Several years ago I developed a passion for rocks and sparkly crystals and joined the local Mineral Club based in Bothasig, Cape Town. The club had a wonderfully eclectic mix of members ranging from prospectors, geologists, miners, quarry owners and the likes to jewellery makers and crystal healers. Every so often a group of members would disappear into the Richtersveld for a couple of weeks, returning with sack loads of rocks and crystals. These treasures would be laid out for us to drool over at the monthly sales day. Many times my purse was emptied for a particularly irresistible specimen.
Of course, I yearned to go and find these treasures myself but neither my friends nor I were kitted out for a 4x4 expedition. That was before I was lucky enough to meet my partner SB (fondly known as Stinkbug). He was the one responsible for weaning me off luxury accommodation with soft beds and lavish bathrooms. With patience and determination he coaxed me away from those niceties to ‘camping’ in the back of a Landcruiser camper. This opened a whole new world for me. Suddenly, I could travel to off-road places.
So, after a wonderful trip to Kgalagadi we headed through Namibia to the Richtersveld in early September. As we descended into the valley our first view of the dramatic landscape squeezed my heart and took my breath away. It seemed to me that we’d somehow left planet Earth and were entering a surreal new land somewhere else in our solar system. Had it not been for the line of telephone poles I may have thought we were on Mars. I couldn’t wait to explore more.
SB boldly drove the Landcruiser onto the pontoon that would carry us across the Gariep (Orange) River to Sendelingsdrif where we would be spending the night. I was reluctant to follow.
‘Come on,” urged SB. ‘There’s no other way to get across this river.’
‘Unless you want to drive the 485 km detour to get to the other side,’ laughed the pontoon staff. It’ll only take you about 4 hours,’ they chuckled.
‘Okay, I’m convinced,’ I said, cautiously stepping onto the pont.
Sendelingsdrif rest camp resembles a quaint old mining town with corrugated iron huts. There are about ten of these comfy chalets, all equipped with air conditioning, fridge and two-plate electric stove.
We had no need to use the stove though as we braaied on our porch overlooking the mighty Gariep River. The strains of a hard day’s travel on dusty roads melted away as night closed in and a cicada chorus lulled us to sleep.
Next morning we were up early to make our way to De Hoop camp. Much to SB’s delight it was going to be a day of travelling over a string of passes - namely Swartpoort, Halfmens, Akkedis and Maerpoort.
First we took a detour to investigate the Potjiespram camps. The beautiful, somewhat desolate countryside around us continued to hold my attention hostage.
At first it seemed devoid of life but as one delved deeper a multitude of plant species were revealed.
Miniature rock gardens, created by nature, were everywhere, filled with dwarf trees and a variety of succulents and bright little vygies. The stocky Botterboom was one of my favorites with its yellowish papery bark, giving rise to the name of ‘butter tree’.
We were amazed at how trees and plants sometimes grew out of rock faces.
The rock formations themselves were fascinating even though I had no idea where to start looking for crystals and minerals. Check out this aptly named one.
We were excited to come across several spectacular Halfmens (half-human) specimens –tree-like succulents with thorny stems, no branches and a mop of leaves on top. Yellow tubular flowers appear in the centre of the leaves from August to October. These fascinating plants store water in their swollen stems.
Seeing their silhouettes against the skyline, they truly look like people frozen in motion, reminding me of the legend of the Khoekho people. When their ancestors were driven southwards by warring tribes, some turned back to look with longing at their former home across the Gariep River and were turned into trees by a sympathetic god to relieve their suffering in a hot and waterless land.
It’s an interesting fact that these trees always face north. Alternate names for these plants include Noordpool (North Pole) or Elephant’s Trunk. The halfmens contains poisonous alkaloids and its sap was traditionally used for arrow poison. It is also said that when the spines on the stem are stroked, the plant produces a series of clicking sounds similar to those used in the Nama language.
That’s it for now. To be continued when time permits.