JoLt 2008 – A Journey through Namibia, Lesotho and South Africa2008 Expedition Diary
After all the restless nights of anticipation, July 12th finally arrived. Twenty-four disparate individuals arrived that day but all returned a month later as a team, a JoLt family. What was in store for the nervous individuals? What adventures lay ahead and how would everyone cope? Jolt is about: adventure, teamwork, friendship and above all the belief that by looking after, caring and supporting each other, we can do amazing things.
Heathrow Terminal 5 (according to all the hype) was going to prove the first challenge on Jolt 08, so after farewells were made the group set about checking in. No such problems occurred and Jolt was rolling. Many if not the entire group had ever experienced such a long flight especially with the volume of turbulence encountered. With the bumps, upturned stomachs and rattling drinks behind us we arrived for a brief stay in Johannesburg airport before connecting to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.
After a combination of air and overland transport we finally arrived at a cold and misty Swakopmund following 24 hours of travelling. The next day brought an air of excitement with an action loaded itinerary of boat trips, sand dune surfing and quad biking. Many challenges were faced and conquered that day from getting on and off the boat (Jolters and seals!), to driving quad bikes through massive sand dunes but the biggest of all was for the whole group to scale the sand dune so we could surf down it. In the true Jolt fashion of ‘we do everything together’ all 32 of us began the ascent to the summit. People ran, walked, shuffled and crawled with sand getting everywhere possible but the views and the completion of the first real group challenge were emphatic. The only thing to do then was to surf the dune. Some went fast, some went slow, and some decided to roll half way down just to keep the doctors on their toes. But after a long day of adventure, the foundations of true teamwork and friendship were beginning to emerge.
The next day brought a sense of true wilderness. A place called Spitzkoppe, meaning pointed mountain, was our destination. The camp was set up underneath a tall, high jagged peak with no electricity, running water or flushing toilets for miles around, we were living off supplies solely from the trucks. This was the first day of ‘roughing’ it and the infamous long-drop toilets. This was a first for most but coped with by all admirably. Another challenge came in the form of everyone reaching the top of a rocky granite outcrop. Again teamwork and determination was the tonic needed as well as relying on the ever-growing trust within the group to help everyone reach the summit. After only four days travelling together, the bonds within the group were becoming firmly cemented. A massive achievement considering less than a year earlier the 24 youngsters chosen were just a small percentage of nervous applicants who didn’t know each other.
Another long drive was in store for the group before the treasures of Etosha national park could be enjoyed. By now the group had got used to the long days travelling and used the time to further get to know each other, sing songs and learn some signing (and of course catch up on some sleep!) We were not to be disappointed when we arrived. On the first of many game drives we saw masses of wildlife including, giraffes, zebras, springboks, oryx, ostriches and many more. What the evening at the waterhole had in store for us no one could have imagined. Six elephants all jostling for position around the waterhole and three black rhinos. A rare sight but the group was privileged enough to see these endangered animals at close proximity. A late night followed with the danger of jackals stealing anything left outside our tents. Fortunately 32 Jolters took the advice given by the crew and secured all belongings within their tents leaving the jackals to roam free around the campsite. An early morning game drive to see sunrise over the park followed the next day. The early start, getting up in darkness was definitely worth it to see the animals waking up and beginning a new day across the arid landscape of Etosha. Arguably everyone in the group wanted to see the lions more than anything else but unfortunately the morning drive was unsuccessful. However in the afternoon, with the anxiety creeping to fever pitch, on the hillside in the long grass a male and a female lion were spotted lazing in the African sunshine. This prompted a camera frenzy with those with larger zooms getting the best pictures. The next day and a final game drive provided an even better photo shoot of lions as two passed within meters of the front of the trucks. We left the Etosha National Park extremely satisfied with the photographs of the animals and the beautiful scenery the park has to offer.
After the relative sanctuary of staying in one place for a few nights, Jolt then hit the road. The plan was to travel almost the whole length of Namibia cramming in as many sights and challenges as physically possible. We eased into the journey with a 6.30 am wake up (the last of those for a long time) to a leopard hide where we witnessed an amazing beast jump gracefully from tree to tree, eating its food. Other animals in the sanctuary included cheetahs and wild dogs. Each animal having their own quirky characteristics.
