Sunday, March 7, 2010

Dawn to dusk

After a night which cooled dramatically in the wee hours, we got up early, packed our coffee and rusks, and headed out for a 45km loop drive (all the national parks seem to have 'loops') to see if we might find animals. Night drives are not permitted in the Karoo National Park unless booked in the park's vehicle, with guide, and we hoped, in this inbetween hour, to chance upon a nocturnal animal on its way to bed soon after sunrise.

We saw a beautiful dawn as well as zebra, gemsbok, kudu, rhebok and a band of shy vervet monkeys at our breakfast stop in a grove of acacias. But we were too late or unlucky for an aardvark or small cat of some kind...

It grew hot fast and in the parched distance, wisps of rain tried to fall from clouds but hardly ever made it to the dry ground, absorbed we thought, by the moistureless air.

The only flower I found, an unidentified succulent in bloom beside the road.

Klipspringer Pass, below, yielded a vast view as well as some rhebok and hartebeest, but no klipspringer. Vince was hoping for rhino or cheetah, but if they were there, they were well hidden.

Back at camp we unpacked some lunch...

...and watched the butter melt.

After a swim in the shockingly freezing, surprisingly clean and tropically turquoise pool - for the use of campers and chalet guests (we were the only ones in it for some reason) - we emerged into the hot dry wind and headed back to camp for another drive.

More promising cumulus clouds started to proceed from horizon to horizon.

...and isolated rain squalls touched down.

A passing car wound down its window in a signal that it wished to speak, and the driver, with his thick Cape Flats accent, asked us how far along on the loop they were, as the gates closed at 7pm and they didn't want to be locked out. We advised them to turn back, as they had far to go on a bumpy road in a sedan, and his daughter in the backseat urged him, in an unmistakably Australian twang, to heed our friendly advice. I wondered about their story as they drove on, this increasingly typical South African family split by continents and adopted culture.

In camp it started to patter with fat drops while I set up for dinner, and Vince stalked into the bush behind camp to catch some landscape shots in the mingled light of wet and dry.

Yet more chops. Lamb (in South Africa) is a vegetable, you realize, and I can hardly get enough of it. I adore braaied lamb chops. It is ubiquitous and comparatively cheap, when held up against US prices. A pack of 6 rib or loin chops like these costs about R30 or about $4.50. I think it would be about quadrupled, Stateside.

Vince came back happy. He had seen zebra up close while he was on foot, and the sky and hills were gorgeous in pinks and oranges and pale greens. I photographed the patch above my head, inbetween the acacia branches.

In the night it poured. Hard rain on the thin tent roof drumming above our heads and streaming down the sides. In the morning the dust had settled, calmed by moisture.

We did not realize then that this first rain would set the tone for the rest of the trip. This was the last dry place we saw.
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