eastern South Africa, with a personal guide, it is new through the
exciting western part of the vast country.
After having explored the eastern coast and the southernmost tip of Africa, the trip now continues up the west coast, along with 10 other succulent nerds. NOW it really all about plants. We meet the others, are significantly more gray-haired than I am. Two Swiss, two French, one American, one English lady, two South Africans, one of whom is our guide: Dr. Graham Williamson. He has published countless books on plants from this region and surrounding countries, and is truly one of the greatest capabilities.
11. Cold morning that only a long hot shower can save. The others come in for breakfast in the absolutely stunning dining room. You feel more like Garth's personal guests than as paying guests. I went through my luggage with a close comb, and there are a few pounds that I'm sure I won't need. Later, I wonder why I didn't leave the shorts too?
After a quick break at the airport after a box Kotie forgot yesterday, we head north. We follow the N7, which is one of the main roads, but not quite big. It is in perfect condition and we have it pretty much to ourselves. It winds up through huge sandstone mounds, which are reasonably overgrown. We get through Atlantis (which I thought had gone) and it gets drier as we remove ourselves from the sea.
We stop at a dam, and along the way we find lots of exciting plants. Then we drive for a few hours and the next stop is at a very overgrown sandy field. There are a lot of interesting plants here, and there is a lot of photography, but there is no digging at all (I was shocked, when I was on a Argentine cacti tour: Everything was dug up!). After half an hour that turns into an hour, we get back into the Ford Transit bus and continue north.
We stop in the middle of the wilderness, at a small house with shade houses around. Buys ticket to a field nearby and rolls out of the dirt road. It's the wildest area I've seen in a long time. The soil is 5-50% covered exclusively by succulents! There are at least 30-50 species, and the longer you spend, the more there are. After an hour, we are far from ready to go, but it is getting late.
We are really far out in the countryside. There are scattered sheep and some cows in the fields. Then little donkeys emerge and there is also a flock of goats every now and then. We gas in a small village, and at dusk, animals show up. There are lightning-quick mongoose, a single adorable hyrax, Thomson's gazelles, and a lot of birds from Egyptian geese to weavers and small falcons. Also see something similar to a buzzard, but don't know which one.
At seven o'clock, just before it gets dark, we land at a beautiful hotel in Springbok: Old Mill Lodge. I get an exceptionally nice room with antique furniture and a fantastic bathroom. I am far down in clean cloths, and while I transfer photos, I wash clothes. After dinner, which is a bit boring salmon pate and chicken / beef buffet, followed by mixed cooked fruit - fresh from can and jelly, I head home to arrange photos. Did not get coffee after the meal, but it says - as usual a kettle and powder in the room. There's even a little carafe of sherry that tastes great!
I'm trying a new system for arranging photos. If successful, it would have saved me a lot of time, but it is a lot of work processes and I get to mess around a bit. At half past twelve it must be enough; have to be up at seven.
12. After a hearty breakfast, based on English traditions, we leave the lodge at half-past nine. We drive up the N14 towards Pofadder, but make stops along the way. Once, we stop to remove a turtle from the road. Inside the field, two others are well underway to preserve the genus.
Another of the stops is incredibly far off a dirt road outside Poffadder. Here, a sheep farmer has found love for his wild plants. The first he shows, far out in a field, is the only one of its kind on the 600 hectars of the farm. I stand on his pickup truck, enjoying the wind. It's been really hot today. Later, I discover my arms were not as hardened, as I thought.
Borrowing his toilet. What a home: Despite being twenty kilometres from the nearest neighbour, and hundreds of kilometres from tarmac, his large home is similar to every other medium-sized English farmer. Huge furniture in the large living room, massages of nips, even a Spanish dancer to hide the extra toilet roll. Everything is spotless, not a dust spruce anywhere. Something of an achievement in this landscape!
We see a lot of stone-grasshoppers, three different lizards and a small agama, a solifugid and a little other creepers. It is so hot, I am getting too much sun. Graham says there is a giant hole in the ozone layer over this part of South Africa, that one must be well protected. I left my sunscreen in Cape Town, when I didn't think I would need it. The first fourteen days went well without. By the way, we are 25 kilometres from Namibia now.
Here are even some Anacampseros alstonii which, with a little good will, can be a caudiciforms. There are Lithops, beautiful flowering succulents and not much else. It rains 50 millimetres a year, though not the last five, where there has been drought. After being well rounded on his farm, we return to Poffadder, where we find a strange tenant at dusk.
