TANZANIA, LAKE NATRON

Tanzania (In Search of Incredible)

Normally I, Roderick Pijls, always travel to the best location to train for competitions and video projects. However, when I got an unexpected phone call from adventure photographer Rein Rijke to set up a trip to mainland Tanzania and to shoot me in a never-seen scenery before I directly said ‘yes’. As my enthusiasm overruled my common-sense and I said ‘yes’ to kite in a lake, called; ‘Lake Natron’. I didn’t know in what kind of situation I just got myself into. Rein started a photo project, called; ‘Salt & Surf’, For this project he lets kitesurfer surf in unusual environments. Rein sees the world as a playground and wants to express this in his photos.

Doing research for over 2 months Rein and I figured out that Lake Natron is a toxic and an incredibly hot lake. The lake can reach temperatures over 65 Celsius and has a PH degree of more than 10 (as dangerous as acid). My dermatologist said that liquid with this PH-degree can make you blind and burn your skin away. We did this for ASUS who has a campaign called; ‘In Search of Incredible’. They asked us what our ‘Incredible’ was, and Rein came up with this location, to shoot me in a toxic and incredible scenery. Together with Lieuwe we produced a custom made board that was able to resist the heat of Lake Natron and I prepared myself with a drysuit and mask to protect myself as good as possible. I brought several PLKB kite’s to make sure I could ride in any possible conditions Tanzania could offer.

We bought our tickets to Kilimanjaro airport and met up with JorAfrica, a local guide who knows this area like no one else, he has been traveling to this area for over 11 years. After buying supplies we started our journey from Arusha to Lake Natron with an 20 year old LandCruiser, called ‘The Blue Rocket’, which we completely stuffed up with photo and filmgear and stacked with my board-bags on the roof. The day we left Arusha it was 40 degrees, no wind at all and after 2 hours driving towards no-mansland The Blue Rocket already overheated. We had to wait for some hours, let the engine cool down, filled it up with fresh water and continued our journey until the sun was about to set. We found a ‘suitable’ camping-ground where we thought to sleep comfortably with a sky covered with stars. However, nothing of that was true.

Our first night was unforgettably scary. Driving for an entire day we camped in the middle of nothing with our 3 small mosquito tents (so only the gauze, to make sure the heat could escape). Building a campfire and grilling some meat stilled our hunger, but it started attracting the King of the Jungle. I did not sleep for 1 second that night. I saw impala’s walking next to my tent, I saw a couple of wild boars fighting 50 meters next to us, saw 2 hyena’s walking by and in the distance we heard a lion. I didn’t even had the time to look up to enjoy the stars hahaha..

The next day, after a horrifying night, we continued our journey and we were determined to reach our destination around 8pm. The closer we got to our destination the further we got away from civilisation. The Blue Rocket worked his way from rocky paths to dusty and sandy roads where he had work hard. Unfortunately, at one point he had to give up and the African heat overwon him. We tried to get our car back alive for several hours, changed batteries, stopped another car, but it just didn’t work. We tried everything, in what was in our knowledge, but we just had to stay the night there and wait for a mechanic to arrive the next morning.

The next day The Blue Rocket was back alive and we continued our expedition. Driving for another 5 hours through rough terrain with volcanos on each side we felt how far we were from our ‘known’ world. We arrived at 6pm only, so we had to be patience for 1 more night to see what I will be facing when I will kite.

The next morning we woke up at 5am, the first sun-rays were just about to peak over the volcano, and we couldn’t wait for our guide to wake up. The scenery was amazing, the light was soft, volcanos on each side and we saw in the far distance a group of zebras, gnus and giraffes walking towards a water source. Walking towards the lake was something special, passing several skeletons we realised how seriously dangerous this lake is and after not even 10 min walking we heard our guide yelling. He said that we couldn’t just walk to the lake as the mud around the lake has the same degree of toxins and hotness. Luckily enough he was able to bring us as close as 10 meters away from the lake, able to smell and feel the hotness of Lake Natron from already a distance of 10-15 meters was something unreal. We decided that today I would make sure to keep a good eye on the wind and how it changes during the day, to be as prepares as possible when I need to kite. Also we drove all the way from the most southern point of the lake to the border of Kenya, which is in the North, to decide what the best spot is for me to enter the water and what angle Rein wants to have on his photo. After another 5 hours drive we found our magical spot where Rein wants me to kite and what is, somehow, safe for me to enter. Also we found, in case the wind dies or I cannot get upwind anymore, 2 different exits where we placed camel bags with fresh water to rinse myself in case I fall in. The wind was straight off-shore, so I had to make sure to have 2 alternative exits with enough distance between them incase the wind would die.

The next morning I put my alarm 5am to have a weather-check, it is clear skies with soft light and in the distance we see the same group of zebras, gnus and giraffes making their way to the water source. I decide to rig up my 11 m Escape to make sure I have enough power. Once the sun is peaking over the volcano I get in my drysuit, put my mask on and wait, at the border of Lake Natron, for the sign of Rein to jump in.

5min later I find myself kiting on a toxic and 65 degree hot lake in mainland Tanzania, where any medical help is 6 hours away from us. Nevertheless, the wind feels a bit gusty, but good enough to have fun and ride comfortable. After 10 min riding I’m getting pretty confident and it doesn’t feel that scary anymore, until I see the first skull of a wildebeest drifting almost next to me. I realise, after seeing another 7-ish skulls, that this is not just normal ocean water, but a hot and toxic liquid that you don’t want to fall in. As it is mainland Tanzania it gets pretty hot, combined with kiting in a drysuit and mask on a lake that reaches temperatures over 65 degrees I’m sweating like a horse and feel that I’m completely drenched. I could feel the heat of the weather doing it’s effect on my body temperature and my adrenaline levels just keeps rising. 1 hour later I get the sign of Rein that all his drone batteries are empty and that I can get off the water.

Being safe and sound back on solid ground I realise what I just did and I see myself explaining Rein about how many skulls I’ve seen and that I could feel the hotness of the lake. Looking at my custom made Lieuwe board I saw that the Lake has done its work, a white punched bottom was the result on my board. Nevertheless, Rein was absolutely going through the ceiling of enthusiasm about the shots he made. We decide to take a shower and look through the footage on Rein’s laptop. And the results that we have made was something unreal and something I have never seen before.

This trip was not about having the best kite-session or to train new tricks, not at all. It was about the journey to get there and to shoot something outside everyone’s comfort zone. To create awareness about how our world is changing and that we need to do something about that. This was just the start of a new project with Rein and me, ‘The Last Line’.

Soon a documentary will be launched about this adventure and our Search of Incredible. Have a look at my vlogs where I bring you with me on this adventure.

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