Grab a pen and paper, or your iSheet, tablet? If nothing else close at hand, a coal from last nights braai. I am about to give you very sound, thorough advice. If you are going to come and experience the Kalaroo adventure, pack a beanie, and a scarf, and gloves, and mittens, and polar socks. Also, pack your minus 200 degrees parka. Did I mention a beanie? Scrap that, pack a balaklawa! It Is Cold! Enough said.
My morning started with the sound of a softly flowing Orange River behind my tent, and little birds cheeping… and the absence of my fingers. I first thought I forgot them somewhere again, but it is just the cold. Numbingly cold, cold. With Visions of Sutherland, I pack up the paper tent, which actually stayed quiet last night. It can also be that the Farmers Association party drowned out the sound of the Encyclopedia Britannica being crumpled up. Oh, yes, write this down as well. Do not, under any circumstances, pitch your tent a metre from the main reception/dance hall. You might have some problems with drunk farmers tumbling over your tent on the way to their carefully pitched, 1 km away, tents. And if you should have a party the previous evening, then rather pitch your tent close to a light source, and close to where you are having your party. I think I saw one farmer on the opposite side of the Orange River, sleeping on the banks, hugging a reed. I of course, slept the sleep of the dead, and, thanks to my careful wake up training from the Kalahari, woke up at 5h30 AM, with a vague desire to have some coffee.
Two hours later, I was skulking around, trying to sniff out anybody with a little caffeine in their tents. Maybe hidden in the toilet tank. Perhaps the bar has a secret lock, and inside they store the best mocca ever. Coffeeeee! Please, just inject it straight into the veins. Finally some of the kitchen staff shows up, and I try and pull my best, “Oh, look at this poor thing, one can clearly see she needs a cup of coffee” look. To no avail. They most probably thought I had indigestion. Then I thought, if I can steal some wood somewhere, and start a fire, then I can boil water and have COFFEE! Nope, no wood. I even considered making coffee from warm tap water. Finally, after the tables were set, and farmers were all in attendance, and Bullet has been packed, and standing ready with bleary eyes, does somebody say, oh, would you like a cup of coffee? Nah, thanks, I’m ok. YES demit, can you not see the craving stamped on my forehead! Now, having to make inane conversation with a red road map eyeball farmer, about the strange weather, meanwhile it is screaming in my head, can you please just get the sugar in your cup, so that I can get to the good stuff! Finally, I had coffee. Good stuff too.
Then I heard the bad news that there is no shortcut to Niewoudville, my camp for the night. It is back to Kakamas, then to Keimoes, then down to Kenhard, Brandvlei, Calvinia, and there, finally a turn to Niewoudville. And it is about 500km. In my search for coffee, I was still standing at the Orange River at 9am this morning. But, with sad goodbyes to Phillipa and Danie, and the three kittens running around, and Sparky my canoeing guide from Mafikeng, I started the 500km journey.
Kakamas first. After my 3 hours craving, just one cup of Java would just not do it. So, I decide to turn into Kakamas town. Two streets really, please do not expect a metropolis. And there, on the side of the road, I find The Pienk Farmstall. Yes, you heard me correctly. The Pienk Farmstall. And not just the name, everything from the name board, to the lady at the till, all pink. And not just any pink, binneboud pink (inner thigh pink? Hidden part of bum pink?). And absolutely nothing of any value, or to do with a farm stall inside.
But a coffee machine! Besides the coffee machine, there was an old typewriter. Pink porcelain savings piggies, stuffed and mounted Springbok head, wearing a pink baseball cap. One spectacular sundress, surprisingly not pink. Thinking that a biscuit or some kind of baked goodies will go nicely with the machined pure half mast cup of coffee, I only find four empty serving plates. But wait, dining tables outside under the awning. So I ask the pink clad ladies, do you serve breakfast? Nope, they say. Aaa, I thought to myself, they cater for the lunch crowd. Lunch? I ask. Nope. Well, then dinner surely, nope. They don’t serve meals, but then why in all that is logical, do you have a seating area like a restaurant? Answer: In case people want to sit down (in my head, this amounts to teasing, people can bloody go sit in their cars if they want to sit). Anyhow, I walk out with some stale koeksusters, and the last biltong muffin, and I must admit, not bad. Very salty, but not bad.
