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Home > Libre expression > Carnets de voyage > Afrique du sud - Été-automne 2015 > South Africa travel diary, season 2, chapter 2 : “Flowers and diamonds (...)

South Africa travel diary, season 2, chapter 2 : “Flowers and diamonds galore”

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

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Tuesday 8th of September

This time round, off we go for the big tour. Now seasoned travelers, we head north towards the most arid and dry parts of South Africa near the border with Namibia before we finally reach the desert.

As the journey from Cape Town to Springbok, our first port of call, is 560 km away, we have decided to leave very early. I have decided to gather all my courage and not leave François with all the responsibility of driving and announce that I will give it a try, despite the fact that driving here is on the left, a legacy inherited from the British coloniser. This road will be a good opportunity to give it a go as the N 7 is a rather easy road for driving, being large, tarred and straight. And furthermore with little traffic, shortly after we leave Cape Town. Temperature seems to rise slowly as we move up north but it stays within very reasonable figures, around 20 °C.

Up to Clanwilliam, we in fact follow the same road we took last week-end. However, we decide to take a break for a coffee at a nice place where we can enjoy a view over a garden and take a look around the village in order to stretch our legs, something we had been unable to do the previous week-end.

Nancy’s Tea Room

And first of all, we discover the oldest hand-made leather shoe factory of South Africa: Strassbergers. As we had last year discovered some very comfortable walking boots also hand-made coming from a cooperative, we decide to have a look round. Unfortunately this time round we will not be as lucky and despite the small price for us (around 50 euro, leather lining inside) we come out nevertheless having appreciated the pleasure of going about in such old-fashion-shop without vendors pressing you to try this or that.

Quelques chaussures de Strassbergers

As we come out, opposite the factory, we notice with emotion a memorial to aids victims. Sadly, we will have the opportunity of seeing many more of them in that region, particularly in the most remote villages of the north, as a sad legacy of a time when Mandela’s successor,Thabo Mbeki, refused to admit the existence of aids, refusing prevention and access to medication, despite the world-wide outcry, until his resignation in 2008. These « monuments » home-made with recycled materials, such as rubber tyres and petrol containers with the red ribbon symbol painted on them, stir up our emotions much more than official grand monuments might have done. By his refusal to listen to the world scientific community, Mbeki, a real criminal against humanity, has contributed to make South Africa one of the worst hit countries in Africa by the epidemic, when it had the means to contain it. According to a 2012 study by the South African Institute of Race relations, (SAIRR), without this aids toll, the country’s population would be 4.4 million higher.

Mémorial aux victimes du sida

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This demographic deficit could exactly correspond to the number of South African infected with the HIV virus. This number, estimated at 5.7 millions people, represents 10 % of the national population. South Africa cares for the world’s largest HIV infected patients in the world. Data from SAIRR show that 31 % of all deaths in 2011 were linked to the HIV virus. This proportion will continue to increase to 33 % by 2015.

But we must be back on the road as Springbok, tonight’s destination is quite far. A couple of hours later we have to stop again, fill up with petrol and stop for a quick lunch at the station’s fast-food restaurant, a particularly greasy Wimpy making our French motorway food-grabs look like gastronomic lounges. The place is absolutely full, noisy, smells of chips and service basic to say the least. Thinking we were being clever, we decide on a vegetarian baguette with optional bacon (!) laced with an onion ring, a slice of irradiated tomato (as most of them are in this country), some lurid green industrial guacamole and a green hot pepper. To wash it all down, we are given a giant « american » coffee, tasting and looking like the juice coming out of socks after hiking a few hours. So you are going to say, why stop there? Because here you may be driving for another 200 km before you find anywhere else!

