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Home > Libre expression > Carnets de voyage > Afrique du sud - Été-automne 2015 > South Africa travel diary, season 2, chapter 4: “We leave the desert for the (...)

South Africa travel diary, season 2, chapter 4: “We leave the desert for the Indian Ocean”

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 Friday 18th of September

Well rested and after having succombed to a hearty and refreshing breakfast, we leave feeling perked up for what seems to be a new adventure.

Before setting off we decide on a few errands, as we know it is going to be a long journey before we reach the Indian Ocean. First alarming piece of news at the petrol station, where the plastic that we used and budgeted specifically for the holiday is being refused without explanation and impossible to contact our French bank from this side of the world. Rather worrying, as we knew fully well that the account was well provisioned. Just as well we had some other cards at our disposal and we were able to leave without further ado.

We leave Springbok, heading towards Uppington on the RN10. Our GPS tells us that we must follow the road for 360 km.

It already feels hot, the road is going straight and goes across rather arid landscapes. Far away, on each side, we can just about see mountains and closer to the road some rather curious heaps of stones that seem to have been built by men but that is not the case.

Amas de rochers sur la RN 14 de Springbok et Aggeneys

But suddenly, looking on the side road our attention got drawn by strange nests of a very impressive dimension perched at the top of telephone poles. These were the first we’d ever seen but the day after we were able to see many more of them between Prieska and Queenstown.

The Sociable Weaver
The Philetairus socius is the only species of the Philetairus type. It can only be found in Southern Africa with three sub-species including P. socius socius, present in the North-West region of Southern Africa.

The common name of “social weaver” in English describes it very well as P. socius socius is exceptionally sociable and an excellent weaver. This little bird, no bigger than our common sparrows, is capable of erecting the largest nest in the bird’s kingdom. These nests are like little cities, where several hundreds couples of different generations co-exist. Obviously these constructions are being built over several years and collectively. These cities are inhabited all year round, with internal chambers at different levels to help them being protected from either cold or heat. This birds show an unusual community spirit to take care of the little ones, including those, whose parents have died.

Nid de Républicains sociaux

By and large this specie of bird is not endangered, as it has been able to adapt, even extending its natural habitat by using telegraph poles in areas devoid of its favourite trees, such as Acacia erioloba (girafe acacia), Boscia albitrunca (sheperd’s tree) and Aloe dichotoma or kokerboom (quiver tree). As a result, as most often telegraph poles follow the roads, seeing lines of nests is not infrequent. Sometimes poles have to be propped so they don’t break under the wait of some of these nests. P. s. socius gets its food mostly from insects and can survive periods of drought through the water present in them, even though they also eat wild seeds. They adapt their period of reproduction to external conditions, particularly, rainfall as more rain means more greenery which also means more insects.

Petit nid de Républicains sociaux

Round about 1 p.m., we decide to take a break in what is called the green Kalahari, a rather pleasant and refreshing oasis at Kakamas, a small town of less than 10 000 inhabitants. Founded at the end of the 19th century on the Orange River banks, thanks to irrigation it has become a region exporting grapes, raisins, peaches, dried fruit, oranges and dates to Europe and the UK. The region also produces a renowned wine, the OWK (Oranjerivier Wyn Kelders in Afrikaans).

The high street is particularly shaded with trees, and one can see smart houses and gardens, giving the feeling of a rather opulent provincial town. There is some animation as we arrive just as schoolchildren almost all white, come out of private institution (in fact a public secondary school according to a search on the internet), Hoerskool Martin Oosthuizen school. And suddenly one felt transported in time and space watching children coming out of Eaton, the London posh school where her Majesty’s offsprings have to study: plump boys in shorts, white shirts and ties, girls dressed with pleated skirts as it should be. This a striking and symptomatic sight of a two-tier Southern Africa.

For lunch we decide on a tea-room run by Afrikaners, and for once enjoy their “greek salad”, served in the garden in the shade of a large jacaranda tree where grows a lovely red-flowered epiphyte plant.

As we are in a wine country area and there are renowned cellars everywhere, we decide to stock up at a producer where a formidable and overweight lady recommends a selection of 16 bottles of red and white wines. There is an impressive choice of grape varieties, blends, and purpose (young wines, wines for laying down). Once paid up a black employee is despatched to carry the two cases to the boot of our car.

Les ouvriers sont transportés comme et avec le bétail à l’arrière des pick-up…

But we have to go back on the road as it is a long journey before we arrive on the “Wild Coast” we heard so much about and so we must continue on this straight and a bit boring road, with never ending vines on each side, apart from the occasional field of irrigated alfalfa or hay. It appears that before planting new vines, winegrowers sow alfalfa in order to increase nitrogen in the soil. Some of this crop is being sold to cattle breeders that lack winter feed during a dry season. We notice that a number of vines are grown on lines tied on Y shaped supports. This system has probably devised specifically for grapes intended for drying as they must not be burnt by the sun and be protected by a canopy of leaves.