Ok, rest of the driving. I swear, I have solid 8 hours sleep. Solid, despite the farmer doing a Nuck Chorris over my tent, with a double Flick Flack, side split, ending with an overhead roundhouse, so I should have been bushy tailed and very awake. My personal opinion is, it is the damn roads! 5 min into taking the long road, I feel like I have the Titanic attached to my eyelids. But I soldier on, get through Kenhard, and then had to stop about 20km’s outside of town. Not because of sleepy eyes, 20km outside Kenhard there is nothing. Some large farms, no farm houses, just grass, broken telephone lines, and a fence. That’s it. No other signs of civilization, or people living there. Yet, on the side of the road, a very clear road sign, to please be cautious of the Bicycles. Where? What bicycles? Really? You serious? I actually had to do a U-turn on the highway, to get a shot of this. I am sitting here typing, still wondering about that.
Ok, off the 500km I did, it went quiet for about 150 of those. To Brandvlei. But by then I could have just as well put Bullet on autopilot, and slept. Luckily, Brandvlei, with all five of it’s houses, do have a wide open stretch of sand, with some iffy shade trees. I pull in there, and decide to just close my eyes for a bit. An hour later, I wake up, (or possibly I snored myself awake) with two locals sitting next to Bullet, against a tree. A couple of slow blinks later confirms it is not a mirage. Two locals, and they are giggling away. Looking at the only remaining reg number plate on Bullet, the one asks me, so, you from Somerset West? My reply was, no, of course not, this is a rental car (yes, I know, I disavowed poor Bullet, but she got it), and off I sped.
Now I have been saying from the start, there is something amok with spirits and ghosts and freaky stuff in the Northern Cape. I am driving along, full sunshine, thinking to myself that I should maybe exchange the sweat pants for shorts, when it starts raining! Big drops. Not a lot, but causing me to look up, and again, I swear, clouds! And then Arabian days started. In that area are lots of pans, with no vegetation. Just sand. I see a couple of sheep to the side, trying to actually dig a hole, so close to the ground they are lying, and think, strange, why aren’t they hopping along like sheep do? When to my right, a sand storm the like I have only seen once in the Namib, approaches, and together with the sand storm is a cloud bank, with rain tinted a brown colour due to the sand storm. I did stop Bullet, who also promptly tried to start digging a hole to hide in, and just looked at this spectacular freaky bit of wind magic going on!
It was sand and dust, and rain altogether! I was actually expecting Omar Sharif on a camel to come tumbling past at least! I actually started humming the theme song to Caravans! Then a Land Cruiser drove into that whole sand water aerial mess! Bravely going where no other vehicle (except for the Nomad Truck that other time in the Namib) has ever gone! William was waving from the back seat! Spectacular! I stopped a little further down, and called farmer Tractor Wagon, to arrange for the meeting re the tractor wagon trail at Niewoudville. He says, lady, on a Sunday, farmers sleep in the afternoon, so I would have to call him at 6am the next morning. So, nothing to rush forward to, I meander on to Niewoudville, in pouring rain, glad I have my sweat pants on!
Then I get another urge for coffee. Luckily in Calvinia, the local petrol attendant has a kettle. Working like an Old Model T Ford, but still working. Thirty minutes after starting it, we had liftoff, and I had a flask full of coffee. Only to arrive in Niewoudville sooner than I could get a cup poured. But, 500km, not to be sneezed at, so I am rather tired at this point, and not one soul to be seen on the streets, or rather, street, of Niewoudville. A little like Tommy Knockers. I find Olive camp ground, get the gate open, drive around to the back, and am greeted by, wait for it, a chicken! And an aggressive chicken at that! And following close behind him, two Peacocks! Tommy Knockers!