As the sun goes down fast on the horizon, we finally reach Springbok, capital of the Namaqualand, that part of Karoo that meets the Kalahari on the atlantic coast. Water is scarce in this semi-desertic region. Formerly serving as a border city with Namibia, when its main activity revolved around the copper and diamond mines, it still remains today a big urban centre right at the junction of the N 7 and N 14. With 12 000 inhabitants it is by far the largest city for 400 km around. The main street, the Voortrekker Street, is very busy with merchants stalls and Afrikaner farmers’ pick-ups who all come here to fill up with food and goods. Springbok is roughly situated at a distance of 550 km from Cape Town and 115 km from Namibia. We have selected to spend the night at Cat-Nap, a backpackers’ hotel as we liked the name and it claimed african decoration for its rooms. Another advantage is that it has a fully equipped communal kitchen available.

Parked in front of the forbidding high fence we try ringing the intercom but without success. Noticing a bit further another fence with a « reception » sign, Marc becomes adventurous and push the gate half-open gate… which locks itself behind him. Opposite, the glass door remains closed, without a bell and the reception seems deserted anyway. Marc begins to feel like a caged lion in a zoo calling for François, quietly sitting in the car playing with his iPhone windows shut. It is only after a good ten minutes that François, who has now come out of the car hearing the pressing desperate calls (Fraaançoiois…), realises what has happened and find the situation hilarious.

The reception door indicates to ring two telephone numbers but both lead to… an answering machine… By now, François is getting exasperated, returns to the car gate and tries to attract the attention of a large and imposing woman quietly chatting with what looked like guests (excuse-me please…). She finally takes notice and instead of opening the gates, looking grumpy, enquires how on earth Marc managed to enter the other gate?

At long last, walking slowly, still looking grumpy, the woman open the door to the reception in order to free Marc and opens the other gate so that François can come in with the car.

This is followed by the ensuing dialogue:

Hello good afternoon, would you have a double bedroom available please, for 2 nights?
(the woman sighs ostensibly and opens a big ledger)
Let’s see, you say two nights? (new sigh), aaah, two nights?
Yes please
I can give you the number 3 with bathroom

We will realise later that it was not so difficult to find out as there were only 3 or 4 rooms. You will have to fill in this form with your passport numbers and pay cash as our card machine is out of order. Here is also the keys to your room and the code number to open the gate for your car. Did she say “have a nice evening”? I cannot recall. However the room was spacious, comfortable and well furnished. The shower room was correct apart from the fact there was no mirror above the wash-basin, placed instead opposite the room, a rather awkward arrangement when trying to shave and not an unusual situation in South african bathrooms.

Rather tired after such a long journey, we decide to eat in the communal kitchen all to ourselves with the provisions bought at the supermarket in Cape Town, kept cool in the ice-box Zalia had lent to us.

Gone to bed early, after reading guides and maps in order to decide what we would do in the morning, we fell asleep. When in South Africa we tend to go to bed much earlier , around 9 pm or 10 pm following the sun and rise much earlier too and we find this to be a more natural rhythm. Of course this is something more difficult in our western societies, dominated by the need to be « connected » non-stop and where we are never too far from a screen.

Wednesday, 9th September

Early start today. After some breakfast with some delicious Cederberg oranges, we head towards the tourist office just opposite. It’s cold, not more than 12 °C, but there’s a bright sunshine. The office has just opened and we are welcomed by a beautiful lady sporting one of the most stunning smiles ever seen. She provides us with maps and directions towards the Goegap Natural Reserve, 15 000 hectares of wildness. Even though it’s late in the season there are still some flowers to admire and we are promised a stunning hike.

The entrance to the park is only a couple of kilometres away on the R 355 south east from Springbok town centre. On the road some municipal workers are picking up some rubbish (mainly plastic bottles and beer cans) on the side of the road, this part of Northern Cape is very clean, indeed. We veer off to the left and follow Springbok’s small airstrip before entering Goegap Reserve. Now, we know the drill and we head straight to the office to show our passports, indicate how long we intend to stay and pay the entry fee. The welcome from the officials is warm and informative. We get a couple of maps which show the foot paths and the tracks. Due to his grand age, Marc gets a senior citizen reduction. We are strongly advised to wear good shoes, slather lots of suncream and carry lots of water. After a last check at the gate, we follow the dirt track to the main car park where most of the footpaths and 4x4 tracks start. On our left we see a huge grey mound with regular slopes. The colour makes us think of a slate mine but it turns out to be a now disused copper mine bing.

