my turn, I am constantly checking out for buffalo (we are in the buffalo hunting area). I have a fearful vision of an angry buffalo or elephant charging out of the bush at Emma and Mike.

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Then, in the silent trees, we see a family of elephants. Well camouflaged, little ones, medium ones and a big mama. We are all delighted. Woocash utterly fails to follow the safety plan, to keep the car beside Emma and Mike, and picks up a camera whilst driving. We really need a cameraman for these moments. I would have loved to have taken a photo of Emma as she ran past this family munching quietly in the heat. But I was busy assessing safety. Luckily, Woocash did do some filming as I can show you this lovely film:

That night, as always, we are in the tents soon after dark. Whilst the rest of us slept, Emma heard an elephant snapping trees around us. The following day, Charlie calls to check that we are okay, nearby villagers had had to flee their homes in the night, as angry elephants damaged human property. As so often during this trip, I wonder if there is some stronger power keeping us safe. And if so, I wonder why.

We keep going, out of the elephant area and into an area, apparently, inhabited by lions.

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Have you had an encounter with elephants? Please feel welcome to tell your stories or thoughts in the comments below.

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As this is all in the same day as crossing the border, the distance travelled and day are the same as the previous post.

Samsitu Campsite

“Someone has to get out and push!”

By which Andy means someone has to get off the boat and step into crocodile infested waters. It’s our last evening at Samsitu and Andy and Karin have insisted we stop rushing about and writing blogs and instead enjoy an evening of relaxation on a boat on the Okavango river. Andy, the owner of Samsitu River Camp, has just been telling us stories about crocodiles catching dogs and people in the river. I think Andy is joking but no, the boat is stuck in some reeds and someone does have to get out. Woocash and Karin take their shoes off and step into the water whilst I keep a watch for crocodiles. I was once told if a crocodile gets within 10 metres of you in water, you have no chance of escape. Luckily, the crocs are busy elsewhere or their larders are full.

Andy, Karin and Mike
Andy, Karin and Mike, with Angola in the background

The whole experience is pretty amazing. It’s peaceful and beautiful. The Okavango river, at this point cuts between Angola and Namibia, which means there are moments when we are in Angola. An exciting thought.

Happiness is driving a boat, a happy Woocash.
Happiness is driving a boat, a happy Woocash.
Angola on the left, Namibia on the right :)
Angola on the left, Namibia on the right

At Samsitu we have comfy beds, running water and a huge room in which we unpack all our kit from Cleo (the car) so that we can give her a thorough clean. The open plan dining room, living room, kitchen has a table in it for about 20 people. It would be perfect for a party. The friendly bar has seats overhanging the river from which I try to spot the local hippo. Andy and Karin tell wonderful stories. Sometimes, in the rainy season, the area is so flooded that they can only use a boat to get to Rundu.

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I have no idea what Woocash is doing here. Any guesses? Andy and Karin gave us free accommodation, it’s nice to be able to do something in return.

During the day we had been shopping and cleaning and other chores. Whilst Mike was finishing shelves for the back of Cleo, Emma writing her blog and Woocash fixing Andy and Karin’s car,  I cooked up a tasty but time consuming lunch:

Main Course
Pancakes and Tuna Wrap

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Dessert
Pancakes and honey

I could never make this on the road. The pancakes are made from flour, egg, water and salt. In the wrap, I put variations on request of: tuna, avocado, tomato, lemon, onion and salt and pepper.

After the boat trip, a running friend of Andy’s drops by. Katie is nice and friendly and impressed by Emma and decides to join Emma for her morning run through Rundu. This is good, Emma needs variety to keep her entertained. Andy and Karin also give us useful contacts for the rest of our route in Namibia.

