18 April 2014
Guess what, my friends?
A couple of days ago, I discovered that we would all be driving up to Namibia for Easter!
I have such happy memories of visiting that beautiful country in March and April last year. It had been the first time for me sitting in the front of an airplane, instead of traveling in the cargo hold, squashed into a padded airmail envelope.
Because it is such a long distance from Cape Town to Windhoek (about 1600 km), we had to get up very, very early on Friday morning to do some last-minute packing.
“Is Edward T Bear traveling up with us?” I asked Reggie, as she tucked me into a pillow on the back seat.
“Would you like him to come along, Flat Kathy?”
“He was looking very sad when I was saying goodbye to him just now,” I told her. “I think he’s also been bitten by the travel bug. But he knows he can’t fly around the world as easily as I can, because he doesn’t fit into a padded envelope. I think he’d appreciate any opportunity to see another country.”
“I know,” nodded Reggie sympathetically. “I’ll go and get him.”
“Thank you for asking Reggie,” whispered Edward T Bear gratefully to me, as he was tucked into the seat next to me. “I was so looking forward to seeing a bit of Namibia too.”
After all the excitement of our early morning departure, and with the car traveling northwards along the open road at a steady pace, I began to feel a bit drowsy. I must have dozed off. The next time I opened my eyes, I noticed that the eastern sky had begun to lighten and that the sun was about to rise.
“We’re planning to have breakfast at the Wimpy outside Klawer,” explained Reggie, “and we’ll put in some petrol.”
When we got there, though, the petrol station was so busy that we barely found a place to park.
“It’s because it’s the Easter weekend, Flat Kathy,” explained Richard. “It looks like we won’t find a table inside the Wimpy either. So we’ll just put in some petrol, and keep going.”
“Luckily, we have some tea in the thermos flask,” said Reggie, as we returned to the big road. “Now who’d like a cuppa?”
After Klawer, the landscape became much flatter and dryer. Richard told me that this was called the Knersvlakte.
“I’m not sure how to translate that name,” said Reggie. “But to me it feels like, when you drive through this area, you get sand in your teeth because it’s so hot and dry and dusty, and then it makes your teeth crunch.” We giggled at the description.
“I’ll definitely remember that!” I laughed.
Reggie read out the names of the little towns we passed, and tried to teach me how to say them in Afrikaans: Vanrhynsdorp, Nuwerus, Bitterfontein, Garies, Kamieskroon, Kharkams, Springbok, Okiep, Nababeep… I thought these were very exotic-sounding names!
“I really like the landscape around Garies and Kamieskroon,” said Reggie. “After the flat plains of the Knersvlakte, it is so nice to be in the middle of these rolling hills, granite outcrops and mountains. But it is difficult to find a good place for a photograph….”
This is the best we could do.
At the petrol station outside the small town of Steinkopf in the Northern Cape, we stopped to buy some water, coca cola and chocolates, because we were feeling peckish.
“We’ll reach the border in a little while,” Reggie told me.
The road began to descend steadily, the closer we got to the border. It was quite mountainous here, but the mountains seemed lower than where we were… I found this a bit confusing.
“The Orange River runs down there,” explained Richard. “Over the centuries, the river has carved its way through the different strata of sedimentary rock, and the ‘mountains’ are what’s left. On the South African side of the river is Vioolsdrif, and on the Namibian side is Noordoewer, which means ‘northern shore’ in Afrikaans. That’s where the border posts are.”
“Are we stopping at the border?” I asked.
“We’d better!” exclaimed Reggie with a laugh. “We’ll have to show our passports and get them stamped, and we need to get police and customs clearance too. So you and Edward had better behave yourselves, as we don’t have any travel documents for you, okay?”
“Can you take a photo of us when we cross the Orange River?” asked Edward, rather bravely, I thought.
“I think I’d better not,” said Reggie nervously. “I don’t want the border guards to think we’re a security risk, or anything like that, so I’d rather not take any photos there. But we can take one right here, just before we get to the border, and then again on the other side, okay?”
The South African border post is a big building, with lots of rooms and stern-looking officials. We were all processed very quickly and efficiently, and then drove across the bridge over the Orange River. Reggie held me up so that I could see the river flowing below us, but there was no place to pull over safely for a photo.
The Namibian border post was a building site. A large brick building was being constructed, right in the middle of the road. We made our way to the back, where there were several prefabricated buildings on either side of the road – the one for departures, the other for arrivals. It was very hot and stuffy inside, and everyone was filling in the visa forms by hand, which took a long time. Richard also had to pay a special road levy.
We pulled over near a petrol station just beyond the border. Behind us, you can see the mountains, with the sedimentary layers of rock. It was very hot, because it was midday.
From the Orange River – and the border – the road climbed steadily upwards again.
The rocky mountainous terrain gave way to a flat, almost featureless plain, with grasses and shrubs. It was hot outside, and we were grateful for the aircon in the car.
We stopped briefly at the delightful little town of Grünau to buy some snacks and drinks.
“I love this area, just north of here,” Reggie told me. “After you’ve been driving across the hot desert plain from the border, it’s wonderful to be surrounded by rocky outcrops and small mountains, and such lush vegetation and tall grasses. Southern Namibia must have had really good rains in recent months – it doesn’t always look like this.”
What an amazing cloudy sky!
“What is our next stop?” asked Edward T Bear.
“We’re planning to stop at Keetmanshoop,” said Richard. “It would be good to have some toasted sandwiches there… Eating chocolates and drinking water and Coke isn’t good for sustaining our energy levels, as we still have a long distance to go, about 600 km.”
Eventually, we pulled in at a petrol station just outside Keetmanshoop.
After our lovely meal of toast with jam and a portion of French fries, I felt a bit dozy, so I fell asleep on the back seat, and missed the next couple of hours of driving.
“Pssst, Flat Kathy! Wake up!”
“What? Where? Who?” I sat bolt upright. Reggie giggled. “Did you sleep well, then?”
“Yeehhhh”, I yawned and stretched. “Where are we?”
“We’ve passed Mariental, and are approaching Kalkrand,” said Reggie. “I thought you might like to see the sunset.”
“Ohh!” I gasped. “It’s glorious!”
“It looks like we’re driving into a thunderstorm,” remarked Richard, indicating the darkening skies with their heavy clouds ahead of us. And, as darkness fell and our surroundings sunk into inky blackness, heavy raindrops began to pitter-patter down on us. The windscreen wipers whipped back and forth.
“Can you smell that?” asked Reggie, with a contented smile on her face. I inhaled deeply. There was a heavy, slightly dusty smell in the air, giving way to a refreshingly cool wetness. “That’s the smell of rain. Wonderful, isn’t it?”
Hmmmm… I sniffed the air again. “Heavenly.”
“We’re almost home,” said Richard. He sounded very relieved, as we had been driving for a very, very long time by now. It was about 21h00, and we had been on the road since 04h00. As we passed the police checkpoint on the outskirts of Windhoek, Reggie sent Aunty Lissi – Richard’s mom – a quick SMS to let her know we were close.
Much to our delight, Aunty Lissi was waiting up for us with her famous homemade veggie and mince pies, which were delicious! And sister Tanya and her boyfriend Kurt were there too, so we all had some pies and tea and chatted until we could no longer keep our eyes open.
Oh, it had been such an exciting road trip! But I must admit, we were very grateful that we had safely reached our destination, and that we could get some sleep now. I wonder what tomorrow will bring?