So, its only day two and I admit I feel a little fraught this evening. The day started pretty well. After rectifying a few navigational misunderstandings (I’m heading to Twee Rivieren where we’ve booked into the new Kglagadi Lodge and hubby is heading to VanZylsRus, home of the old Kglalagdi Lodge.), we have a beautiful breakfast at Die Ou Skool. The worsies (sausages) have that special piquant flavour I so associate with the Northern Cape and Namibia and the coffee is hot and strong.
We fill up with diesel in Upington, stop off at the tourist office to check in on the flower line – the Namaqualand flowers are due to be up and out in all their glory about now and I’ve been wondering about changing our route back to see them.
Twenty minutes into the red dune route, the boys are using the tourist pamphlets to whack each other across the backseat. Big brother remonstrates with them and big sis tries to reason but coupled with the howling Chilli Hot Peppers and the wailing of Jake Bugg (my stepson’s playlist for the trip which is actually really good when listened to in isolation), I am the first to fold. Now let’s just be clear about something. I, like so many other older ‘I am not child centric but continue to helicopter’ mums, hate TV. And this is not the place to sidebar but just understand that me saying we should let the boys watch a DVD in the car, is akin to my mother eating oysters; it’s just not something she wants to do or even really can do, except under extreme duress. Hubby has packed two small portable DVD players – cheapies from Tottenham Court Road, apparently unlikely to last longer than the trip, and so each boy can watch his own movie. The silence is glorious. The big kids are beaming from ear to ear; the little ones are in heaven and werewolf Mamma starts to metamorphose back into nice Mamma.
Clumps of Barbie doll blond grass slowly start to meld together as we swallow road. It has started to cloud over making the silver grey of the roadside bushes slit silver slashes into the red sand dunes. We’re about 10km out of Askham and a pink meniscus is pulled tight over the horizon.
We stop at the Diamond Coffee Shop and I take a picture of the clinic next door to capture opening and closing times, just in case of a mishap further down the track.
At the coffee shop, my eye catches sight of an old car door hanging off a tree stump. Painted on it are the words: “ The Kalahari – a man’s heaven, a woman’s despair and a car’s hell. – E le Riche.” It’s the name that gets my attention because this is family, this Le Riche. One of my forefathers it turns out. His father was once the game warden here when it was still known as the Kalahari Gemsbok Park. This Le Riche, Elias, has written a book on plants of the Kalahari and although it’s sold out at the small general store over the road, they tell me I can buy it at Twee Rivieren. I make a note to do just that, I want to understand a little more about these people who so clearly loved this place and how it was that they came to be here and then to stay…and, of course, it makes me think of roots and what they mean. How much of what you become is about where and who you came from?
After a few more small stops to pick up ‘diamonds’ (quartz), which my son says he is going to sell back in London for a handsome fortune, we arrive at the Lodge. The chalets are new and while they are architecturally plain to the point of being ugly, they are very comfortable, super clean inside with everything you could possibly need for an easy stay. My daughter and I are thrilled to find heaters in both bedrooms. The boys immediately scamper down the dunes outside and fall into the soft red sand to make sand angels.
I am keen to sit outside and enjoy the view. Opposite, a large herd of goats make their way home slowly across the ridge. The cacophonic bleating and slap of bells shoots me back at least thirty years to when I, too, would take the goats home off the mountain. My grandparent’s farm in Namibia. I believe we all have a place where our soul first awakens and licks at life to really taste it for the first time. The farm was such my special place. And then sometimes there are things that put the soul on ice for a while, and it only takes something as simple as the smell of dust, the prick of an Acacia thorn or the clatter of goat’s hooves on stones to tempt it back into awakening.
But hubby has other ideas; enjoying the view is not on the agenda. He has spoken to the manager and apparently there is a very nice manageable little 4 x 4 route we should try before supper. I start to say that being here is as much about the not doing things as the doing things, I mutter something about slowing down, but I can’t take the disappointment on his face, so we load up and head into the park. It is indeed a good little route and we are treated to some marvelous scenes of statuesque Gemsbok against the bruised sky before heading back to a stunning steak supper watching our first Kalahari sunset, a fat red ball slips behind the mountain. Dusk teases the night.
As I prepare for tomorrow (which, if I’m honest, has been reduced to the task of picking out the raisins from the rescue remedy tablets which have fallen out in the bottom of my bag), I start to muse on culture and how even those so similar on the surface can be so very different. Right now, it’s time to tuck in next to a sleepy little boy who having rubbed red sand into his hair today told me that “everyone knows that red sand makes your hair grow and your body strong, Mamma.” I think he has something there.