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An armchair traveller?

1 August 2016

Johan Bakkes is a professor in management accounting at the University of Cape Town. He’s also an adventurer and has written several books about his overland adventures. His latest travels took him from Ethiopia to Siberia.

Johan Bakkes is a South African literary treasure, and he has written numerous books about his travels. Titles include Moer toe die vreemde in, Norrevøk (named after a small Russian town), and Samoe(r)sa reis. His many books include stories on his various adventures all over the globe, all told in his own unique style.

Bakkes also owns a safari business called Induku and is a 4×4 enthusiast. In 2006, he won the coveted Mondi award for an article called Hel Toe, in which he wrote about his journey to the furthermost point on the African continent. He was born on 21 October 1956 in Stellenbosch and spent his childhood on the West Coast. It was here that his love of adventure was nurtured, which would come in handy later in his life.

After matriculating at Afrikaans Hoër Seunskool in Pretoria, he acquired various degrees in accounting. Today he’s a professor at the University of the Western Cape. His online profile on the NB Publishers website reveals that it’s his dream to get on every train in the world. To date he has been on the trans-Sahara train, as well as the famous trans-Siberia train.

When and where did you first get a licence?
In 1974, in Pretoria. First time, and without a bribe!

What car did you have back then and how long did it last?
A 1962 Zephyr 6 that I bought in 1975 from my Grandma for R200. I sold it in 1977 for R600 to buy a Toyota Corolla pick-up.

What is your favourite 4×4 that you’ve owned?
A 2006 Toyota Land Cruiser pick-up. A vehicle that will, by itself, get you out of any trouble.

How did you get into a life of adventure?
My father was a lecturer in military history and soldier at the Military Academy. He told me stories about people who pushed the boundaries. That, and books about far-off places got the ball rolling for me.

Out of your many adventures, which is the one that has stayed with you over the years?
There are lots. Climbing Kilimanjaro with my daughter (at 14), a journey to the coldest place on Earth (Oymyakon in Siberia), as well as the trip to the warmest place (Danakil Depression, Ethiopia). I write about these coldest and warmest trips in my new book Openbaring (Revelation).

How do you keep everyone motivated, especially on long trips?
Diversity during the journey and the promise of a cold one around a fire, along with a delicious dinner.

What was the scariest moment?
My scariest moment was a tandem free fall with my son. I really pushed the envelope of fear on that one.

What was your happiest moment?
When we reached Mother Earth after that jump.

Any dream adventures you still want to complete?
I’ve lived life to the fullest. I’ve got no bucket list. But while still alive, the far horizons will always beckon.

What defines an adventurer?
Roald Amundsen, arctic and Antarctic explorer once said, “Adventure is just bad planning”. Ellen Potter also said, “All great adventures have moments that are really crap”. I believe an adventurer is someone who is built for discomfort and takes anything as it comes.

What makes Africa such a special continent?
The people, the diversity, nature and the timelessness.

Any words of advice for armchair travellers to get them motivated to get out there?
Get up and go. Put wheels on your chair and ride into the horizon. Nothing is too difficult to achieve. Expose yourself. Walk into a rural bar and talk to the people. That alone is a journey and sometimes an adventure.

If money weren’t a factor, what car would be in your driveway?
A Toyota Land Cruiser pick-up. The only problem is the petrol consumption. Easy to have it in my driveway, but difficult to keep it on the road.