“Quickly across the sand. Quickly across the sand. Quickly across the sand. Food. Food. Danger. A dark shadow. Something large looms over me. I immediately turn around and assume to defensive position. The object draws closer. I stand still. Soon it thinks better of it and moves away. Quickly across the sand. Quickly across the sand. Quickly across the sand.”
“Yes,” we nod as we sign the forms to mark our entry into the Richtersveld. We’ve bounced on rutted roads for over two hours and are now touching the remotest northwest portion of South Africa. Before us the inhospitable, but alluring wonder of the Richtersveld beckons. A harsh, arid, rocky area with little water, no cell signal, no electricity, and no fuel. You carry everything you need or else you could be in trouble.
Back in the car it’s as though we are holding our collective breath as we leave Senlingsdrift, the last semblance of civilisation, and plunge into the waiting adventure of the Richtersveld. After bouncing along on some more rutted tracks we notice a car stopped up ahead. “Its die halfmens,” says Nicky pointing to a strange looking cactus type tree on the side of the mountain. The legend has it that the bushmen who were chased from them homes in the north and fled here would look longingly back towards their homes. Those that did became trees - halfmens (half-people), and these trees always have an arm that faces north.
We continue on the road until points out a sign indicating the “Hand of God” to the left of us. We follow the track and arrive at an amazing site. It’s as though a giant being has placed their huge hand on a rock leaving behind a massive imprint several meters in height. Wow, there’s no doubt giant’s played in this area once, as we look at the huge boulders strewn around as though they were dice.
Our road soon becomes a lot more serious as it crossed over mountain passes, where we have to carefully negotiate rocks, gullies and other obstacles in our path. The vista is the epitome of aridness. Not a plant, a bush or a single living thing seems to inhabit this world. Crumbling rock mountains and boulder strewn valleys are all that exist and draw us deeper into the heart of the Richtersveld.
“I hope its not too much further I say,” as I look at the time approaching 4pm. We’ve been driving since 9am when we left Springbok, our last taste of civilisation - or what people call civilisation - for a long time. Gone are the modern luxurious of wifi, water in a tap, electricity….this is about touching life, and I’m looking forward to it….as long as we don’t arrive in the dark. This is the first time since we started our adventure 9 months ago that we will be camping. We’re seasoned travellers, adventurers….but not campers. In fact we are not even sure how to put these tents up. And now we are going to be tested to the extreme, in an environment where there are no backup options.
“There it is,” someone shouts, and we see what must be De Hoep campsite. Before us the wide, languidly flowing Orange river flows bringing with it life to the valley. Trees and reeds cling joyously to its side bordered by the arid, flaking, rocky mountains of Namibia across the river and equally inhospitable mountains behind us. The choice is quite simple. Camp on the river sand or camp on the river sand. So we choose to camp on the river sand. It’s soft which is a bonus but not tent peg friendly. However with some alacrity that I did not know we possessed we soon have two tents up, a log fire crackling, and a glass of wine in hand. However it’s not long after we’ve eaten our braaied work that we quickly retreat into our tents to escape the rapidly descending blanket of cold that feels like its coming from the polar icecaps…although there’s not an icecap in sight. Its just the way of the desert.
It’s the chirping of the birds that wakes me from my peaceful somnolence, as they twitter in eager anticipation outside of our tent hoping for some morning crumbs from us. Soon we’re awake and sipping a freshly brewed cup of coffee and watching the sun leak its liquid golden warmth into the valley. Nothing - this is a place of nothing. There are only a few other campers here, and so it feels like we are alone. There is a certain transcendental experience in the sublime of nothing. No signal. No sounds. No people. No electricity.
A funny looking beetle thing scuttles archers the ground in front of out tents. I go to get a closer look as he seems to do a six-legged dance across the soft sand. As I approach him, he turns and gives me his butt-view. “Hmm,” I wonder, “Is he going to dump on me?” I don’t take a chance and step away, and he’s off scuttling on his merry way. I just wonder what he finds to live on in this arid landscapte.
“Let’s climb that mountain,” Nicky says pointing at the rock strewn, uninviting peak that rises behind us. “Sure,” I reply, ever eager to see what’s on the other side. Soon we are huffing and sliding our way up the crumbling rock peak. Its a tricky climb as care is taken where you place each foot. However we’re soon rewarded by a magnificent view of our campsite and the wide Orange River carving its path of life through the barren landscape of this unforgiving region.
We’ve decided, unlike others who visit here, to not drive much. We want to luxuriate in this paradise of paradoxces. Wet and dry. Bounty and spareness. Soft and hard. Symmetry and chaos. Light and dark. Heat and Cold. These sensual paradoxes heighten our senses and have to be consumed slowly…slowly, quietly in this place of untouched beauty.
And that’s how our day ends. The soft life-giving sound of the river in front us, the harsh quietness of the jagged desert mountains behind us. The flickering warmth of our long fire before us, the majesty of a million lights painted by a divine hand in the heavens above us. The tranquility of our spirit deep within us, the memory of cities and people far behind us. We’re touching the edge, and its a wonderful.