15:00 at the Engen was the agreement. At 15:30 I began to worry that I had been left behind, so I phoned Tannie Lizzy.
“My kind, ek is so jammer. Ek moes nou by die bank uitkom. Ek sal jou nooit vergeet nie. Ons kom nou.”
The taxi eventually rocked up just after 16:00, but we still had to pick up a few passengers and run a few errands. Our last stop, Olé Fisheries…
A white person on a taxi to Alexander Bay is a rather unusual occurence, so naturally it sparked a few questions.
“Ken jy die Baai?”
“Bly jy in Port Nolloth?”
“Dan wat maak jy nou, my kind?”
After explaining myself, Juffrou van der Merwe, a teacher at Alexander Bay High School, sprung into action.
“Ons gaan reel dat jy by die skool kom praat en dan stuur ons jou af. Waar bly jy vanaand? Ek bel sommer nou vir Briston, dan slaap jy daar by die gastehuis.”
So while I chomped down on my snoek en tjips, my itinerary for the next two days was being worked out on my behalf.
“Good things come to those who wait.” Tannie Lizzy knowingly smiled.
“Baby we’ve come so far, don’t turn back now. We’re almost there, I can see the light.”
The chorus drifted into my ears from the taxi speakers. So far indeed, here I was in the uppermost reaches of the Northern Cape, a dream - almost two years in the making - so close to being realised. A silly grin developed across my face as the rocky hills rolled on by.
“Dis koud!” I exclaimed, as we pulled up to the Af-en-Toe Gastehuis.
“Ja, dis die baai. Dis altyd so in die baai.” replied Juffrou van der Merwe.
The icy wind cuts right through to the bone!
Before I really knew what was going on I had been whisked away to my room for the next two nights.
The guesthouse consists of old mine housing that has been converted. They say it gives one a feel of what it was like living in the mining quarters. The reality though is far from the white linen, fluffy pillows and warm duvet. Littered across the town are rows of rusty, abandoned, corrugated-iron crates - their matchbox windows long smashed by village kids with nothing better to do. This is where the miners really lived.
Like the land, the people here are tough and weather-beaten. They are the Nama (or Namaqua), descendents of the Khoikhoi; native to Namibia, parts of Botswana and what is known as the Namaqualand in the Northern Cape. They are as kind and friendly as they come, a trait no doubt stemming from the necessity to rely on one another in these harsh conditions.
The mine (state-owned Alexkor) dominates this place. Every single aspect - be it tourism, conservation, accomodation, emergency services, you name it - has the same phone number listed; a phone number that leads to an impenetrable labyrinth that is Alexkor’s switchboard, complete with mind-drilling hold music. Trying to phone any of the other numbers is futile, “I’m sorry I haven’t lived in Alexander Bay for over seven years” said the man listed on the website as the person to contact at the camp site (FYI - the campsite doesn’t exist anymore either). Eventually I did manage to get through to the Security Manager. He seemed genuinely sad that he couldn’t allow me to walk along the coast. Along the road it will have to be then, oh well.
As I climb into bed a giddy fit of laughter envelops me.
Tomorrow I go in search of the Orange River Mouth where Step One of Six Million awaits…
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