This little expedition was intimidating, inundating, yet irresistibly alluring and sacred.
I just spent three days four by fouring through the Northern Cape West coast. It felt good to return to the land that captivated my heart all those many years ago. I was faced with what it was to know a place called home, losing it, mourning it, finding myself, losing that and mourning it but mainly touring and traversing, discovering, uncovering and digging deeper.
As D-day drew closer there was hesitance. There was fear too. So many things could go wrong, also things could go right, but when things don’t go according to plan it reveals a part of self we aren’t often faced with. The unplanned and unexpected come with a different set of discomforts – key opportunities to really get to know myself. To face my weaknesses and strengths and challenge myself to find a solution despite of them. So every opportunity I get to moer into the unknown is really an opportunity to walk alongside my own mystery and get a sneak peek on what’s around the next bend. Understanding and embracing what I’m capable of or not, matters to me, it’s empowering. But it also meant that it would be a tough inward journey coupled with a tough outward geographical odyssey. Was I up for it? I’ve done plenty of trips on my own, spent many a week in wilderness areas camping and roaming free but a trip this far North, this isolated, without signal and long stretches of deep soft sand to four by four through solo, felt like it needed a bit more planning than what I had time for and a bit more thought than what I had put in. But this was a pivotal moment - keep on doing the same thing and expecting different results or do things differently. Take the trip and face the consequences along the way. Metaphors for life really.
I do a few last-minute stops to buy a jerrycan and a small portable air compressor, in hindsight two things I would not have been able to complete the trip without. Fill up with petrol, check oil, water and tyre pressure. Last run through gear and supplies and drove six hours to where I wanted to be.
I phoned the Namaqua National Park ahead of time just to make triple sure about the directions. Once you turn off the N7 signal dies and you’re on your own. Google won’t be of much help and as much as the world trusts it, I still trust printed out maps and a person on the other side of the phone more, excuse me for being old school. I’ve had the desire to head back to the Northern Cape ever since I spent two years of my life living on a farm bordering the coast out there between somewhere and the Namibian border. Kilometres of unspoiled coastline. A shack on the beach was home. Since I no longer live there but love it, the Namaqua National park was the closest I could get. The coastal section of the park hugs the ocean from start to finish, delivers thick sandy roads where my four by four skills would surely be tested and it’s isolated and quiet. I didn’t see a soul for three days straight, well human souls that is, animals and plants there were plenty of. My kind of friends.
I take the N7, that long endless road that stretches into what feels like no man’s land, at some point you’ll find a place called Bitterfontein on your left, it has petrol, but that’s about all. If you can fill up here, it will be the last fuel station you’ll see in a while, actually for the next three days, so fill up those extra jerrycans too (I was grateful that I did). Thirty eight kilometres after Bitterfontein you’ll see a Groenrivier sign on your left, this is your turnoff. No more tar road from here on, gravel and then four by four until another part of the middle of nowhere. Follow this road for twelve kilometres until you reach a gate. Open the gate, close the gate. Another five hundred meters you’ll get to a T-junction, take a right here, in thirty meters you’ll have to turn left. I had to measure these meters on the vehicle speedometer, otherwise turnoffs would be missed and I would still be driving circles between shrub one and one million out in the Namaqualand wilderness. There is no signal to call for help, no signage or neon lighted arrows saying turn here. Merely a piece of paper with handwritten directions scribbled on it while on the phone to the park this morning. Worth more than gold. I cross over the mentioned low water bridge. Then the road takes you smack bang to the mouth of the fabled Groenrivier. The one last landmark is a random cluster of accommodation in the middle of an expanse of open earth on one hell of a hectic dirt road. Don’t wear your dentures when driving here, you might need dentures after it actually, so you’re ahead. Crawling at ten kilometres per hour I finally found the X I marked on the map. The mist hung low, as it often does on this part of the coast and the only give away was a farm gate on my right and the faint silhouette of a lighthouse in the distance. At four that afternoon I stood at the edge of the Namaqualand wilderness area ready to embark on a three day quest into the unknown armed with a four by four, a jerrycan, a compressor and hope that I have what it takes to get to the other side. Was I scared? Terrified.
At the site office I secured the last of my supplies – ten liters of water and some wood. With summer at hand I still had a good three hours of daylight, I used these to setup camp, go for a walk and familiarize myself with the surroundings.
