AFRICA 2016 – Journal nine

DAY 51. WEDNESDAY JANUARY 27th, 2016. LÜDERITZ, NAMIBIA

What a great ride I had today as I crossed what’s said to be the oldest desert in the world (how the hell do they know?) from east to west, down to the Atlantic ocean and the notorious Skeleton Coast. I have crossed the Namib Desert today, the most wonderful journey. But it needed determination and obstinacy (plenty of that round here!) to batter the 220 miles into the increasing, infamous wind, bearing gritty sand to sand-blast my cheeks. However, I am so glad I made the effort. It was worth every mile and every minute.

The immensity of the empty desert is astonishing. But the variety is also amazing. It’s as if the desert is divided into different regions: huddled black and red rocks; green-tinged dust with yellow flowers after the rains; red sand and rounded scattered rocks; grey-blue brittle scrub that crunches underfoot; vast expanses of pink sand backed by dark hills; a long dazzlingly (to desert eyes) green valley of short fresh grass; dunes like something from story books; and finally, huge rolling white sands to every horizon. A railway line, like a desert cliche, runs alongside and here and there abandoned stations sat marooned in the sand, lifeless trees raising dead grey branches against a completely cloudless sky that arched, unimaginably big, in an infinite dense blue dome overhead. It was a landscape of dreams, a wonderful, amazing ride across the apparent emptiness but a place of variety and fascination by its boundless enormity.

*

Esté is a tubby 19 year old, working at the guest house in Keetmanshoop, with the bad skin so frequent amongst Afrikaners. She stood and chatted timidly as I drank coffee after breakfast in the hotel garden. She comes from Walvis Bay, the port 981 kilometres away – she even counted the odd one. She has come to Keetmanshoop to be near her boyfriend. “Otherwise we will see each other once a year!” She hasn’t been at the hotel long. I was checking my emails to see if Emmanuella in Ghana has given birth yet. “You’ll be the first to know, Dad!” said Dennis two days ago when I managed to talk with him by Skype. “If you were here, you would be the first to hold your grandson!” This got Esté and I onto the subject of race, for she admits her boyfriend is racist. She herself shows unusual tolerance and one can only hope her influence may affect her boyfriend, although it seems doubtful, as racism is so deeply set amongst the Afrikaans people. “Yo!” she exclaimed, “people look at me strangely if I talk to black babies in the street! But they are only babies! They don’t choose their colour!”

I noted last night that I find the Namibians reserved and not outwardly friendly. Having done a bit of basic research into their social history, I have a bit more understanding of the tensions…

The land that is now Namibia became a German Imperial protectorate in 1884 under Otto von Bismarck, then Chancellor, largely to forestall British imperial encroachment. The land was known as German South West Africa. During World War One the Germans and South Africans (as British Empirical forces) fought in the territory and in 1915 the victors, South Africa, occupied the land and administered it as South West Africa from 1919. In 1920, the then League of Nations mandated the territory to South Africa formally and their laws were imposed – including, from 1948, a particularly unpleasant apartheid. During the South African occupation white commercial farmers, representing 0.2% of the population, owned 74% of the arable land. Even today, in 2016, about 4000, mainly white Afrikaans farmers own about half of Namibia’s arable land. Arable land is only a meagre one per cent of the total area…

…but almost HALF the population is involved in agriculture! Therefore half the population is subjugated to 4000 white owners. In 2016, under a parliamentary democracy…

Now, to go back a bit over 100 years, to the times of present Namibians’ grandparents maybe. In 1904 to 1907 the local Herero and Namaqua people rebelled against the German occupiers. The Germans, in a reaction that gains extraordinary relevance given later history, took cruel punitive action against the uprising. They carried out what is sometimes called the ‘first genocide of the 20th century’ (a century with a bad record on that score…).

