Sunday, August 31, 2014

The N7 to Namibia: Mangos, Flowers, and Rain

On Tuesday, we traded in our trusty Nissan for a new (and hopefully more trusty) Nissan and headed off up the N7 towards Namibia, with a few stops along the way.  We were happy to be leaving the city for the bush again – who knew that two New Yorkers would be happier in the countryside instead of the city?  We quickly left Cape Town behind, even the townships, and emerged into the Swartland, an agricultural region with fields full of wheat and vines. As we approached the town of Citrusdal, these crops were increasingly oranges and tangerines, as the name implies. 

Near Citrusdal, we turned off on a poorly marked dirt road to reach that evening’s accommodation, a working (and organic) mango and citrus farm.  Located on the edge of the Cedarburg mountain range and nature preserve, we had hoped to explore a bit before heading north, but a late departure from Cape Town and heavy rain in the morning limited any such exploration.  Regardless, we enjoyed meeting the eccentric owners (Giorgio had the chance to inquire about the operation of South African mango farms) and had a lovely dinner in our cottage overlooking the mountains and river.

The rain in the morning not only prevented us from any hikes into the Cedarburg, but also put a damper on our plans for the afternoon and following day – seeing the springtime flowers in Namakwa.  Every year, winter rains in this northern desert lead to a springtime profusion of wildflowers.  The typically barren landscape is suddenly full of unexpected color.  However, the most vivid flower displays tend to be found on sunny days, as the diminutive flowers close their petals to conserve energy at night and on cloudy/rainy days. 

After continuing north on the N7, we took the turnoff for the national park known for having the most flowers to see what we could find on a gray day.  Before we arrived, we were struck by the fields of blue flowers along the edge of the dirt road and even more impressed with the acres of orange flowers in the park itself (slightly reminiscent of the poppy field in the Wizard of Oz).  As we waded through the fields to take a closer look, we saw numerous other flowers “hiding” with their petals folded – we can only imagine the display of different shades when they are opened to the sun.    

The flower displays are not confined to national parks, so we stayed at a nearby lodge.  Braving the rain for hike on the extensive property, we encountered flowers of all shapes and colors, including a few (closed) Williams flowers plus various Williams shrubs!  

We also startled a herd of oryx and watched them gallop into the distance.

As we left Namakwa on Friday, the rain and clouds were a distant memory, the sun was shining and the flowers were beginning to open their petals.  However, exiting Springbok, the last major town before the border where we stocked up on extra water and groceries, our surroundings became increasingly desolate.  Would our drive through Namibia be the same?

Seemingly out of nowhere, the border crossing to Namibia appeared.  We breezed through the efficiently run South African immigration office and police checkpoint, but progress slowed upon reaching the corresponding Namibian offices.  We weren’t sure where to park, what building we needed to enter or where to pay the fee for our car.  However, we muddled through (along with a large group of confused German tourists) and soon enough were off in our Nissan again.  At the final checkpoint, the police had no interest whatsoever in the contents of our car, so our 20+ bottles of wine remain in our possession. 

Leaving the border crossing in the dust, we headed northwest toward our first Namibian destination, Ai-Ais hot springs, on a newly tarred road.  When that road became a gravel road 50 km later without any warning, we quickly realized that the northern stretches of the N7 couldn’t compare to the “highways” here in Namibia.  We drove for miles without seeing another car (easily identified by the clouds of dust trailing behind it) and continually peered into the distance to see if the road ever turned or ended.

More adventures to come as we drive almost the entire length of the country!


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