Calling the number on the gate gets me through to the owner, who it seems, owns most of the town. He directs me to the Smidswinkel restaurant, where one lady waits. Shame, I don’t know what she does on weekends there, but definitely not gather with a sociable group or something fun like that. No other people! And then comes the good news, I don’t have to stay in the camping ground, they prepared one of the guest houses for me! Great! Historical house, restored. With no other soul in town? AAAAaaaaaargh, Matjiesfontein all over again! I start a fire, which cheers me up slightly, make a massive amount of food, which cheers me up even more, and then the sun sets. And still, no sound. No wind through the trees, no sound of kids playing, grownups talking. Only a sad sheep baaaaaa coming from two houses down. The last ciggie I had, I was huddled in the corner of the stoep. Trying my best not to give off body heat, or a heartbeat! You know they can find you like that!
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What a night! I found my camp site, and with some slight blonde moments, managed to put up my tent. Then with great enthusiasm, I decided to start a fire, with the wood I bought in Worcester. My question, after three hours of frantically waving a magazine at the logs, and blowing like a Southern Right Whale the rest of the time, is this: veld fires are trees, still living, and sopping wet, that burns like a mother, right? Then, why the hell do the three small logs, long dead, and slightly damp, NOT WANT TO SPARK up a semblance of a fire? Needless to say, I had to buy new paper plates, and firelighters today. And a new set of braai tongs.
But, eventually after several hors of patient (intended) waiting, I had a small kettle full of semi boiling water. For a cup of coffee. 30 minutes later, I also had about 3 coals to braai my boerewors on. So, supper and cold sorted out, I got into bed.
Thank you warmly to our workshop manager and his wife, who lent me their small, compact tent (to help with the weight in my car). But I do hope they realize it is made of paper? And last night, there was a slight (gale force) breeze in Sutherland. So every time a gust came through, it sounded like somebody was busy crumbling up a whole set of Encyclopedia Britannica next to my ear! And, after my ghostly experience of yesterday, I was not that comfortable with the unidentified noises coming from behind the tent. Then, at 2am this morning, I woke up, in a cold sweat, tried to rush out of the tent, and the zipper was stuck on the side material! PANIC! I got out, on my stomach, through a small opening in the door.
This morning, while rolling up the paper tent, I realized what it was that woke me up. Two bull frogs burrowed in under the tent, and slept right underneath me! I have proof. I took photos of them disdainfully limp hopping away (they misjudged my weight, it seems). So another wildlife injury ascribed to me.
OK, so that was the night’s escapades. Now for the day!
I met with the SAAO (South African Astronomical Observatory) people this morning and got royal treatment with a private tour of the facilities. It seems that an evening star gazing experience would be the order of the day! I was expecting lots of Europeans with white coats running around up there, but not a soul in sight. First I feared an alien abduction, but apparently they all come to put up their telescopes, and then bugger off home, and do the research from there! So, the Polish, Korean and Japanese little hubs looked abandoned, but at least they had a roof over their telescopes while the poor Americans only have 4 slabs of concrete. Their stuff is still being built it seems!
The absolute highlight of my day (and this is unfortunately the proof that I did in fact drive over that poor olive grass snake yesterday, and I know it was an olive grass snake, as it was still lying dead in the road where I left it) was not studying the dead snake, no, the highlight of my day was route R354. Please go and check out this road on a map? It is 142km long, dirt road. So, I reckon, two hours tops, and I will be in Calvinia! As a side note / footnote type thing, I do really want to call Hyundai, and congratulate them on their vehicles. Bullet was a superstar today! Road R354 is the road straight to (or from) hell! And it was not paved with good intentions. It was not paved with any intentions, or tar, or even smooth gravel. It was granite rocks, filed to a sharp edge, interspersed with knee high soft sand, and not to forget the fantastic corrugated bumps in between! Some mountain passes looked like a step ladder, and not a road, so steep was the gradient! And of course, sometimes, all four would be at the same time, same place! So, to get through the soft sand, one cannot slow down. It is go go go!!. The granite MOUNTAIN size boulders require careful avoidance tactics to stay away from a tyre blow out. The corrugated bits looked like speed bumps on LSD! Man, I could park my car in the dips, and needed to reverse out on the high parts. So, slow go, slow go, slow go.
