We arrived in the small town of Springbok at eight pm after an arse numbing 800 km drive from our departure point in Hermanus on the southwestern coast of the Western Cape Province, via the often picturesque and occasionally not so picturesque towns of Worcester, Wolseley, Gouda, Porterville, Clanwilliam, Klawer, Vanrhynsdorp, Bitterfontein, Garies and Kammieskroon. Towns with names that reflected the diverse cultural heritage of the region. Closer to the Cape many towns were named after British colonial officials from the 19th century, while further north descriptive Afrikaans and Khoisan words like Bitterfontein (Afrikaans for ‘bitter fountain’) and Gariep (Khoisan for a type of grass), became the norm.
First we made a compulsory stop in the sprawling Boland town of Worcester to get police clearance for our vehicle, necessary for cross border visits. After a relatively painless inspection we took the R43 north with the majestic, azure blue Witzenberg and Great Winterhoek mountain ranges forming the backdrop to vineyards and olive groves on both sides of the road. We drove through the Piekenierskloof pass, which snakes through the Olifants River Mountains, with panoramic views of the Swartland’s citrus and wheat patchwork. Then we descended into the Olifants River Valley with its massive vineyards, orchards and tunnel farming operations. The irrigation canals making the large scale agriculture possible were built after the Second World War, but I think they should have gone large and made them big enough for canal boats. Imagine drifting down our own Midi in a comfortably kitted barge with all those glorious views of the farms and mountains.
By now we were travelling on the N7 national highway which would take us all the way to the Namibian border. The further north we travelled the drier and more desolate the landscape became. The semi-desert landscape held a promise of harsh mysteries to my unaccustomed eyes and for the first time since our departure I was confronted with the reality of going into the unknown. As we neared Springbok a fiery sunset turned the rocky outcroppings and scattered vegetation into a rich kaleidoscope of colour. For me at least. My dad was trying to avoid steering the ‘cruiser into a ravine because of the massive glare.
We were officially in the Northern Cape. The air smelled different, and so did we after after a whole day’s driving. We decided to check out the first place we came across, an accommodation/restaurant/curio shop/book shop/café/gem-stone-exhibition combo. Yep, whoever owned the place had pretty much covered all the angles. As I walked into the lobby to enquire about vacancies, I thought for a second that I had time warped back to the 1950’s – the furniture and the elderly gentleman behind the counter had a distinctly dated look about them. American diner style upholstered booths and laminated tables occupied the dining area, and they were not trendy retro reproductions. The old man behind the counter had enough Brylcreem in his hair to give Cristiano Ronaldo a run for his money.
With Twilight Zone music in our heads and apprehension in our hearts we decided we were too tired to look for another place, and the trip was all about a bit of adventure in any case. Well, appearances can be very deceiving, Bates Motel vibe and all. A clean en suite room, the best rump steak I had in ages and two cold beers later, and the place got my vote. A timely reminder, at the start of our sojourn into the unknown, that open minded travelling is usually the most enjoyable form of travelling.
With that bit of travel wisdom acknowledged it was time for some well deserved shut eye. The following day we had to cover 125 km to the Vioolsdrif border crossing, before heading into Namibia in search of the best camping spot in the Fish River Canyon area.
[This is an extract from the travel memoir, The eat, pray, drive chronicles, by Marc Steyn. Get your copy of the ebook here.]
“A semi-serious, often tongue-in-the-cheek account of a two month trip through Namibia, Botswana, Zambia & Zimbabwe. Join the author and his dad as they explore the beautiful landscapes of southern Africa, confront inner demons, and always seem to be within reach of a cold one …”