Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The road to Rosh-Pinah

From the South African/Namibian border at Vioolsdrif, and our first night of camping at the Abiqua River Camp (view from, above), all green lawn and overhanging trees, we headed NW towards our next overnight stop, Klein Aus Vista at the small town of Aus, on the C13 - described as the "inside road" by our friend Marijke. Her voice had been the only one telling us we were not mad to travel to Namibia in January. This road, she said,was the beautiful one. The bigger B1 heads straight up to Keetmanshoop, which would have been the faster route, where we might have cut inland directly from there on the road to Luderitz, on the coast.

As it was our little C13 (little on the map, quite decent in reality) followed, for a while, the path of the Orange River as it cuts its way through a moonscape of rocky mountains, pale dust, and fields of stone. For a long time the river is invisible in its gorge and there is no inkling as to its watery presence in the landscape from which all life seems to have been sucked.

Below, between us and the mountains lay the river, quite hidden.

We look before and after, and pine for what is not...

This grass, standing alone near the road with a single thorn plant growing at its feet, started to transform my opinion about what matters, botanically. Everything becomes important. And everything is beautiful. Context: the secret of everything.

These were our first dunes, and not where we expected them, still so far from the Namib.

At last rejoining the river after passing incongruous, saturated green vineyards irrigated by the stream, and a settlement of impoverished reed houses perched on nothing but bare rock, our path followed the river through the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park.

Our tightly packed Landcruiser made sloshing noises over bumps: 25 litres of fresh water in a canister behind my seat. It made us feel very well-equipped.
At the site of a large patch of vygies beside the road we leapt from the car in baking heat.

Pink and ivory, their petals impossibly slender and delicate.

Well into the park we drove through some beautiful hills on the winding sand road, where quartzite sparkled from the rocks, and I started to see something dusky-pink. We stopped again, first always letting the diesel engine idle before switching it off, and repeating what would become second nature after this first really hot day: turn off air-conditioning, open all windows.
A short walk, stepping carefully in my JCrew flip flops over the sand and rocks and watching for the scorpions the nay-sayers had warned us about, brought me to this unexpected and unidentified shrub (anyone, anyone?), with miniature, water-retaining and heat-defying leaves, and covered with tiny pink blossoms.

The air around it smelled like honey. No more, no less. Pale orange lizards darted from my feet like quicksilver.

These are its leaves and beautifully marked stems...

Nearby we found these spikes, and saw them many more times on the trip. The pink flowers I did not see again.

We turned north from the river at last, past a massive pumping station with heavy security and little to identify it. This is mining country, and its presence is felt in a Big Brotherly sort of way: the strange, almost ominously perfect little town of Rosh-Pinah, in the middle of Nowhere, but to which the water is presumably pumped at massive expense; the entirely restricted access area between the C13 and the coast - the area known formerly as the Sperrgebiet and now just labelled Restricted Area on maps...

Below - the shadow of the valley of death? - the view just before we descended to the plain preceeding, and the incredibly corrugated road leading to Rosh Pinah - the road out of which is impeccably tarred and populated at intervals on that quiet Sunday by equally impeccable, huge trucks carrying mysterious mining things.

Up next. The unexpectedness of Aus.
Visit Vincent for some stunning photos.


  1. Awesome country - can't wait to get back there. Hope you had an amazing stay at Klein Aus. We stayed there about 6 years ago and I remember it with vivid detail - wish I was there right now! Look forward to seeing the rest of your pic's and hearing all about it.

  2. Its a long way from Brooklyn.

  3. Glib columnists who talk blithely about "designer plants" need to go to places like this.

  4. Marie, how profoundly brilliant: Context IS the secret.


  5. Very well put. Let's go back!

    Funny how you write "a landscape from which all life has been sucked" and I speak of life still existing in it, and yet we mean the same thing. As you said so well, the smallest things become important, especially traces of life...

  6. Hi from sunny Rosh Pinah... the mysterious pink bush is called a bushman's candle, or boesmanskers in afrikaans! And the mysterious mining things are zinc and lead :)

  7. Thank you, Anonymous. Now, you have to tell us what you do in Rosh Pinah. Mining-related...something?


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