The next day was a 5.00 am (getting earlier) start with a drive to Boesman’s (Bushman’s) place. This was a farm in a very remote area of Namibia. Here, Boesman told us all about living in Namibia, showed us tracking techniques and information about the local geography. We were very grateful to Boesman as he invited us to stay in his own home having spent all day preparing an amazing lamb spit-roast for us. Early next morning (4.00am) we woke to go on a short sand dune walk (a challenge in itself) before we sadly had to say farewell to Boesman. We arrived at Sesriem Canyon for another group challenge, to get to the bottom of the canyon then back to the top. No small feat for a small group of able bodied people never mind a group as large and varied as ours. Again in true Jolt spirit the challenge was completed with enthusiasm and determination confirming the Jolt ethos of together we can achieve amazing things. The day ended with camp at a Cheetah sanctuary where we were rewarded with a lovely meal in the restaurant. Our final day in Namibia was to visit and walk along the edge of Fish River Canyon, the second largest canyon in the world. The views were breath taking especially as the sun set as we walked along the rugged path between two viewpoints. Everyone agreed it was an excellent ending to the Namibian leg of the journey.
A long day of African border control and travelling mishaps lead the group to stay in the barn of a lodge. Here we experienced traditional bushmen of the Kalahari dancing around the fire. The next day brought more cultural encounters with the group practising bush tracking, craft making and bow and arrow shooting. We were approaching the half way stage of the journey and everyone was going strong (well almost – three were struck down with diarrhoea and vomiting). That evening we arrived at Kamkirri, a place on the Orange River where we would camp for two nights. At last somewhere to stay for more than one night.
A prevailing wind made what should have been a two-hour kayaking journey down the rapids of the Orange River turn to six and we had to paddle hard to make it back to camp before sunset! This was a physically long and arduous day in which many of the group were seen as food for swarms of tiny insects and some JoLters even decided that kayaking would be much more challenging upside down! We journeyed on to Kimberley and stopped to visit the largest hand dug mine in the world – ‘the Big Hole’. There was a fascinating museum not to mention the shops and café!
We travelled through Bloemfontein towards the Lesotho border. With minimal fuss crossing the border we set off up and up and up. Lesotho presented itself with magnificent highland terrain and farming plateaus in the shadows of high peaks. We stayed in Malealea, a small village that centred around the lodge where we were staying. Malealea Lodge was our home for three nights and it provided a spectacular setting to relax after hard days of pony trekking, walking around the village learning about the Basotho customs and beliefs and of course a visit to the local school. The school visit was truly inspirational seeing how the teacher, ‘Mother Theresa’, taught the children in her class using the limited facilities available to her. An impromptu concert followed and we were blown away with the local children’s beautiful singing. After only 3 days we said a sad goodbye to Lesotho as some felt they could have stayed in Malealea forever but nevertheless excitement was brewing as to what to expect in South Africa.
As we had to go up, up and up to Lesotho, down, down, down was the direction towards South Africa and the garden route. The journey was now entering its final third. We had experienced so much and gone through so many emotions it was hard to imagine what we could possibly do next. After the longest day driving of the journey (10 hours approx) the group arrived in Graaf Rinet. Here we stayed in a friendly guesthouse where the staff went out of their way to provide whatever we needed. We visited another school here, much bigger than in Malealea but equally as friendly and interesting. The group were welcomed with singing from the class and the gift was returned by Jolt with a signing/signing classic of ‘Animal Fair’ much to the bamboozlement of the class. The games lesson allowed the Jolters to play traditional African games and make new friends in the process. Another international football match ended in a diplomatic draw but the large crowd was delighted with the entertainment.
From Graaf Rinet we travelled to Addo Elephant Park. A night game drive gave us a different perspective of southern African wildlife and the 3 week old baby hyenas were truly a treat. With the penultimate night of camping behind us, we set off to Storms River for some high wire tree top swinging action. Zip wires took us high in the air from platform to platform with individuals controlling their own speed of descent. This was done in varying styles with some deciding the tree in front was the best way to stop, but all finished with adrenalin rushes and beaming smiles. The action continued in the following days by Jolt being surrounded by the biggest land mammal, sea mammal and the biggest bird on the planet. First of all we tried elephant riding at Knysna where after the ride the elephant was rewarded by dribbling saliva all over us while we fed them fruit with our hands. Then it was off to Plettenburg Bay for whale watching that didn’t disappoint. At one point the boat was surrounded by eight mating Southern Rite Whales! Finally ostrich-riding finished off the big beast three days. (Much to the relief of some as ostriches aren’t everyone’s favourite bird!).