The Germans slaughtered 10,000 Nama people – about half the population. Not only that, they murdered no less than 65,000 of the Herero – 80 per cent of the tribe. Some historians speculate that the mass genocide undertaken by the Germans was the model for the Nazis’ actions in the Holocaust thirty five years later. 75,000 people murdered from what was then a tiny population in South West Africa. That certainly left the way clear for the white invaders. There’s not going to be much opposition after that extermination.

The few survivors of this African Holocaust were dispossessed, deported, forced into labour, discriminated against and segregated under a system that anticipated apartheid fifty years later when the few that were left were confined to ‘Homelands’, that cosy word that hides the reality of poverty, disease, and starvation on the least productive land that was spared so generously by the white rulers…

Given this history, which remains deeply rooted in the cultural history of the people, it is less surprising that I find many people withdrawn and reserved. I have written it before: apartheid, that appallingly inhumane, greedy social engineering, will take many generations to fade in the collective memories of southern Africa. I still see its effects around me every day in so many ways: privileged whites so reluctant to give up their status, even now that both these countries are parliamentary democracies. The whites have so much to lose. I only have to look in ninety per cent of the passing, gleaming white 4X4s to see the glimmer of white skin, while black-skinned people sit by the roadside and try to hitch lifts in the desert – only available from black drivers; or look at the sprawling shack towns of zinc sheeting and recycled timber at the edge of every smart, white-dominated town with its tree-lined shady avenues of well-tended, swimming pool-equipped bungalows and smug churches…

Namibia finally negotiated for independence in 1988, achieving it in 1990, so very late in the day thanks to South Africa’s reluctance to give up its advantages. To this day, Namibia has one of the worst disparities of wealth distribution in sub-Saharan Africa.

Given all this, I have a new understanding of the fact that my white skin may cause a certain coolness amongst the people. It also makes me boggle at the popularity of Namibia for German tourists, for many of those I see and hear are German. The British did some pretty awful things around the world during their Empire days, but we didn’t run to too much straight genocide, certainly not in the numbers that were perpetrated here in German South West Africa. Would I want to come as a tourist 110 years later?

And it makes me, of course, ask the question: what sort of cultural arrogance can it take to even contemplate such actions? And where does the Afrikaners’ deep protestation of Christian morality fit in to their world view? ‘Love thy brother as thyself, so long as he’s white – if he’s any shade of brown he can be banished to a tin shack in the desert wilderness like an animal’… It’s a mystery to me, one I will never understand as long as I travel. But then, on a domestic level, I doubt I would even understand Esté’s boyfriend’s attitude to people who happen to have a different coloured skin covering the outer millimetre of their bodies either…

*

My accommodation tonight is eccentric, even for me, who, on my unplanned travels has slept in ballrooms, garages (complete with engine), greenhouses, troglodyte rock dwellings, a cave in Petra, mud huts, straw huts, churches, railways stations, cowsheds, Himalayan shepherds’ bothies, rural Pakistani teahouses, antique parlours, a Japanese temple, a Hindu Kush cement lorry, non-functioning railway carriages and all manner of makeshift dwelling. Tonight, for the first time, I find myself renting the wheelhouse of a fishing boat! It’s only the wheelhouse, for the rest of the boat ended up on the rocks somewhere north of here. But the wheelhouse of the ‘Moonfish’ was brought back to Lüderitz and fitted up as a static cabin in the back yard of a sort of backpackers’ hostel a street back from the pretty harbour. Here I have the ship’s wheel and instruments in front, a bunk-bedded room with small portholes and a bathroom through the rear bulkhead. It’s quirky enough even for me! And I will sleep tonight after that long thrash across the oldest desert in the world.

And Lüderitz, which is notorious for its chill fogs and cold blustery winds has been hot and sunny today, even to the surprise of the locals. Lucky me! A terrific journey to the edge of Africa – and the sun shines unusually brightly on the strange Art Nouveau, Edwardian (that should be Kaiserian, I suppose) Germanic town that could be somewhere on the coast of the North Sea, but for the warmth and blazing sun in a cloudless sky.