Sand, corrugations and boulders, together on a pass. FUN! Can’t slow down or the car gets stuck, doing figure of eights in the loose sand while dodging rocks and jarring over corrugations, prompting visions of sheer cliff drops at speed, I was surprised to find my pants dry at the end of the day!
I felt like a contestant on the Cape to Dakar race and leading it as not another car in sight, except for the donkey car, who REALLY could have moved to the bad side of the road, seeing as the donkey had LEGS that can’t have a blow out!
All my little blue bullet needed was the Total rally Stickers on the side and the mesh windows. With the amount of dust coming in, it could just have well not have had windows!
I smoked so much, that I am sounding like James Earl Jones as Darth, and all of those had to be lit without taking my eyes off the road or hands off the steering wheel. I do not have eyebrows at present. Not anymore!
Then, finally, blissfully, tar! And I take the wrong turn. Luckily only 20km in the wrong direction which saw me entering the bustling metropolis of Calvinia. I could again do a U turn in the main road without checking for other cars!
Estimated drive time? Two hours? It took me FIVE hours of sweat, tears and eyebrow sacrifice.
I had a blast!
The trucks of course will have an easier time of it, seeing as they carry double sets of tyres in the back, which makes loose sand less of a hassle, and also seeing as the truck tyres have way more tread than normal car tyres, they can take the punishment!
And, in-between I did manage to take some photos, of a desolate landscape where the rocks are actually scorched black by the sun, red clay sections of the road are smooth and in total contrast to the burnt landscape and rivers flow in the most unexpected places – beautiful!
The tarred section saw a return of my tunes! Top volume. And speeding along, I hit the next obstacle. Remember again, the locusts from yesterday? They were itty bitty little things compared to the swarms of red hopping mad locusts that all tried to cross the road. And no, we don’t know why they would want to cross the road! It was wholesale slaughter! On a busy highway, with trucks and 4×4’s and cars. The tar was stained red with little carcasses! And when you approach one of the waves of locusts, it actually looked like a swell in the ocean, as they tried to move faster across the road! Scary! My car still has carcasses hanging from the undercarriage.
I was supposed to go and visit Verneukpan, where they attempted to break the world speed record in 19 something really early, but by the time I got to the first turn off, I just did not have it in me anymore. Neither did Blue bullet, who sounded like a V8 engine at a stock rally at that point!
But, Luckily I am staying at a fantastic guest lodge in Kenhard tonight, and guess what? The owner has a working sheep farm right next to Verneuk pan, right outside town! So the negotiations will begin soon!
All in all, an exhausting, exhilarating day. For me, Blue bullet, and all the wildlife I actually managed to dodge today!
The tally of wildlife stands at:
- Sheep. Lots of them.
- Two donkeys, pulling a cart. On the good section of the road.
- Rock Hyraxes, on a relaxing stroll across the road (as I was not going more than 5km per hour at that point, they did not have to do anything faster than a meander)
- A mini Rock Hyrax (Seriously, it looked just like one, but just very small, with a stick in its mouth. Perhaps he is called Woof?)
- Pale chanting Goshawk.
- Masked weavers.
- Pied crows
- One dwarf mongoose (possibly it was a cat, but I was on one of those hell passes, at full rally speed)
- Family of Suricats, trying to pry the carcasses of the dead red locusts of the road.
- Dead and alive locusts!
Two days, but man, I am exhausted. Tomorrow it is Kgalagadi!
In the words of Bruce (That would be Willis) – JipeeKaJay!!
Book this tour now or you’re going to lose out – 9 Day, Karoo, Kalahari and West Coast Tour