Ancienne mine de cuivre sur le chemin menant à la réserve naturelle de Goegap

The sun is shining, the light is bright, the sky is blue, we could be in Provence. The guards were right, shades, cream and water bottles are de rigueur. Along the track we can see the first flowers and a few living creatures. We start our tour by the botanical garden where cactuses, succulent plants, pelargoniums and euphorbias are exhibited in high raised beds at wheelchair level. Obviously, all plants are not flowering but they are arranged by families and well labelled. This will make it easier for us to recognise plants during our walk.

Goegap, jardin botanique

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The Goegap Reserve hosts more than 500 plant species, some of which are unique to the area. It also boasts 45 different mammals et 94 different birds.

Geogap, François

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Goegap, Marc

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We are off with our hats and walking sticks on a rocky path which climbs over the valley. The views on the mountains are stunning and change at every turn. A view point is indicated, but we get there and we cannot see what the fuss is about, or rather we think that every spot could be a view point. As our pictures testify, the vegetation is not dense along that stone track where the Siena coloured soil seems burnt by the sun. Winter is not finished yet and we can imagine what it’s like in summer: most plants must clearly go dormant or disappear. Still, many brightly coloured bushes enchant us, yellow, fuschia, orange, blue. Minute yellow flowers without any leaves seem to grow out of stones. The only “trees” are tree-aloes.

Goegap, fleurs

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Aloès, les arbres du désert

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Regrettably few animals are visible at that time of day, they are clearly more sensible than we are and go into hiding when the sun is at its peak. Still, a few birds can be heard and seen on our way. Only large lizards are ready to pose for our camera and a few worms or centipedes sometimes bar our path.

Goegap, petits animaux du désert

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After our 3 hours’ walk, we can feel our calves and our soles are getting hot, we get back to the car and follow one of the 4x4 dirt track in another part of the park. It meanders in dry rivers’ beds but we guess it must have rained not long ago as some of the prairies are covered in little yellow and pink flowers.

Goegap, plairies fleuries

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Suddenly, we see some largish animals in the distance. It’s a troop of baboons who seem to go about their business among a herd of gemsboks. As we get closer, the baboons disappear but the antelopes stay put and continue grazing. One of the males has lost one of its horns, most likely during a fight. Gemsboks have adapted to the desert’s heat very cleverly. Like all mammals they regulate their body heat (in their case around 38 °C), but, in order not to waste too much energy, they let it go up to 45 °C during the day and recover at night. These 200 kg beasts, with their 80 cm straight horns and their black and white markings on their heads, are truly spectacular.

Goegap, mammifères

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Back in Springbok, we decide to treat ourselves to a good restaurant and book a table at the Tauren Steak Ranch, apparently the best meat restaurant in town. And in the Karoo, what else can you eat ?

After a well deserved shower, we leave our room only to realise we’ve pulled the door with the key inside. Panic. We must find the “charming” lady of the house fissa, else we’ll spend the night in the car! We ring the different numbers and, as per day one, we get the answering machine. We know where she lives, there’s light, the TV is on, but despite us screaming and banging on the door, there’s no answer. We decide to go to the restaurant. If sleep in the car we must, it might just as well not be on an empty stomach.

At the restaurant, we keep ringing her while sipping a glass of Chardonnay, and finally, praise whoever there is to praise, she answers and tells us not to worry, she has opened our door and left it open… We are fairly relaxed about our belongings but it doesn’t seem a very bright idea to leave our luggage, camera and pad unattended and François decides to drive back, pick up the key and lock the door. The lady is not deaf any longer, she answers and turns out to be absolutely charming, inquiring about our plans, and insisting on talking to us the next day to give us travel instructions. Is she following the current trend by being bi-polar or is she just lunatic?

