BACK ROAD: GROOT­FONTEIN TO GOB­A­BIS

go! Namibia - - CONTENTS - WORDS & PIC­TURES ERNS GRUNDLING

Cruise past the Water­berg along miles and miles of noth­ing­ness

If you’re driv­ing the back roads be­tween Groot­fontein and Gob­a­bis, you’ll en­counter the C30 – one of the most des­o­late gravel roads in a coun­try of des­o­late gravel roads…

Deon van Blerk warned me about the C30: Noth­ing grows there. Deon, one of the or­gan­is­ers of the Groot­fontein Show, shook his head when I told him that I was plan­ning to drive the C30 to Gob­a­bis in my rented Nis­san Almera.

Deon was right. There’s noth­ing here. It’s a Sun­day af­ter­noon in Septem­ber and there’s still 323 km of gravel be­tween me and Gob­a­bis. I left Groot­fontein yes­ter­day, 227 km ago.

Don’t get me wrong: I love a ro­man­tic gravel road that goes all the way to the hori­zon. Maybe there’s a line of pink moun­tains there, and a don­key cart en­ter­ing the frame at just the right mo­ment, trail­ing golden dust. Prob­lem is, the C30 is not a ro­man­tic gravel road. The land­scape is flat and bor­ing, bro­ken only by the odd, dust-coloured shrub. Ev­ery now and then an anthill guards over a vi­sion of pure noth­ing­ness.

It’s just af­ter 2 pm and I hope to be in Gob­a­bis by 6 pm so I can at­tend the open­ing of the town’s an­nual agri­cul­tural show. The Groot­fontein Show (see page 84) was so much fun I de­cided to go to an­other one.

My pro­vi­sions are run­ning low: a litre of wa­ter, a bot­tle of Fruitree juice, two packets of Simba chips and a Bar One. I have a strong feel­ing that the next time I see a shop I’ll al­ready be in Gob­a­bis…

The speed limit is 100 km/h, but I keep steady at 85 km/h. You could go faster though: The C30, like most gravel roads in Namibia, is in much bet­ter con­di­tion than many tarred roads in South Africa. The Spar in Groot­fontein is the only su­per­mar­ket I know with a taxi­dermy dis­play next to the meat sec­tion. I stocked up yes­ter­day and drove the D2859 through fields of danc­ing mielies. (The area be­tween Groot­fontein, Otavi and Tsumeb is known as Namibia’s mielie tri­an­gle.) My first stop was to see the Hoba meteorite – the largest of its kind on earth. Ja­cobus Her­manus Brits dis­cov­ered this piece of space de­bris, which weighs 60 tonnes and fell to the earth about 80 000 years ago, in the 1920s. I’ve seen the meteorite be­fore, but I still stood in awe in front of this “speck of cos­mic dust”, as it’s de­scribed in the pam­phlet.

Then I pushed on, past farms with names like Venus and Ruimte, prob­a­bly in­spired by the meteorite, to­wards the Water­berg Plateau Park. I ar­rived in the late af­ter­noon and hiked up to the plateau to watch the sun­set. The Water­berg is one of my favourite places in Namibia and the view from the top of the plateau is ex­cep­tional. The park is man­aged by Namibia Wildlife Re­sorts (NWR) and even though some of the in­fra­struc­ture at their other re­sorts needs at­ten­tion, the fa­cil­i­ties in the Water­berg are great. I ate de­li­cious beef fil­let and stayed in a clean, neat chalet, at­tended to by friendly staff. A tame Da­mara dik-dik grazed nearby.

This morn­ing, be­fore I ven­tured onto the gravel equiv­a­lent of the moon, I went on a guided game drive in the park and saw big herds of buf­falo, kudu and roan an­te­lope. The rhi­nos were MIA.

Those few roan an­te­lope were the last living things I saw. I haven’t seen a sin­gle

With noth­ing else to look at, I fo­cus on the anthills. Some look like a witch’s hat, oth­ers like a fin­ger point­ing at the sky. Many look like my failed pri­mary school wood­work projects.

per­son or an­i­mal on the C30. Ev­ery now and then, I pull over to take a pic­ture of a place name on a sign­board: Hoëveld, Zu­lana Nguni’s, Ondiri…

With noth­ing else to look at, I fo­cus on the anthills. Some look like a witch’s hat, oth­ers like a fin­ger point­ing at the sky. Many look like my failed pri­mary school wood­work projects.

By the time I pull into the tiny set­tle­ment of Osire, the sum to­tal of my road­side sight­ings amount to the rem­nants of a shred­ded tyre, a rusted wreck of a car and a warthog. An old ad­ver­tise­ment for Five Roses Tea is painted on the wall of Store Osire. I would pay quadru­ple for an ice-cold Stoney right now, but the shop is empty and de­serted.

Osire is tech­ni­cally a refugee camp, es­tab­lished in 1992 to ac­com­mo­date refugees from var­i­ous African coun­tries plagued by con­flict. In 1998 the camp had a pop­u­la­tion of 20 000. That num­ber has de­creased steadily: In 2014, there were barely 3 000 peo­ple re­main­ing, mostly from An­gola.

Imk­er­hof, 53 km down the road, is an­other speck of dust on the map. Its most prom­i­nent build­ing is an or­phan­age and ed­u­ca­tion cen­tre.

All around are farms with evoca­tive names: Hieromtrent, Pier­ingk­lou, Fries­land, Woltemade…

Be­tween Imk­er­hof and Hochfeld I pick up a hitch-hiker: Uwoo Shi­bilewa. He’s on his way to visit some­one called Heskia. Uwoo is not a big talker, but I man­age to glean that he works with cat­tle, builds fences and lives on the farm Uitkoms. He en­joys the si­lence out here. “Wind­hoek is okay, but there are many tsot­sis,” he says.

Uwoo climbs out in Hochfeld, which is noth­ing more than a fill­ing sta­tion, a shop and a small lodge. He and Heskia chat un­der a tree.

The petrol pumps are un­manned, but there’s a cell­phone num­ber on the side of one. In Hochfeld you have to call the petrol at­ten­dant to come and help you.

The fi­nal 100 km to Gob­a­bis are pure Kala­hari. The road turns deep red. I’m now in cat­tle coun­try – Gob­a­bis is known as “Lit­tle Texas” and the “Wild East”. There’s also more wildlife: kudu, kamikaze warthogs cross­ing the road, guineafowl, fran­colin…

The C30 ends at the Black Nos­sob River close to Gob­a­bis. I pull over at the Brah­man bull statue in town, as the day’s last light glows on its flanks.

The C30 will never be a tourist route. I drove it on a Sun­day, but I doubt the traf­fic picks up dur­ing the week. Still, a quiet gravel road is never a bad thing. And it’s good to know that there are roads like this: where you can hide out and take a breath in a place where noth­ing­ness flour­ishes.

For ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions in Groot­fontein, see page 122; Water­berg page 123; Gob­a­bis page 112.

EPIC VIEW. From the top of the plateau at the Water­berg Plateau Park it feels as if you can see the whole north­ern half of Namibia.

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