An eight day Namibia trip

Johan du Preez's picture

Points: 10

DAY 1 – HEADING NORTH

Stellenbosch, Klapmuts, Paarl, Malmesbury. Towns with soft on the ear sounding names located in a moderate Mediterranean wine-producing climate, were gradually replaced by towns in a harsher climate with less tranquil names as three motorcyclists on BMW R1200GS adventure motorcycles gradually made their way North on the South Africa/Namibia national road. 

Not only did the riders observe the change in climate as they moved further away from where they started, but also the effect that the change in season had on nature as they went along. The brown, dying leaves of the vines appropriately dressed for fall, were replaced by lush green orchards of orange trees in the Olifants River valley 200 km North of Cape Town. Here they witnessed the approaching winter life of growth and abundance as they already could see glimpses of orange coloured fruit, as if in a shy manner and trying to hide their metamorphosis, amongst the trees mostly still carrying their loads of unripe, green oranges.

Further North towns named Nuwerus, Bitterfontein and Garies started to reflect the harsh and arid landscape that the riders were now traversing. Even though the foreign traveller may not even understand these indigenous names, the mere sound of them would be enough to make them realise that these desperate names had something to do with hardship. Having to beg for water in these dry surroundings at a fountain with probably no or very little water was probably good enough reason to name a remote spot in this part of the world Smeekfontein.

But then, in spite of the barren landscape that they were navigating, they started to appreciate the beauty of it. Shortly after leaving Bitterfontein, the landscape changed from flat and barren to files of low mountains for as far as the eye could see.

"Did mother nature indeed create this special world of sheer and barren beauty with the distant mountains looking out of focus? Was it my eyes, or did she really manage to layer them on top of each other in shades of blue and grey as they disappeared into the never-ending distance?“ it flashed through the mind of one of the riders as he observed the panorama that kept on changing as they were speeding along.

And all the time they were heading North, their destination Namibia. They were on the first leg of their journey to experience an eight day motorcycle travel adventure in a country known for its raw splendour - ancient desserts, barren coastlines and wide open planes – a venture that most people can only dream of.

But it would probably turn out to be more than only an adventure. Already they could sense an element of a pilgrimage growing in their guts and the hope of finding more than merely a tourist experience. Without saying it, already there was the anticipation of again finding their true selves far away from the rushed everyday world that they were now leaving behind.

And as the three riders traveled in unison at high speed in close formation, the late afternoon sun on their left casting their longer and longer growing shadows to their right, they had only one direction to follow – North, North, keep going North to where Namibia beckons... 

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The three riders - Willem, Johan and Adriaan...

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...and their motorcycles

DAY 2 – INTO NAMIBIA

Clearing the formalities at the border post offered us more than merely access into Namibia - it actually set us free.

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We – Adriaan, Willem and I – came to explore a part of this vast country. And as our motorcycles headed West on the gravel road closely following the lazy flow of the Orange River, we realised in awe that we will be getting more from this wonderful country than what we could ever ask for.

"Barren moon landscape" was an understatement of what we saw and experienced for the next 160 km. With the river and water permanently to the left of the road, one would expect lush vegetation to the right. But the absence of vegetation was simply amplified by the rigid and barren low mountains with exposed black rocky surfaces and loose boulders which continued for kilometre after kilometre. A pale half-moon above, clearly visible in the midday sunlight, added to the eeriness that surrounded us.

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Depending on the angle of the sun, the black shiny surfaces at times reflected a golden shine when viewed through my Polaroid sunglasses. "Would the gold be a promise of what was waiting for us for the next eight days?" I wondered as I negotiated the wavy, twisty road.

At a control point close to Rosh Pinah, we were waved down by a police member and two soldiers who were managing the post. After completing formalities, I politely asked if I could take a photograph of them. The abrupt "no!" confirmed that my policy of first asking permission before taking pictures of people was still appropriate. And I realised that it was even more correct to do so if those that you want to have in the picture, were wearing camouflage uniforms and carrying semi-automatic rifles.

