A World Heritage Site has been declared in the Richtersveld, a barren but beautiful region of South Africa. A road trip through this dramatic landscape is a delight for hard-core ‘encounter travellers’
We hit the Grootderm Road along the Orange River, all the way from Alexander Bay to Cornell’s Kop, named after my favourite prospector who never found a diamond in all his sainted life – but he did write the fabulously stirring Glamour Of Prospecting. It’s a humorous travel book telling of his times in the dry land, sleeping rough and living with a constantly flatulent partner-in-crime.
We checked in at Sendelingsdrift Camp, entrance to the Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. It was rather a fetching little tin and wood ensemble and we loved it but me, I didn’t love the three a.m. Fridge Cantata so much. Think howler monkeys in profusion. Add in a platoon of Russian soldiers marching on frozen ground. Then an elephant gagging on a plastic bag. I rose to kill the fridge by pulling the plug but I could not find the power source. It became like Hal the Computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Until morning, of course, when my Jules engineered the problem away.
The warden took us on a bit of a backroads drive through massive, sheer, jagged, naked, defiant mountains which glowed violet, burnt cherry, dark leather, burgundy and buckskin in the afternoon light. I just hated the scars left behind by the diamond mining operations that no amount of man-made ‘rehabilitation’ would ever make right. Zircon rules, mate. And it doesn’t cost three years’ salary, either.
We arrived in Khuboes and met Oom Andries Joseph, who said he was rather keen to feed tourists “asbrood en potbrood, vleis en stampmielies” and teach them about “Jan Twakblaar vir die pyn”. To him, having a World Heritage Site on his doorstep meant showing off the unique culture of the Richtersveld to outsiders. Khuboes Tourism was currently closed but, encouragingly, the council was advertising the post of tourism director. Oom Andries said he might be interested. I said I’d back him for the job, but he just laughed.
We took the road to Lekkersing the next day, where a delightful character called Koos Stoffel, a tall man in a cowboy hat, took us around the town to meet his friends
Oom Andries Isak, a Bosluis Baster, was draped on his front steps in full sunshine, just drinking in the day with a wide smile on his thin face. Up the road, Tannie Magrieta Cloete donned a traditional bonnet and made my heart salivate. Johanna Diergaardt, next door, sat for a portrait which showed off her amazingly Cherokee-like features while her grandson Roman kept trying to slide into the photograph. Tannie Johanna had never cut her hair.“God doesn’t want it,” she said firmly.
Then we met Oom Joseph Fieland who looked like the actor/director John Huston and his bonneted wife, Tannie Regina, and they told us about the goating life on the open veld.
At the Uys home we learnt about the history of these amazing Baster people who were moved from thousands of kilometres away in Bushmanland to live in a forbidding world of mountain, stone and sparseness. But they adapted to the Richtersveld and made it their own, personal Beloved Place.
Now the world and its uncle was beating a path to their door, more than 50 years after society had shoved them out of sight because of their mixed blood.
Our amazing journey to the best place in South Africa ended the next morning with a drive out into the World Heritage area itself to see a veepos (stock post) in action.
Oom Kous Joseph and his wife Tannie Sarah were just finishing milking a hillside of goats when we pitched in the dawn light. Their life seemed simple and wonderful: milk goats, breakfast on tea and bread, Oom Kous walks the goats out to the veld while Tannie Sarah makes quilts and prepare the meals.
And then in the evenings, they watch the sunset over their heavenly patch, and they smile…