Molo Kunjani, That’s how we say it in Xhosa !
Before the last part of our journey, we turn to the Augrabies Falls National Park in the Northern Cape province, 494 miles North of Cape Town and 560 miles South of Johannesburg. The Park was established in 1966 and covers an area of 320 square miles. The Augrabies Falls National Park stretches 31 miles along the Orange River and is home to spectacular, but not very powerful falls in the winter season as well as a unique ecosystem. The Orange River is the longest river in South Africa with a total length of 1,400 miles. Its source in the Drakensberg mountains in Lesotho and it flows westwards through South Africa, forming part of the border between South Africa and Namibia. In the Park, the Orange River falls 197 feet into a gorge that had been eroded in the granite over 500 million years by powerful and rumbling waters. Multicolored lizards, an endemic species, stand out against the pink granite adjacent to the falls, while flocks of birds hunt insects between the rock walls.
After a few hours hike, a strange and magnificent mineral universe has been unveiled. On the horizon the black tone of the numerous hills contrasts with the hue of orange-red rocks. These volcanic rock formations refuse categorically to erode as fast as their neighbors. As a protective skin, they have particles of iron, manganese, and titanium… much better, I must confess, than any anti-aging cream. We climb a rocky peak, which sticks out between the arms of the river at the confluence of the two canyons. The view is marvelous, and new waterfalls unfold in front of us.
One of the landmarks in the Augrabies Falls National Park is Moon Rock, a sort of granite dome three-quarters buried and measuring nearly 2,300 feet by 330 feet and 98 feet high. A closer look reveals an onion-like structure, as the upper layer cracks it exposes another layer below. Numerous trails wind through the mountains where vines and giant aloes (Aloe Dichotoma), also known as the quiver tree or kokerboom, grow. The treelike aloes are indigenous to the Northern Cape region and perfectly adapted to the arid climate. These eye-catching branching aloes grow up to 16 feet high. In Afrikaans “koker” mean quiver and “boom” tree. Its name comes from the fact that the indigenous San people, also known as Bushmen or Basarwa use its branches and bark to make quivers for holding their arrows. In this magnificent scenery, we meet some peculiar inhabitants… a Steenbok follows us at a distance. We are undoubtedly in its territory. This superb small antelope, standing between 16 and 24 inches at the shoulder is recognizable by its large ears with finger-marks on the inside and large eyes that confer a gentle look. And suddenly, “horresco reference” a group of giraffes stands a few steps away from us… There, is that not a calf ? We are speechless at this unexpected encounter, just like this Vervet.
We are off on the final step of our journey, the semi-arid Kalahari Desert. Objective Dune, as Hergé would say ! Kalahari is derived from the Tswana word “Kgala” meaning “Great thirst” or “Kgalagadi” meaning “waterless place.” It covers an area of 350,000 square miles between the Zambezi and Orange river basins, covering much of Botswana as well as southeastern Namibia and northwestern South Africa. The Kalahari is characterized by vast areas of red sand. It is native to the Kori bustard, the largest and heaviest flying bird in Africa! The never-ending sea of reddish sand stretches as far as the eye can see and creates an impression of emptiness, but this is only “The Great Illusion”.
The fauna of the Kalahari are profuse, and animals move freely from one country to another. Large herds of herbivores such as Bubal, Wildebeest or Springboks (but without their oval balloons and green and gold sweaters) crisscross the desert in search of water and young shoots. Whether to escape or to play, the Springbok performs incredible multiple leaps in the air, head bent downward, body arched and legs stiff. The name springbok comes from the Afrikaans words “spring” meaning jump and “bok” meaning goat and literally means “the goat that jumps.” Another small mammal found in this vast area of red sand and dry grasses with a few thorny trees thrown in is the Yellow Mongoose, also called the Red Meerkat, belonging to the Suricate family (as in the French film with the same name by the trio of French humorists !)
The enormous flocks of herbivores found in the desert are followed closely by colonies of insects and predators… The Black-backed Jackal is recognizable by its reddish coat and a black saddle that extends from the neck to the base of the tail. Its name comes from the Turkish word “çaprak,” which designates the sheepskin cover Napoleon’s hussars used under their saddles. Depending on the species the hunting technique differs, but typically the Black-backed Jackal chases its prey until exhaustion, then bites at the legs or loins to make the victim fall, Cruel Reality of Nature (Buckehead )! Even though today felines are less numerous, they are still present… Imagine yourself in the midst of this mythical desert: no other living souls for hundreds of miles in every direction, a vast area of dry grass scattered here and there with thorny trees, total silence, infinite sky, and the daylight begins to fade. At nightfall, only wild predators are about. In this setting, we see a cheetah and just little further in the distance a lioness and her two lion cubs, felines that spend the day sheltered from the heat, waiting for the coolness of the night to go hunting… We would almost expect this “animal” to say, “I do wish we could chat longer, but… I’m having an old friend for dinner.” (The Silence of the Lambs, a novel by Thomas Harris)
Let’s say, I will be “Hardy” (daring) and I will meet you in another life, “ Fin du dernier acte/Qui m’a fait décoller/Il faut qu’on parte/Même si je garde une impression d’inachevé…” translated as, “End of last act / That made me take off / We have to leave / Even if I keep a sense of incompleteness… ” (Françoise Hardy – Rendez-vous dans une autre vie)