Archive for the ‘Friends adventurous expeditions’ Category

Twelve months ago we started plotting an expedition over lunch, on a rain-soaked day in the Franschhoek Valley. The resulting brief was to combine good exercise with a pioneering adventure and an exhilarating wildlife experience – the old school way. The redoubtable James Varden was to lead this inaugural adventure into the unknown. Its purpose was to test-run future mini-expeditions for our guests and create some lasting memories for us, so we threw together a motley crew for the first run in June and told them absolutely nothing apart from:

• We are going to Zimbabwe
• We will walk +/- 20 km per day in a remote wilderness area, thick with wildlife
• Bring a day pack which carries at least 3 litres of water
• We stay in bush-camps
• Make sure you wear in your boots and bring bush-coloured attire, and a sense of humour!

This was no ordinary walk, traversing three blocks, in the remote Savé Conservancy, in the lowveld of South East Zimbabwe. James had gone down in advance to recce a route, between four bush-camps, and we drove down to meet him from Harare for six nights in the bush absorbing the sights, sounds and smells of Africa. We heard lion every night and morning, tracked black and white rhino, navigated through herds of ellies and around buffalo and walked through some magnificent scenery. The food and hospitality was superb and we all came away beaming, knowing we had been privileged to have sole access to this wonderful part of Africa, for a piece of time.

This year we are organising the same walk for two groups of four to six people, led by James, between the months of May and July. You need to be bush savvy (it is in an area of dangerous game) and be prepared to walk 20 km per day for five days. It is led by one of the best guides in the business for his knowledge, passion and enthusiasm for his country and its flora and fauna, not to mention his pranks. This is an adults only walk but older children may be considered. The overview is below and for some drone footage of the Chishakwe area we walked in CLICK HERE


You will be walking through the bush on bush trails and the occasional dirt track through parts of the Save Conservancy in South East Zimbabwe. It is a Big 5 area so there is a possibility of bumping into animals considered to be dangerous game. James will be armed and will know how best to react in this eventuality.

In addition to Big 5 the Conservancy is home to a large diversity of game animals and you are likely to see zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, eland, kudu, impala, waterbuck, sable, bush buck, nyala, duiker, warthog etc. You may well see wild dog, hyena (brown and spotted), jackal, serval etc too. Though it is rare you might see cheetah.

The bird life is spectacular and those who are interested will not be disappointed. James will be able to point out a myriad of small species (mongoose, squirrel, porcupine etc). Naturally there is also abundant insect and reptile life which can also be a source of fascination.

Save Valley Conservancy is famous for its huge and abundant baobabs and there are at least two trees which are recorded in books for their size and age. It is also well known for its vast mopane forests … in fact a BBC documentary was made on them just after our walk.

You will not see roan antelope, tsesebe, hartebeest, gemsbok or blesbok as they do not occur in the conservancy.
There is no shortage of any of the big 5 species in the conservancy so there is a reasonably strong chance of you see seeing most or all of these species. They would say you are pretty much guaranteed elephant and buffalo, the cats will be trickier as you will be moving around in the daylight. Rhino tend to be very secretive but it is not that uncommon to come across them, but you will have the opportunity of tracking them. One of the highlights of the walk.


James has established himself as one of Southern Africa’s pre-eminent guides. He has conducted walking trails in Mana Pools, Hwange and Matusadona, all dangerous wildlife areas. His passion for all aspects of nature, particularly birding and botany, combined with a keen emphasis on very active, adventurous and energetic safaris meant that guests left with as full a safari experience as one could get.

From November 1997 until now, James has focused on the guiding (including on horseback and on water) and wildlife issues, becoming more involved in issues that threaten wilderness values and areas. James and his wife Janine have started Community Projects in the Mavhuradonha Wilderness 600 sq.km boundary, including Honey for Money.

James has guided in South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania and Uganda. Twice scaled Kilimanjaro and done the three main peaks of the Ruwenzori Mountains.
He has also birded extensively in the Far East, Australia and visited Antarctica. Sir Ranulph Feinnes has been one of James’s clients. More info on http://www.vardensafaris.com

There will be an opportunity to fish for bass, bream and barbel

It might or might not be possible to see the dogs on foot depending on where they den. If we are lucky and they are near a camp you are staying in you will be able to go out of foot. We can arrange a visit to the dog den with the researchers, or perhaps we convince them to join you for dinner. This is a rare occurrence and is charged separately by the African Wildlife Conservation Fund should you want to do it.

Guests arrange flights to Harare and can either take road transfer in, between 5 and 6 hours, or you can private charter from Harare into a bush airstrip. We would recommend a road transfer one way to see some lovely scenery on the way down and private charter out.

