The Richtersveld - Continued

We left the Richtersveld National Park all too soon, and were once again back on gravel roads.  After the difficult tracks and rocky passes we had been through we felt like old campaigners, and scoffed at the idea of driving on 'proper' roads.  But our timing was not too good.... The Richtersveld still had a few tricks up its sleeve.  Travelling south to Eksteenfontein we passed mile after mile (km after km!), trying to find the right speed to negotiate the severely corrugated roads.  These corrugations had to be seen to be believed:  The sand was hard packed, with corrugations right across the road, from years of vehicles travelling the same road.  There is something about the size of the sand particles which makes a road prone to corrugations, and this sand had it just right!  Anyway, we put the car into 4-wheel drive, put the diff lock on and tried to make some progress.  The Pajero was extremely stable, allowing us to travel at speeds up to 80 km/h where the road allowed, but at most speeds the corrugations were bone-shattering!

Eksteenfontein
This small village sits in the dead centre of the Richtersveld. Before we left we made a booking here, using the telephone number on the Contimap.  There is no hotel, only the "Kom rus 'n bietjie" guest house.  This is a  simple house built of corrugated iron, and run as a guest house by the Nama ladies of the village.

The house itself does not look like much, but is large and comfortable, with three bedrooms, lounge, dining room and kitchen.  And hot water!  It was cold and wet when we arrived, and we were only too pleased to be able to have a hot bath and warm up after our long travels.

When we arrived we were asked if we would like to have dinner, and we accepted.  Apparently this was to be brought to the house.  Within half an hour one of the local ladies appeared, with supplies of potatoes, rice, pumpkin and lamb chops, and proceeded to make dinner for us in our own kitchen!  By the time we had completed our hot showers and dressed up warmly, our dinner was ready, and we enjoyed a handsome meal.

And after dinner we were visited by one of the young girls of the village, who insisted on singing two or three folk songs in the local Nama language, and telling us the stories behind them. And so to sleep.

The photo shows a view of the guest house, with some circular Nama 'Matjies hut' frames in the foreground. Apparently they started by providing accommodation in these characteristic huts, but the house must be a great improvement in comfort!

 

Helskloof pass
The road from Eksteenfontein down to the Orange River is a sandy track, in quite good condition, and passes through some exciting rocky passes.  Once again, as the weather was cool this was an enjoyable drive...  But when we stopped and examined the surroundings, we realised what it must be like in summer.  There was very little vegetation, and what there was grew up against protective rocks. There had been less rain here, and very few of the spring flowers we had seen further west. 

Here is one of the few plants which manage to survive this harsh climate ..  There are many varieties of the Koker Boom, and they seem to thrive.  However, we did not see any small plants, and propagation must be a rather rare event.

The Aloe Pillansii population is declining and this is regarded as a serious problem because this plant is a rare species, endemic to South Africa and listed as a Red Data List species. This succulent tree appears to be in trouble because there are numerous skeletons of dead adults in the veld and an absence of adequate seedlings. The decline of the species is due to a combination of factors, including climate change; domestic livestock; plant diseases; baboons; porcupines; etc. 

A local newspaper described the Save the Aloe Pillansii Project.  The first phase consisted of a field survey, conducted in September 2000.  Between 325 and 400 individuals of the Giant Quiver Tree were recorded in the Richtersveld, of which about 10% were seedlings.  Schools have been enlisted in the project, to raise awareness of these trees, and assist in protecting them.  Ironically, 45% of trees had all sorts of slogans carved on their stems. This is a serious threat to the survival because these trees have a slow growth rate, and they recover slowly from injuries.

Here is a view of a dry river bed on the way down from Helskoof to the Orange River.  It shows some of the lovely and imposing granite-topped mountains common in the area.
A view of the road after passing through the worst of Helskloof.
Peace of Paradise
Suddenly you reach the Orange River, and once again the contrast between the dry desert and the luxuriant growth next to the river is amazing. 
Following the river upstream to Vioolsdrif, you come across this oasis in the wilderness.  An Eskom power line runs down the river, providing power to many farms taking advantage of the water supply, and the rich soil in the river's flood plain. And at the very end of the power line you come across this oasis, an up-market caravan and camping resort right on the banks of the river. The owner has planted trees and hedges, and has built walls of reeds to provide cool and shady camping sites, each with its own 'kitchen' area.which meanders around large outcrops 

The camp is situated right across the river from this imposing mountain, where one can see the strata of various different kinds of rock, many showing sediments from the time when this was a large inland sea.

Vioolsdrif
There is an enormous amount of development along this river. We saw fields full of tomatoes, green peppers, lettuce, cabbage and even tall hops, climbing up their regularly-spaced stringers. The road runs along the very edge of the flood plain, and many of the farmers have large signs requesting drivers to limit their speed, and hence the dust kicked up over all the vegetables!

And then suddenly you come across the bridge and border post at Vioolsdrif, and the main tarred road between the Cape and Namibia.  After travelling in such remote areas, it is almost a disappointment to get back to civilization, with people, shops, cars and trucks all over the place.

Here is one last view of the typical conditions before we braved the return to civilization!
Even with all the travelling, Jocelyn didn't lose the opportunity to catch up on a little reading at every stop!

Note the bottle of water nearby.  Even though the weather was generally cool, it was extremely dry and we consumed large amounts of water.

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