Days 22

Total distance run by Emma: 899 km, 558 miles

Into Rundu

At Samsitu Campsite we have beds, which importantly means that, despite having to get up in the night to drive back 35 km to where Emma stopped the day before, we don’t have to pack up the tent. Win. We are still up long before dawn, but get stuck at the padlocked entrance to the campsite. Doh! Mike and Woocash disappear to find someone to open it. I worry vaguely about crocodiles and snakes and the embarrassment of waking people in the night. Finally, we are on the road, it is empty except for a few people walking in the dark. I am struck by the silence.

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Sun rise

As the sun rises higher in the sky more and more people start wending their way to school and to work. At breakfast, as soon as we get our porridge out, children come running. In a rush, we pack up our food and drive round the corner, where we can eat in peace in the car. But there is something I can’t put my finger on about this. We are running and hiding from children!

Later, whilst Emma is running and we are settled at a police roadblock, ready to go through together, I get chatting to a teacher who explains that we are in a very poor area and points out that many of the bins at rest points along the road are empty because children will scavenge for whatever they can. I remember how some children gasped in wonderment when they saw all our toilet paper. As a team, we have decided that we should not give away food and money and definitely no sweets. I’m against giving away sweets but I, and other members of the team, struggle with not giving away food to hungry children. It doesn’t seem right. Yes, it may only help them for that meal and it can create a culture of dependency but what are the alternatives. The SEED Project, one of the charities we are raising money for, works with communities to help them find long term sustainable solutions to their problems, this is a positive cycle, where communities better their situations and also increase their capability and belief that they can solve future problems for themselves. But there is no SEED here and we have to make a decision to do the run and hopefully raise money or, to stop and stay and do real long term work – that’s not what team members have signed up to do. I don’t even ask but it sits uncomfortably with me. I do, however, contact The SEED Project and encourage them to expand to this part of Namibia. If you know of a charity working in this region please post about them in the comments below.

Then Emma and Mike arrive and disrupt my thoughts and we are off through a police roadblock, where Emma is treated as a celebrity. The police are wonderfully friendly and call after us, “All of Namibia is proud of you.” I think Namibia may well say the same about them. The police made a good, professional, friendly impression on us.

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You can never have too many photos of friendly police

I join Emma for her last couple of kms of the day as we enter Rundu, attracting friendly waves and shouts. At the finishing point, Emma stretches and a small group of children copy her movements – at least we can teach them this concept.

Rundu itself is a hot, dusty, busy town, with large supermarkets and fuel stations. We have 36 hours of shopping, cleaning, repairing and intermittent connection to the internet. Emma is happy to be on a break. I am hoping to see a hippo at the campsite.

Days 21

Total distance run by Emma: 899 km, 558 miles

People, cows, donkeys, goats, dogs …

Stopping to eat or go to the toilet has become a public event. Small children run towards us calling, “sweets, sweets”. Older ones stop and stare or join Emma running. There are people, everywhere. Every few yards there are clusters of homes. Some are neat with a sturdy fence surrounding them. Others are carelessly built, fenceless, at risk of wandering hungry cows. Cows, dogs, donkeys and goats ramble at will. Being in the second half of the dry season there are only dusty stalks of grass and spiky bushes for the cattle to eat. Through this activity the high quality tarmac road from Grootfontein cuts a straight line to Rundu: enabling cars to noisily speed and inevitably collide with innocent animals. A dead donkey and a crushed car lie on the side. Children seem to be wise and careful of the road.

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First thing in the morning, one of the children from the previous evening arrives asking for food. I do not know if this is out of need or the simple joy of a gift from someone from another world. Erring on the side of caution, I give her an orange.

Children across the world go to school hungry, I have no way of knowing if she is one of them. In addition, I think my 7-year-old self would have been equally excited to have a gift from unusual foreigners. She grins with delight and bounces off, throwing and catching the orange as she goes.

For lunch, we find a quiet stop 20 yards off the road under a huge tree. Soon three 20 year olds come by, I think they are looking for a job, but stay to watch and chat while I cook. Kindly, they leave us soon after Emma and Mike arrive.

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Hello! I wonder if you’ll ever find this photo of you on the internet. Hope you like it.

