I woke in Sendelingsdrift to the sounds of Johan and Pieter giggling madly while they most ineptly tried to dismantle their tent. The vervet monkeys were back and ready of action, taking up their respective positions around the camp. We were surrounded. Johan’s breakfast banana was stolen from his hand, my apple core from last night’s rubbish. For their final trick they decided my toothbrush and toothpaste were worthy trophies and sat taunting at me from the top of an acacia tree. The villain in question sniffed my toothbrush, and with a look of disgust positioned it carefully in the tree. I watched as he made off my toothbrush with the admiration you’d watch a parkour expert snatch you handbag. Despite my furry teeth I had to marvel at the skill.
A little while and a lot of moaning later, our tents were packed and we headed off to Akkerdis pass. Now I’m not sure what Akkerdis did to have his name added to such a ghastly road (I use the term loosely, it was scarely a path) but Akkerdis birthcanal who have been more appropriate. Initially the bouncing around was novel, a road slid out from the wheel there, the sand churned here… The further we went the more we bounced, lunching forward, back, left to right quickly grows old. As does smacking your head on the car body or wondering if your seat belt can snap your collarbone. It can’t as it happens, but you can remove a good few layers of skin. Usually when people write about these experiences they end them with ‘and just as I was about to give up the pass opened up into a lush green field’ or some equally banal phrase. I would have given up about 10 minutes in but here’s the fun thing about Akkerdis birthcanal: you can’t turn around. So it doesn’t really matter where your breaking point is you have only two options, carry on or walk a few hundred kilometres blinded by the sun and elevating your core temperature well beyond what is recommended. During this entirely unpleasant experience I looked at Richard who has a much higher patience for experiences like these – in fact I dare say he enjoys them. He looked decidedly grim.
So I’m not sure how long Akkerdis birthcanal is, or how long it took us but a decidedly more bruised and whiplashed version of the two of us exited and stopped to take stock of our wounds, stop any profuse bleeding and immobilise any broken limbs. There was much to my annoyance, no field of wild flowers, no lush pastures with gorgeous highland cattle tinkling bells round their necks. It was a sort of field I suppose, consisting entirely of rocks. If how far a rock field stretches is the sort of thing that impresses you then you’d be rather impressed here. We calculated we only had about an hour more to drive and with a defeated sigh slide upwards into our seats. We started talking again:
Look a small brown bird, what is it?
Honestly, you expect me to identify that blob in the distance?
Don’t take your annoyance about the pass out on me.
It wasn’t a pass, it was an insult to passes the world over.
What is that bird?
It’s a lesser-spotted-how-the-hell-should-I-know.
Just at the point were you turn on each other a small family of klipspringer pranced in front of our car and stopped to eat a dry bush. Silently we grabbed our cameras and the mood lifted. Black eyes were forgotten and broad smiles replaced the steely frowns. For those of you who don’t know, klipspringer are dainty, gorgeous and exceedingly agile antelope the size of Bambi. Their name means rock jumper and they make vervet monkey antics look sluggish. Their ability to run up sheer rock faces can silence even the most self absorbed extrovert after a few glasses of wine, leaving their jaws at a angle that makes eating an accidental fly a very real risk. Of course they don’t always get it right which is why their fur is soft and hollow to cushion any falls, and has the unforeseen benefit of making them look like fluffy toys. We sat for a while silently watching them effortlessly ascend the cliff and with the memory of Akkerdis birthcanal fading we continued on to the elusive De Hoop campsite. (Just in case you were wondering, while klipspringers are amazing, you don’t have to go through hell to see them so no, the experience of Akkerdis still wasn’t worth it.)
Ten minutes or so later there were a few green shrubs, then some more, a few trees and suddenly pools of water. Now outside the desert this is not a particularly remarkable sight, but having driven through sand and rock for two days we stopped the car and jumped out to splash about in the pools – although a large black wasp gave my splashes a sense of urgency and purpose that Richard’s lacked. High fiving we jumped in the car and attacked the ‘road’ with enthusiasm and banged head here and a smashed knee there. I can honestly say nothing gave me a hint of what was to come. Sure, the pools were pretty, the Orange River is pretty but De Hoop? We turned the corner and stared in awe. Willow and acacia trees lined perfect white beaches. Running to the river with small rocky rapids we discovered it was so clear you could see to the bottom where fish and small crabs, seemingly unafraid, carried on their business as if we didn’t exist. A pied wagtail almost ran over my foot and looked at me as if to say, I’ve seen your type before and you don’t impress me. In fact all the birds were fearless. It was as if we had chanced upon an undiscovered island and were some kind of curiousity. If the pied wagtail was fearless, the weavers were nosey. One hovered in front of my face before thinking better of landing on my shoulder. Aside from the locals were completely alone.