Anyway, back at the restaurant we can now relax and take in this rather special place. Curiously the restaurant in underground, this is very unusual is South Africa as space is not a sparse commodity and most businesses are at street level. The decor is meant to imitate a ranch, with thatched roofs, western type bar, all in glorious American style. We are in redneck country, and this is their paradise. The lounge is packed with Afrikaners, probably mainly farmers ou business people with their spouses. Weightwise, they are all very imposing. But more unusually (at least from our South African experience) there are also many coloured people of all shades. In this part of South Africa, black Africans are the minority. In fact Wikipedia advises us that Springbok is populated by 4 % black, 15 % white and 80 % coloured. The atmosphere is easygoing and the service friendly. Everybody knows everybody and seems pleased to see each other. The boss is a huge white guy on the verge of morbid obesity and he keeps going round the tables making sure everybody is happy. The staff seem to have a good time, lots of laughter including a very effiminate waiter who keeps cracking jokes. We’ll understand later…

Having experienced the loos, Marc suggests that François go there with his telephone to take pictures of the doors.

Tauren Steak Ranch
Étable (pour les dames) et arêne (pour les messieurs)

We warned you, they are unashamed rednecks, sexist and misogynistic! As for the music, it’s a mix of country and sixties hits. The cuisine is not what one would call refined, but food is plentiful. Snails with a light creamy cheese sauce are best being avoided, as the light cream turns out to be a very heavy white sauce. But, on the other hand, the 500 g min T-bone steak is a must. One of the best we’ve eaten in South Africa, the meat is tender, well carved (French way, not with a saw) and well grilled. We’d decided to water it down with a nice bottle of red Cederberg wine which slipped down our throats.

We leave the restaurant with a smile on our face only to find most the staff outside smoking joints which certainly explains their happy behaviour…

Thursday 10th of September

It is very cold in Springbok this morning and with the wind it feels even colder. Though the temperature is only 7 °C, François insists on only wearing his holiday clothes, a pair of shorts and no socks… First we can’t resist buying some Biltong from a specialist shop with some difficulty as they only speak Afrikaans, then quickly rush to the local Super Spar for tonight’s braai.

So, it is fairly early when we go back on the road towards Kamieskroon, a small village of less than 1 000 people, at the centre of Namaqualand. Here we are still very much in an area where Afrikaners dominate. Blacks only represent 10 % of the population, whereas whites and coloureds represents 90 % and the majority of people speak (96 %) Afrikaans.

What has made Kamieskroon famous, is its proximity, 20 km away, to the Namaqua National Park (also spelt Namakwa), covering 1 000 km2.

A little hesitant as to where to drop our bags for tonight in this country hole, we are lucky to find a little old-fashioned looking hotel run by very friendly people. The hotel owner is very informative about the region and the road to the national park passes by the hotel, which yearly organises training courses in photography and art painting, attracting people from all over the world. Unfortunately, the 24 rooms of the hotel are all booked and we have to fall back on rooms situated a few hundred meters from the hotel, opposite the church, but with cooking facilities and a barbecue.

Kamieskroon, notre gîte et autour

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Kamieskroon, un garage vu de notre gîte

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Quickly settled in, we leave towards the park and a visit of « God’s garden ». The track follows the main road before going under it and take a south-west direction. And before even entering the park, we are greeted by bright blue fields planted with the very same lupins that François tried to have on his farm in the Gers but did not succeed has this leguminous plant requires a well drained soil. Obviously this is not a problem here ! Then we carry on and find ourselves surrounded by multicolored fields where orage predominates. We have no choice but stop every 200 meters or so, the show being so beautiful.

En allant à Namaqua

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When finally arrived at the park, we opt for a walking circuit which will give us constant joy and wonder.

Un sentier étroit au milieu des fleurs à Namaqua

Namaqua, prairies fleuries

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If we were believers, we’d probably think that God was an incredibly gifted landscape architect! The Creator has invented « mixed-borders »! The most unexpected combinations of colours seem here to be in harmony, naturally, almost the opposite of our commercial packets of seeds for wild flower fields, so garish.

