Leaving the Kgalagadi leaves one feeling strangely bereft. For a place with seemingly such a huge expanse of nothingness, it seems to fill each part of you so that without it, you feel empty.
Aside from the natural wonder of the place, being forced to be without technology has been both liberating and restful for me. I resolve to try and be less of a slave to it all. I resolve this and a few other things. The Kalahari has a way of wanting one to be the best version of yourself that you can be. Perhaps it is because it and its people are satisfied with so little and yet have so much.
We make good time to Upington and decide to continue on to the Augrabies National Park rather than to overnight . The landscape changes quickly. The white sand and arid scrub of Twee Rivieren is soon replaced with vineyards on either side of the road which peter out as we near Kakamas back to gravel and dust. Augrabies turns out to be much closer than we think and by 6pm we are standing at the main viewpoint overlooking the gorge and the magnificent falls. The children are awed – the place of great noise delivers!
I am rollercoasting through a whole range of emotions. The last time I was here was with my mom and dad when I was a child. I have a very bad memory in the classic sense of the word, in that dates and places often elude me. So, without checking in with my mom I am unlikely to be able to tell you exactly how old I was when I was last here or how long we stayed for but I do remember feelings with a sharply drawn clarity most of the time.
Being here without my father now all these years later, is suddenly almost crippling. I have heard people say that one gets over losing someone but this is not my experience of loss. Losing my father left a massive gaping hole in my life and all I have managed to do is live with and around that hole, but it’s there and I imagine it will always be. The ‘living around and with it’ can be done happily most of the time but his absence is very much a presence in my life, particularly now that I have children.
The challenge for me is to try and let my Dad be a real part of my children’s lives even though he isn’t physically here anymore. So, as we stand on the viewing platform together I tell them how he used to hold the back of my mom’s neck, so scared that she may fall. I tell them that he knew the all the names of the different types of rocks around us and we talk about the dreamer that he was.
The place has changed so much since I was here last, the few simple huts have been replaced by basic, but rather nice, chalets. The reception area is a smart building with a welcoming little restaurant, aptly called The Quiver Tree. Since we’ve arrived late, we elect to’ eat ‘out’ tonight. My eldest honours his grandfather (a gastronomically adventurous man) by eating garlic snails for the first time. My Dad would have been delighted.
The children are all tired after the long drive today and so bedtime becomes a rather harried, fraught affair. I collapse into bed soon after, leaving any unpacking for the morning; more at home in chaos than ever before.
I do feel emotionally unsettled though and even though Augrabies is starkly beautiful by anyone’s standards, it all feels too civilized for me, and I wish I were back in the Kalahari.