It was Charles Malik that said “the fastest way to change society is to mobilise the women of the world.” Give that man a Bells.
We were on the third leg of Ford’s RangeHer Drives with a Mission campaign. It was an interesting dynamic being on an all-female trip like this – especially since it wasn’t a case of cliched spa treatments and champagne brunches. In total, the four legs of the campaign made up a 4,300km drive across South Africa to support rural communities all the while inspiring women by showing them they have the power to change the world around them, that they are highly influential, and that they are valued changemakers in our society.
The striking blue Ranger Raptor was probably the closest I’d ever get to Bob Chandler’s original Bigfoot monster truck that made its appearance first in that silly comedy which name I can’t remember, and then again in CannonBall Run II. However, I was more than satisfied. Not only was the car exceptional but I also had the best driving partner, the one and only Jeanette Kok-Kritzinger. The two of us have always been able to talk for hours about the real stuff that matters to us in life – social justice and the transformation of lives usually being among some of our top discussion topics. And here we were, joining Ford on a three-day journey to the Eastern Cape to do humanitarian work.
The two Raptors in our convoy each had a huge 1000-litre flow bin tied to the back. The other Rangers, the Wild Tracks and Thunders were loaded with boxes of soap bars as well as COVID-19 face shields produced by Ford’s Silverton Assembly Plant employees during the height of the national lockdown.
We departed from the beautiful Buffelsdrift Game Lodge just outside Outdshoorn where we had spent the night and I was slightly sad that the next day I wouldn’t be woken up by the hippo family that was lurking in the dam opposite my room. However, we were on a mission and the mission was exciting.
Our drive took us from Oudtshoorn to Willowmore where we filled up the vehicles at a garage, got a few perplexed looks from passers-by, and stocked up our snack packs from the snoepie at the back of legendary expedition leader, Gideo’s, vehicle before we headed into the Baviaanskloof. Is a road trip even a road trip without Jelly Tots and Pringles (and all the other sugar-loaded snacks) to keep you awake and alert? We were going to be driving for a while from this point on.
The Baviaanskloof surprised me, even though I had been there before. I was hopeful that this time I’d see a leopard. It always feels like they’re lurking in the mountains or spying on you from atop one of the lush trees. About ten years ago there were an estimated 30 – 35 territorial leopards in the greater Baviaanskloof area. With cell phone reception left in Willowmore, we hit the gravel road, switched over to four wheel drive, and enjoyed the scenery and, of course, the bumpy 4×4 ride. Luckily we ordered some light rain so the dust settled and our small convoy cruised on.
Described as a mega reserve, the Baviaanskloof has an incredible array of plant species. It was fascinating to see how the landscape changed as we drove. At first, what’s noticeable is the dryness of the narrow valley (which lies at a lower altitude than the Karoo in the north) we drove through, as well as the hight of the natural rocky walls that pridefully stands on both sides of the road. It beckons you in and keeps you curious because you never know what’s around the next bend. The valley of the Baviaanskloof is just under 200 kilometers long, hedged in by the Baviaanskloof Mountains on the north and the Kouga mountains on the south side. The rainfall of the Karoo actually filters through the mountains to the Baviaanskloof river. We only noticed this after we were much deeper into the kloof when we started noticing how lush it had become around us all of a sudden.
We arrived at Zaaimanshoek primary school which lies remotely hidden in the Baviaanskloof mountains. We untied and offloaded the flow bins and walked over to a big tree on the edge of the school’s property where we were met by one of the teachers, Mrs. Rautenbach.
After her intriguing introduction, the kids came out and, keeping their social distance, listened attentively as their principle explained why this bunch of women wearing pink Ford-branded face masks and driving huge bakkies had rocked up at their school. The two specially developed portable flow-bin hand-washing stations, each comprising a 1,000-litre water tank and stand, a built-in basin and all of the necessary fittings, was a game changer for this community. Especially since they only have one working tap with clean water!
We also handed over 300 soap bars from Ford for each station and explained to the kids that the hand-washing facilities are designed to improve personal hygiene amongst learners, and help contain the spread of COVID-19. The Ford team anticipated that this would purely be a blessing to the school, however, the school principle explained to us that not only would the kids make use of the hygiene stations, but also the immediate community surrounding the school as well as the people who attend church on a Sunday.
After some songs and a prayer, we greeted the beautiful Baviaanskloof faces and headed deeper into the valley, slowly making our way to our overnight stop near Loerie in the Eastern Cape. Intle Boutique Hotel & Private Reserve Thornhill is located just outside Jeffery’s Bay, overlooking the beautiful rolling Eastern Cape hills and boasting giraffes, zebra, antelopes and birds, among other smaller animals.
On our way to the airport the next morning, we made our last stop at a small clinic in the farming town of Loerie just down the road from our accommodation to hand over COVID-19 face shields to help protect the local healthcare workers.
With extensive gravel and off-road driving having dominated the route, we got to experience the Ranger’s confidence-inspiring capabilities in a wide range of demanding environments encompassing some of South Africa’s most scenic locations, while at the same time being able to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable people.
What a joy to have found myself in a place where passion meets purpose. It’s truly the best place to be.