To our big surprise (but it won’t be the last time), we are the only ones walking as the others chose to only do the car tracks, taking photographs without even moving their asses off the seat of the vehicle! This is all the better for us, we will be more lucky in being able to listen to birds and spot them. We were also lucky to see dassies, perched on their rocks and curious of us as we walk.

Namaqua, damans du Cap

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Marc en rando à Namaqua

As we continue walking on the narrow path (in order to leave the maximum of space to flowers), we notice a few tombstones inevitably protected by barbed wire, where the former owners of the farm are buried. Even if one does not particularly like graveyards, being flowered for several months in the year seems to be enviable compare to the gray sky over the Parisian cemetery of Père Lachaise. These farmers used to rear their animals using extensive methods, not too destructive of their environment, and when the park was created, nature took over again quickly and the original flora bloomed again. These tombs and an old windmill to extract water are thinly remnants from the farm.

Tombes des anciens fermiers à Namaqua

Back to the entrance of the park, we proceed to picnic under the eucalyptus where Southern masked weavers (Ploceus velatus) have organised their home. This sparrow, no bigger than 15 cm is a very interesting specie. Not because of its sexual dimorphism (it’s common for male birds to differ visually from female birds), the male being of a bright yellow color whereas the female is dark brown, but because of its behaviour. These weavers birds are social animals, living in relatively large colonies. The males are polygamous, they weave magnificent nests and leave the females to choose their own nest. The females birds take care of the internal decoration and make it comfortable with grass and feathers. Nests look a little bit like Christmas balls or a kind of a big woven pear as they are not laid at a branch intersection but suspended to them. And they curiously open from the bottom. And yet the little ones don’t seem to fall down! It goes without saying that weavers are very agile birds whether with their beak or their feet. One can distinguish the most recent nests by their light green color when older ones are of a beigey green shade. In a word, watching these birds going about feeding their chicks is a delight.

Namaqua, nids de tisserins

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Namaqua, nid de tisserin

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After this walking visit, we decide to carry on exploring the park further in the car, following a dirt-road, meandering as almost always in South Africa between two ranges of mountains, when in fact we are already 1 000m high in altitude.

Jeu de mots, les intrus seront des “prostitutes” (prostitué•e•s) au lieu de “prosecuted” (poursuivis)

It is now hot and dry and we are lucky to to see in the far distance some Red hartebeests, sort of large antelopes with big zigzaging horns and a long spotted black muzzle.

Namaqua, Red hartebeest

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At the bottom of a valley some abandoned dilapidated houses raise our curiosity thinking about the people who once lived in those inhospitable areas. One wonders why sometime colonisers ever settled there, perhaps there used to be water or a spring at some time of the year?

Namaqua, ruine en allant vers Soebatsfontein

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Arriving at the other park entrance, Soebatsfontein (where an Afrikaner farm worker would have been killed by natives despite his plead hence the name of the settlement « the spring that pleads »), is a miserable settlement of a few hundred inhabitants where inhabitants watch our car with curiosity or perhaps incredulity as it seems so isolated here. Stupidly we had caressed the idea of stopping for tea and scones in the village but no, not here. And yet we can’t help notice a shop preparing mobiles and cameras.


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Often enough by looking at the toponymy of words we can learn a lot about a country. In South Africa, names of places comprising the word « fontein » are very common. This Afrikaans word for fountain has to be understood to mean water spring. For instance, Leliefontein (lily’s spring), Loriesfontein (Louries’ spring), Springfontein (spring’s water spring), Jagersdfontein (hunters’ spring), Koffiefontein (coffee spring), etc. Dutch colonisers grabbed the land as they progressed through the country and obviously in such a dry part of the country water access was the most important criterion.

As usual, the road takes longer than anticipated given the state of the track. From time to time we can see far away some farms. In the distance we think we can distinguish some small white cattle which as we got nearer turned out to be Sacred ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) with white feathers and a black head. Not necessary better looking than the Hadada ibis (Bostrychia hagedash) commonly found in the Cape region, but at least they do not make the same horrible noise rather disturbing in the middle of the night.

