De Hoop is actually three massive campsites and we chose the third to set up home in. We planned on staying a night but both knew we weren’t leaving for a while so we took particular care making sure everything with out camp was as perfect as the setting. We choose a large tree that bent round in a semi circle that shaded our tent at one end and gave us a long seat round our fire pit at the other. You might think it couldn’t get better but it could: De Hoop has ablution blocks. It literally was to me what the Ritz Carlton in Moscow was to Donald Trump. So after the tent was up I ran to the ablution blocks – there is no other way to move between shade in this part of the world. I took my bird book to leisurely sit and try to identify exactly what the lesser-spotted-how-the-hell-should-I-know was. It was cool and such a novelty that I sat far longer than was necessary and got up with a bright red ring. You can imagine my surprise when I flushed the toilet and disturbed a spider the size of a dinner plate from its hiding place under the seat.
I returned to the tents with a slightly raised heart rate but it quickly dropped to barely alive as we lay on mattresses in the shade, rolled into the water when it got to hot and shooed rogue weavers away. The sounds of distant goats and dogs from the opposite bank were suddenly a lot closer than we expected and when a dog ran full throttle to my head I started not just because he was rather large. Why were their dogs and goats in the national park? There to answer my questions was Jacobus Joseph who called his dogs (there were now four very large beasts) off. He and I chatted away in Afrikaans and he told me a sad tale of a lifetime of herding for some land-owner near Kuboes*. Upset I asked him if he’d like some tuna and cheese sauce, and a bag of pasta? He was grateful and with a kind of salute he headed off up the banks of the river.
I hoped we’d see him again. It turns out we did, the very next morning. I was glad. I felt terrible about his situation and wanted to know more. I think I should mention at this juncture that I am far from fluent in Afrikaans, a fact that became painfully apparent the more we spoke.
I was confused; wait, the goats are yours?
Ja. Ons bring hulle hier om vreet.
Suddenly his story didn’t seem tragic at all, I carried on asking questions and it appeared my first take was all wrong. The disappointment of my lacking Afrikaans skills more than compensated for by the happy story Jacobus Joseph was telling. He was a shepherd who had benefitted greatly from the changes to the land use in the Richtersveld that allowed him to graze his goats within the park. He’d managed to grow his herd to over 30. His uncle and he shared the herding responsibility of their collective herd and he stayed at different camps through out the park. The next day we visited his humble camp which was not quite as humble as you might think! He had a massive fridge freezer on the banks of the river which a large couch for where he sat surveying the scene before him. He also told us of a good spot to go fishing after two days of mediocre specimens we suddenly were pulling out huge yellowfish! You can’t overestimate the importance of local knowledge.