+/-$220 – 250 per person per day for accommodation and food. Not including drinks (6 nights x $250 = $1500 pp)
$500 per day for guide – split between you
$50 per day for guide accommodation and food – split between you

Extras – Drinks, flights, transfers, hunting, wild dog research



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Now that she is in the thick of the race, only now do you realise what an immense effort this is.

Here are her postings from her departure from the UK, via my brother Nick:

8 April: Ash left Mells yesterday afternoon and spent the evening with her tent buddies, a chicken burger and a Diet coke at a Gatwick hotel. After a 7am flight full of MdS athletes she made it to Morocco in one piece this morning – there’s a pic attached of her with the guy who started it all – Patrick Bauer. He founded the MdS and has co-ordinated every race since – a helpful person to meet!

As you can see she looks stress-free, happy and relaxed, which is brilliant news for the next week. She definitely left us in good spirits – all your well-wishes have helped hugely so thank you for those.

After a 6 hour bus journey she will be in camp this evening. Tomorrow is an admin and medical check day. Any news from her and I will update you tomorrow.

9 April: I heard from Ash last night. ..‘Very windy night and very cold I had to really layer up. Packed weighed in at 7.5kg which is ok. The first day is the massive chebbi dunes which is quite scary. Tent mates are great.’

10 April: I haven’t had news from Ash overnight but she managed to get a text away just before the race started:

‘It’s me the morning of the race massive sand storm last night but slept through it and was warm we are about to head into the biggest dunes in Morocco! Feeling excited and emotional!’
10 April:‘sorry so late to email, today was a difficult first day with miles and miles of massive dunes and very very hot… I felt ok but savage wind and bar-simm said the hardest first day he has ever experienced. I am hoping tomorrow will be better but I got through it….. thanks so much for all those who sent emails they have been great going to bed love you all very much.. hope you saw the web cam xxxxxxx

Barr-Sim is a chap from Frome who has done 3 MDS before

11 April: ‘day 2 done…41km today of hot slog… It took me 8hrs 45 and was as toughas yesterday but in a different way. No sandstorms and less wind but still quitewindy. I walked abit with an oldman fromZim called Ash and also with agirl inthetnt next to me. Tentmates verykind and lovley to me. I have heat rash and a few blisters but feet inok state. Ihvehad somanylovley messges tonight… 3 pages!!! amazing and really greatmotivaion.Tell the kids I went to doc trotters! they fixed up my feet. Love my play lists they mad e mecry yesterday….Thought aboutyou alot today…xxxxxxxxxxx PS sorry the spellingso shotthe key board is cvered in sand and does not work properly xxxx’

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Ash has just completed the 2nd stage of the Marathon des Sables (Marathon of the Sands) today. She has been training for two years.

It is a six-day, 251 km (156 mi) ultramarathon, which is the equivalent of six regular marathons. The longest single stage (2009) is 91 km (57 mi) long. This multiday race is held every year in southern Morocco, in the Sahara Desert, close to the Algerian border. It is considered the toughest foot race on Earth. Some would consider her tough as nuts, others just plain nuts!

Message from Ash before first stage ..‘Very windy night and very cold I had to really layer up. Packed weighed in at 7.5kg which is ok. The first day is the massive chebbi dunes which is quite scary. Tent mates are great.’

Here’s a pic of those dunes they all faced yesterday, on the first stage, and the founder, on arrival in Morocco, Patrick Bauer and a pic of her reaching end of stage 2 a few minutes ago.….

You can see James Cracknells’ Documentary https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0Qak8e4vYA

If you would like to donate, here is a message from Ash below photos.

Dear All,

I wanted to give you all un update on fundraising… incredibly I have now managed to smash my target of £3275.00… with 75 donations…. TODAY I tipped over the £5,000 mark (with gift aid) I am honestly speechless and so blown away by the incredible generosity and kindness. THANKYOU everyone…. for all your messages as well it is just the best motivation…


So, with only 2 days to go until I leave home… I thought I would send you all some race info incase you want to track me… I the leave the UK on the 8th April to travel to the race start deep in the desert. The race begins on Sunday 10th And there are a number of ways you can track me if you are interested during the following 7 days.

The important info is that my race bib number is 1149 and full name Ashley Sinfield (GBR)

Website : Each day on our website we publish everything you need to know about MDS: details of each stage, overall and stage rankings, portraits, interviews, live streaming of competitors passing the finish line. 
→ http://marathondessables.com
For friends and family keen to get a taste of the MARATHON DES SABLES adventure from the inside, nothing could be easier: tell them to sign up at the address below. They will then be able to follow the race live starting from 10 April, in two different, complementary ways:
[if !supportLists]§  [endif]Live tracking: simply select the runners you want to follow and get information on the fly;
[if !supportLists]§  [endif]Geolocalization: in real time, your supporters can follow your progress on the field, as if they were at your side. Or follow my dot on the screen to make sure it is still moving!!!! I will also try to wave at the camera at the end of each stage if I can.
→ To follow MDS 2016: http://live.marathondessables.com
The course will be long on the 31st MARATHON DES SABLES: 257 km to be exact. That is, if you don’t wander off the most direct route. To keep up your spirits, each evening you can receive encouragement from your loved ones. How does it work? Once again, it’s very simple: from 09 to 15 April (i.e. from the technical control day to the penultimate day of the race), they can go on the MDS website and the section “Write to a competitor”, then just follow the instructions, indicating the first and last names and bib number of the person they want to follow. No file attachments possible. Their messages will be given to you on the bivouac every evening, on paper.
→ To send a message to a loved-one:

Thanks you all again.