Ibis sacrés en Soebatsfontein et Kamieskroon

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By now it must be past 5 o’clock when we reach Kamieskroon where we spot a tea-room, in reality a farm trying to make a little money with tourists, rather friendly and where Marc always ready to sacrify himself for a good cause, choses to pursue his comparative study of malva puddings as explained in chapter 2. François thinking himself more reasonable takes a scone which turns out to be much much bigger than its British version, complete with cream, butter, jam and… grated Gouda cheese…! Sometimes anything goes? On the other hand, as night started to fall, freezing cold started infiltrate itself in a place where doors and windows are far from being isolated, we are beginning to wonder what it must be like in winter as it can snow in Kamieskroon. Maybe the place is closed but then farmers live there all year round.

Before leaving for our cottage, we take a quick look round the village. Talking about the “village” suggests a village as we understand it in our country. But in reality we are talking about a few dirt tracks at a right angle with a few unprepossessing houses. Some kind of functional settlement, nothing more. The petrol station seem to have known better days. It is there that we buy some wood for the barbecue. Other than that, no shop, no high street apart from ours opposite the church. Thinking about our own village in the Gers (about the equivalent size), with a post office, a pharmacy, school and grocer’s, perhaps we come from a big city.

Kamieskroon, l'église vue de notre gîte

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Back to the house, frozen to death, we start with drawing the curtains and setting the little electrical fire on. Now it is time to dress up with proper trousers and polar jackets. Outside, the barbecue will soon warm us up. On the menu: salad and lamb cutlets, washed down with South African plonk. A delight!

Friday, 10th of September

Having reorganized our luggage, there we go on the way towards the north-west coast of South Africa. In order to get there, we have no choice but to go through Springbok again, then turn to the left on the R 355 towards Kleinsee. The formidable lady at Cat-Nap in Springbok had recommended this road. We’d said to her we intended to go to the Richtersveld. Looking at our urban 4x4 with contempt, and glancing scornfully at our faces (a way to say perhaps that two men as a couple may not be capable to face up to the desert) she had suggested this road with proper tarmac on the surface (in her opinion more adapted to our sporting level?). Of course we did not follow her advice regarding the desert ( if queens cannot be sometimes wild, what is the point?!). But nevertheless we followed her advice about this road leading to the ocean. In any case, the choice of road was limited; there are only two roads available from Springbok to Port Nolloth on the coast and the R 355 was a good way to drive along the coast between Kleinsee and Port Nolloth.

Entre Springbok et Kleinsee, vue sur la vallée de la Buffelsrivier

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Having left Springbok, the landscape changes progressively to higher mountains and magnificent views. To say the region is desertic is a euphemism as we did not see a single village or hamlet for 105 km. Then the road rapidly descends with hairpin turns towards a valley and transform itself into a sandy track.

Dans la vallée de la Buffelsrivier

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Here and there some sheep break the monotony watched perhaps by rooks nesting on telegraphic poles. Apart from that, mines, largely diamond mines as we approach what the tourist marketeers call « the diamond coast » supposed to attract them. in fact in these landscapes where everything looks the same colour with little or no vegetation, it is not always easy to distinguish a bing from a natural hill. Most mines seem to be closed and big road signs warning traffic maybe disturbed by mining trucks look redundant as we did not come across a single lorry.

Mines dans la Buffelsrivier

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Very occasionally we see an old pick-up or even some people walking in blue overalls going god knows where and why? Houses look abandonned. A cemetery looks so sad in the middle of nowhere.

Cimetière sur la R 355, une vingtaine de km avant d’arriver à Kleinsee

At last we reach Kleinsee (Kleinzee in Afrikaans), « the little sea », a lagoon created by the Buffels river once every ten years when it rains sufficiently to transform a dry bed into a proper river. We seem to be going through a sort of abandoned check-point. As a matter of fact, until recently, the whole town belonged to De Beers, the company that has dominated the the diamonds’ trade for decades. The town itself is fairly big but it is now a ghost town with 3/4 of houses for sale and all the shops we were led to by our GPS closed or looking moribund.

