Springbok is the kind of place you ought to like. It’s the heart of the Namaqualand spring flower route, it’s got gorgeous sunrises and enough alien looking quiver trees to make you feel like you’re on holiday in a very unique and far-from-home place. But for some unexplained reason spending time in Springbok is like a Christmas holiday with distantly related, dull and rather bigoted relatives that you feel obliged to see because Aunty so-and-so sent you a damn gift. The conversations are awkward and lifeless, much like most of the residents. We observed that even they seemed to be entirely unhappy that they were there. We sat in a restaurant that was entirely silent. Not empty, but silent. Ponder that for a minute, no one spoke, not even the children. No one smiled for that matter. Except the waitress, she didn’t smile but she did speak, but not in the traditional sense of using speech to convey information. She had no intention of that. In fact after a while I began to suspect that she was in fact a cyborg as the answer to any question was let me check with the manager. Being a writer I began to test my theory.
Are the burgers any good? I’ll have to check.
Do you like eating here? Can I check?
Is life in Springbok dull? I’m not sure, I’ll need to check with my manager?
Have you considered colonic irrigation? Can I ask my manager?
Sadly we couldn’t see her ask the questions and we never found out the answers as every time she disappeared any memory of our queries disappeared with her. I’ve had more lucid conversations with drunks. I asked her three times about the drinks special. I still have no idea if it was two for one, or if you got a free drink with a burger, or if any of the burgers were any good… I fear no one knows. Perhaps the manager…
If was a fun lunch for us, if not for anyone else. We struggled not to dissolve into hysterics every time the waitress arrived and decided to make up scenarios as to why each of the tables around us had decided to sit in silence. I forget why it was funny, it probably wasn’t but the need to be as quiet as those around us made it all the more difficult not to find everything cause for amusement. We were late leaving as usual but for once I can say this was the waitresses fault rather than our own. This was unfortunate as we had quite a drive ahead of us to Voolsdrift and our next night’s accommodation on the Orange River.
The road out of Springbok is not lined with quiver trees as nowhere on the planet has thick stands of quiver trees, but it is as densely packed with them as you could ever get. Quiver trees are spectacularly beautiful and, as is the case with anything worthwhile, take eons to grow. The large ones we saw were well over 200 years old. Fortunately because quiver trees only grow where there is dry rock there is little threat to them except climate change (that’s not to say it’s not a threat, but they aren’t being felled like the rain forests). As we got further from Springbok the quiver trees ‘thinned’ out and eventually we were staring at Mars.
The Mars mission is not needed – the Northern Cape will suffice. All those idiots planning on flying out to Mars never to return need not, we have the inhospitable environment right here. If the Orange River hadn’t chosen to carve its way between South Africa and Namibia it would be one of the largest wastelands anywhere. Red rocks upon red rocks and a disturbing number of graves along the roadside. It is the oddest thing to suddenly find yourself rounding a corner and seeing signs telling you to slow down as your dust will kill the grapes. There is no gradual change from rocks to lush vineyards and there is certainly no change in temperature. The Northern Cape is hot, not ‘oh,-I’ll-probably-wear-shorts-today’ hot but ‘oh-look-my-skin-has-started-smoking’ hot. If the temperature gauge registered 45 we were dubious, 45? Surely, it’s hotter than that…
We stopped at the self-proclaimed last shop called Manny’s store. The man behind the counter was mesmerised by the soap on TV. To be fair it was easy to see why. The man in the hospital bed was dying and telling a woman who loved him she’d be better off with his… brother. It was a plot twist not seen since biblical times and I suddenly found myself glued to the floor. The air-conditioned shop was also a rather pleasant change from the oven on wheels we’d driven there. Eventually a tap on the shoulder brought me back from the hospital and in a daze I found a drink. I chatted to the man during the ad break, discussing the soap (will she marry his brother or won’t she) and his arrival in Voolsdrift from Bangladesh. Subtly evaporated along with any form of liquid in the area and I asked directly, “but why are you here?” Without missing a beat he replied “so I can serve you”. I smiled at the sidestep but felt somewhat frustrated that I didn’t know more of the story. I left the shop with more questions than answers. Would I marry a replacement relative (certainly not if they were from Springbok) and was the Orange River a famous immigrant destination abroad?
I had little time to ponder this because, because the Orange River is amazing and lined with campsites, we had the enjoyable task of choosing where to stay. We looked in at a few but decided to stay at the one that offered gourmet pizzas for R75. Richard was very complimentary about my cheesy tuna, and why not, it is a culinary delight! But he tentatively mentioned that, while he was sure nothing could top my cooking, he just felt oddly in the mood for pizza.