Whilst we are eating, in the distance a troop of small children head our way, but a swirling dust devil frightens them off. Dust devils are dangerous for children. Like a mini-tornado that arises from nowhere, stories abound that they can pick up an adult. Seriously! It’s not just an urban myth, it’s in Wikipedia. The small children don’t come back. Maybe they think we sent it. It feels like someone sent it as we get to finish our dinner almost undisturbed.

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Singing school children 🙂
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Group no 3, these were the guys I spent a bit of time talking to, they were really nice.

The school children are there to laugh and interact. Group no 3 are fascinated by everything and want something, anything. They don’t understand that we do need our kit and cannot easily get more. It’s a pleasure / pain experience: it’s great to connect and interact but after a while the pressure to entertain means it would be nice to have a break. Chatting to them is interesting, though, even with the language barrier. When I point out Namibia and Angola on our maps, with soft reverence they chorus, “Angola”. Many of the children are refugees displaced by the war. Clearly, their hearts long to go back.

But the team needs to rest. It takes several attempts before they will leave us. Short of an hour they are back, waking us up. We must be an exciting event, it’s not every day a woman who is running across Africa is snoozing in your field with her team and all their specialist kit. I try to distract them by showing them our leaflets about the run … then they all want a leaflet.

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Explaining what the leaflet says before they all start reaching for one and calling “Me! Me!”

Emma has to give up on resting and sets off running early. The children shouting and screaming, scamper barefoot alongside her. This group drops off quickly but Emma has to deal with this frequently throughout her run. Luckily, she has Mike keeping by her at all times.

This impressive young woman ran several quiet kilometres with Emma, as she was on her way to her mother's for the weekend.
Two impressive women: one running across Africa; the other jogging for many kilometres, to go and stay with her mum for the weekend.

For the next 6 hours, there is nowhere to pee in private.

Nor can Woocash and I find anywhere to camp. Eventually, we stop outside a clean and tidy looking compound. A big friendly guy comes running up to check we are okay. When we ask him if we can stay on his land. He goes off to ask his wife. (I don’t know why it makes me smile when I write that. Maybe because he was a big impressive guy and everything he did was so cheerful.) His wife, however, is clear, “No, it is too dangerous.” They, themselves are about to leave and don’t stay there at the weekend. On his advice, we pick up Emma and Mike and head north to find a campsite.

Daylight was fading by the time we turned right onto a long dusty track to Samsitu campsite by the Okavango River. Emma and I were sure it was going to be closed. Happily we were wrong. Andy invited us to stay 3 comfy nights in beds. Hooray!

Days: 20

Total Distance run by Emma: 864 Kms, 537 miles

Crossing boundaries

Up to now our life has been fairly peaceful but that is about to change. Generally, Emma, Mike and I wake up at dawn. Emma and Mike set off for 10 miles and I poke a disgruntled Woocash out of bed. He’s pretty sure he didn’t sign up for this, he thought he was going to be doing mechanics not rising early in the morning and being a general skivvy. We pack up the tents then bump our way ahead to cook breakfast for Emma’s mid morning break. There, Emma, stretches, has a massage from Mike, eats and can rest a little. They set off on another 10 miles, we go ahead and find a shady tree (harder than you’d imagine) and cook lunch. Emma has a longer break to get past the heat of the day. Then at about 3pm, she’s off on her final 10 miles and we go ahead, ideally, find a quiet secluded spot, put up the tent and prepare dinner. Emma stops along her route for water and stretching and we head off occasionally for food and water.

On 18th September we cross the boundary fence that cuts across thousands of kilometres from the west side of the country to the east. Breaking the country in half.

The boundary fence is ostensibly there to prevent foot and mouth outbreaks in the North of Namibia from spreading to the South. But it is much more than that.

The area we have just passed through consisted of desert and then largely commercial white owned farms. In the North, the land is, mostly, black communal farms. The fence prevents free passage of people, goods, and wild animals along their migratory routes. And, apparently, tourists regularly have their fresh meat confiscated. That’s not a problem for us; we don’t have the luxury of a fridge.