At long last we find the squash club and its restaurant. A sign at the entrance says « Yes we are open ». Thanks for telling us because we wouldn’t have guessed by the outside look! As we walk in conversations stop as if we were the first outsiders they had ever seen for a long time.The owners are friendly and draw our sympathy. The husband shakes hands with us as we come in and insists on telling us about the town and the diamond extraction industry. Crazy about long wave radio and vinyl records, he opens an old record player for our benefit and explains he regularly speaks to French people on the radio.

Kleinsee, entrée du squash club “Oui, nous sommes bien ouverts”

Food is correct and cheap. There is even a Banting menu for François watching his waistline while Marc jumps on the local fish and chips. They have rooms and and they try persuading us to spend the night there. After signing on the guest book at their insistance, our names following closely the name of Harry Oppenheimer, one of the former director of De Beers, we dare not explain that being on holiday is not for us an opportunity to develop suicidal tendencies, so we claim having some urgent errands in Port Nolloth, our next port of call in order to escape from them.

Leaving the place, we try over and over again to find the beach but without success as if we had entered a kind of labyrinth with no escape, after a nuclear holocaust, seeing absolutely nobody in the streets looking like death.

Courts de tennis et piscine à Kleinsee

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Apparently techniques for exploiting diamond mines have changed. As for most natural ressources, it is not so much that they go diminishing but rather that they get more and more difficult to reach. At the beginning, diamonds were located near the surface, now one has to dig up down to 20m before finding some and therefore it is necessary to turn over thousands of cubic meters in order to discover a few carats. As a consequence, companies have developed new methods of extraction. Roughly, the name of the game is to transform the desert into mud and sift through it with water. We asked stupidly where they found water here to do that and the answer is so obvious: in the ocean!

After this introductory lesson to diamond extraction, we resume driving towards port Nolloth, almost the last city before Namibia. As a matter of fact this road supposed to follow the coast is inland or more accurately a desert of sand. From time to time we see some often abandoned extraction equipment. Over the 60 km long journey we only come across two vehicles.

Sur la piste entre Kleinsee et Port Nolloth

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Guide and tourist books tend to describe Port Nolloth romantically, as a sort of Wild West with miners at every corner trying to sell you illegally extracted diamonds as everything (ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING) belongs to De Beers. Wrong! Port Nolloth is a sad and miserable city. If the sea coast has kept some charm reminiscent of northern sea-side resorts in France or Britain, it is also obvious that it has enjoyed more prosperous days in the past (a kind of song refrain in this chapter).

Arrivée à Port Nolloth

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Some nice wooden houses face the sea-front and we go for the Bedrock Lodge to stop over, but in reality we have no much choice as most places listed in our guiding books are closed apart from the Port Nolloth Hotel. For the price of a room we end up with a whole house sleeping up to 9 people and that shows quite a lot of character, although w are glad not to have to share as there is inly one shower and one loo… For once the lady takes the trouble of showing us round but does not bother picking up the plastic bottle lying in the front garden. The house has been fitted with an alarm but there is no lock safe. Any 5 year-old kid would be able to break in through doors and windows without problem.

Bedrock Lodge

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We decide to stretch our legs along the beach. A wooden path has been constructed but it is in a very poor state. Garbage is visible everywhere. And there are lots youngsters about looking bored.

Détritus sur la plage de Port Nolloth

After that we decide to try a restaurant. It is relatively windy and cold. We call on an empty pseudo italian restaurant all doors and windows wide open and staff reluctant to close them and even to serve us it seems. So we decide to go for the other option, the restaurant part of the hotel, with a very boring outlook.

Two bikers come to eat at the table next to us, spending their time flirting with the waitress young enough to be their daughter, but they are white, well off, so everything is OK isn’t? When we tell them we intend to go to the Richtersveld, they recommend the Tatasberg region and we take note of that.

