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VOETSPORE DIARY: Choose your travel companions with care

26 September 2016

Johan Badenhorst recently completed his latest epic Voetspore trek. For such an adventure, says Johan, you have to choose your vehicle, food, logistics and destination well. But even more importantly, you have to pick the right travel companions.

We just completed Voetspore Expedition #11. It was a reunion. We celebrated the 10 previous trips by redoing the first one with five Land Cruisers and 12 team members. This is a big group – double the size of all the previous excursions. Over the years, the team changed a little. Not all the guys could go on all the trips. When one was not available, he had to be replaced with someone who could fill his shoes. That is why, even though we normally travel as six guys in three vehicles, 16 men have had the opportunity to be a Voetspore team member since 2000. For this reunion trip, I tried to get as many of them together again.

When I started planning the trip I was worried that the dynamic of the group would change from previous Voetspore expeditions. Would there be a clash of personalities? Would the egos get in the way? Would there be too many opinions, especially when it got to 4×4 practices? The one thing that I have become very much aware of over the 15 years in the 4×4 business is the plethora of so-called specialists and their opinions. You read about it, you see them on television, they appear at expos and most of them are very opinionated. Over the years, Voetspore has moved away from giving 4×4 advice and instruction. Our programme has become a lifestyle show, a travelogue, a series in which we use the 4×4 to get to a destination, and enjoy the ride getting there. We have to know how to use the equipment safely and with care, but the programme is not an instruction video. For that, you can go to one of the many experts. But as many of the Voetspore guys have become experts over the years, was there not a chance that these experts might differ in opinion, making it a very long six weeks, travelling from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean?

I have taken great care over the years to choose my travel companions. The first criterion is always that the team member should be able to do a job. A person can be a fabulous guy, but if I need a cameraman and he does not know the front end of a camera from the back, he is of no use to our production. So, too, should I need a photographer, a mechanic, a logistics person, nowadays even a drone operator. But this is just the first criterion. There is a second, and it’s difficult to describe.

Over the years, I have made a mistake or two in this regard. Two guys who were on previous trips will never be invited back. They were not team members. Their presence in the team was more destructive than positive. They did not know that consensus is where we discuss issues, make a decision and then stick to it, no matter whether it ends up being the wrong decision. In our world, there is only one boss, and his name is ‘the camera’. It doesn’t matter whether you are tired, sick, sad, dirty, cold… once the camera rolls, you have to do your part. But two out of 16 is not too bad. The 14 other guys have created wonderful memories in our 16 years. And this last adventure was no different. We started off at Cape Cross in Namibia.

The team operated like a well-oiled machine. A variety of cameras captured every moment. There was Lourens with the main camera, Stefan assisting him, Pierre attaching action cameras at several different angles, Streicher recording images with a drone, and William downloading all the footage every evening and reloading the cameras by the following morning with formatted memory cards. Meanwhile, the cooking and logistics team, consisting of Simon, Norbert and Andre, saw to it that for the first time on a Voetspore trip, the guys did not lose an ounce of weight. On the contrary, they picked up quite a bit.

Gideon was doing his usual best, taking pictures and posting them on Facebook. Rey, as 4×4 specialist, and Francois as mechanic, had little to do this year. Maybe it was because the drivers are now experts in what they do. Maybe it was because we were driving Cruisers… But it wasn’t because of the work that these guys did that made them such good travel companions. It was because of their attitude towards others. Nothing was too much trouble. Never did one guy shy away from his responsibilities, and assisting others in theirs. Add to that a great sense of humour and you have the recipe for success.

A six-week journey can be a very long time in the wrong company. Any journey can be very long in the wrong company. That is why it is so important to choose well. The vehicle you drive is important. Your destination is important. So, too, what you choose to eat and drink.  But none of these are as important as your travel companions. Choose them well, and you will tackle adventure after adventure. I have been blessed for many years to be travelling with an exceptional bunch of guys.  Long may it continue.