DAY 52. THURSDAY JANUARY 28th, 2016. LÜDERITZ, NAMIBIA

Living in Lüderitz must be a trial. Not only are you at the end of the known world but you have to put up with the wind! Wind can be so enervating. “Oh, this is just a breeze!” exclaimed the woman from the tourist office, stopping this evening on her way home, recognising me from my visit yesterday. ‘Mr Bean’ never fails to make people remember me! Now, when asked for my name I pronounce it loudly, expecting the laughter. “Well, you won’t forget it!” I always predict – rightly again, as she pulled over in a side street to see how I was enjoying my strange lodging in the wheelhouse. The gale blew loudly as we talked.

“Well, I rode to Diaz Point,” I told her, but it was a real struggle with this wind!” For I had ridden twenty kilometres on the promontory that thrusts north on the ocean side of the small town, to visit a rocky outcrop, crowned by a lighthouse, and the place where the first Portuguese explorer planted a cross in 1488. It was windswept and spume-wracked and the road out there was of pale stoney gravel. I ended up tacking across the road crabwise, always being forced towards the gravelly sides, slowing to a crawl to push back into the wind. And grit shot-blasted me as I rode. It was hard work, with another twenty kilometres to get me back to town.

No, I wouldn’t want to live in Lüderitz. And the wind isn’t the only reason. Pleasant enough for two days’ stay – but imagine the stultification of residency! I can’t… It’s 220 miles to the next two horse town landwards; 4000 or more I guess, to the next town the opposite way; perhaps a couple of hundred miles up the coast to even the small port of Swarkopmund and similar down to Port Nolloth to the south. And I went THERE a few days ago and decided it was a once in a lifetime experience. A couple of days here will do!

*

It’s a town built on diamonds. In 1908 a railway worker picked up a shiny stone from sand he was shovelling away from the line and precipitated a diamond rush, for the stones are indeed to be found in the desert sand. Diamonds were formed – as a form of pure carbon, deep in the early volcanic earth in vertical ‘pipes’ of lava. Here on the coast of Namibia, those pipes wore away over millennia and diamonds were released into the shifting sands, rivers and the sea. Signs hereabouts warn me not to trespass off the roads into what are still diamond concession areas controlled by the government. However, it takes the mining of an average of 250 tons of ore to find one carat of diamonds. A carat is 0.2 of a gram, so I don’t think I’ll bother to drive into the concession area anyway. Long odds indeed.

The Goerke House was a mansions built by one of the diamond mine managers from Germany. He brought out his wife but she (like me) saw no reason to remain in what really must have felt like the absolute end of the world in the early years if the last century, and feels pretty much that way over 100 years later. It’s a strange Germanic house of the period built up on the grey rocks overlooking the town. All the materials were brought from Germany and it’s a peculiar oddity. ‘A beautiful house, who wouldn’t want to live here?’ comments the last person in the visitors’ book. Well, in Germany perhaps, but in Lüderitz..? Not me.

Herr Goerke enlisted in the German army for a time – around 1904… There appears to be a complete blank on the massacre about which I wrote last night. It’s not mentioned in any of the tourist leaflets and a visit to the museum seemed to express a national obliteration of the event. Not surprising perhaps, as the museum was created – and last updated, restored, or cleaned in 1966, and is largely in German, by Germans, apparently for Germans. The bloodbath of 75,000 murders seems to have been expunged from history and I wouldn’t know about it without Mr Wikipedia. A Frenchman staying in the guest house reckons there is still a case before the International Court about that genocide 109 years ago.

*

It’s always good to have my instincts confirmed. I have conversed with a Dutch couple staying here too these two evenings. They are riding bicycles through Namibia. They too have found it hard to strike up much rapport with Namibians, finding them generally reserved and distant, as I have been finding. They’ve travelled a lot in South Africa and find the South Africans much quicker to respond – black and white, than Namibians. Today I have elicited responses, but only by looking people directly in the eye and smiling with a greeting. In most cases I had a quiet reply. “You have to go to Lesotho!” I told the Dutch couple.

