BLOG- SHARED LESSONS WITH THE TOPNAAR TRIBE

A huge part of travel and adventure for me is about learning.  Trips to Kenya have helped me understand more about what leads to elite performance in running, whilst Mongolia brought it home to me that happiness is more important than having things.

Utusib clinic

Namibia has a few of the same challenges as parts of Scotland (including a remote and rural locations), and is doing a great job of increasing life expectancy at more than half a year, every year at the moment.  We all also wanted to know more about the oldest desert in the world, and it’s stories and traditions.

We also had the chance to share some vital medical diagnostic equipment donated by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, shoes and athletic equipment donated by Merrell UK, and cycling enthusiasts, and other gifts from Bert Jukes and his team.  Chief Kooitjee of the Topnaar tribe, his top team and the local medical team, as well as the Mayor of Walvis Bay and the divisional Health Minister shared pearls of wisdom, as well the challenges they face with us.  This is the start of a relationship, that with the support of many in Namibia and back home can achieve lasting change.

Royal College Physicians and Surgeons Medical Supplies

Both the athletic  equipment, and medical equipment was extremely well received.  In fact we were honoured to receive the first Topnaar Tribal Appreciation Award given to those outside Namibia- a huge honour.  We had some great discussions about the value of sport and physical activity both in the community and nationally, and thoughts on how this can be achieved.  The numerous pairs of trainers, and huge amount of clothing from Merrell and others will help support the Topnaar schools and athletics groups, whilst they had a highly impressive cycle team that will benefit from donations received.

football shirts and Merrell shoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We really enjoyed hearing about training and education opportunities for the local health care workers, and discussions are ongoing as to how this can be further assisted.  The clinics we saw had fantastic staff, that the donations from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, and many other groups and individuals drew praise from, while the Health Minister present also expressed her delight at the help received, and opportunities for the future.

For us, to have the chance to eat, sing, and dance, as well as learn and share with new friends from Namibia was a highlight of the trip- and we are so grateful for the generosity of others in helping us with this

Children and Topnaar bike team

BLOG- RUNNING ACROSS THE NAMIB- PART 1 OF 2

3 months ago legendary Scottish Expedition organiser David Scott (of Sandbaggers) sent myself and Donnie Campbell 3 pictures and a short email. “Run Across the Namib desert- some parts have not even been explored properly, here are some photos, sore feet and adventure awaits”. The pictures showed variously the desert night sky, a sea of massive sand dunes, and a ship wreck marooned in the middle of the desert. Pictures trump 1000 words. It looked incredible. Sold.

Shipwreck

Shipwreck in the dunes

By far the hardest part of an adventure is the planning. Funding and support for the expedition was quickly secured from Scottish entrepreneur Bert Jukes of Lyprinol UK, a great believer in pushing boundaries and breaking new ground. Special permits were required to access the desert, and applications made to tribal chiefs to secure access to parts of the park rich in diamonds that have not been accessed.  Accurately planning a route would be impossible, but knowing roughly where we were going, and what to take would be key.  Dave and his Namibian partners took care of the majority of this, but each email looking at vehicles, equipment and logistics had my mind drifting to the dunes.

 

Flying into Luderitz is an amazing experience in itself. Sand stretches as far as the eye can see, dunes rearing up to 400 metres high bringing home the severity of the conditions we would face. Getting off the plane, it was roasting hot, and we talked nervously awaiting our bags.

blisters

Dave, had brought on board Live the Journey, a quality Southern African outfit that knew this area better than anyone else, having received expert assistance from members of the Topnaar tribe, and it was highly reassuring meeting the team in country.

Setting off directly towards the dunes got the butterflies going in the stomach.  Dave had warned us that the desert can kill you in a day if you let it, and the heat even at 0830 was oppressive. The first day took us 62km over unexplored diamond areas, swooping over ridges, and battering through sand under the watchful eye of the local wildlife including jackals and Gembok.  The following day was another long shift what felt like wading through heavy sand for another 60+km day, ending high in a dune system with a view of the sea and abandoned mining quarters.  The view was stunning, and I should have been elated, but I was not. My “tank” already felt more empty than it should have done, feeling more like having run 110km a day.  My hip flexor was tight, and my left big toe was already just one big blister.  Another 8 days like this seemed impossible.

 

But time brings perspective, and experience is a great teacher. I recalled being in hefty trouble during previous events, having Achilles tendons that looked like sticks of rhubarb 5 days into running from John O’Groats to the Sahara, and starting the “7 ultras of 7 continents in under a week” with heavy blisters having competed in the Antarctic Ice Marathon hours before.  All I could do was to do the right things consistently, and expect things to improve. If they didn’t, they didn’t.

Day 3 as Dave had promised was a straight path though some of the highest dunes in the world. Significant forward progress takes time, over the most aggressive of the dunes, the maximum we could crank out was 3km and hour, and the support trucks were frequently having to tow each other out.  But move forward we did, and the excitement of the sheer scale of the landscape dulled the pain temporarily as we camped for the first day in the Devil’s Workshop at the end of day 3