Tuesday, May 22, 2012


In the winter of 2002 we, together with our friends, planned a trip to the beautiful Kunene region of northern Namibia.  This remote and sparsely populated area had many beautiful things to offer.  Besides the peace and quiet that we needed, the attractions included the Epupa falls, and the elusive desert elephants.  There also was another irresistible attraction for the men and their 4 x 4 machines; the infamous and extreme van Zyl’s pass or DR3703, rated as one of the five most dangerous roads in the world.

This extreme road is not really a road, but merely a route over a mountain made by travellers over time.  A lead-up of 10-15 km of tough driving brings you to this outrageously steep and narrow pass, a pure adrenaline rush for the off-road driver. 

At the time I was thankfully unaware of this rating, and although I was usually quite adventurous, there seemed too many factors out of my control on this pass.  I resisted the men and tried to get them to abandon the idea of travelling the pass.  It soon became clear that I was on the losing end of this battle and the male ego prevailed; if other men and their machines could do it, so could they.

I didn’t take that easily and decided to distance me from this folly.  In my opinion this was unnecessary, as there was a safer alternative, albeit longer and less direct road to our next destination. 

In the weeks before we departed on this trip I had many nightmares about this treacherous pass.  It allowed only one way traffic and had to be travelled from east to west, because it offered no opportunity to turn a vehicle around.  I panicked with the thought that somebody might ignore this rule and meet us face to face! There was after all no police in this area to enforce any laws.  I was overwhelmed by many ‘what ifs’, many of them not unfounded.  What if our vehicles slipped or rolled down that mountain?  Recovering a vehicle from that remote location would, at the very least, have been extremely expensive, if not impossible. We also didn’t have the necessary and specialised insurance for this. What if we got flat tyres on the steepest and roughest sections?  I had doubts about the men’s driving skills and their abilities to deal with a mechanical breakdown.  There would be no help anywhere nearby and no mobile phone reception….and so the list went on and on….

At some stage I considered putting my hiking boots on and walking the road, ignoring their dangerous attempts.  I selfishly and foolishly thought that I would then be in control of my own fate.  As if I would have been able to ignore it if any of them, or a vehicle, came in harm’s way!

But this was not to be, for when we reached rough and rock strewn bits, where all resemblance to a road totally disappeared, it proved to be very difficult to walk as well.

By then I also realised I was an integral part of the team to get ourselves and the vehicles safely over this pass.  On reaching these seemingly impassable spots, the road was first inspected and the biggest holes filled with stones.  Then, one vehicle at a time, engaging the lowest gear, the driver would inch forward, while the rest of the team closely watched and anticipated the ground clearance.  It was our job to report to the driver on how to avoid the undercarriage from getting stuck on the rocks and the tyres from being slashed by sharp stones.

Nobody could have been more relieved to reach to end of that 13 km pass after 5 hours of intense driving!  Despite all my misgivings, this most treacherous journey had a happy ending; not a single flat tyre or any damage to any vehicle (my nervous system excluded)!

As we descended the beautiful vista of the Marienfluss valley (ancient glacial valley) below was a most welcome reward for this stressed traveller. 

Soon my friends will be leaving for Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago for MSA.  They too have many doubts in their abilities to cope with the great distances of between 500 km to 780 km; will they be hampered by blisters or other physical problems, will they find a place to sleep at the end of a hard day of hiking, will they be able to sleep when sharing the hostel type accommodations with other snorers, will there be bed bugs, will they and their belongings be safe…

Now, on this most difficult journey of my life, I share with them what I have learned thus far; I am not in control, and cannot possibly control everything.  I mustn’t look up at the mountain and think it insurmountable, but rather take one step at a time and fill the holes with stones as I go along.  ‘That doubt sees the obstacles, and faith sees the way.  Doubt sees the darkest night.  Faith sees the day.’ 

Buen Camino to Emilene, Eddie, Susan, Gerda and Esther!  


  1. Ek dink nie eens woorde of prentjie kan regtig oorvertel wat julle beleef het nie! Dis amazing wat julle alles gedoen het en waar julle was - good memories I'm sure.

  2. Yes, we have many good memories of our travel experiences Loubser! In 2002 we still used a film camera, so the photos of us were scanned and not good quality. I 'borrowed' that first photo from the internet because it shows so clearly how bad that 'road' was.

  3. Sonja,
    Life experiences are great teachers and we use these often, especially when the road of our life becomes tougher. With MSA it become our DR3703. When adversity enters and we are no longer given a choice on it's direction we fill in the big potholes with prayer,faith,strength, courage and we inch on! Our attitude becomes, "When the going get's tough the tough get going!" It's a attitude! It's our choice to make about how we address new adversity. You wrote about the important role that each team member has as pot hole are filled and movement forward is slow moving inch by inch. There is no turning back you just move forward. Those big holes in the road are filled with faith, prayer, hope, trust, courage and strength. It's God who is our pilot, even in the darkest of times. This life adventure story you have shared, Susan and I could have been characters in it! So many lessons are taught in your adventure! It brings tears to my eyes, I can relate oh so well! Thanks for sharing and it reminds me that I'm still on the road myself only in a differnt role. And I'm still filling the potholes as my life moves forward. God Bless you and your husband as you keep filling both the big and small holes. Know you and your family are always being lifed in prayer. The same is true for Emilene, Eddie, Susan (love that name)Gerda and Ester! "Happy Trails to all!" Your friend Bob

  4. Dear Bob, when for the first year after being diagnosed my prayers were simply screams to God for help, I never dreamt that He would bless me with so many people from all over the world to accompany me one my journey and help me fill the potholes with stones. Thank you my friend for the loads of stones that you, and Susan, has and continue to provide. Now you're on your own, without Susan, but never alone. May this new twist in your road hold lots of blessings for you. Love, Sonja

  5. I have yet to meet someone who continues to express herself with such grace, humor and determination, when in your own life the going is getting tougher every day. I am so privileged to be able to say that I am a part of your life. xx

    1. My dear 'Sissi' Karin, I am only the sum total of the people who love and support me, and without your love and support I would be nothing. You give me wings! xxx

  6. Sonja, I was absolutely fascinated by the amazing photo's (borrowed or your own..)and how you used this adventure in Northern Namibia to compare it with your difficult journey with MSA.
    We recently watched a video of a family member who also conquered the Van Zyl's pass and I compacted your story and mailed it to all 12 members of their expedition.
    Viva Camino de Santiago MSA pilgrims, may your days be filled with new adventures and enough soft beds..!

    1. Anchen, life's journeys sometimes prepares us for what lies ahead, even though we are sometimes unwilling travellers! I hope that my friends walking the Camino will have soft and BUG FREE beds!

  7. Dear Sonja,
    You are right, "When the road gets tough the tough get going". Even though this is tough road you and I have great company.
    I must say I am not sure if I would as brave as you to have gone on this road trip, but like life you just have faith that things will turn out the way it should.
    God Bless!

    1. Brenda my daily contact with people like you, who keep fighting no matter how rough the road, helps me to get over the rough spots. Thank you for your support friend. xx


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