Communal farmland, means we've accidentally stopped for breakfast on the cows' route. Mike giving Emma a much needed but painful massage
Communal farmland, means we’ve accidentally stopped for breakfast on the cows’ route. Mike giving Emma a much needed but painful massage

For the team, the difference comes in the number of people. Everywhere.

After we cross, I stop at a village shop to ask for bread. It’s the first village shop we have entered. Until now we used supermarkets in towns. The women in the shop are lovely and friendly. They laugh that I am so dirty and one of them comments that, “sometimes its nice to be dirty”. I agree. Elizabeth, who runs the shop, has no bread but says that she is going to Rundu later that morning and will get us some! I am surprised by her helpfulness (not something I’m used to in my culture). If you are ever on the road from Grootfontein to Rundu her shop is just north of Mururani, please pop in and say hello from me.

In the afternoon, we have gone ahead to look for a camping spot as usual but the village Katjinakatji keeps going and going. Every few yards, there is another group of houses. There are no quiet side roads. We are well past the distance Emma wanted to run and eventually, I tell Woocash we have to stop at a point that seems a little quieter. There are three teenagers, I ask them if we can camp there, outside their homes. As teenagers are, they are a little playful. One of them tries to convince me that it is his village. Having tested me out, they tell us we are welcome to camp and head off to play football.

Then the younger children come asking for sweets and money. Not knowing if they have access to a dentist (or toothpaste), we give out crisps. Kids are always hungry. In the UK, a sure way to increase numbers at a youth club night was to advertise free food.

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We entertain them with the camera and some playing cards (which they are really happy with).

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I think the little kiddie is probably scared of Woocash

We don’t speak a common language. Fortunately, Elizabeth turns up with bread and explains to the children what we are doing.

Elizabeth in action: look at the little girl's concentration
Elizabeth in action: look at the little girl’s concentration

We teach them to cheer Emma, “Go, Emma, Go”. They are fascinated by everything we have and do and try to help as much as they can. At one point, they have a discussion amongst themselves. One of the little girls runs off and comes back with a machete, as they think we need it! I let them, one at a time, up the ladder to look in the roof tent.

Mike warns us over the radio that Emma is really tired. She is attracting a lot of curiosity. Having explained this to the children, they cheer her in and then soon leave us to rest.

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I’m impressed by how considerate they are. Night comes in and adults pass by in the dark. The cheekiest little girl comes back with her mother and we attempt conversation. The mother smiles and says, “it is good” that we are there.

Day 19
Total Distance Run by Emma: 809 km / 503 Miles

To Grootfontein: Kit and cooking fails cause emotional downs and ups

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The temperature has got a lot warmer bringing butterflies and jazz. Jazz is like quality dark chocolate it flows better when the temperature is hot. Emma runs alongside the Waterberg Plateau an impressive rock feature 405 square km over 850 million years old full of rare species. One day I plan to come back.

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Cleo attracts a well dressed friend

However, there is a downer as both Garmin watches go blank and don’t switch on again. It’s odd that both watches have gone within a day or so of each other. Perhaps naturally, there are suspicions that it’s someone’s fault, but we don’t know why they’ve stopped or who’s fault it is – which is all rubbish for team dynamics.

The watches were hugely important as motivation for Emma and they measured the distance. Surprisingly, well to me anyway, the car, the bike and the watches all recorded different measurements.

Warning Geek Moment: Car mileage is affected by how inflated the tyres are and by the road surface. In addition, we inflate and deflate the tyres depending on the road surface.

I’m not so clear on what affects the bicycle. The watches are GPS.  Maybe the bike isn’t accurate because Mike on the bike doesn’t travel in a straight line! He’s not wobbly by nature – it’s tricky on a bike to go at jogging pace on a sandy track. Anyway, instead we try giving Emma the Garmin GPS 62S which I’d bought for the car. I imagine its not great having to run with a sat nav in your hand. Equally, I’m impressed its still working well after weeks of being in a sweaty paw swinging back and forth, out in the midday sun, and occasionally dropped. Definitely a piece of kit I’d recommend.

