Volunteer firefighters take on Namibia

Gareth Wright, Jennifer Fill and Bradley Bennell having the time of their lives in Namibia.

They met as volunteer firefighters, and after fighting flames together they decided they were up for the next challenge – an epic, month-long trip through Namibia.

Jennifer Fill, 29, a postdoctoral researcher at Stellenbosch University; Bradley Bennell, 29, freelance ICT technician and IT student from Gordon’s Bay; and Gareth Wright, 27, marketing consultant from Somerset West, all joined Volunteer Wildfire Services (VWS) in 2015 and are currently preparing for the 2016/15 fire season.

But before they entered training season, they spent June exploring Namibia, covering approximately 9 500km and visiting places such as Windhoek, Waterberg, Etosha, Ruacana Falls, Epupa Falls, Grootberg, Brandberg, Kolmanskop, Spitzkoppe, Swakopmund, Sossusvlei, Lüderitz, Dune 7 and Ais-Ais. The grand finale to the trip was a 90km hike in the Fish River Canyon.

Meeting fellow travellers, making team decisions, the diversity of the landscape and the absolute silence in the vast open spaces – far from cities, traffic, and noise – were some of their highlights.

For Jen, who hails from America, this trip was about having an adventure and discovering Namibia in all its beauty and diversity.

She loves the camaraderie and friendship of working as a team on the fire line and she experienced this during their trip.

“I discovered how grateful I was for these two friends who, in true firefighter team spirit, consistently made this a group experience in which we learned about ourselves and bonded with each other. I believe that the same qualities that inspired us to be firefighters have supported our exploration of Namibia as an adventurous team of friends.”

Brad agrees that their friendship has definitely grown stronger.

“We have a bond that will last a lifetime. Having gone through a trip like this – laughing together, being in awe together, excited beyond belief together, struggling together, worrying together… There’s nothing like it!”

More than ever before, he is looking forward to training and fighting fires together.

Gareth said that he not only found his passion for travel on this trip, but also two lifelong friends who will stick by him through thick and thin.

“Experiencing this with them was the real adventure.”

For him, joining VWS was about accepting a new challenge and giving back.

“Volunteering brings more than a sense of accomplishment. You’re joining a family of firefighters from all walks of life and you learn far more than firefighting.”

Tips

“June was a magnificent time of year to go – it was quiet and the weather was amazing.” – Brad

“While it’s good to stay flexible, having a planned route and booked accommodation will save you lots of stress.

“And the distances are a lot further than they look on the map. Allow time for stops along the way between places, especially if you want to take photographs or just have a break.” – Jen

“Don’t get caught up in one spot for too long. Leave camp early and enjoy the scenery along the way. You’re guaranteed to have your breath taken away every day of your trip!” – Gareth

“Towns are far apart and I mean far apart – always, always fill up with fuel when you come across a petrol station.

“We learnt this the hard way…” – Brad

“Be prepared for everything! Gareth even brought a siphon that saved us when we ran out of petrol!” – Jen

“Pack light and travel far. Take polarised sunglasses, a down jacket, a decent sleeping bag and a good camera.” – Gareth

“Decide what kind of trip you want to have – chilled and laid-back or fast-paced.

“You can see most of the gorgeous Namibian attractions if you pace it fast, but sometimes you’ll just want to really absorb the beauty and tranquillity of a location and spent some time there to truly take it in.” – Brad

Some absolute highlights:

* Keetmanshoop Mesosaurus Fossil Camp: A remote 4×4 bush camp in the Kalahari with the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets in a private quiver tree forest.

* The Golden Valley between Ruacana and Epupa Falls: North is where the real excitement lies! It’s rural and primitive, but the people are friendly. Outdoor butchers, police check points and lively shebeens offering ice cold Tafel Lager for 10 Namibian dollars become the norm.

* The D707 – arguably Namibia’s most scenic road. Namibia is a road-trip country and if there’s one road that sums up its beauty, it’s this hidden gem. A lonely bumpy road with thick sand in spots, mountains on the one side and brightly glowing sand dunes on the other.

It’s just too epic to describe and leaves you with an overwhelming sense of freedom.

Don’t expect to see too many fellow travellers.