North of Rosh Pinah the landscape offered wider, open spaces with low mountain ranges still prominent. But now, for the first time, dunes on the outskirts of the Namib Desert – the oldest desert in the world – started to appear in the distance to the West. And gradually it dawned on me why I had to undertake this journey. As I was entering a new phase in my personal life, I had to be here to rediscover myself against the backdrop of something else that was new to me. What I needed was not another new city where the neon lights flash "fool’s gold, fool’s gold" in rhythmic cycles, but a new environment of open plains and magnificent dunes anchored in history as old as the world itself, Namibia and the Namib desert.

We were traveling on a tar road now. And as the rhythm of three BMW boxer engined adventure motorcycles carried us further and further into the beckoning hinterland, I was humbly looking forward to the life refreshing experience that awaited me in this country called Namibia.

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Sunset at the end of a perfect day's riding

DAY 3 – A PERCEIVED INTERLUDE CHANGED INTO A BLISSFUL JOURNEY

We slept at the Klein-Aus Vista: Desert Horse Inn and left Aus in cold morning weather. However, the low clouds soon dispersed and we continued in bright sunshine to Helmeringhausen 100 km to the North East. 

I was expecting a rather uneventful day. The map did not promise much excitement on this leg of the journey. Perhaps we would be experiencing a kind of interlude before we reached the more interesting destinations.

In the end the trip turned out to be particularly enjoyable. 

Although it was supposed to be a relatively easy ride to Helmeringhausen, the nature of the gravel road required full alertness and attention as the surface would alter from hard sections to loose gravel, even patches of sand at times. Brushing up on my off-road riding skills and deliberately applying the principles of riding an adventure motorcycle on roads like these, I soon felt comfortable while travelling at relative high speeds. Maintaining traction and keeping momentum at the same time was of utmost importance. And simply ignoring the slight swaying of the motorcycle’s back end at times, of even more value.

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Coffee and apple tart at the only coffee shop in the hamlet of Helmeringhausen, revived the body, mind and spirit.

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The surface of the gravel roads from Helmeringhausen to Maltahöhe (117 km) and from there to Ababis Guest Farm (131 km) close to Solitaire were in excellent condition. Handling the bike at high, yet responsible speeds, did more than merely put a broad grin on my face. It especially set my still clogged mind free. The real pilgrimage had finally begun. 

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We arrived around 15:00 at the Ababis Guest Farm, 12 km from Solitaire, where we decided to camp for the night. Supper that evening was on the veranda of the grand old farm house together with our hosts Kathrin and Uwe Schulze Neuhoff as well as guests from Germany and the USA respectively. We tried to make general conversation and to involve all around the table, but in the end it was mainly about BMW motorcycles. Lucky for us, Uwe was an enthusiast with his own rather exclusive BMW Paris-Dakar – an earlier version of the GS series – waiting for him back in Germany.

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A beautiful and truly Namibian sunrise formed the backdrop while we were packing the bikes the next morning. Day 4 was about to begin! 

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DAY 4 – FEELING SMALL

A journey in this part of the world would not be complete without the compulsory stop at Moose McGregor's bakery at Solitaire. 

Solitaire is in the middle of nowhere with nothing more than a filling station, a place to sleep and eat and a landmark selection of old motorcar wrecks at the turnoff. It also has a bakery where the most delightful and freshly baked treats can be bought – apple tart being the signature delicacy. 

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However, things will never be the same for the bakery anymore. Moose McGregor passed away earlier this year. At a quiet section of the bakery counter visitors can sign a book and pay tribute to a legend from this part of the world who has made a success of the unthinkable – an internationally known bakery at Solitaire somewhere in the middle of Namibia. 

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Still on a good gravel road on the way to Swakopmund , I was expecting to reach the outskirts of the desert not too long after leaving Solitaire. Again Namibia proved me wrong. Between the plains around Solitaire and the start of the desert, we first had to negotiate the Kuiseb Pass on the Eastern entrance to the Namib-Naukluft Park. This unexpected, amazing and winding pass with its sharp corners took us deep down into what felt like the gut of the earth to cross the Kuiseb River at its lowest point. Off-road riding heaven! 

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And then the contrast. Rising from what could have been the inners of the earth, we reached flat open plains so wide that it was virtually impossible to identify where land and sky met at a non-existing horizon.

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And there was more to come. Riding West on a never-ending and straight gravel road and focusing all the time on the road itself, it was possible to miss the gradual change from flat grasslands to flat nothing. 

