…and a Happy New Year.

Quiver tree forest, Gannabos

I have not written for a long time, and it’s beginning to be a bit weird. But there is no use crying over spilt writing opportunities; today is the last day of the first month of the new year, and since January screamed past like it had a hot poker up its ass and it was looking for some water, there is no reason to believe that February might not do the same.

When I told Evan (best physiotherapist in the world, really) last week that I was going back to gym this year, he also pointed out that 2011 was well into its third week, and, like, so…? Well… I promptly went back to gym.

As a rule, I don’t look too far back when I have been lax in my updates here, because so much interesting stuff happens every day that is worth mentioning. Thinking about it now, it is a wonder that I have time for a relationship at all. Unlike the pivotal question of whether or not three bags of Rwandan Kivu from Bean There equal three bags of La Piramide from Switch, the blog and its take on the wonders of life has not been the cause of underlying tension a’tall. No, really.

But this time I am going to make an exception, mostly because I schlepped my laptop along on a 4000km, 16 day, 10-stop road trip (looking back, I recant everything I ever said about folk who had a wonderful time on a five-day-six-city-kontiki tour to Europe), and took the time to make notes for the blog whenever darling and I were not speaking to each other. When I opened the notes today they were a little more than 1500. It meant that although I had time to write, I did not have a lot of it. I thought of the mixed feelings jokes: a man hears his mother-in-law drove his new car into the river; a woman tells her husband, “darling, you really do have a bigger penis than your best friend”, and so on.

We really had a wonderful holiday, and we saw the most astonishing places. Here is the short-hand version.

Day 1: 19 December

Not much moves in Carnavon on a Sunday afternoon, other than a couple of chickens in a couple of chicken-wired yards, and the wind through the tops of the blue gums in the municipal caravan park, which makes it more than a little spooky.

The park was well sign-posted and easy to find, but its apparent desolation was a little depressing after a nine-hour drive. There were five or six cars from different parts of the country parked in front of what turned out to be the caretaker’s house, but no man or woman was in sight. What was clearly displayed on the gate, however, was an unambiguous picture of a dog with fearsome fangs, so when it turned out that the bell on the fence was connected only to a short piece of wire flapping in the wind, we decided not to go in and knock on the door.

A man stepped out of the single caravan parked about a hundred metres from the house and started to fiddle with his mobile satellite dish. He did not look dangerous, so we went over to find out what was up, and he told us. He had sores on his legs. When I glanced at the open door I saw a dusty and lonely counter top piled with cables. Carl thought that he was a travelling contractor of sorts. He never unhooked the bakkie he was hitched to, and the next day we passed him twice on the way to Williston and Calvinia – twice because we stopped to take pictures of the corbelled houses. I think he may almost have been the only other car on the road in a landscape littered with tight piles of black rock. I fantasised that a huge, prehistoric antelope dumped all over the place – made bokdrolletjies – and that grass grew between the petrified excrements.

Oh yes. Camping space in Carnavon was R20 for the night – without electricity, which could be had for an extra R2,50.

Day 2 & 3: 20 & 21 December

We passed right through Calvinia, thinking that we would stop for supplies (head of lettuce, lamb chops, tomatoes, cheddar – hardly gourmet stuff) in Nieuwoudtville instead. “Well, there’s a decision you’ll live to regret,” the butcher said after telling us that her lamb chops had been sold out, as had any other chops one could care to mention. They had tongue, soutvleis, gammon and some beef and chicken sosaties that looked reasonably attractive. We hovered over the fridge, a little puzzled that in an area where the only animals you see in miles and miles of nothingness are sheep, the only butcher in a 70km radius has run out of lamb chops.

Two packs of sosaties later we arrived at the Cape Nature Conservation office to get a camping permit for the Oorlogskloof nature reserve . The young woman behind the desk was helpful, friendly and clueless about the site itself.

There was not much by the way of an actual camp site. There was a shaded parking lot, but no ablutions to speak off. There was a long drop but no washing area. Carl looked around hopefully, and walked and prodded a bit, and the longer he did that, the more I panicked. “But baby,” I wailed, “why do we have to stay here if it is completely horrible?” I would like to think that my personal distress prompted him to get in the car with me, but I know, in my heart, that it was the emptiness of the water bowser near the entrance that moved him. He is nothing if not a sensible camper. We crawled back to Nieuwoudtville, reclaimed our monies and set off in search of the municipal caravan park – seeing that our first experience (Carnavon) was not a disaster.

We never quite made it there, as the local estate agent has cunningly opened a caravan facility en route to the municipal one, and by mistake, we stopped there and inquired. It was pricey by comparison, R150 for the night, but he also immediately offered us the self-catering guest house on the property for R150 per person per night, and there was no contest, really. Nieuwoudtville completely redeemed itself.

We hiked the kloof the next day, in better spirits, carrying our own water, and later on we drove to the waterfall and the quiver tree forest.

Day 4 & 5:  22 & 23 December

Cederberg / Sanddrift camp site

“If there is a lonely road, we have travelled it,” darling said on the pass down from the Nieuwoudtville escarpment. The names in the map – Bokkeveld, Namakwaland, Hantam Karoo – rolled off the tongue with ease. We crossed the Droërivier.  I thought of other Afrikaner names that were either utterly functional or self-fulfilling prophesies: Ouboet, Tiny. You have a lot of time to think about stuff on a road in the Northern Cape.

We stopped in Clanwilliam. Carl was expecting some work e-mail, and sniffed about for a 3G signal, which he found on a bench in the street. He sat down and downloaded. He looked like an internet bergie.  Further down the road was the Yellow Allow Coffee Shop. They had decent apple pie, omelette and you could bring our own wine. I hauled the ½ bottle of GC Tortoise Hill out of the cooler box. It was not my shift behind the wheel, and I was in the mood. We sat on the stoep. Carl ordered “tap water”. “’Kraan water” the waitress corrected him, but he shook his head. “Kraan water,” he said in a thick English accent, “klink soos Valpre,” and the waitress laughed a lot.

She plugged in my computer for me, and I downloaded non-work e-mail and made notes.  I wished for a moment that I wrote what Giulietta calls “this crap” for a real magazine, so that I could tell people what great service-with-a-smile we got in Clanwilliam.

And so on to the Cederberg, and real magic.

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