Curious, excited, expectant;
Warm, maybe, from both the gentle morning heat of the desert and the fond attachment to place that one can cultivate surprisingly quickly;
Sweet, from the scent of the plants and the earth;
Or perhaps it is best left undefined.
Knowing this is the only way to cover the miles, to see everything there is to see in the time we have available, I jump up without lingering, my body screaming defiance, my mind too sluggish to do anything about it. Propelled by what is becoming habit, and an underlying eagerness, I launch myself into the routine: toilet, shower, brush teeth, dress, gather the remaining items and pack them into the truck. It doesn’t matter that the accommodations change almost nightly. The routine is what anchors us.
I wake my sleepy son, the boy who can never be woken mid-sleep, and he joins us with groans and screeches, somehow equally ready for the next adventure. Even at this hour.
My husband makes coffee before we go and I pour it into myself gratefully, feeling a touch more human. At somewhere between 4 and 5 am, I don’t want food but I pack my trusty bag of granola, a soy milk drinking box, and a banana in the front door of the truck, at the ready.
We leave the key on the table, pull the door shut. Another destination awaits.
The fun lies in climbing into the truck, pulling out, heading off, wondering what we’ll see this time, waiting for the sun to rise over the vast, dramatic land, to see what it will reveal on today’s stretch of road.
Most of our drives are 6 to 10 hours, some are longer. All of them afford us majestic views, breathtaking terrain, and sometimes animals. We record the birds we see in a book, compete to see who can spot a new animal first, remark on mountain ranges, stop to capture some small part of the moment in the camera’s aperture, though that doesn’t do it justice – only standing in it, being there, taking it in with the naked eye, breathing in the molecules and holding them briefly as part of ourselves, only that can really do any of it justice. Sometimes I imagine spreading my arms wide to embrace it all.
This was how we explored 4500 km of Southern Africa over 11 days in early 2016. A family on the move. Exploring, learning. The world both stretched in empty vastness around us but also shrank down to just the three of us, to the confines of our truck.
Despite taking 1000 pictures, the moments I didn’t capture on film are the ones that keep coming back to me, weeks later. That early morning stop in an Upington petrol station, for example. It was still dark outside, the stars splashed across the night, but the petrol station was buzzing; a hub for those of us up early, whatever the reason. I paused as I was gathering enamel bowls and plastic cups and looked around, taking in the vibe. A truck driver and the somewhat grizzled woman at the till were engaged in a conversation in Afrikaans. Two younger men were chatting at the automatic coffee machine. It was nothing special, and yet it was all special.
There were also the times we almost ran into serious problems – a pothole we hit too hard just after crossing into Namibia, a washed out stretch of abandoned road we navigated early one morning in the silent mountains near Eksteenfontein, the time we actually did get stuck in the sand – but it was specifically because we embarked on this adventure alone, without a group, without a guide, without any safety nets, that it was so momentous.
The place became part of us. And for a time, we became part of it.