Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Roaring of the sands

Maryssa at Die Oog in Kuruman
A week in my home land is never enough. Five days is even worse, but they were five days of intense absorption. Not only of the brilliant sunshine that characterises southern African winters, but of the sounds, smells and eye-stretching glory of hundreds of kilometres of nothingness. Nothingness that consists of rolling hills, sparsely covered semi-desert, acacia trees and red, red earth.

A large part of South Africa is taken up by the Kalahari Desert, which spreads its palm and extends its fingers across the centre of the country. I have a special and enduring passion for this region. It's what I always see in my mind's eye when I start yearning for my southern home, so I was especially pleased when I learned that Maryssa and Craig were going to be spending a year in Postmasburg, a town of approximately 30,000 inhabitants, right in the middle of the Northern Cape, for which you can read southern Kalahari.

The journey there and back would have been a once-only-and-ever had I not already known what I was going to. I left Rotterdam at 12.00 midday on Friday the 6th and arrived with Maryssa in Postmasburg at 7.30pm on Saturday the 7th. Taking into account the five hour wait at Cairo airport for my connection to Johannesburg (not too hot at all by the way), it was still an incredibly long journey. In Jo'burg, I met up with my dear friend Moira, who came and met me for coffee and chats at the airport. There was then a one and a half hour flight from Joeys to Kimberley, and after that a two hundred kilometre drive to Postmasburg. According to Maryssa, it is 1000 kms from everywhere - Cape Town, Jo'burg and even Craig's home in Natal are all just about 1000 kms from Postmasburg. Sounds like a good name for a book doesn't it?

During the time from Saturday evening to Thursday morning, Maryssa and I packed it in. We went to Witsand, a nature reserve where we cycled 10 kms to see the Dunes known as the Roaring Sands of the Kalahari. Apparently, when the conditions are very hot and dry, any disturbance will make the sands emit a roaring sound, but being winter, it wasn't hot enough when we went. The trip there was something else. Unwittingly we took the long road on the outward journey, which despite being untarred dirt track the whole way, was quite good. We decided to take the shorter way home though. 70 kms sounded quite a saving on 110. Big mistake. The road was more like a river bed than a road and took us through a terrifying mountain pass with a descent which had me bracing my feet against the floor even though I was the passenger. Maryssa took us down in 1st gear, mainly because the brakes were distinctly iffy, and we were sweating with relief when we finally negotiated the hairpin bend at the bottom of the mountain and went safely on our way again. Nevertheless, the road didn't improve much and it took us more than three hours to do the homeward run!

Then Monday was Postmasburg day, so we shopped, had haircuts and visited numerous of Maryssa's friends and colleagues at the hospital where she works as a Pharmacist. On Tuesday,we went to Kuruman, the town founded around one of the first mission stations in South Africa (established by Robert Moffat and his wife Mary in 1821)and site of a natural spring, known as die Oog (the Eye), which given its location, is a very special oasis indeed. After leaving Kuruman, we went south to the Wonderwerk caves which have some terrific examples of Bushman paintings. I enjoyed that brief episode very much, not only because I am fascinated by the Bushmen, but also because I had a spirited chat with the concierge, a local man named 'Neelis, who could only speak Afrikaans, so I just spoke Dutch with an afrikaans accent and it worked perfectly. I guess my primitive Dutch is good for something now, anyway! Wednesday was another home day with all sorts of missions to complete and then on Thursday morning, it was back in the bakkie for the two and a half hour drive to Kimberley and my long, somewhat arduous flights home.

Bushman paintings at Wonderwerk

'Neelis standing proud for his photo opportunity

Now I am back in Zeeland with Koos and Sindy, and very pleased to be here. It's good to see the lush green and exuberant growth after a week in the desert, and I know that this is my home now. Even so, I always leave a piece of myself behind. Maybe that's a good thing.... I can always go back to find it again. And I will.

Click here for pics of the Roaring Sands trip. Most of these were taken by Maryssa.


  1. "Still no comment, not even from ..."
    But here's one from Yours Truly Myself, Vally!

    You publish a free travelogue for all the world to read.


    Charge for your writing. It's worth it. And you bet you'll lose count of the readers.

  2. Well I'd pay to read your travelogues Vally! I am so glad you had such a wonderful time. I looked at the pictures of course - they are superb. What a truly beautiful place. It does remind me very much of parts of outback Australia, although there are differences in the vegetation and the colours. That wild, vast expanse that so many people see as frightening and barren is similar in feel though.

    It must have been hard to leave again. How lucky you are to have such strong connections with these very different places though. Will Craig and Maryssa continue to live in SA do you think? It's a great excuse to keep going back!