And that is exactly what happened to me. At a rest stop, I suddenly realised that my riding has taken me into the desert – to me a very strange and rare desert. No high dunes, but only sand, patches of rock and a flat nothingness for as far as the eye could see. And as the newcomer to this ancient world of barren geographical history, I felt like an intruder who did not belong there. I was the privileged freshman who was allowed to catch a mere glimpse of a vastness and immensity that could not be described in words. And I felt small and insignificant. 

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I continued my journey, my eyes constantly sweeping over the unforgiving limitlessness around me. This was the crescendo, the climax of the pilgrimage that I had embarked on. The experience drained me from all pretense that could still have remained inside me. Pretense was not possible when confronted by this desolate natural wonder.  

Closer to Walvis Bay, high dunes started to appear. Having been riding for a 100 km in this stark wilderness and more than 200 km since we left Solitaire this morning, the desert and my solitude were now complete. 

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DAY 5 – A REST DAY

We were staying for two nights at La Sirenetta Bed and Breakfast in Swakopmund with Laura and Braam as our hosts.

Actually, they were more than hosts – they were family with Willem and Braam being the long-lost cousins who could not stop reminiscing about the uncles and aunts and about growing up together.

With four days of riding behind us, it really felt as if we arrived home. Although we asked for little, we received hospitality, care and friendship in abundance. Laura and Braam could not stop spoiling us.

Day 5 had been set aside as a rest day. We had a late start and did very little apart from having had our clothes washed and relaxing at a coffee shop or two, enjoying the German culture and atmosphere that Swakopmund is renowned for.

That evening we enjoyed a fish braai with fish that Braam and Willem caught earlier that day. A perfect rest day in Swakopmund ended off by an excellent meal and wonderful company!

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Swakopmund sunset

DAY 6 – STILL NO END TO NAMIBIA’S SPLENDOUR

Back on the bikes again! We were heading East for Windhoek via the C28. 325 km of gravel road awaited us, first traversing the flat, Northern tip of the Namib-Naukluft Park and then into the Khomas Hochland mountainous region.

“Expect something of the Baviaans Kloof in the Khomas Hochland,” Adriaan said while we were having breakfast at Raith’s Bakery before leaving Swakopmund. Looking at the delightful variety of freshly baked brötchen on display and listening to the German speaking clientele, I had to remind myself that I was in Namibia and not in Bavaria.

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We filled up with petrol at the last petrol station before leaving Swakopmund as there would be no facility to refuel before reaching Windhoek, more than 300 km away. 

For the first 100 km I again was overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of the desert. Once more, as two days before, I watched in awe as kilometre after kilometre of harsh wasteland rolled by. The only difference today was that I was able to see the horizon. An early start and the cool morning air must have contributed to this.

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Like a well-rehearsed changing of the set on the stage between two acts during a play, so unexpectedly and suddenly did the landscape change when we reached the Khomas Hochland. At one moment we were surrounded by desert, only to enter rolling hills and rigid mountains covered with grassland and trees when the curtains lifted for Act 2 of the day’s journey. For the next 200 km we negotiated solid gravel surfaces, alternated by not so solid stretches with even a few unexpected spots of rather deep sand here and there. Having been on unpaved roads for six days now, we took whatever the road offered us in a stride.

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One of the highlights of this section of road was the Boshua Pass. “Expect something of the Baviaans Kloof in the Khomas Hochland,” Adriaan said earlier that morning. And so it was, an ongoing winding road through the mountains with tight bends which culminated in a climb so steep, that it was necessary to pave a section of the road to ensure traction and to prevent wheel spin and damage to the road surface.

Reaching the top of the pass took our breath even further away as we observed in wonder the panorama that had unfolded beneath us. Again, Namibia made me feel small.

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A stopover at Windhoek would be imperfect if it did not include a visit to Joe’s Beer House. That night we feasted on more meat than what I could eat before settling down for a well-deserved rest. Although my body was sleeping, my mind kept on exploring the day’s highlights – Act 1 and Act 2 of the ultimate reality show with a script written and presented by Namibia’s Mother Nature herself!   

