“The spring flowers are a sight to behold,” promised my uncle.
He didn’t have to sell me on one last excursion though. The suggestion alone was all that was required to convince me, and with that I was travelling again. This time, I was in the back seat of my aunt and uncle’s car though and we were headed to Springbok to stay with my cousins for a few days. I would not have to carry my pack, nor stand at the side of the road in hopes that a ride would soon materialize. And I certainly did not have to worry about anyone’s hands or where they tried to put them. That was an adventure much more to my liking.
Namaqualand was well worth the drive as well. Just as my uncle had promised, the desert had blossomed into a multi-coloured patchwork of blooms. Orange, purple, yellow and white flowers filled the eye, as far as one could see. We wandered up on the dusty hillside behind Anne and Pieter’s house, but the trip to Namaqua National Park blew me away. Everywhere I looked, the daisies turned their pretty faces to the sun and I was in awe. The normal brown and dusty green shoots that struggled to exist during the rest of the year, exploded into a brief, brilliant rainbow after winter rains gave them a fleeting taste of life. Just as quickly though, those blossoms would be gone, burned away by the hot South African summer sun. During those few days in August, I was blessed to behold the desert miracle of life for its season of rebirth and renewal. The pictures I snapped were flat compared to the beauty I was surrounded by. I took them anyway though.
One prickly plant drew my eye in the midst of the blanketed foliage. Where most of the other plants were tucked close to the ground, Pachypodium namaquanum stood tall, if not quite erect. When I asked my uncle about the curious cacti, he gave one of his hearty laughs and launched into a tale of folklore about it.
“Do you see the bend at the top of it,” he asked.
“Of course, but what of it,” I wondered.
“So the story goes, a local tribe was being driven South by another bloodthirsty tribe. Attacked and suffering in numbers, they retreated from their homeland and made their way towards the Richtersveld mountain desert. In grief, a few of their numbers turned back to gaze North towards their former homeland. The Gods felt sorry for these poor folks and turned them into halfmens, the plants you see there. In that way, they could always gaze towards their homeland and find some small comfort in the view,” he explained. “The halfmens always grow with their tips bending north.”
I listened to his tale and stared at the tree. It was a delightfully sad tale and one that resonated with me, as I gazed North towards my own homeland. The picture taken that day will stay with me forever.