Saturday 12th of September

The next morning, we start preparing for our departure for the Richtersveld. First of all we pay a visit to the launderette: 75 rands for 5 kg, equivalent to 5 euro the load. The shop also sells rather sad-looking wedding dresses with necklaces dressed with fake diamonds and… cans of coke.

Next we call at the unavoidable Spar supermarket to fill up with food; we have read that once in the Richtersveld, there was no opportunity at all for buying food, and that water was not drinkable (as in Gers, but worse!). We therefore purchase meat, vegetables, lots of water, wood for the barbecue and of course wine, enough for at least a few days. The Spar seems to be the local place for meeting people, a kind of market place in some ways. People look poor and in bad health here, many seem to be either on drugs or alcoholics. Spar supermarkets offer rarely the same goods, depending on their location. Here few fresh vegetables, few bottles of wine. Fresh meat is very fatty but tinned food like corned beef well appointed. Most people seem to buy bags of flour weighing 10 kg and not much else. We are far from Cape Town here and its luxurious commercial centres. Whites are easily recognizable not only because they are white but also because they are the ones who can fill their caddies with goodies for their 4x4.

Now is also the time to buy some stamps at the post office in order to send some post cards, an apparently simple operation, but here more complexe than we had anticipated. Yesterday, the post-office was closed « because of the weather ». Indeed the sky was grey but it seemed to us a strange justification to keep the post-office closed… Now this saturday morning, it is still closed as the clerk has « gone to do some shopping »(sic)… Half-hour later, at long last it opens. As we join a long queue to get served, we have plenty of time to study how the post-office function in South Africa by reading various pamphlets and notices on the walls. This is how we discover that Port Nolloth is the only post-office before Springbok (140 km away) and that it is part of the Uppington offices some 520 km away.

La poste de Port Nolloth

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Most people do not get their mail at home but instead have to collect it from a post box at the post-office. Reading about all this we have time to reflect and compare things with our own little village of 716 people in the Gers, which post-office service is part of Fleurance only a dozen km away and regionally with Toulouse, at a distance of 100 km. For us it confirms we are right to fight to preserve our public service when the government attempts to dismantle it for efficiency sake.

Poste restante à Port Nolloth

We have 20 cards to send so we assumed we needed 20 stamps. Wrong! We will need 140 stamps plus a special one to indicate it is going by plane. In other words it has not left much room to write anything else apart from the address. François is delighted as he hates writing postcards!

Deux des églises de Port Nolloth

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In the afternoon, we decide for a walk along the coast. Strangely enough it reminds us of the coast on the English Channel, sandy, windy and not very warm (despite the fact that this part of South Africa is the warmest at this time of year). It is a very nice bay with impressive waves but not too rough. Lots of wild birds about.

La plage et les dunes de Port Nolloth

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At last we reach an area closed to the public, you will have understood a mining zone. It is from there that little boats go pumping water at the bottom of the ocean in order to extract diamonds, that have been carried through by the rivers flowing into the ocean. The sea which often can be rather hostile and vicious only allows a few monthly incursions.

Bateaux et équipement pour extraire les diamants

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The port is so dangerous that in the old times there was a siren ringing to signal a boat had successfully entered the port. We won’t be able to visit the small maritime museum housed in a wooden shack as it is closed for the week-end. The unavoidable monument to aids victims plus the legacy of colonisation, plus the stronghold of the mining companies over people’s life and health tells us this region has not been kind to its inhabitants.

Le port de Port Nolloth

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Nevertheless, we notice some plots for sale and a few houses being built, so we presume the town may be more attractive in the summer but it does remind us of those resorts in Britain which went inexorably downwards with the advent of cheap flights and holidays abroad.

Port Nolloth

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For this evening we decide to stay quietly at home for our meal: roasted industrial chicken! For us, as staunch militants against industrial chicken factory, it is difficult to swallow! But it is very cold indeed and we have to light on the electrical fire before going to bed…


For those who have missed the first chapter, it’s on line here and the next chapter is there.

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Mis à jour le lundi 11 décembre 2017