And they did it! A young Hermanus couple who followed a dream to prove that nothing is impossible, recently returned home after walking the west coast of South Africa and Namibia, from Cape Agulhas to the border of Angola – a journey of more than 3 600 km.
Setting off at the end of 2017, the intrepid walkers, Erlo and Lauren Brown, proceeded up the coast with nothing more than the bare essentials in their backpacks, covering distances of between 20 and 30 km per day and sleeping in a small tent at night. Because water is needed for cooking and they couldn’t afford to waste any, the couple lived on dry, vacuum-packed foods such as biltong, nuts, dried fruit, nut butters and cheese, and highly nutritious protein shakes. Without refrigeration the cheese became oily and developed a very deep flavour associated with maturation, which Erlo assures me was delicious.
“We walked with backpacks all the way up to Port Nolloth, and from there we loaded everything onto a cart we had custom-made in Springbok. This was necessary because we needed to carry more provisions, including desalinators, food and water supplies in Namibia, where we would not encounter any people in the desert for weeks on end,” says Erlo. A beach umbrella was attached to the cart so that Erlo could be shaded from the blistering Namibian sun while pulling it. Another invaluable item was a fold-up solar panel to charge their phones, cameras and laptops.
By April last year they were more than 300 km into Namibia when a series of setbacks forced them to take a break. Unable to obtain the necessary permits from the Namibian Department of Environmental Affairs to proceed along the coast from Luderitz to Walvis Bay, they had to return to Aus and take an inland detour on a gravel road of 650 km. Within a few days, however, an injury to Lauren’s foot became so painful that she could not walk any further and with Namibia’s infamous winter winds approaching, they decided to return to Hermanus to allow Lauren’s foot to rest and heal completely.
The Village NEWS caught up with the couple when they were back in Hermanus last year (The Walk, August 2018). During that time Lauren was working on her book, based on the journals she kept during the walk, while Erlo worked on the film he was making of their extraordinary journey. He was very excited when his short documentary of their trip so far, entitled ‘The Walk’ made it into the top ten finalists of the Jozi Film Festival’s ‘Don’t Stop Wondering’ Award, in partnership with Discovery Networks. The film was also aired on the Discovery channel in August 2018 and was accepted by the International Festival of Outdoor Films.
They set off again at the end of September and were hoping to continue along the Namibian coastline, but were once more stymied by red tape. On reaching the Skeleton Coast National Park, they found that only motorised vehicles were allowed in the park and that they could only proceed as far as Torra Bay. Despite turning over every official stone, they were again re-routed through the contemplative nothingness of the Namib Desert, adding many extras kilometres in the searing desert heat. To cope with temperatures in the upper 40s they walked in the light of the moon and before sunrise, spending the hottest part of the day in the shade of a tree. A slight advantage was that pulling the cart along roads was easier than hauling it through thick beach sand.
Although having to head inland again was demoralising, it was the beginning of a truly beautiful and adventurous path, through Damaraland and Kaokoland with their vibrant cultures, animals and breathtaking trees.
For Lauren the far northern part of Namibia was the most challenging because of the wild animals. “At night I would wake to the roar of a lion, have difficulty getting back to sleep, only to awaken again to the call of a hunting hyena. The end result was sleep-deprived nights followed by exhausting days walking in the sun and sharing the load of the cart – definitely one of my lowest points,” she says.
The beauty of the rugged landscapes and Lauren walking in her stunning long skirts were captured by Erlo’s lens. They also encountered beauty in the people they met along the way – farmers, journalists, travellers and everyday folk who went out of their way to help them, often driving hundreds of kilometres to be of assistance. One of the people they met along the way was the poet Ian McCallum, who was so impressed by their undertaking that he inscribed a copy of his anthology Wild Gifts, with “To Lauren and Erlo, Travel in beauty”.
After all the trials and tribulations of the past year, the couple are left with a wealth of memories, pictures and experiences and are now looking forward to the next challenge of producing a book and film before the end of this year. Artist and manufacturing jeweller Lauren has also wasted no time in producing a range of rings and pendants from stones she collected along the way.
Further insights into their epic walk can be found on the couple’s Walk Africa Facebook page and to see Lauren’s jewellery, go to the Wild Rabbit Designs Facebook page.