Many small houses and cottages have been covered by a large roof. Takes some of the sun's worst bake during the summer. Here it is near the freezing point in winter, and over 40C all summer. They have an amazingly beautiful garden that I will not have time to see. The whole thing is unbelievably far out in the desert, but there is a well and it is a date farm. They have got the plants from California and the dates are amazing.
On the way out, we pass huge amounts of woody Aloe. The smallest are one and a half meters, with a crown. They are said to be 50 years old. The largest ones are over two meters and have over 100 crowns. Age is hard to guess, they do not get annual rings during the dry years. There are depressing little plants; they require at least three years of rain in a row to become robust.
13. I have no doubt: I've had gotten
too much sun. Headache and common discomfort as well as fever is a sure sign of
dehydration and heat stroke. Must grab a sunscreen as soon as possible!
The next stop will be at a zinc
mine. We need special permission to enter the area. A few people
drive from the office 25 kilometres away, but the guard is still
hesitant. We drive across the countryside to a fence of 150 by 200
meters. This is the only place to find Titanopsis
hugo-Schlecterii. It grows just below the earth's surface, and
the top that looks like a Lithops, is green. Further down it is said
to have a tuber that can grow quite large.
Here is a layer of soda on top of the red sand clay. Some of the stones are purple, pink, green, dark blue and orange. Gives an almost irresistible urge to gather ... Some of the stones jump! These are stone grasshoppers who, incidentally, do not jump very well. The largest is almost a thumbs-up. A gray solifugid comes rushing. I managed to get it into a bush and make a photo.
I'm not quite on top, and sleep most of the way in to Spingbok. We book into Springbok Lodge at three o'clock, and I stay, while some of the others drive out to a field. Sleeps to six, and sits and writes diary as the others come back. They are incredibly sweet, and tell me I didn't miss anything.
Maddy finally shows up. It was both shaft and differential that needed to be changed. She got the car last night and drove most of the night, in fog, up the mountains to Oudtshoorn, and a little further to Calitzdorp. Not a trip I envy her in those conditions!
After supper, I've gain strengh. Just try the local specialty: Holy Water. About 90% liquor and 10% sugar. Their national drink is brandy with cola. You can even get it as RTD. The taste is nothing special!
The Swiss couple shows me down to an internet shop. It opens at eight and closes at five. We leave tomorrow at eight o'clock, and are home by five and half past six. By the way, they ride in their leased four-wheel drive. It is equipped with jerrycans, built-in water tank, refrigerator and other "camper facilities". They pay 1850 kroner - a day!
14. Today it all about the Steinkopf area.
We are in Namiqland, it borders the desert. I drive with Maddy with the
English lady, so everyone has a window seat. We drive in the back, so it's not
as embarrassing to get last.
It starts out as a really nice hot day, but then the mist comes rolling in from the sea with cold. After dinner, a ten degree wind blows through the marrow and legs. Fortunately, I brought my raincoat, but the fleece had been nice too. We drive out through the leads to different locations where the good doctor knows there are certain plants.
Somewhere, on a large slope, there grows Cheirrdobsis prevlarasis, the only place they are found. The trip is planned so, the flowers just when we arrive. It's limited with wildlife: Seeing only a few grasshoppers, one of which is bigger than my thumb. It's not even grown out!
After stopping five times, we turn our noses home. Kotis says "We leave Bihrmann" without the effect I would prefer! I've got six pages of names, now I just need the right name for the right photo (and the spelling)! It's harder than it sounds. Would have been much easier if you knew the bloody plants. We see only a few plants, which with a little good will can be called caudiciforms. These are bulbs and some Tylecodons.
We land in Springbok five minutes after the internet shop has closed. I'm pretty sure the last of Rikke's mails are less cute, than the first ones a week ago ... In return, I get my photos pre-arranged. Sitting across from Graham, listening to him. Not only is he blazingly intelligent; he has almost total memory! He flings around with Latin names for both animals and plants. He is well versed in geography, metrology, politics, ethnology and what do I know.
Discovering, several of the large group of women working in the restaurant are missing the front teeth. It turns out to be a local custom, which is only now extinct. I sneak off at half ten, and still don't get to bed until midnight. Of course, it's nice to have the names of most plants I've photographed, but it is an immense job!
On the way home from the restaurant I notice, all the houses in the street, with the exception of the church, are white with yellow gutters and letters. It's the same guy who owns them. Started with diamonds, and seems to be doing well! He should sponsor a proper drinking water system for the city. Everywhere in South Africa you can drink the tap water, but here it tastes worse, elsewhere I have been.
15. Cold morning; only four degrees. It changes quickly, when the sun catches on. It reaches over 30 degrees during the day. We drive north, up past Steinkopf and into the Rictersveld area. We stop a few times, the first time we search along the way. Here, like the other places we come today, there are plants that exist only in a very small area. The mast fascinating is the Aloe dihogoma, which is a huge plant.
