IN August, my husband and I tour through Namibia. We follow a circular route, from the south up to Tsumeb and back. A variety of audiobooks and podcasts accompany us. And, of course, music, carefully chosen.
We depart early in the morning from Cape Town. The Knersvlakte is tinted pink and peach, white and orange.
At Skilpad, on this side of Kamieskroon, I walk among the Namaqualand marigolds (bittergousblom). In my childhood, we used to lie among them. You must inhale their scent deeply. It's the breath of our fields.
Springbok is no longer the town of my time. The flowers have also receded. But in Nababeep, it looks as if someone has splashed orange paint everywhere. In every crevice and every sand dune, the flowers nestle with their innocent faces turned towards the sun.
I'm waiting for the writer Dianne Du Toit Albertze in a restaurant. She comes in to find me and we sit where smoking is allowed. A man sitting and eating twists his neck to look at her. That's Springbok. It's scorching and xhouboe, but we're familiar with it. She lets me listen to a recording of Hossie Bois, a group from Steinkopf. To me, it sounds like a kind of boeremusiek, but it's our people and the rhythm is !na.
The next day, we leave Springbok. “The school's motto is Perseverance," I say as we pass my alma mater. “Makes sense," he says.
Just before Vioolsdrif's border post, we veer off the road and tuck a few bottles of wine under the seat. You don't want to get caught without precautions in the desert. Outside Aus, we set up our tent. The darkness wraps its icy arms around me.
The first stretch to Sossusvlei, the road is bare and dull. It's time for a pit stop. Hennie Maas talks about comets on Sterre en planete. Halley with its long tail will pass by Earth again in 2061. It's an astonishing 15km long.
We turn onto the D707. The landscape transforms into a painting in soft pastel colours. We stop and stand in awe before the magical beauty. Comets completely forgotten.
Solitaire is a popular stop. Everyone eats apple tart. We get two flat tyres on the gravel road. Strangers stop and want to help. They're almost the only people who speak English with us during the trip.
Just outside Sesriem is our destination for two nights. During the day, two pairs of feet clamber up the dunes of the Namib Desert and we slide down on our bums to the petrified forest. We're children again.
In the evening, it's deadly quiet around the fire. Jackals sit and watch us from a safe distance.
On the other side of Sossusvlei, on our way to Swakopmund, we listen to my favourite podcast, Danie Marais's Liedjies met langasems. It's especially David Kramer's A Man Walks that moves me emotionally. Maybe it's Marais's compelling, soulful voice that relates Kramer's life story, or maybe it's because my husband's footsteps also lie in these places.
Hy stap by die Hoogstraat af Tot by die Central Hotel
En hy luister na die prediker Wat met sy bybel skree en skel
I look at the man holding the steering wheel. He reaches for my hand.
In Swakopmund, we walk through the town, stand in front of old German buildings and eat apfelstrudel at Café Anton.
In the desert landscape, I sit on the ground next to the plant that's also called a living fossil and survived the dinosaur era: the welwitschia with its long leaves that feel like leather. If we absolutely have to leave South Africa, I decide after three days in Swakopmund, I will live here.
The drive to Tsumeb takes up the better part of a day. It's time for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy narrated by the formidable Stephen Fry. We disappear into space aboard the Vogons' ship. Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Beeblebrox and a depressive robot, Marvin, become our companions for the next few hours.
At Uis, where lithium was discovered, we have coffee. Lunch at Outjo's bakery. Afterwards, we listen as the computer, Deep Thought, is asked to provide the most important answer of all time, about “life, the universe and everything". Seven million years later, he is ready.
“Forty-two," says Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.
Late afternoon, we arrive in Tsumeb. Our host is a 92-year-old friend of my parents. I have come to bid him farewell for the last time. When I was a child, he taught me about Chuang Tzu:
He whose law is within himself
walks in hiddenness.
His acts are not influenced
by approval or disapproval..."
Two days later, we bid farewell to a solitary figure at the gate. On the way to Windhoek, the moment is right for all our high school favourites: Uriah Heep, Moody Blues, Strawbs, Led Zeppelin.
We go glamping outside the city in the Daan Viljoen Game Reserve, where a baboon grabs the box with the wine bottles. Sweetheart's red wine is unharmed thanks to the hidden ones under the seat, but the damage to my white wine is irreparable. That night, I dream about grabbing the baboon's finger and bending it back.
Next destination: Keetmanshoop. It's time for serious matters: the neuroscientist, Sam Harris, is speaking. He reads from his book: Free Will.
Choice is an illusion, he says. Your upbringing, genes and unconscious motives, among other things, determine your actions; it has nothing to do with choices. The murderer didn't choose to be that way. Your achievements may be pure luck or thanks to good genes and healthy programming. “I don't know about this," I say. “How can anyone be held responsible for their actions then?"
We arrive in my biological mother's hometown. I am the premarital child and was sent away without a name over the Orange River, towards Namaqualand. But still, she bequeathed me her wedding ring, high cholesterol, and the burden that I have to earn my place in life.
“What would you like to listen to?" he asks as we drive away the next afternoon. Only silence. He stops briefly so I can pick up rocks.
At Hobas, we set up the tent and drive to the plateau where a few years ago, with the help of chains, we clambered all the way down when we hiked the Fish River Canyon. As the sun sets over the largest canyon in Africa, we toast my fellow traveller. The next day is his birthday.
At the Withuis, a popular guesthouse outside Grünau, we conclude the holiday with a feast of Kinna's cooking. For the last time, we stand beneath the Milky Way, which stretches out above us. Peace envelops me.
“Sir, how many rocks did you take here?" my husband gets scolded at the border for my transgression. One village after the other flashes by; we are in a hurry to get home to the cats.
At Peregrine Farm Stall, the half-hour drive that remains is just enough for one last episode of Liedjies met langasems. Marais talks about Bruce Springsteen, who turns the life stories of ordinary people into songs. And right where the road turns towards our home, the raspy voice sings:
Son, take a good look around
This is your hometown…
♦ VWB ♦
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