“it never rains in the Kalahari”, said the woman at the lodge. I was leaving wet footprints all over her kitchen and generally dripping with water as I followed to collect the keys from her, while she waved her arms towards the sky, apologetically. “But the rain is good. You'll see something most people will never see; a wet desert.”
We were in Askham, a one-pump petrol station close to Namibia. We'd driven hours to get from Kimberley to the remote town of Upington, far up in the north, a connecting hub for South Africa with Namibia and Botswana. A border town with no border, I half expected to see tumbleweed on the high street. We stocked up on drinks, food and petrol and started on the long, straight road to the Kgalagadi National Park, which continues up north past the border and becomes the Kalahari in Botswana.
About an hour into the drive, the sky darkened and the pressure in the air was almost tangible. It was odd- the sky was white, and foggy and luminous at the same time, with sunshine still peeking in the horizon and dark, heavy clouds hanging behind us. In Africa the sky seems endless, and we drove straight into it, with flashes of lightning all around us.
At the guest house, we offloaded the grocery bags and, slightly oddly, had a braai in the garage since the yard was flooded. Rich had cleverly reserved a bottle of sparkling wine in anticipation of my return, and as we ended up in a guest house instead of camping, decided to celebrate our six-month anniversary....only a month or so late. Oh well.
The Kgalagadi was not quite what I'd expected. Although, really, I have no idea what I'd expected. The only reason I'd chosen it on our itinerary was because a guide book had called it “otherwordly”, but I might just add that to my list of “lies you find in guidebooks”. It wasn't unpleasant or uninteresting, but it was very similar to the landscape in Namibia and Botswana, both which are very familiar to me, and I suppose I was thinking it would be something a bit more. We spotted lots of antelopes, a lion and a leopard, and lots of birds. Sometimes I feel like I should write raving reviews of every place I go to, and yes, probably if this was my first ever national park in Africa, I'd be a bit more enthusiastic, but seeing as I've been to about a dozen or more, I couldn't get excited about springboks anymore. Apologies if it sounds like I'm world-weary or bragging. It's mostly unintentional.
We camped in the pitch black and started off the next day just after dawn. I loved the early morning light in the Askham area, and repeatedly made Rich stop for yet another (identical) photo. But it was always going to be a long day anyway; after breakfast in Upington, we set off for New Bethesda in the Karoo area.
And 840 kilometres, no arguments and a cheesecake later we arrived. And Karoo is stunning.
Oh, and it never rains in the Karoo. It hasn't rained in six months. But I guess the rain of Kalahari stuck, and we brought them down with us. Imagine winding roads circling arid but colourful mountains with amazing sunsets and cute little settler towns sprinkled every few valleys apart. We found the only hostel in the area, realised we were the only guests, and spent the evening wandering about the little town (touristy but charming), taking photos (me) and looking at maps (Rich), plus drinking some red wine (Rich, Fred and I) and having serious conversations (Rich and Fred).
We spent the only full day in Karoo strolling around the town of Graaf-Reinet, an oddity of a village; full of white-washed posh houses, scrupulously clean streets and...a miniature African market in every corner. It almost felt like the Europeans established the town, then thought, ah, no, and left, leaving the town to look European but feel African.
We climbed up to the Valley of Desolation, in the slight drizzle that seems to follow us (my hair keeps getting frizzy but no one seems to understand the problem here. Sigh.) to the absolutely gorgeous views over the area, pretty much as far as the eye could see- jagged ridges of reddish stone. I longed for my paraglide as the top is a perfect jump-off point.
The one downside of having a car is that you feel the need to move on everyday; the car rental is just too pricey to keep Lydia standing still. Oh yeah, in the grand tradition of things, the car has an old English female name- in honour of Imogen and Edith of Namibia.