We turn off towards Port Nolloth. The landscape is becoming increasingly dry and more mines are emerging. Then we turn off to Wolfberg. The next stop is out of a red dirt road, to see a special Euphorbia which are blooming now. There are a lot of other exciting plants too, and I'm running after the good doctor, to get the names.
We fit it perfectly, so that when we get to the only area of the Jordaaniella cuperia, they bloom with huge flowers. We reach the sea in Wolfberg. Buying food at the local Spar: We are self-sufficient for the next two days. Then it goes towards Alexanderbaal and the landscape becomes more and more sandy. We are again close to Namibia and the endless sand deserts.
It quite windy, and to my surprise, I find it easier to photograph nervous grasshoppers and fast running beetles than small flowers on long stalks. They are everywhere in the strong wind! The wind comes from the sea and is quite cold. I have to find the fleece. Safely also protects better than the sunscreen. There was only one place in town to buy sunscreen, and they had only one tube. Can not be particularly popular, despite, here are more white than coloured.
Then we stop at the Holgat Gorge. It leads all the way to the sea and catches a lot of fog, which is important in an area, almost without rain. Here are some huge Tylecodon paniculata that I can't resist. Moving towards Blood Drift and two exciting Aloes: Aloe alaplaragensis and a huge Aloe pilance, which is over five meters high. The ground is covered with a blanket of small yellow flowers.
We reach Richtersveld National Park just getting the sunset. Maddy do the cooking, well helped by all of us. Grilled chicken with salad and baked potatoes, full of cooked fruit with vanilla cream, and three hours behind the screen.
16. Shared breakfast on the terrace, followed by the undersigned's doing the dishes. Need to arrange photos in the evening. The list of things in the cabin also includes a "Cockscrew". Hope this is a spelling mistake! It's a little milder today: 10 degrees. There is a fantastic view of the Orange River and the birds chirp about the cape. On the other side of the fifteen meter wide river is Namibia.
We drive towards the park itself. It is located behind / inside a large enclosed mining area. We actually drive through their fenced material yard to get in and out of the state-owned tenant. It must be a zinc mine, the diamonds you never get near.
It is allowed to graze sheep and goats in the park. However, there is a maximum of 4000 animals in winter and 7000 in summer. Large areas are "re-established" mining areas where they have flattened the piles nicely. It just doesn't mean the old plants will come back. Some of the ones we see, only exist on this one slope. Have done something with both rain, fog (plays a big role here), soils, wind (which can be heavy) and sun to do.
We stop on the way out to Half Men's Pass and see some amazing "The Half Men": Pachypodium namanquensis as well as 10-15 other new plants. The next stop reveals some exceptionally good looking Tylecodon paniculata, which can obviously get up to 130 centimetres high and with a diameter of 30 centimetres.
We crawl around on some almost vertical old-fashioned granite walls, with masses of cracks and loose fragments. There is not much wildlife here, but I do catch a few beetles, some lizards, agaves, geckos and a solifugid. The others are plagued by some biting flies reminiscent of horse flies. They apparently don't like me, and that suits me just fine.
Then small delicious Commiphora carpensis
pops up. Some have leaves, some fruits, other buds, but I can't find
a flower that blooms.
We get to some really rocky cliffs. Between it, unfortunately mostly on the shade side, new plants grow. We drive "home" for lunch and I get the harder choice between Hells Kloff Pass and a long dinner nap. I've struggled up and down the almost vertical rocks in 30 degree heat, and the thought of a nap is not remote. Well, I can always sleep when I get home.
I follow the others anyway, and we get to a large area of red Aloe. Among them large pale green Tylecodon paniculata, which appears to have brilliant. Among some rocks, I find a group of Hawortians, the others feverishly looking elsewhere. I'm just not good enough to describe them so the others don't find them. Among the same huge quartz blocks grows a Cucurbitaceae, probably a Kedrostis. I can't find a tuber, but I sure would like to.
Further down, two species of Gethylles grow, which could also turn into great caudiciforms, with little digging. A giant cricket sits in a shrubbery bush. I prick it out, which excites it to that extent. It's called Armoured Cricket and it has some hot spikes. Various species of wild Pelagonias and others, but know from the florist.
Three hours have passed, and we have to go
home again. Maddy makes a cooked dish with rice, I roughly sort
photos. It's still 23 degrees at nine, but then it really starts to
get cold. After the food, I sort out and write a diary until it is
half past one. So seven hours of sleep is too little!