Highways and Heatwaves

The best thing about starting out early on the first day of a vacation is that you are too excited to sleep anyway.  When the alarm went off at quarter past 3am it felt like I had just closed my eyes, but I was up in a flash and dashed around, pumping with excitement about the trip ahead.  It took some skill getting all the food into the Thermo-electric cooler, but we hit the road just after 4am, right on schedule.  Now I know road trips are supposed to be spontaneous and not even scheduled, but for my mild degree of OCD, it was too scary just taking things as they come.  I had worked out a vague outline of what progress we should make in order to arrive at our camp sites before the gates close or the sun sets.

Sunrise greets us on the way to Christiana, and as we cross the bridge over the Vaal river and into town we marvel at the beauty of the early morning waters.  With the help of Gloria the GPS, we head to the nearest garage for our first stop.  Luckily I had thrown a spare roll of toilet paper in the car as the Christmas-rush left the Caltex in Christiana without any.  I get my turn behind the wheel and head out in the direction of Jan Kemp-dorp.   All is good until about half-past seven when we cross a little bridge over a little river, and is met by a gravel road on the other side.  Laughing in disbelief, I calculate that Delportshoop lies 40km’s away.  Well, we’re shaken, not stirred  though and cautiously, we continue with a good spirit attributed to the fact that it is the first day and still early at that.

An hour later we get back on tar and the 100 km/h speed limit feels like flying after going 40 km/h for the past hour.  The road is lined with emptiness as far as the eye can see, and rocks seem to be the only vegetation known to the area.  This barren beauty follows us through Postmasburg where we grab a Bimbo’s bite to eat, before treading onto another gravel road.   I could blame the GPS, but it was me who entered the via-point destinations, unaware of the state of the roads that connect them.  (Note to self – you are not as clever as you think you are, do your homework more thorough!)

Just before midday, we take the N14 in the direction of Upington – no more grave surprises for us today, although the detour impressed us with amazing mountains, a small doe, a yellow-billed hornbill and other beautiful scenarios.  We reach Upington with the fuel gauge and our stomachs in desperate need of refuelling.   But we run a tight schedule and we keep the stop for fuel and KFC short and sweet.  In Keimoes we take a few snaps at the Waterwheel next to the main road.  This replica of the traditional water wheel used to get water onto the irrigation lands, and was declared a national monument in 1978.

At last we get the first road sign to Augrabies and we follow the road through green patches of vineyards in the barren grey earth to the gate of the National Park.  The air-conditioned reception is like an oasis in the desert and the personnel are very friendly, explaining the map and rules in Afrikaans (our mother tongue).  The campsites are not assigned according to booking, so it is a matter of first-come first-choice.  We quickly realize the choice is between either grass, shade or a braai-place, with a combination of any of them a very rare occurrence.   Astonishingly we do manage to find a grassy site in the shade of a big tree, with a braai-place just outside our front door.  The power point needs a blue camping adaptor – probably the only thing I didn’t pack.  Luckily the shop has them on sale and our thermo-electric cooler hums happily away while we pitch the tent.  Dusty and sweaty we hop into our swimsuits, and head off to the pools with an ice-cold drink in hand.  The pool’s water is almost lukewarm but perfect after the day we’ve had.  With swimsuits still wet, we stroll down the walkways to the main waterfall, which we could hear even from the campsite.  What a magnificent sight!  1000’s of liters of water stream from the mighty Orange River down the 56m fall in a rush of spray and noise to continue down an 18km gorge down below.  A rainbow-coloured lizard catches my attention and I start following it with my camera.  I soon discover a few more grey and rainbow lizards, and photograph them as they become territorial about pieces of rubbish paper lying around.  The shadows draw long and the mosquitoes start pestering us so we head back to camp.

True to tradition, the fire is soon crackling and we make sandwiches to roast with the lamb chops.  Left-over potato-salad from Christmas-lunch completes the meal and we enjoy our supper under the magnificent stretch of star-covered sky with the sound of the waterfall in the background.  Weary after the long day and bumpy with mosquito-bites we crawl into bed behind the safety of our tent’s mesh-doors.  Tomorrow it’s an early start and a long stretch again – but if it’s anything like today, it will be worth it.  Good night all.

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