  3. what is interesting to me is that you had Haircuts. Must be bold in a distant land.
    Your trip sounds like a movie.

    This post alone could be a start of a storybook. In my mind it is only dreamed of in movies. So fantastic Val.

  4. hey maaaaaa well the desert is more barren now that you have gone home. we had a grest time in the free state although the buck hunting got my stern disapproval, now i am know as greenpeace. got some great pics with the camera, will send you a cd with craigus
    love you!!!!

  5. I was mezmerised by the slide show. What a beautiful and wild land! You wrote of it so well in your African Ways and your love of that place again shines through in your words.
    There is still a place in my heart for the rolling flat and endless horizons of Saskatchewan - the land of wheat and oil. I lived in a small farming/oil town there from the late 70's to the mid-80's and I keep some very fond memories of "growing up" on those vast prairies. It's quite a change from the towering granite peaks and deep, green valleys where I now live!
    It was a nice re-visit to SA, Val!

  6. I especially loved the Roaring Sands and could actually feel it sifting between my toes.

    And that mop-head tree!

  7. Thank you humbly one and all. I'm so glad you enjoyed your pictorial visit to that wonderful country! Dale, the mop head tree is actually a telephone pole with a Weaver bird's nest built on top! They build themselves a small colony and several couples will share a nest of this size. You often see these huge nests topping the telephone poles!

    Margie, yes it was hard to leave again. I love the country, especially its vast and barren spaces! Never frightening, just awe inspiring. As for Mo and Craig, they are planning to come here within the next 12 months, so it may have been my last visit for some time.

    Grace, thank you! SA is the country of the ultimate road movie, I'm sure. We did our best!

    Koosje, bless you xxx

  8. Well Val, you had me there!
    It does look like something from the pages of a Dr. Seuss book!

    The ospreys do the same thing hereabouts, but their nests are large, but not quite as flamboyant.
    The hydro company has to place odd-looking plastic things atop our power poles to keep the ospreys from building nests and consequently frying themselves and their young. Not to mention the interruption of power when, on occasion it does happen.

    Thanks so much for sharing your trip with us.
    Maryssa looks lke you, too!

  9. What delicious pictures, Val. My favourites were the nests and the two feet in the sand. You could just feel that one.

    I'm so glad you enjoyed the trip, and I do love how you call SA your homeland. Just got a letter from there myself, and gave the stamps to a student. They have the most beautiful stamps, don't they? Not surprising with that landscape.


  10. Hello, Craigus here. I made a new blog. Check it out.

  11. What a lovely post, taking me back to your African Ways book. I love your style of writing.

    South Africa is indeed a beautiful land - its just a shame that it is so much racial turmoil and has such poverty.


  12. Great story Val! Have you ever considered working for TV?
    You would be a perfect replacement whenevr David Attenborough and/or Michael Palin kicks the bucket... :)

  13. LOL Dale, I think a number of people thought the nest was a tree too. I'll be the Ospreys make even bigger ones, though! I'm not surprised they interrupt the power lines...must give them quite a buzz...

    Thanks Anne Marie. I might have guessed the footprints in the sand would appeal to you! Yes, they do have beautiful stamps in SA. I've often wondered who designs them.

    Lesley, what a lovely profile pic! Beautiful! Thanks for the visit dear, and I'm glad it took you back to my African tales.

    Hans..LOL!! I'd love to do presenting, but think the radio would appeal to me more! David Att. would be a very hard act to follow ;-)

    Craigus!! I haven't been able to open your new blog, but will keep trying! Have you confirmed it?

  14. Hi Val, a check cord is a training tool to teach your dog to 'come'. It allows your dog to feel it is free in an open space and when you call them to 'come' if they do not, you grab the end and pull them towards you using the 'come' command. It is a cord, not too heavy so they don't really feel it, attached to their collar, and as long as you need or want it to be. sometimes it is used attached to a belt on the owner aswell. June really needed this type of training. She was terrible at the 'come' command. So for Anne Marie, although Whiskey may not need it, it would be a type of 'leash' attached to him that she could grab if someone made a mention of him being free.
    It is a wonderful training tool for an open space, there are other ways to train for the 'come' command, but for me this worked the best.

  15. I had never heard of a check cord either, so thank you Grace for the information. We went with a 50 foot canvas rope/leash. I'll let you know how it works.

  16. Our poles look less like mops than they do a chimney sweep's broom...

  17. Hi Valerie. I run a South African travel site at

    This web posting happily appeared on my radar screen, and I am pleased to inform you that we have chosen it as the travel blog posting of the week. You certainly have a way with words, and can see the link to your site at our weekly newsletter.

    Please keep up the great writing.


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