04 July 2009

Karoo to Cape Town

We seemed to have done nothing but rush since we left Johannesburg on Tuesday. We headed towards Lesotho, crossed into the Karoo and dashed across the veld, passing three National Parks. We even visited one and stayed the night in another. Unfortunately Addo, where we were going to see elephants (Elephants!!!) got dropped off the list due to not enough time. The problem is still the fact that my visa is about to run out, and although I keep saying that I don't mind trying to cross the border into Namibia with an expired visa (what's the worst that can happen, I get thrown out?!?!) we are still on a roll to get to the border, leaving beautiful sights like the Garden Route, Oyster Festival, Cape Town museums, in the dust. Ho hum.

We did see some lovely sights, though, so it's not all been rush rush rush: We drove through the endless and lonely Karoo, where the windmills pull up what little water there is to feed the skinny cows and water the occasional ostrich farm. The landscape is sparse and wild, also freezing cold at this time of year. Mountain Zebra National Park was a bit of a find, a small area that holds the other kind of zebra found in South Africa, as opposed to the more common Burchell's Zebra. These guys are more chunky and a lot more shy, but they seemed to get on well with the Red Hartebeest and Blesboks, the Black Wildebeest and Oryx we saw there. We were also lucky to catch sight of a Black-backed Jackal as he crossed the road, stopped to give us the evil eye and them loped off into the high grasses. There were also vervet monkeys and baboons messing about, picking food off the ground while the kids generally made a nuisance of themselves pushing each other off branches. This was Merryl's first African wildlife experience, so there was much photographing and squealing. That night we fetched up in Addo, but not the elephant park, rather a one horse town, nothing more than a police station and a dusty shop with a petrol pump attached. We had a taste of African supermarket simplicity, as the only veggies on sale were potatoes, squash and pumpkins, plus a pallid-looking range of import tomatoes that had been sitting in a cooler for too long. The rest of the shop was filled with dusty tins and bashed washing powder boxes along with fridges filled with sugary drinks (what is it about the fizzy drink consumption in these parts?) and processed cheese. Other than that the take-away counter held mangled pies of indeterminate providence and chemically enhanced cakes. The caravan park we stayed in was run by an Afrikaans couple with a penchant for crazy garden statuary. It was hard to walk for the nymphs stretching after a nap, gnomes sitting on benches, and dog figures marking the burial spot of the owner's favourite pet. There was surprising amount of racket after dark, although the town didn't look capable of producing so much engine noise, there were shunting trains and breaking lorries all night. Yesterday we climbed down from the chilly heights of the Karoo towards the famous garden route. The landscape changed completely: all day a line of hills followed us on our right, first as a row of distinct peaks, pointed like the line on a heart rate monitor, later joining together, growing ever higher into a cloud capped range. On our left we occasionally glimpsed the Indian Ocean, its coast line frequently marred by retirement villages. The land went from brown and spare to lush and green, the light from harsh bright to cloudy grey, easier on the eye after days of relentless blue skies. At one point the sun came out of the clouds to make a milky white, translucent light, smearing soft charcoal shadows on the green fields. We also had the first rain of the trip, a smattering sweetened by a faint rainbow over our left shoulder. The country here reminds me of the Wairarapa coast, cloudy hills and empty farms; or the Scottish lowlands, a comforting landscape, easy for us Europeans to understand. There are of course still townships by the roadside, and black fruit pickers slogging home from work, and remote Boer farms, but at least we can understand the shape of the land.

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