I finally got around to finishing my Northern Cape ramblings. Part one is here. Now for Part two:
The Kalahari Mall in Upington is brand-spanking new. So much so, that outside the Spur, where we ate a Spur-flavoured lunch, because nowhere else was open on a Sunday afternoon – bless it for its reliability – half the tables were still waiting to be set out. Sitting one on top of the other, they looked longingly at their table friends (the lucky ones already placed), spread with hunks of meat, Spur pink sauce and colouring-in children. Everything else in the mall was closed, Sunday aftenoon rest time. Spur, the cholesterol-clogged beating heart of the place.
Driving onto and off the verdant islands of the Orange River is like being on some shizophrenic tour bus. The dry, cracked and rocky land on the left spreading as far as the eye can see juxtaposed by the lush emerald streak to the right, the Orange River languidly flowing amongst its vineyards.
Pofadder is exactly as it’s meant to be. Small, dusty and dry, with an air of brave desperation hanging on the heat. In the cool garden of the Pofadder Hotel, that’s stuck in a 1970’s-styled decor shoot, a leopard carving lolls under a tree looking over toward the beautiful big pool, an oasis in the stifling air. In the bar, a bunch of gorgeous young Spanish engineers chatter over cold beers and Spanish omelette, cooked with flair in the Pofadder Hotel kitchen. There’s no taste like home.
Through lunar landscapes we drove, the sky huge above us, toward the tiny village of Pella, with its surprising cathedral and a spirit that even I, as a sceptic, could sense. The sweet nun touched my hand and her warmth spread through me and for a moment I believed. I would’ve loved to stay longer, but Springbok called.
The shutdown mines of Nababeep have left behind them men sitting on the stoeps of bottle stores and roads filled with potholes. Buildings are boarded up, but children still play in the streets, as they always have. As they always will.
O’Kiep seems, somehow, to have escaped the dejectedness of its sister Nababeep. While the bottle store stoep there is still filled wwith jobless men whiling away their days, there’s a little more of an upbeat feeling. Maybe it’s the wonderful O’Kiep Country Hotel holding the town up by its bootstraps. Maybe that’s just for visitors. It’s a town that feels like it’s packed with stories, whirling around on the hot wind amidst the dust.
We missed the flowers by a whisper, the last of them clinging to the edges of the roads we drove. A never-ending dust road took us to Leliefontein, up in the hills, over some hair-raising passes and through dips with the crystal water of the Groen River flowing over the road. It felt like we were the only people on earth.
And therein lies the beauty of the Northern Cape – its vastness, its solitude, its incredible landscapes and then, to top it all, the friendly hospitality of those who call it home.