The final port of call for Jolt 08 was Cape Town. Although not the capital city, it is definitely the flag ship city of South Africa. We started with a speed boat tour of the port and coastal area of the city before a trip to Robben Island gave us yet a greater insight to the history and politics of South Africa. A big surprise came soon after with a daring journey under the sea to search for Great White Sharks. This truly tested some of the group’s will power and determination as the activity required each JoLter to climb into the cage tied to the side of a small boat in freezing water with Great Whites circling everywhere. We are pleased to report no limbs were lost although a piece of floating aid from one boat did suffer a massive bite! During the boat ride back, it was only when the sea sickness subsided did we realise what an amazing experience we had just encountered and how happy and grateful we were to be able to share it with one another.
Our final two days were more luxurious as a hotel provided our beds with souvenir shopping, eating in restaurants and helicopter rides over Cape Town. JoLt positively stole the show at one restaurant when 32 JoLters spontaneously joined in with the African singing and dancing. An undeniable testament to the friendship made throughout the journey. It was an evening that will live long in the memory of everyone who witnessed it, as will the end of journey show provided by the JoLters with some very interesting sketches to say the least. A visit to the High Commission and a cable car to the top of Table Mountain used up our final few hours in Cape Town before it was time for tears and the flight home.
The success of each journey owes much to the teamwork, courage, good humour and personalities of the 24 youngsters and eight leaders who participated. To every single member of the team who contributed so much and who benefited so much from the expedition, life will never quite be the same again. Problems will not vanish but we hope that each participant will feel better able to cope with the problems that life throws at them; better able to take control of their own lives and destinies, and better able to look positively and creatively towards the future. JoLt blood now flows in their veins and, we are sure, they will be more determined and more confident of their own ability to find solutions to problems and to achieve their hopes and dreams. We hope that they will continue to turn to us in times of trouble and in times of success.
Without the help of friends old and new, companies and charitable trusts, the 2008 ‘Journey of a Lifetime would never have been possible. We are greatly indebted to you and to all the people who worked so hard both here in Britain and in southern Africa, to ensure that this was truly a ‘Journey of a Lifetime’. We thank you for your friendship and support but most of all we thank you for caring.
A JoLter writes:
I haven’t been able to do this e-mail as quickly as I’d have liked to, my emotions of the most amazing month of my life seemed to get the better of me!
What is there to say apart from thank you for such a beautiful and unforgettable experience! I have memories that will stay with me for a lifetime and Africa has really changed my outlook on a few things – for the better!
There is nothing I would like more than to start the trip all over again, but as well as being sad that it’s over, I’m so, so glad that it happened and that I got an opportunity others could only dream about .Your unconditional kindness will never fade in my mind, including that of all the leaders on the trip.
A foster Mum writes:
I just wanted to thank you for the brilliant time XXX had on the expedition. XXX told me so much about her time and how much she loved it all. She was very down for the first few days, adjusting to being back and missing all the people she had shared everything with for the past four weeks.
The experience in Africa meant a lot to XXX and I think you are all doing a marvellous job! We will try and put our heads together to think of how to fund-raise to enable other young people to have a similar experience.
A Dad writes:
I appreciate that you are extremely busy following your recent safe return from South Africa, however, we felt that we needed to thank you and everyone involved, for allowing YYY to participate in JoLt 2008, and for looking after his welfare whilst he was away.
Despite his ‘re entry’ phase, he has been showing us the photographs he has taken, each one having maybe a little story to tell or fact he had learnt, and of tales about the people he met on his travels.
Some of the stories he has told us have had us laughing and some have been tinged with emotion. He told us that the sense of achievement he had at various stages filled him with exhilaration and inspiration to such an extent that at times he had to hold back the tears.
To say that he found the whole experience rewarding would be somewhat of an understatement, as I have no doubt it has had a profound and positive impact upon his self development and has reinforced his determination to travel extensively in the future; indeed he told us that he would like to take his mother and myself with him back to Namibia to show us the places he visited.
Since he has been home, he has been in touch with fellow JoLters, having formed close and meaningful relationships with individuals who a few months ago, were complete strangers, but who are now ‘friends for life’ and he is looking forward to future reunions.
YYY has said that to him JoLt has been ‘just the beginning of a Journey of a Lifetime’ a statement that we felt was most powerful and emotive and one that reinforces the philosophy of JoLt.
Supporters of JoLt 2008
We are indebted to friends old and new, to the companies, schools, charitable trusts and strangers without whom the 2008 Journey of a Lifetime would not have been possible. We are grateful also to the people who worked so hard in Britain, Namibia, Lesotho and South Africa to ensure its success. We thank you for your friendship and support, but most of all we thank you for caring.
JoLt 2008 Participants
Download short biographies of all those who took part in JoLt’08.