“Yes, but wouldn’t it be a bit difficult on bicycles?” Maybe they have a point!

*

I like my wheelhouse. Cosy and quirky. But there may well be another massacre if I lived in Lüderitz. Why, oh why, do people give house room to barking dogs? Another of life’s mysteries.

DAY 53. FRIDAY JANUARY 29th, 2016. AUS, NAMIBIA

HOT!!! Wow, has today been HOT! Usually riding at sixty miles an hour brings a cooling breeze. Not today. It brought only a HOT wind. I suppose it has been at least 40 degrees most of the day. Now at almost 8.00 it is still very warm. Well, I AM in the oldest desert in the world and it didn’t get that singular distinction by being cool and clement. Doubtless it has been thus for millennia. I doubt I have ever been hotter.

Still, better that than single figures in Harberton! I can deal with 40 degree heat a lot better than 0 degrees.

*

But I am so happy I made this trip across the Namib Desert. It’s been extraordinary and a fine experience. And I still have a day’s ride to get back to the B1, the main north/south highway. Now I am in a small village called Aus, and its reason for existence is difficult to deduce. Perhaps a water supply? Or just a staging post in the desert, as it is on my journey. It’s just a small village – until you go and climb the nearby hill, as I did earlier this evening, and realise (as always) there’s another village over the hill. That one is basic and crude – and where the black people of Aus live of course, in small two roomed blocks and some associated shanties. I wonder if the German tourists around me as I sit on the balcony of the smart Aus Hotel (I am staying in a rather more economical place up the street!) even know there’s another largely hidden side to every place they visit on their guided tours – let alone have any knowledge of the precursor of the Holocaust about which I have written but to which I STILL find no reference whatsoever in the tourist histories? It’s just written off the face of Namibia presented for the Mark-carrying tourists!

*

Quite reluctantly I left my ship’s wheelhouse this morning. But Lüderitz didn’t hold much more interest for me except the journey back across the desert. It turned out that the wheelhouse, where I slept well and was amused by its eccentricity, was the cheapest place I have ever stayed in southern Africa – a qualification previously held by Granny and Four Sisters B&B in Lesotho at £4.35 where one light switch controlled all three rooms. My wheelhouse, with basic en suite bathroom and ship’s wheel included, cost me a princely £3.40! It was simple but clean and quirky, with a hot shower and lavatory through the rear bulkhead, and a proper spoked steering wheel in the wheelhouse. Fun!

After a quick look at the local Atlantic beach – totally empty – and disturbing a flock of colourful flamingoes on a small lagoon, I rode away from the coast back into the desert, that starts right outside town. Kolmanskop is a diamond ghost town from the 20s, just six miles inland from Lüderitz, a mining town slowly filling with sand blown across the deserts. Diamonds are still the big industry out here and signs warn me not to leave the road because alluvial gems are still to be found sitting on the desert surface. Namibia makes big money from mining in the deserts and even from mining the sea bed for stones washed out by ancient rivers.

Kolmanskop became a busy community in the teens and twenties, with a butchery, bakery, soda and lemonade plant, swimming pool and a long hospital building that had the first X-ray machine in southern Africa. It was a hub of German culture. A contemporary description from Edwardian days says that: ‘Sunday afternoons saw fashionably attired people in well cut outfits, the better halves of the diamond kings walking through deep sand, their left hands, mostly in cotton gloves, holding their long trains very stiffly, while their right hands held their feathered and flowered hats in place against the pressure of the wind.’

Eventually diamonds were found further south and the interest moved away, leaving Kolmanskop to founder in the sandy ocean, leaving an enigmatic and intriguing historical sidelight set in the shifting sands.

Kolmamskop is submerging and weathering away in the white sand, banks of it blocking doorways and windows and piling in the corners of old early twentieth century bathrooms and dining rooms. The timber is preserved by the intense lack of moisture, paint and decoration sand-blasted, windows frosted by time and wind-blown grit. It’s quite photogenic, of course, but I was thrilled, on looking at my photos to find that I had inadvertently captured the weaving track of a sidewinder snake through one of the sand-filled doorways. From the freshness of the trail, I think I must have disturbed it myself.

