Fade to Orange

Ramensdrif to Vioolsdrif

Fifth day on the trip and I was settling into that null zone where work and responsibility is finally ebbing away into the background and the appreciation of one’s current surroundings takes preference over all else.

Late winter in this dry region (it was September when we were there) still has nice crisp, cool evenings, fresh mornings and warm days so I am greeted with a not quite icy pre-dawn glow when I unzip myself from the tent.  [To put things in perspective : I live in a sub-tropical coastal environment on the east coast of SA (read : “bloody hot and humid”) so anything below 20C is considered cold, anything below 10C is “frikking cold” and if its anywhere near zero there better be snow or we’re outa here!]

Dragging my camera behind me, my joints creaking and groaning at all this early activity, one eye still gummed closed and the other tearing up from the cold, I stumbled down to the river to take a few snaps of the pending sunrise .

Finding the perfect spot, I setup and waited, the early quiet only occasionally punctuated by the soft calls of the birdlife stirring in the bushes and trees outlining the river against the rising rocky valley walls. As the sun forewarned of its eminent arrival with a warming glow just above the horizon, the camp began stirring as the tents coughed up more sleep muddled bodies that slowly emerging to greet the dawn with yawns, hawking, snorting and other less salubrious bodily noises.

Camping with an all male cast is not exactly poetic in its presentation…

Started the day with the customary Bloody Mary, washed it down with breakfast hot off the pan, cleaned pots and pans, brushed teeth, collapsed tent, packed, took a few pictures and hit the road.

I am constantly amazed by the tenacity of nature and her progeny.  The tree in the picture below stood alone on the side of a double kopje (hill) – [ a bit like a pimple between two breasts…  you can see the lack of female company was lethargically raising its head at this point. ]. The white dusting on the kopje is neither ash nor snow but part of a white rock outcrop that punctured the hillside, time and erosion dribbling the pale stone down the slope.

I hesitate to say “…like milk from a pregnant nipple …” in case I am accused of having some sort of Oedipus complex, but you take a look and decide for yourself.

The beauty of a trip like this (no pun intended) is that, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by unrelenting browns, tans and reds, a riotous burst of colour appears like an oasis of pigment in a monochromatic desert.

Its amazing what you can do with a bit of water and a lot of perseverance…

Later in the morning we stopped for a leg stretch and some running repairs on one of the vehicles. Nothing major, the roofrack had started shifting through a combination of the constant shaking from the roads and the offset weight placed on it. This is what happens when you put a spare axle length ways down the side of the roofrack instead of width ways… tut tut, Sharpie!

And just in case you are wondering – yes, those are bicycles we are dragging around and, yes, we did actually ride them occasionally.

I had never traveled to a near desert or desert area for any length of time before and I was constantly amazed at the various colours that the underlying rock strata appears in. In fertile and water rich areas the underlying geology is covered by soil and foliage – here, each change in mineral composition stands out starkly from its neighbours. I begin to realise why “the painted desert” in the USA is such a popular destination, especially with photographers.

If you look closely in the picture above you will see some of the crew’s vehicles waiting at the bottom of the ridge. This part was seriously fun – the climb was steeper than it looks from this perspective, and the loose, rocky trail added to the enjoyment.

The Nama people tell the legend of the ‘halfmens’ tree. It is said that the ancient Nama people that fled from Namibia southward to this region were transformed into these half human trees. The ‘head’ of these trees always faces the north and is a reminder of those people looking longingly towards the beloved land they left behind.

This rare succulent (Pachypodium namaquanum) is found only in the South African province of the Northern Cape and in southwest Namibia. Growing on the shady, southern slopes of the mountains in the Richtersveld, it is one of the few tall plants able to survive through the seasons. They grow extremely slowly (only 2-3mm per year), but may reach a height of 3m when mature. The one I pictured on the right was close to 2.50m tall – making it approximately 100 years old. Which may not be much compared to some redwoods and the like, but when you only get rained on every couple of years and the temperature is mostly over 30C, I reckon thats not bad going.

From a distance, these trees really look like human figures staring toward the north. But science says that the reason they lean over in that direction is to give maximum exposure of their rosette of leaves to the sun during winter.

I prefer the Nama’s explanation.

All too soon we reached Vioolsdrif where there is a border crossing between South Africa and Namibia. After the completing the immigration paperwork we crossed over the border bridge to the Namibian side and made our way to the river rafting camp where we would be leaving from the next morning. The camp was an emerald patchwork of cropped lawns perched on the low hills above the river. After completing the check-in formalities and pitching our tents for the night we retired gracefully to the campsite pub to some well earned frosties.

Hail hail, the gangs all here !!!

(Actually, a few were missing at this point, possibly purchasing another round of amber gold and other assorted beverages…)

Tomorrow we conquer the river!

But tonight, we just conquer our thirst…


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