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Emma with Garmin GPS 62S, Mitex Radio (also highly recommended) and Pepper Spray (never used as never needed) as she sets off for a few km on her own

Along the route we stay with a lovely farming family

Omega Rest camp was a little further than expected so the owners gave Emma a lift at the end of her day
Omega Rest camp was a little further than expected so the owners gave Emma and Mike a lift at the end of their day
Omega rest camp complete with BBQ, showers and very friendly and helpful owners
Omega rest camp complete with BBQ, showers and very friendly and helpful owners who let us explode our stuff everywhere

The family let us use their tools and pretty much build the shelves we needed to bring order to Cleo. Emma and I left Mike and Woocash working hard but video evidence shows that the guys at Omega Campsite did all the work. Slackers.

The nice family also gave us sausages and mince. We didn’t just take take take, happily, Woocash fixed their lawn mower. All things mechanical are fixable by a mechanic. But huge thanks to Omega Rest camp for being so generous.

Whilst Woocash and Mike were (pretending to be) busy bashing and sawing I got to cycle beside Emma as her support. Fabulous to be out the car and having a natter. It’s surprising how little we get to chat. Before I get to play, I have to cook breakfast first and when I tipped up the salt pot, the lid fell off and a whoosh of salt went in. I thought it’d be fine, I’ll put more honey, cinnamon and fruit in …

I’m going to count it as an up moment. On the grounds, everyone was happy laughing at me.

Cycling alongside Emma, we spot a large animal in the distance and can’t tell if it’s a dangerous one. We can’t get Mike and Woocash on the radio. We cautiously go closer and discover it’s … a … cow! But, you know, it could have been a lion or buffalo. An up, as we didn’t get eaten.

I also ran 1.2km with Emma that day. That’s all. It’s hot! My head feels like it is about to explode. Emma runs another 50k or so. Clearly, she’s the athlete, I’ll stick to cooking … er.

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Why are my arms swinging round the side? I’m meant to be running forwards. Emma, looking particularly casual.

Lunch is delicious thanks to the donated sausages (and my expert cooking ) – fried sausages and onions with mash potatoes and pancakes (there’s no milk but water seems to work just as well). All cooked on the Ezy Stove that I am falling in love with. It’s a lot of carbohydrates to make up for the salty porridge.

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Cooking – more accurately – washing up my first attempt to cook sadza which we threw away and even a passing donkey refused to eat … nobody records my successes. Its a bit windy and we’re trying not to set fire to Namibia which is why we have windbreaks and fire extinguisher out and ready.

Dinner is also pretty good:

I slowly fried the onions until soft, added garlic and cumin and Namibian special spice (I think its like a braai spice). Then mince (fried until its brown) salt and pepper, fresh tomatoes and lemon.

We don’t have a fridge so it’s protein overload. Spirits in the team are much happier after a good meal.

On 15th September we arrive in Grootfontein. It is further than expected to get there, sometimes the map distances aren’t accurate, which is a definite down as Emma seems to be in a lot of pain. We go searching for ice bags for her. There isn’t the range of products you can get in the UK. So the pharmacist kindly gives Emma ice to put on her knee. It’s good that we take a longer break than normal for lunch.

In Grootfontein, after many kilometres without one, we also manage to buy a brake calliper bolt, which is brilliant. Brakes who needs them? We do! Cleo is fat and heavy; running someone over would be rubbish. And we can fill up with diesel. Grootfontein itself is a beautiful town and feels safe and friendly. People go out of their way to be helpful and make sure we are okay.

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Leaving Grootfontein

That night we camp outside town down a side road, hidden behind a sand pile … only to discover we’ve camped on a short cut to a village a few yards away. Its fine though, no-one bothers us.

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