Imagine having to live there though! When it was a vibrant mining community there wasn’t even air-conditioning, only just electricity. The settlement sat in the full, merciless sun of the Namib Desert. There was no comfort, no diversion – just that dream of discovering a big gem. But this was a company town, so not many would benefit even then. It must have been ghastly. It was pretty uncomfortable to visit for an hour and a half…

*

Riding eastwards, I really felt I experienced the desert today. I doubt I ever rode in such hot conditions. My face was burning from the hot wind, my body baking in the intense, relentless sunshine. When I stopped to take photos I just burned up. I did turn off to look at the wild horses that have acclimatised to life in the Namib and roam between Lüderitz and Aus, centring on a water supply twenty kilometres from Aus. The origin of these horses remains an elusive mystery. There are several theories. One is that a ship carrying horses from England to Australia went aground near the Orange River mouth; another is that they are the descendants of 15000 military horses brought from Germany in 1904 (to aid the massacre!); or they are descended from 6000 horses that belonged to South African soldiers in 1915. But the most popular – and romantic – idea is that they are descended from horses of a stud belonging to an eccentric German nobleman who built a castle amongst the red desert hills to the north for his American bride. The story has it that when he was killed in action in1916, his wife, crazed with grief, set the 300 horses free in the desert. Who knows? It’s probably quite prosaic: descendants from military horses that went wild, but whatever the explanation, their adaptation to this sandy, burning and virtually vegetation-free landscape is remarkable enough in itself.

*

I reached Aus about three, utterly exhausted by the heat, and a short while ago, I almost collapsed after a good supper and three beers at the nearby smart hotel. It may only be 8.45 but I feel as if it’s midnight. I’ve done remarkably well even to be able to write tonight. Life in the oldest desert in the world isn’t for the weak!

Tonight I have found a good room, courtesy of the local petrol station (only one on the 350km journey from Keetmshoop to Lüderitz). I’ve a large twin room with a great bathroom, fridge, air-con, huge (dark) flat-screen TV, microwave, terrace and fan for £15. The pretty waitress, Aunà at the smart hotel admitted quietly that the rooms from the petrol station are better than those of the Aus Hotel. Probably half the price too.

I doubt sleep will be a problem tonight. And tomorrow I have another 120 miles or more of that difficult, hot, sweaty riding…

DAY 54. SATURDAY JANUARY 30th, 2016. KEETMANSHOOP, NAMIBIA

Even I – EVEN I – admit that at present Namibia is too hot! Today the temperatures were up at about 41/ 42 degrees and even the wind was hot. Three hours’ exposure, in jacket, gloves, boots and helmet, remember, exhausted me. I keep covered up at all times on the bike. I recollect only too well how a wild bee was scooped up by my sleeve one day as I rode without my gloves and stung my forearm, which swelled to double its size. To add caution to that, a week or so later I rode through a swarm of wild bees… So I keep zipped up and covered, despite the heat.

Just three hours and I was fit for nothing when I found a place to sleep but to doze and read for three more hours.

*

I have decided to go back east. It was always my intention just to see southern Namibia and get out to Lüderitz, then I wondered about extending northwards and seeing some more of the country. I did ride right through the land in 2002 and I know that these journeys I have undertaken are short compared to the rides to the north. It is just too hot now and I would like to have a rear brake for my red bike – and know once and for all why it leaks oil every day of my journey.

I need full confidence in my wheels to make the very long lonely rides out to the astonishing Sossusvlei dunes for instance. I recollect the length of the ride on gravel and dust to go there fourteen years ago – and it wasn’t so hot then! I was briefly even tempted by Angola, now opening to tourism again after their long bitter war but even Windhoek, the Namibian capital – and that’s not even half way up the country – is another 400 miles from here. No, it’s too big, too hot, and my bike needs attention. And I miss the friendly smiles and laughter of Lesotho too!

