Thursday, September 24, 2009

There she blows...and yes, she burns.

Africa Burns.

Despite those wise misgivings on the part of Mr Nielson better known as Sid and I, we resolved to take our chances and head for Tankwa in the Klein Karoo, along with a thousand or so other creatives hellbent (and I use the term advisedly) on...

The truth is that I can't for the life of me, finish that sentence! I have sat for a good few moments fingers at the ready, waiting for the answer.
Alas. It refuses to come! In the way that these things often reveal themselves, by the end of this post I may have a better idea of why we were there.

So here goes...

We set out for Tankwa on a balmy Friday afternoon, our Chrysler Voyager laden with rented camping equipment, kelims, jembe drums and carved african stools on which to perch whilst drumming said jembes! In two giant cooler boxes, there was a variety of cuisine to tempt even the most reluctant eater. This is how Jews travel. It is as if they are forever poised to survive forty nights in the desert, and must bring their own manna!

After about 200km of good tarred road we turned on to the, unbeknownst to us, notorious dust road to Calvinia. The longest road in South Africa between two towns. Fifty kilometers later, we got our first puncture. Now Mr Nielson better known as Sid is nothing short of a camel man, and so in no time, he had us back on that darn road, blissfully unaware of what lay ahead.

Picture, if you will the scene. Some many months ago, an elderly lady did a very interesting sideways reverse manoeuvre, into my back sliding car door. This, whilst my car was stationary in a queue, waiting to fill up with petrol! Said door was duly fixed, but despite sending it back a second time, the small issue of sealing was not fully accomplished. I had become accustomed to the faint hiss coming from the back door, and it no longer bothered me enough to send the car back yet again.

So as we drove that hard, dusty endless road, we had to keep opening the windows to LET THE DUST OUT!!!! After twenty minutes we, and everything in the car were caked in a thick layer of unforgiving Karoo dust.

We seemed to have been driving for only a few minutes when we got our second puncture.

By now the sky was darkening, and the temperature was beginning to drop. Car, after car hurtled by, picking up speed as they went, terrified at the prospect of attending to the desperate wayfarers! Each car brought with it an avalanche of more dust.

I began to resign myself to a night in the car with Mr Nielson and our son, Steele. Not an unhappy prospect, since they are delightful company, and of course, we had enough food and water to last several days!
And then, like angels sent from above, a merry band of rescuers came to a halt, and committed themselves to getting us back on the road. They used aerosol sealants, spare trailer tyres and assorted highway trickery of every kind, in the hope of rendering us mobile. Then, as a last resort they flagged down a passing car, ( two gentleman weary from a long day at work, and yet so kind and obliging) and piled us, and all of our belongings, save for an African stool or two, into and onto the vehicles!

Later in the pitch dark, as we fumbled with the unfamiliar equipment, they sent their teenage daughters over to erect our tent! In no time, the tent was up, the gazebo resplendent with kelims, drums and chairs, and Sid and I went off to explore the terrain.

It looked better at night. More, as Alphapha is fond of saying, romantical.

There was a labyrinth with a magic inner message dream tree.

There was a giant sculptural dome of some sort, being burnt in the centre of a vast field surrounded by hundreds of tents, caravans and assorted variations of shelter.

There was a giant post box as large as a house.

An assortment of fantastical vehicles.

And all manner of wondrous creations that we found our way to, with the help of our trusty, little hand torch.

Later that night, as I lay shivering in my sleeping bag, I could think of nothing but what lay ahead for Sid, since he would be faced, come morning, with finding tyres for our abandoned Voyager.

I have failed to communicate the sounds that emanated through the dark, Karoo night. Instead of the spiritually edifying, bliss of desert silence, there was throughout the night, the endless thump, thump of trance music coming from a communal tent close by! This 'music' remained the background soundtrack for the entire period of our visit.

In the morning, Craig and Nikki, our new best friends and rescuers, beckoned us to reveal ourselves to them, since our introductions had all taken place in the dark. I hastily checked my visage in a small cosmetic mirror, and was horrified at the aged crone that peered back at me!

I had aged twenty years overnight. Dust had settled in every wrinkle and pore, my hair was a bird's nest and my eyes were puffy and red! O the shame! Donning sunglasses and plastering on some sunblock, I emerged from my tent to the wrath of the desert heat and wind. Great billowing clouds of dust moved as if in slow motion, towards us across the desert plains.

The camp site revealed itself by daylight as a vast bed of hard shale. I did not see a living thing of any kind, not insect, bird or plant in it's relentless midsts! On the outskirts, save for the tenacious karoo shrubbery, endless parched earth circled by distant mountains.

There were no facilities for campers. Thoughtfully, a few long drops had been provided. These were placed some distance from the tents, makeshift cloth screening them from onlookers. As you approached them, you could make out the sight of men straining on the toilet 'seats'! I beat a hasty retreat and resolved to drink nothing until we left! My new motto. Hold it in! This as my rapidly ageing skin, steadily dehydrated.

I guess that beyond and above the beautiful creative energy invested by so many in their dwellings and installations, the most inspiring was the art of human kindness; The rescuers who prolonged their own journey to see to our well-being. Andy who gave up six hours of his time to drive Sid to Calvinia for new tyres. Craig and Nikki who welcomed us like long-lost friends. And all the other wondrous beings who offered us help, refreshments, philosophy and loveliness all through our stay.

And that, by the way, is why we were there...

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