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Travel is glamorous only in retrospect - Paul Theroux

23 March 2019, Noordoewer to Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park (Gamkab Entrance), 64,3km
“Wild” camp R0


“WARNING: Sharp curves and steep hills for 110km…” Now there’s a sign to strike fear into the heart of your average 61-year old, unfit, morbidly obese cyclist. It turned out to be a gross exaggeration, though we did not know it at the time. There were indeed sharp curves and steep hills, but only on occasion…
We had initially planned to cross the South African border at Vioolsdrif / Noordoewer and turn west through the Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park which spans the Orange River, including terrain on both sides of the border. A week or so ago, we found that the road through the park is gravel, and I began to worry about our ability to do the distance on dirt, carrying enough supplies, given that there are no shops at all between Aussenkehr, near the east gate of the park, and Rosh Pinah, 15km from the west gate - a total of 104km. We began then to discuss taking the main road toward Windhoek instead, but discovered the first 140km to Grunau are literally all uphill. Long story short, we reverted to our original plan.
So this morning early we departed our haven at Noordoewer with our hotel-packed breakfasts, cycling past vineyards with Afrikaans names and fences lined with bougainvillea in shades of pink. Cecelia, our guest house host, had told us there were several “opietjies and afietjies” (small ups and downs) in the early stages of the ride to Aussenkehr, our next destination, but that thereafter the road was flat. We do know better than to trust the perception of those who travel by car, so were not too disappointed to find that the road thereafter was in fact a gentle incline on the whole, mild enough to never require walking, steep enough to exercise our legs, awaking the latent power still dormant there.
Another extraordinary day on an isolated road through scenery wild and harsh. At first the colour palette seems pale and monotonal, but when you look closer, the land is tan and brown and olive and mustard and aubergine. Just as we began to tire, we started a longish downhill run toward Aussenkehr (the double s pronounced like a z, a distinctive German sound), and then a tiring climb in the heat and a sharp drop again to the Spar.
Aussenkehr is a strange settlement servicing the surrounding farms, entirely dependent on the Orange River, and a traditional Herero and Ovambo town comprised of reed structures and some corrugated tin homes and the Put More Fire “shebeen” (informal bar). There is a Spar, a Standard Bank, a moneylender, and three or four other shops in a hollow near the water. For some reason I expected a more cohesive place offering the weary traveller accommodation options, but we had already passed the only game in town some 5km back.
We had been told we could “wild camp” on the banks of the Orange, so decided to pack away our fears and push on, hoping to find a suitable campsite. We had also been told the river water was drinkable with the addition of a purifier, which allayed our biggest fear, that of running out of water in an unforgiving land. It was not easy to reach the river itself, but after awhile we came across a dirt road dropping down to it, and like others before us ignored the “Private Road - Right of Admission Reserved” board lying half hidden in the grass.
It was a stunning setting, the mountains on the South African side reflected in the water. The upside of previous campers was a flattened surface on the water’s edge softened with dry grasses and ideal for a tent. The downside: litter, poop and flies. None of the latter less-than-romantic issues forced us after several hours to abandon our find. We lolled about in the water, and dozed under a tree through the heat of the afternoon. Then a vehicle arrived with four men come to swim and drink beer, then another, and another. Clearly we had unwittingly chosen a popular party site. One of the men in the first vehicle had had a lengthy chat with Charl while I was stocking up in the Spar. He suggested we find somewhere else to camp, and proposed we do so at the entrance gate to the park itself, another 5km or so away. As we had not yet unpacked or set up camp, that’s what we did.
For some reason those five kms were exhausting, perhaps because they were done in the heat at the end of a long day and into a headwind. The gate was without a keeper, the office empty and locked, but the public loos open. We partially hid ourselves near the loos, but not well enough to remain unseen by Daniel, the gatekeeper, passing by later en route his house in the park to Aussenkehr. He could clearly see we were too tired to travel any further, and suggested we use an empty room behind the gate office and that we stay out of sight.
So our first “wild camp” was pretty luxurious. We had shelter from the wind, running water and a toilet each. Initially we slept under an ocean of stars as the room was hot and airless, but later moved into the room as the night grew cold in the increasing wind.
I had a minor fall today, not off the bike, but trying to get onto it. Several things conspired against me. We had just stocked up on water and food to get us through a couple of days in the park, and my bike was particularly heavy; we had ridden over 50km, much of it uphill, and my body was tired; I was standing on a bit of road that sloped behind me towards its edge, putting my standing leg a little lower than the bike. Short version: I could not hold the heavy bike and swing my leg up and over and ended in the dust. No harm…

For today's route see below photos
For overview route, click on ROUTE tab above…


Noordoewer to Aussenkehr
Noordoewer to Aussenkehr
Noordoewer to Aussenkehr - river to left, desert to right
Noordoewer to Aussenkehr - river to left, desert to right
Noordoewer to Aussenkehr
Noordoewer to Aussenkehr
Noordoewer to Aussenkehr
Noordoewer to Aussenkehr
Noordoewer to Aussenkehr
Noordoewer to Aussenkehr
Noordoewer to Aussenkehr
Noordoewer to Aussenkehr
Noordoewer to Aussenkehr
Noordoewer to Aussenkehr
Noordoewer to Aussenkehr
Noordoewer to Aussenkehr
Noordoewer to Aussenkehr
Noordoewer to Aussenkehr
Aussenkehr
Aussenkehr
Aussenkehr
Aussenkehr
Aussenkehr
Aussenkehr
Aussenkehr to Gamkab Gate
Aussenkehr to Gamkab Gate
Aussenkehr to Gamkab Gate
Aussenkehr to Gamkab Gate
Potential wild camp site on Gariep
Potential wild camp site on Gariep
Potential wild camp site on Gariep
Potential wild camp site on Gariep
Aussenkehr to Gamkab Gate
Aussenkehr to Gamkab Gate
Gamkab Gate to Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park
Gamkab Gate to Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park
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