I didn’t even know there was a lighthouse at the Groenrivier mouth, see you learn new things every day when you step outside your comfort zone. Light houses are magnificent things, lighting the way at calculated moments in order to aid sailors on their navigational quest to discover new and unknown land. I set up camp near the ocean under the watchful eye of the lighthouse feeling a slight giddiness at the new an unknown land I am about to discover over the next few days. Few things come close to the experience of going somewhere you’ve never been. How you experience a place for the first time imprints on you.
I’ve never dreamed of buying land, calling a slice of earth my own, it’s something that I never thought possible but that first night on the coast near the Southern border of Namaqualand I felt differently. I was reminded of the first time I set foot and laid eyes on this part of the country. I felt like I belonged to the earth here. Like my feet knew the land, remembers it even. There was a comfort and a familiarity in this vast expanse of unknown. The wild still exists and it resides in the wilderness of the Northern Cape West coast. I resonate deeply with its desolate windswept facade yet when you sit still long enough it’s everything but desolate, the landscape comes alive and the wind whispers whimsical narratives in your ears and loosens and stirs up long forgotten visions. The sounds and scents of the West Coast brings news of the wild being well, without and within, it makes me happy. I watched the sun go down from the back of my Jimny, with tea brewing on the camping stove next to me.
I am grateful for a vehicle that inspires me to dream big. A vehicle that doesn’t just get me from A to B but that pushes me to go further. The Suzuki Jimny four by four might be small but it’s badass and it has definitely expanded my adventure range. It’s been to the Cederberg, the Baviaanskloof, it constantly travels back routes all the way from Cape Town to the Garden Route. The West Coast, the real West Coast here in Namaqualand and on the dream tour is the Richtersveld in Namibia, which I’ve been to but want to return to solo. I’ve transformed it into a little panel van - back seats out, replaced with a wooden platform cut to size and has enough space for me and my gear in transit and sleeping mode. The first night was spent cozily tucked inside on camping mattress and sleeping bag. Content and at ease I drifted off to the thunderous sound of the sea.
I woke up to the feet of a bird dancing on the roof of the car. First light and I was walking. Cup of tea in hand. Camera slung around my shoulder. Unshackling, effortlessly transitioning into curious flow. Spontaneity can easily take priority, but I wanted to get through the first section of soft sand to ease the nerves and assess my skills. One last brewed cup of tea for good measure and I was on my way. Six kilometres of knee-deep sand stretched out in front of me. I stopped the car, got out, let the tyres down to one point two bars and drew from every single four by four experience I have ever been a part of to try and prepare myself for what I did not know lay ahead. The only thing left to do, was do it.
In this six kilometre stretch of landscape I was lightheaded with fear, I howled with excitement, nearly cracked from concentration, laughed, cried, swore all within seconds of each other – I also just described how I handle life on a daily basis. I made it through without getting stuck, the crash course in basic 4 x 4’ing was done and I think I graduated, little did I know what awaited on day two. After an intense day filled with all the feels I was crashing fast. I setup camp just to the left of a long white sandy beach.
The ocean here is perilous, demanding respect as a powerful element. Here Nature still has the upper hand, I love it. There is no choice but to stand in awe. The ocean, no matter how much it changes always soothes yet when life changes constantly it’s rather unsettling. A staggering sense of loss caught me off guard. Revealing all the change change has caused in the past six years of my life. I stopped participating. I couldn’t keep up. My chest closed up, tears stinging the dry skin on my cheeks. The boundless landscape was unbearable, the vastness of it all too much, I needed shelter. I crawled into my tent for the afternoon and drifted off for some timeout from this quest. In moments of low morale, I take the time and make space to seclude and process, it’s important. I can’t deny my body, spirit and mind being entwined; they all have an equal say in my day to day.
I don’t trust that beautiful and worthwhile experiences will come around after the current beautiful and worthwhile experiences I find myself in fades away. No wonder I try so hard to create them for as long as I can and as often as possible. It’s a fear response. I want to change it. I don’t trust life. That saddens me most. I have to work harder at trusting in general than anything else. Constantly. The battle never feels won. How to approach these unknowns with excitement and not fear is the biggest question mark I can’t seem to still.