Vignes à la sortie de Kakamas

A few kilometers away, we pass by the Khi Solar One power station where some 4 000 heliostats, a near surface of 5 hectares of mirror panels, out of a total surface area of 140 hectares, concentrate heat from a pressure boiler at the top of a 205 meters high tower. This power station produces 50 MW. It is part of a development plan for renewable energy, which the government supports reluctantly, as it rather favours coal and even contemplates building new nuclear stations.

Centrale solaire Khi Solar One

A few hundreds kilometers later, tired of driving, as the sun starts going down, we begin to worry about where to stop for the night and eat. The only city on sight is Prieska, a small town of 14 000 inhabitants, 240 km south-west of Kimberley, sun-drenched, devoided it seems of urban planning, where tourism and tourists do not exist. None of our guides mention the town and only Wikepedia gives us some information about this spot.

Originally called, Prieschap, meaning in the Khoi language: «place of the lost she-goat», the town used to be the place where farmers gathered when normally dry basins and depressions became flooded. Nowadays, the city lives essentially from its agriculture thanks to 6 850 hectares of irrigated land, producing wheat, corn, pistachios, olives, figs, and pecan nuts. But it is also renowned for the extraction and production of a semi-precious stone, the Tiger’s Eye, still commercially exploited today, believed to have besides its pleasant-looking aspect, all sorts of health benefits. We have not tried…

Having turned around the town several times, passed two or three times by the Spar supermarket, about to shut and its usual crowd outside with beer cans in hands, we follow a road that indicates two guest’s houses. The first one seems to be either closed a long time ago or not yet opened. We parked opposite the second one, emphatically named Gariep Country Lodge. As it is common here, there is nobody to open the door when you ring, owners don’t live here, and there is just an interphone which finally answers they are on their way. At this time of day we won’t be fussy and take the bedroom we are being given, despite the musty and cold tobacco smell. The whole house, almost completely unoccupied, oozes sadness, all the colours varying from beige to brown. However there is a fuly equipped kitchen at our disposal and a barbecue in the garden. As soon we have registered for the night and breakfast in the morning, we come out in search of a restaurant but it is pitch dark, and despite turning round and round in all directions, not a café in sight and it is very difficult to find our way around along streets unlit or poorly lit and where we must nevertheless be careful as there are still pedestrians about on either sides or crossing the road, a joint in their hands, looking puzzled and amused at the sight of these two white guys seemingly lost.

Marco Kafee à Prieska

Finally, we will try our luck at the Marco Kaffee. There is nobody outside and as a precaution we park as near as possible. Our entrance produces a sensation. Not many whites must venture in such a place and tourists even less. In reality, it is neither a café or a restaurant. The main room ressembles a kind of corner shop with essentially canned foods, biscuits and a few sad-looking vegetables at the end of which there is a counter where one can order some take away dishes. In order to help make our choice, one can just look at the various variations over sausages, burgers and chips, the most sophisticated dishes being curry and fish and chips. More adventurous, François plumps for the curry and as for myself the fish and chips. François is of the opinion that the spicier the safer and that a factory made fish and chips that has been transported to this shop where it waited to be served for a while or for more than a while, could be difficult to digest… The black girl that takes the order diligently, proud to prepare these specialities with an obligatory passage by the micro-wave while her Afrikaner boss observes the scene. When ready, we added some other items collected from the shop shelves, including a loaf of sliced white bread wrapped up in plastic. The boss tots up the goods but when it comes to the loaf of bread, gets into a panic as it has past it sell-by date. She rushes to the shelf for another one before replacing the former one back on the shelf. We then realise, that it will always be good enough for the blacks that attend this shop! Finally submerged by emotion, the owner and her son leave the cash-till to the young black girl and we leave for our guest-house with our greasy shopping bags.

By now we are ready to swallow anything, open our bags in the shared kitchen, oozing grease but at least orderly and equipped with all the necessary to eat. A black guest peeps in while we eat, grumbles something to answer our salutation and disappears just as quickly. This place is definitely not very convivial. But never mind, we are not here for long, and we are sufficiently tired to sleep and rest before facing another day of car driving to Queenstown tomorrow.


For those who have missed a chapter :

  • chapter 1 “Lemons and oranges” is here
  • chapter 2 “Flowers and diamonds galore” is here
  • and chapter 3 “Diamond’s misery, desert’s silence” is there.

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