An Aerial African Adventure
Features | Jun 01, 2019
An Aerial African Adventure

Gulcin Gilbert

No great adventure was ever achieved by staring at a phone. Well, unless you’re a skydiver who spotted a post on social media about a Huey-helicopter-based innhopp (a nomadic skydiving adventure where you’re not told the itinerary) in Namibia, Africa, and decided to sign up! Noted innhopp organizer Even Rokne and aerial cinematographer Tommy Papatango put together the event, which included jumps into 23 locations, overnight stays at five-star lodges and an adventure spanning 1,600-miles. Fresh from cleaning up land mines in Angola, Eddie Techman, owner of Swakopmund Skydiving Club (the only USPA Foreign Affiliate DZ in the country), scouted all the locations and captained a first-class ground crew, including an ace packing team.

Twenty-five intrepid souls from 13 countries gathered in coastal Swakopmund for the March 19-26 adventure. The group included world-record-holding formation skydivers, wingsuit flyers, BASE jumpers, a skydiving climber who has the Seven Summits under his belt, a couple who would marry during the event, various young professional men and four women (a pilot, a bar owner, a German diplomat stationed in Mozambique and a North Sea oil-rig supplier). The group included jumpers with experience levels ranging from more than 5,000 jumps to one who made his 100th jump over the Namibian sand dunes.

Namibia is in southwestern Africa (it used to be a part of South Africa) and a great portion of it is desert. Moving around by helicopter—flown by veteran pilots Andy Belcher, Rowan Miles and Hadre Van Deventer—offered freedom of movement across the vast landscape and the opportunity to jump into various locations to visit petroglyphs, wild animals, monumental geographic formations and even rare, 1,500-year-old plants. Because of all the variables, the participants received a safety briefing prior to each jump.

The group took off from the Swakopmund DZ to make its first jump into a Mars-like area called Singing Rocks. After landing, everyone climbed a hill strewn with rectangular rocks that when beaten together made metallic calypso-like tones. The valley soon rang with a primitive beat, and no one would have been surprised if the characters from Planet of the Apes strode up the hill.

The next location on day one was an off-the-grid ranch nestled under a rock outcropping. Then the group had lunch at a campground surrounded by emus. A jump into a moonscape, where a visual illusion of a mountain was actually a deep valley, was the next stop. Day one ended with an 8-way 100th jump celebration onto the famous Namibian sand dunes.

Large or technically ambitious jumps were not the thing on this adventure, though there were some. Since each jump was into a new location, prudence and sightseeing dictated that the jumpers pull high, get their bearings and enjoy the view. Pre-jump preparations included resetting altimeters and AADs for the new altitude and briefings on the landing surface, winds and where the lions, leopards, rhinos or mambas (yes, really) might be.

The next three days of jumps were into higher-altitude places—up to 4,000 feet—which included the great Spitzkoppe mountain with its red, sheer cliffs and a convenient lunch spot at the base. The group spent one evening at Omaruru, an exquisite lodge with lots of trees, greenery and a big watering hole that attracted kudus, zebras, rhinos, giraffes, oryx, elands and ostriches. The landing site was on their private runway. The group also enjoyed a jump into a private family lodge and then a demo near a school where the skydivers were instantly surrounded by children. Papatango played the Pied Piper, holding his 360-degree video camera up high and leading the kids in a little parade around the jumpers and choppers.

One evening at Okutala near Etosha National Game Park, the adventurers met at a hill above the lodge to witness the marriage of skydivers Des Meybirn and Fiona Birnie. Rokne—who has a beautiful way with words—performed the ceremony. The dinner was on a giant veranda overlooking a herd of white rhinos enjoying a supper of grasses.

The group also made a couple of quick jumps at Eldorado Lodge, which had its own large enclosures featuring lions, rhinos, cheetahs, hyenas and other animals. One jumper didn’t quite catch the briefing and almost landed in the lion enclosure, but someone animatedly waved him away at the last minute! In the following days, the group jumped near spectacular rock formations, a UNESCO petroglyph site and lodges tucked into red rock. They even spent one night camping along a dry riverbed.

For the first jump on the final day, Rokne told the group that they would be flying over what was essentially an oil painting of splendid colors, eventually descending into and becoming part of the canvas. The canvas included the Rhinoceros Camp, a collection of domed huts inhabited by a local tribe that monitors and protect the rhinos. The second jump of the day was into a magnificent giant crater that is home to one of the world’s strangest plants, the Welwitschia, which undulates for tens of feet in the arid dunes like a distorted octopus and can live for more than 1,500 years.

Next, the jumpers planned to make a demo into and attend a concert at the Democratic Resettlement Community, an impoverished area that houses people waiting for subsidized housing in the city. Unfortunately, the jump was weathered out, but the jumpers trucked over to enjoy the concert and the people. Then, just before sunset, the clouds cleared and everyone made a final jump into the dunes.

The group celebrated its epic adventure with a final banquet at the Alte Brüke hotel, where they viewed Papatango’s fantastic video of the 23 jumps into 20 different sites. A raffle courtesy of event sponsor Aerodyne Research closed the event. Rokne and Papatango are planning future innhopps in Namibia, as well as Slovenia. More information is available at innhopp.com.


About the Author

Gulcin Gilbert, D-16517, is an adventurer, pilot, world-record-holding skydiver, filmmaker and writer. Her mission has always been to share the joy of flight with others.

 

 

 


 

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