So, in slow increments caused by the withering heat, I’ll head across the continent again.

*

Aus was the friendliest place I stayed in Namibia. Small and cheerful, it seemed, with most life centred around its petrol station. It was eleven before I pulled away into the heat, having conversed with various locals: Charles, harmlessly drunk at 8.30 in the morning, but who had annoyed his (Afrikaans) boss, the station owner; Anneline de Young, whose grandmother’s father was a Dutchman. A pretty young woman, she served my breakfast and told me her brother has kept to the original spelling of ‘de Jong’. She was amused to hear of Rico’s sister and brother in law in Holland sharing that name. Then I had a long chat with Coenie Hartung. “My grandfather was German but my grandmother was a local, that explains this,” he said, pinching his forearm to demonstrate his mixed race origins. “How do you find Namibians?” he wanted to know. “A bit reserved, there’s always some distance.” He nodded, unsurprised. “But I read some of your history – which is nowhere to be found in any of the tourist literature. I wouldn’t have found it without the internet. And having read that, I am surprised people talk to me as a white man at all!” Coenie is an electrician, standing in front of the petrol station with a box of fuses and switches, for these petrol stations are really trading points for all sorts of goods. If you need it in Aus, there’s only one supplier. There was also Riaan, a tall young man with a floppy pink-striped cotton sun hat digging a hole amongst interesting wires and pipes by the guest house gate. “I am a soccer player! I am not really a worker, but life is not easy to follow your dreams, so I must work. I would like to go to South Africa, but I must have a visa. They are expensive. I put away money when I can. Maybe one day I can play soccer there…” Then there was Erastus, the charming pump attendant with a huge smile, whose portrait I captured a few days ago, under his fine wide-brimmed hat. Yes, Aus is friendly.

*

It’s always impressive to see Commonwealth War Graves. It’s an organisation for which I have a lot of respect. Outside Aus is a small, well-tended graveyard from World War One; a mixture of German and British – or in this case, South African regiments – side by side in death. Set in the dust and rocks of the Namib Desert, they are remembered to this day – a moving tribute to a ghastly, largely futile war that killed much of a generation – even here in the wilds of the African deserts a hundred years ago.

*

Then it was the long slog into a growing, hot wind. An uncomfortable ride back across the desert, relentless and stifling, counting down the kilometres. It was three hours and the desert was not so fine beneath hazier skies and patchy cloud, the humidity building until you’d think there would be release in rain. But here you never know. The pressure builds and builds – then drifts ineffectually overhead as it is doing now as I sit in a hotel garden, still hot, with a cold beer as darkness falls. The sky overhead boils and bubbles with heavy, inky, patchy clouds. It is intensely, stewingly clammy – but I doubt rain will materialise.

*

My broom cupboard of four nights ago was mercifully unavailable, meaning I had to search further for accommodation. I pulled in, on a whim, to the smartest hotel in town, a place that looks like a ‘proper’ hotel on the Holiday Inn sort of model. I have learned never to dismiss the expensive looking places! My room is a regular sort of twin room with all mod-cons and a view of the desert beyond the ugly new shopping mall. Spurning breakfast (which I can get at the supermarket for £1.50) I have a room for £19.50. Most expensive since Johannesburg but still inside my £20 maximum budget. I needed a bit of comfort tonight and I rationalised that for two nights this week I slept for £3.40! Sitting in an armchair by an open window looking out over the Namib (ignoring the ‘Shoprite’ banners), after a cool shower was a luxury I needed.

*

The World Food Programme warns that 29 million people in southern Africa are already going hungry as a result of the lowest rainfalls on record. South Africa is the biggest victim as it is the region’s major maize producer and last year’s output was already 30% below the bumper 2014 season. Small scale farmers are particularly affected and there are emergencies declared in five of the nine provinces already. In Namibia around half of the dry land commercial farmers have suffered total crop losses and over 370,000 people (of 2.1 million population) are food insecure. In Zimbabwe 1.5 million don’t have enough food and 600,000 are in crisis phase. Zimbabwe’s drought response plan is only 44% funded… In Lesotho 650,000 people – a third of the population – do not have sufficient food and water rationing is in place in several districts. All other countries have similar stories to tell. Poor Africa, always overlooked by the rich world and bearing so many of the problems of the poor one.