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DAY 7 – GOOD FOR CLOCKING UP THE KILOMETRES

Change grip, shift body, stand up, sit down, stretch legs, open visor, close visor, look up, look down, try to think of a new song to hum…

Perhaps it was not that bad, but the contrast of the previous days’ exhilarating rides made the B1 tar road and the 656 km that we had to travel from Windhoek to Grünau at 120 km/h feel like cleaning one’s garage – something which has to be done, but, oh, it’s so boring, tedious and mind-numbing.

The light at the end of the tunnel (or should I say the gravel at the end of the tar) was Ais-Ais, our planned destination for the day, 762 km from Windhoek.

Riding the final 70 km to this hot springs spa and resort, I had only one thought in my mind – to relax in the warm indoor spa pool that was waiting for us. As it was towards the end of the Namibian holiday season, accommodation (with breakfast included) was readily available. Unwinding in luxury in the undercover thermal baths soon made us forget about the long ride to this spot of freedom – Ais-Ais, the place with a name which means ‘burning water’.

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DAY 8 – GOING BACK HOME

Not yet. Going home was for later today. We first had to see the Fish River Canyon.

This natural wonder is the second largest canyon in the world. The gigantic ravine is about 160 km long, up to 27 km wide and in places almost 550 metres deep.

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From Ais-Ais it was a 68 km gravel road ride to the lookout point at Hobas. As it was early morning, the veld had a different and fresher smell to it than yesterday afternoon on the way in to Ais-Ais. Even the colours and textures in nature around me were more vibrant and pronounced.

“Go ahead and show off, Namibia! It is, after all, our last day to experience the wonders that you have to offer!” I shouted inside my helmet.

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The only sound that one could hear while overlooking the gigantic ravine, was that of cameras clicking. Perhaps it was the magnitude of what we saw that left us speechless. Perhaps it was our inability to find words to describe this vista that made us remain quiet. As if adhering to an unwritten rule, nobody said a word. 

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And then it was time to go home. We covered the 200 km to Noordoewer in good time and went smoothly through the border post at around one o’clock the afternoon. From there it was steady and focused riding to try to cover the almost 700 km home before sunset.

Those who know the characteristics of the BMW boxer engine will be familiar with the reassuring and almost hypnotising resonance that comes from these solid engines while cruising at high speed. And with this symphony as background in my ears, I replayed our Namibian experience over the past eight days as we journeyed home. I especially recalled my need for an adventure to clear my head and to find myself again.

But it turned out to be much more than only an adventure. I’ve experienced a pilgrimage which cleansed my mind and soothed my soul. Namibia allowed me to again find my true self, far away from the rushed and everyday world that I’ve left behind at the start of the journey.

Piketberg, Mooreesburg, Malmesbury, Stellenbosch. I was back in familiar territory with towns with soft on the ear sounding names. But it now had a fresh ring to it. I was a new person.

Thank you, Adriaan. Thank you, Willem. And....thank you, Namibia!

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Tony's picture
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Joined: 2008/08/24

Great trip report Johan - very well written, not to mention the photos.

A bend in the road is not the end of the road... unless you fail to make the turn. ~Author Unknown

GeelKameel's picture
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Joined: 2007/06/21

Baie dankie vir 'n lekker storie!

Ek het nog altyd opgesien teen die lang afstande om SuidWes te besoek, maar lyk my daar is iets aan SWA wat mens ontdek/ervaar wat baie meer is as wat mens verwag. Hmmm dalk moet ek dit tog maar eendag doen.

Voorspoed met al die nuwe dinge wat vorentoe vir jou wag!

Cloudgazer Steven's picture
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Joined: 2007/10/03

great report. inspirational.

been meaning to do namibia for 3 years now - but getting away for 2 weeks is problematic.

There are so many problems in this world. Luckily there's a wristband available for almost all of them.
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Joined: 2007/06/25

And another wonderfully written trip report with excellent photographs. Thank you for sharing. 

Think before you ink.

Trust is the most valuable asset.

I have the rest of my life to get old.

Marais Kotze's picture
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Joined: 2013/08/13

Great Report, do you have the GPS route to share

Johan du Preez's picture
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Joined: 2007/06/20

We used Tracks for Africa. Would that be of help to you?

