I woke up early, already wrapped in a blanket of heat. I made my way to the Augrabies National Park blasting Passion Pit, getting really excited. Day two of my adventure, who knows what I’ll come across!?
Enjoying the pleasant green of the grapes along the road my eye caught something shimmering in the distance. Shimmering might be an understatement, it was more like the Eye of Sauron lighting up the horizon. If I didn't happen to watch a re-run of Carte Blanche a few days earlier I would not have known what it was. It turned out to be the giant tower of a Concentrated Solar Power plant(1) creating an amazing aura of light around it. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Coming closer to Kakamas, the landscape changed drastically forming barren hills covered with red rocks. It looked like a wonderful little town, wine estates everywhere. Rows of palm trees next to the vineyards and bright flowers bringing splashes of joy to the desert backdrop. Passing through I saw quiver trees for the first time. Giant succulent aloe trees, branching up into the desert sky - quite a sight!
Augrabies National Park is basically a semi-desert and breathtakingly beautiful. Dried shrubs with pale green undertones, barren bleached branches, red rocks and quiver trees. I got my first South African National Park patch at the gift shop and made some lunch before setting off to explore. A vervet monkey almost stole my turkey wrap, but I was quicker than him. I did, however, spill all of my coffee in the process. It was a pleasant lunch. Just me, the monkey and Grouplove playing in the background. As I finished up, I met some German and Polish tourist and set off to the Augrabies Falls.
Holy burning fires of hell was it hot out there! Making my way across the walkways built on top of flat, heat emitting rocks I could not recall suffering heat like that ever before. Not even in the deserts of the Valley of Fire National Park, Nebraska. I regretted wearing shorts since the sun was beating down on my skin turning it to crispy bacon. With STRFKR playing in my ears, I made my way across the rocks to the great Augrabies waterfall pounding over the rocks. I wouldn't go as far as to rank it under the top 3 waterfallsI’ve ever seen(2), but together with its surroundings, it's definitely worth a visit. Be sure to bring your bathing suit to cool off in the swimming pool afterwards.
From there on westwards there was very little to see. Kilometer upon kilometer of yellow dry bushes, telephone poles, and puffy cotton ball clouds in the bright blue sky. The highlights of the rest of the trip were the giant weaver nests that you see every now and then swallowing up telephone poles, and the fact that there is a town called Poffadder (puff adder). The name is more exciting than the town and if I didn’t happen to stop there to check my tyre pressure I might have passed right through without even noticing it. By this time I’d delved deep into my car CDs. Mixed albums I’ve made over the years for various occasions all getting their time to shine again. OCMS, Wagon Wheel, taking me back to my friends playing it on the guitar at Min’s Cabin, Lumineers fading away into the background and The Mountain Goats taking me straight to the mountain roads between Hyeon-ri and Inje(3). What magical memories.
I passed a few white sheep with black heads and an old wind pump creaking in the wind as a thunderstorm started brewing over the barren landscape making for quite a dramatic scene. As I got closer to Springbok(4), the sky started opening up again, sun radiating through the clouds. If my music wasn’t so loud I would have probably heard an angel choir over the horizon.
Arriving in Springbok, I had no accommodation for the evening and nothing drew my attention. I parked at the hospital to orientate myself(5) and decided to start heading down south hoping to find a place to stay. I would have loved to stay in the Namaqua National Park, but that’s something I’d rather do in springtime when the Namaqualand comes to life(6). I’m leaving that adventure for another day.
Heading down south on the N7 I passed a few motorcycles thinking how much fun it must be travelling like that. I once saw this big German biker gang at a rest stop somewhere along Route 62 between Swellendam and Oudtshoorn(7). They were all dressed up in leather and chains, talking about their grandchildren while drinking milkshakes and having the best time with their friends. It was adorable.
The sun was getting lower and the barren hills started glowing. I was listening to a long forgotten playlist I found on a USB, compiled for a previous road trip, each new song a pleasant surprise. As I came upon Garies, a small town in the middle of nowhere, Northern Cape, Concerning Hobbits from The Lord of the Rings was playing and I took it as a sign. I turned west off the N7, straight into the sun and as the string instruments were at their grandest I came across Sophia Guest House, waiting there all pretty in pink. I immediately knew that this place would be my haven for the night. It was the loveliest of lovely guesthouses, Garies did not disappoint.
(1) Khi Solar One is the first solar tower plant in Africa and it's worth Googling some pictures. Also, Carte Blanche is an investigative journalism program that has been running for as long as I can remember. The memorable intro song also serves as a reminder that it's 7 o'clock on a Sunday evening and that the weekend has come to an end and you have to go back to school the next day.
(2) My list of top 3 waterfalls:
- 1. Madakaripura Waterfall, East Java, Indonesia - This one has to be at the top of my list. After being escorted by a group of really friendly locals who would literally carry you over the rocks (if you let them), you make your way through a river and eventually end up inside this cove, with the waterfall rushing out of the lush green forest from above, pouring down all around you. Truly magical.
- 2. Kuang Si Waterfall, Luang Prabang, Laos - This is a whole network of clear turquoise, cascading pools that will just blow your mind. I was cycling there from a nearby town and upon arrival, I was absolutely awestruck by this little paradise inside an already breathtaking country. It is also situated next to a bear rescue center so that's a bonus.
- 3. Bridal Veil Falls, Mpumalanga, South Africa - This one earns a spot on the list since I've been there quite a few times in my life and it always remains as whimsical as ever. She falls as a fine veil of water gently swaying in the wind, sprinkling down onto the ferns and rocks below. The walk there through the viney forest is also beautiful.
- Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada (or New York, USA depending on which side of the border you're standing) - Being the biggest waterfall I've ever seen it was quite impressive. Although we did only arrive somewhere past midnight so I couldn't really see it in all it's glory. It sounded big though.
- Jiktang Falls, Cheorwon, South Korea - Extremely over-optimistically referred to as the Niagara Falls of Korea. It's not a waterfall. It's a 3 meter dip in the river and shouldn't even exist.
(3) Hyeon-ri is a small mountain village I used to live in while teaching English in Korea. We were three very isolated foreigners living there and frequently visited the nearby slightly bigger town, Inje, to meet up with friends. It was 30 kilometers of winding mountain road along the river with the constant fear of being hit by the notoriously adventurous Korean bus drivers and oncoming tractors. How we survived remains a miracle. Note: Min's Cabin is the most magical place you will ever come across and will be mentioned in a future post.
(4) Springbok, springbok and Springboks. The first being a small town in the north-western part of the country, the second being South Africa's national animal (translating into leaping antelope, because that's what they do) and the third referring to our national rugby team, The Springboks.
(5) A neat little trick I came up with. If you're travelling through an unknown town and you don't want to park at some dodgy place with people staring at your out-of-town number plate, find parking at the town hospital. I guess a shopping mall would also do the trick.
(6) Namaqualand is an arid region stretching from Namibia down the west coast of South Africa and come spring time it's an explosion of flowers. I have yet to witness this wonder but it's a sure entry on my bucket list.
(7) Route 62 is scenic tourist route going all the way from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth and is from what I experienced, very popular among the bikers.