Now a few very weak, half-hearted raindrops are falling, not even enough for me to take shelter. I hope it does rain in the night for I have another long ride tomorrow, back to the middle of nowhere and beyond.

(Later. It didn’t rain – again…)

DAY 55. SUNDAY JANUARY 31st, 2016. SPRINGBOK, SOUTH AFRICA

Mad dogs and Englishmen…?

Part, I suppose, of the justification for these extensive journeys of mine lies in the stories I have to tell later, and the challenges I overcome in the present. Today has provided both – uncomfortably.

I can quite certainly claim that I have NEVER EVER been hotter than today! Thank goodness my small provision of sense has prevailed upon me to make the decision to quit all idea of exploring Namibia further. As I crossed the border back into South Africa at 2.15 this afternoon the temperature was a mighty 48 degrees Celsius – 118.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Remember, that is the temperature in the shade. On my little red motorbike there isn’t any! Before I reached the border it is very likely the thermometer probably exceeded 50C (122F)!! Definitely a two exclamation mark event. Even here in Springbok the temperature has been 41 degrees (106F). Last evening at 6.30 it was still 50 degrees at that border.

I rode 275 miles in this; six and a half hours. I feel like a broiled chicken. I ride in a black jacket (fortunately fairly well vented), a scarf for the sun on the back of my neck, motocross trousers, large boots, leather gloves and a helmet. Short of being wrapped in tinfoil in an oven I doubt I could get closer to cooking myself. Even the local people are exclaiming at the heat…

*

Well, what more is there to say? The heat filled my mind and my riding hours. To stop to take a photo was to boil even more, so I sat and rode most of the time. When I stopped to drink water from the bottles in my bag, the water was hot as tea and tasted of softening plastic. The border official joked about frying eggs on the road: I reckoned they’d fry on my tank or my helmet. I could hardly touch my bike without gloves, it was so hot. And from here I have to head towards Upington, notoriously the hottest town in South Africa. I have no choice!

In Springbok, at least, I knew I could find a room that I liked without any frustration of touring the town, for I stayed here last week. And I am, sensibly, avoiding any dust and gravel roads at present. I have enough challenges with the sun, not to have to contemplate tumbling off or breaking down in the middle of nowhere. This is serious weather, to be respected. I shall stay on the main highways! You don’t last long in the desert in conditions like this if you have no help.

But of course, while I am as uncomfortable as I ever was in my life, I am at the same time exhilarated to overcome the challenge – for it is a challenge, physical and partly mental too, just to cope with the conditions. Odd how difficult I find it to deal with icy evenings in Harberton!

*

And on Friday morning I find I became a ‘grand dad’ – by proxy of course! My informally adopted ‘son’, Dennis, in Ghana, and his wife at whose wedding I was early last May, writes to tell me: ‘Your grand son is born’. Here’s part of his email:

Today I am a bearer of good news and the news I bring to you will surely gladden your heart. Emmanuella your daughter in law has put to birth. It was late Thursday evening, after we visited Dad and Mum then went back home. Later that evening she started to show signs then I rushed her to the Teaching Hospital where she put to birth after five (5) hours later. She gave birth to a bouncing baby boy without any complications. Now we have moved to the family home in order to allow for us to take proper care of him since we both lack the experience to properly cater for him in this fragile months. We are now a little over twenty-four (24) hours and hope this relationship will last a lifetime.’

The genes may not continue but the influence will, no doubt! I’m happy for them.

*

It’s 9.00. I have to sleep… For once, with air-con. Set, mind you, to 26 not 16 as it was when I came into the room. Why even in Harberton I set the HEATING to 22/ 23! And for goodness sake, it’s still probably 35/ 36 outside.

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