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Marais Kotze's picture
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Joined: 2013/08/13

can you forward the route file for me i think it is a .gdb file.

 

Thanx

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Joined: 2008/01/28

What a great report. Thanks.

Johan du Preez's picture
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Joined: 2007/06/20

Marais, I'm not sure how to attach the route files to a posting on this website. I've sent you an e-mail with more information.

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Marais Kotze's picture
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Joined: 2013/08/13

Great much apprecaited...

Adrian Lee's picture
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Joined: 2010/11/04

Makes me lus to buy another BMW and do Namibia again :)

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Joined: 2007/06/25

Adrian, If you snooze you looseSmile buy that bike. 

Think before you ink.

Trust is the most valuable asset.

I have the rest of my life to get old.

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Joined: 2007/06/25

Adrian, If you snooze you looseSmile buy that bike. 

Think before you ink.

Trust is the most valuable asset.

I have the rest of my life to get old.

Andyman's picture
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Joined: 2007/06/22

Charlie, your taste sucks!!!!

this trip report is far superior to the other two mentioned.

 Although good, enjoyable and entertaining, this report wins hands down!

 The other two will also agree.

 

well done!

good resource for information, good detail,

 and one that has already attracted other adventurers to follow.

is that not after all the purpose? To creat footsteps for us to want to follow.

i can see Nam will feature in our next Trip To Anywhere tour in 2014.

awesome photos.

 I've 'shared' this with a few peeps from abroad to whet their wish lists and help them understand why I continue to live here despite Zumo steeling the poor blind.

viva Namibia trips! Viva!

Andyman
Anyone can ride a bike fast....   But can you ride your bike real slow???

Marais Kotze's picture
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Joined: 2013/08/13

agree Andy

Charles Oertel's picture
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Joined: 2007/04/14
  1. Taste is a subjective thing.
  2. The rules are that you must be present to receive the trophy.
  3. I never said this trip report wasn't great.

Currently in our office they are making us have a baking competition for "team-building".  I use a random-number generator to score my colleagues' efforts.  It is just as good as giving my own subjective impression of a score.

Committee: Webmaster / Ride Captain

Johan du Preez's picture
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Joined: 2007/06/20

Hokaai, Guys! Embarassed

My trip report was not about being better than other trip reports or about winning a prize of sorts. All I wanted to do was to share my experiences of a trip that was very special to me, with like-minded people.

Thank you to all for your positive response and feedback on my article. It made my heart feel warm.

Thank you also to Andy and Charles who stirred a bit. Not only do I enjoy your frank communication and honest opinions, but it reminds me what our Club is all about - uniting different people with sometimes different opinions around what we love most...our BMW motorcycles and the world that it opens up for us!  

Viva BMW! Smile

n/a
Stan's picture
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Joined: 2010/03/21

Adrian, maybe it's time to get that KTM this time ;)

Charles Oertel's picture
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Joined: 2007/04/14

Spot on Johan.  The competition is a bit tongue-in-cheek.  There was never any pressure, and from the comments at the club meeting many people enjoyed and were inspired by your report.

I enjoyed it thoroughly also and appreciate the time it took to compose.  Your photographic eye is a pleasure to witness.  Well done and thanks.

 

Committee: Webmaster / Ride Captain

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Joined: 2014/01/22

Hello Johan...excelent ride report...enjoyed reading it....if you dont mind...i need to ask you summing...i am riding up to Namibia for work at the end of this week. and i want to ride the C13 from Noordoewer past Ausengher to Aus and then on to Luderitz. It seems that you rode the C13 this way to Aus....i am not familiar with riding in sand....and i struggle to lift the 1200 ... so because i am going solo , i would not want to encounter any of that stuff on the C13 ride.....how did you find the road surface, and were there any sandy streches/patches on your ride to Aus...any info would be most appreciated....Thank You...Mike

Johan du Preez's picture
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Joined: 2007/06/20

Mike, the C13 along the flow of the Orange River is a hard surface gravel road. We did not encounter sand when we did the trip in the beginning of May this year. Beautiful stretch of road.

The road is tarred from Rosh Pinah to Aus.

n/a
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Joined: 2014/01/22

Hey tks a mill Johan....now really looking forward to my trip......very much appreciate your feedback......Laughing

 

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