I take a certain amount of pride in how much of South Africa I’ve seen. There’s something attractive to me about the idea of having laid eyes on as much of the country as possible; as if it gives me some added legitimacy when I’m hurling abuse at the ref of a Springbok game. Until recently there was a gaping gap in my ground-cover, slap-bang in the middle of the Northern Cape. Determined to fill it, I struck out into the vast nothing of the Great Karoo with a good friend, a tent and some pesto we bought in Ceres.
Our route took us steadily northeast, with a couple of exploratory zigzags along the way, ending up in Douglas on the banks of the Vaal, before returning again through the northerly stretches of nowhere. We passed through dorpies galore – Sutherland, Fraserburg, Williston, Carnarvon, Prieska, Douglas, Van Wyksvlei, Brandvlei, Calvinia – some charming, some which felt like strolling into a Stephen King novel.
Kilometre after kilometre of dirt disappeared beneath our rented polo vivo – affectionately dubbed Ralipolo – only to be spewed out in rising trails behind us. We laughed at the idea of young British men baking under the sun, fearing for their lives. “You want me to go where? And fight hardened sharp-shooting farmers? Are you having a laugh?”
We photographed sheep. We photographed stars. We photographed trees. We got up for sunrises and drank beers next to campfires. We drove through mayhem hail, just able to hear each other whooping nervously above its clatter. We passed Alkantpan where explosive clouds rose from the horizon – apparently our army was destroying excess or expired munitions for the Singaporean government.
We met Johannes Van Rooyen, riding his bike between nowhere and nêrens.
When we asked him how far he still had to go his response was “so ‘n entjie”. How long did his journey take? “So ‘n tydjie.” These are the only appropriate responses in a land immeasurable in its immensity.