I would like to have every exquisite moment that has transformed my life kept close enough to be relived and remembered, often. The desire to hold on tears through my heart. I recall the hugs and kisses and love from mom and dad when I was little, adventures and cuddles with my pets, every I love you from a partner. All the good stuff. I want savor it, hold it dear, remember it like was yesterday. Taste it, feel it, experience it. I want to remember every person that has made an imprint on my heart, that has walked this path alongside me, that has held my hand and loved me. I want them with me on my journey to be honoured and held in high regard. I want to keep it fresh in the forefront of my mind. I don’t want sacred moments to lose their lustre. It matters to me. The truth split me open – I desire to be remembered in the way I try so hard to honour and remember others. Believing I’m forgettable hurts me. I bit off more than I can chew coming on this trip. The day won. I tried to make friends with these fears and went to bed.
The last leg of the pilgrimage was the toughest. Returning to a place that brings back the memories of a life you loved but lost possibly due to your own inner inadequacy is a hard pill to swallow. Also it was the craziest stretch of four by fouring I have ever done, I wish the camera was rolling. Broke my hand break, missed a turn and landed in the bushes, nearly toppled over and knocked myself out. Wild. I got to the other side, checked the map just to realize I have to drive the same road back to get out only this time around it’s uphill and that takes a whole new set of skills that I don’t yet have. Life is so hilarious.
These past three days I laughed with myself and at myself. I had lengthy conversations with myself, birds, field mice and a snake (that conversation wasn’t too lengthy to be honest). My connection to nature is crucial to my survival, well being and sanity. Being outside is also a great way to connect the self. I sat quietly, walked for hours, was scared speechless of the quiet, the isolation, the nothingness and myself but elated by it too. 4 x 4’d solo through knee deep sand for kilometres on end for the first time. Slept under a big sky all along the coast alternating between my car, tent and hammock. Drank lots of tea. I find joy in who I am out here. But mostly I cherish the time I took to be by myself. However hard it was. I wanted to re-calibrate, reset, reconnect, reclaim the fundamental building blocks that make up who I am. I wanted a few days to be witness to myself. It’s a sacred thing to have the time to be witness to oneself. Make the time.
The basics, they make sense to me. And to this day when life gets complicated, I simplify. I take a trip and return to basics. It stills the mind and soothes the soul. It reveals a lot! Instincts kick in and a natural rhythm returns, one we often misplace in our busy daily lives. Wake up with the sun, brew some tea, have a rusk, enjoy the view, contemplate and breathe in the coastal air. Hang the solar shower to be warmed by the morning sun. Go for a walk, document the day, sing and laugh and dance and swim, be barefoot. Feel the earth beneath my feet, I belong to it after all. When all is said and done, we return to her, be grateful for the gift of briefly walking on her surface. It’s not about the doing of stuff or ticking things off the activity list but about doing less and feeling more. Slowing things down in order to move more consciously, I take the Praying Mantis as inspiration. Moving with precision and thought and purpose. It’s something I desire, to know myself so that my truth within can be my compass without. It will serve me and others even more so and that is beautiful.
There is method in the madness when it comes to doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results and actually doing something different. Playing tug of war with letting go, resisting change are just some of the things I keep on doing and I expect different results. Physically driving six hundred kilometres to change my geographical co-ordinates for a few days was my way of doing things differently and what sat on the other side of fear was powerful.
I lost my heart to the Northern Cape West coast of Namaqualand about eight years ago, she hasn’t had the courtesy to return it so I went to go fetch it, all be it the long way around, a pilgrimage of sorts. Up until now it’s been an inward one, it was time to complete the journey and finish what I started outwardly. Let go and move on. Time for new beginnings. It just so happens that the number eight signifies new beginnings. I don’t want to carry the past with me anymore, I want to make space for now. So, I got in my car and drove all the way to the Northern Cape and four by foured my way through an accessible part of the Northern Cape West coast, coastal section of Namaqualand from South to North and then drove home with my heart in my hands.
Holding onto an idea of what life should have looked like has its limits. It has kept me from being present for six years. Six years is a long time to hold on to something that isn’t tangible, visible or real anymore. I’ve put my life on hold for this idea. I’ve allowed this idea to steal a lot of my time. For a good few years I’ve been fighting so hard to find my way back to the wild and the wilderness of the Northern Cape. But most of all I have fought relentlessly to still the deep longing in me to return to a place called home so much so that I’ve lost sight of what really matters. And what really seems to matter are the current moments we find ourselves in and who we find ourselves in those moments with. So as much as this trip was to prove to myself that I can camp, four by four and roam solo it was for sure about letting go of a place called home outwardly and a sort of homecoming to myself inwardly.
I drove home with a lot to process, to be grateful for, to feel badass about.