With much love Ash xxx

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Please find details on how to book tickets on the link below:

Tim Butcher talk Sept 11, 2014

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Rear-Admiral Dorian Hoy, able-fisherman master Sam Hoy and I (tackle-master, bottle washer, deck-scrubber) threw caution to the wind and took off up a channel from Maun to see how far we could get into the swamps in a day.

Laden with drinks, snacks, binos and fishing tackle we launched at dawn, following a GPS route which we had downloaded from a contact in Maun. Our aim was to get to Gunns Camp, in the middle of the swamps, about 90 km from riverbank in Maun, and come back via an adjoining channel, stop for a swim, lunch and catch as many species of fish that time would allow. It made for an interesting day out carving through forests of papyrus and keeping on track – it is very easy to lose yourself in the maze of channels with no clear landmarks to identify.

The first third of the journey was getting up to the Moremi Reserve post and after that point the wildlife began appearing in greater quantities. The water is clear and cool and very inviting. Once the coast had been checked for all manner of beasts we climbed in, fished, ate and drank some cold beers. Altogether it took around 8 hours and I landed my first African Pike. We hardly saw a soul.

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The choice of dribbling along for twenty-two hours across an expanse of water or battling for forty-eight hours across corrugated roads and bottomless potholes was an easy one. It was an especially easy decision as it was like entering a time capsule – The Kariba Ferry. We squeezed onto one of the three available berths reserved for Dogcatchers, turned off the ignition, and headed for a gin and tonic.

After almost two decades in dry dock the old Kariba Ferry, The Sea Lion, has been given a new lease of life and they are making up for lost time with their fares. Still, this is one of the most enjoyable ways to travel. We had a complement of perhaps a dozen passengers; one extended family and us. Our quarters were to find ourselves so we laid out two canvas mattresses on deck for the duration of the journey and made camp. We were joined, sardine fashion, at night, under the stars, by the other dozen which made for a cozy night. Drinks were preceded by plates of salty kapenta, the local whitebait, which made you want to drink more. The main meal was meat and two veg, and so good it was too, as was the impeccable service on board.

We stopped late into the day, in the middle of the lake, to change engines, and everyone went for a swim – crocs or no crocs it is the right thing to do. It is timeless. The chairs in the lounge reclined, and then turned into beds at night and they have never been replaced – nor had the blankets. But this is part of the charm, it was returning to the 70s, just without the bad haircuts, and long may it last.

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Best-selling author (Blood River) and adventure-traveller Tim Butcher lost friends in Sierra Leone during its civil war and was threatened with death by the Liberian warlord Charles Taylor, but he faced down these demons by trekking 350 miles through the jungle on an epic journey to one of Africa’s most overlooked regions. He wanted to learn how a society recovers after conflict so brutal it created some of modern Africa’s most troubling icons – child soldiers, blood diamonds, prisoner mutilation. Following a trail blazed in 1935 by a young and whisky-steeped Graham Greene, Tim slept in villages run by `devils’, masked spiritual figures who keep society’s secrets.

In his talk, Tim will describe an unforgettable adventure and how he encountered a remarkable spirit to survive. But he will also tackle difficult questions about how this spirit to survive rarely transforms into a spirit to thrive.’

Time: 7 pm

Date: Thursday 24th November

Venue: The Library, 16 Wilhelmina Street, Franschhoek

Cost: R100, including a light supper. Wine available

To reserve tickets please email bandoola@mweb.co.za

Tim Butcher is an award-winning journalist, broadcaster and best-selling author.  His first book, Blood River, used an account of an epic journey he made through the Congo to unravel the region’s turbulent history. It was a number one best-seller, translated into six languages and shortlisted for various book prizes. For his second book, Chasing the Devil, published recently, he trekked 350 miles through Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
On the staff of the Daily Telegraph from 1990 to 2009, he specialised in awkward places at awkward times, reporting on conflict in the Balkans, the Middle East, Africa and south Asia. In 2010 he received an Honorary Doctorate for service as a writer and was made Patron of Save The Congo, a British-based charity.
Born in Britain in 1967, he is based in Cape Town with his girlfriend and their two children.


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