It was misty. It was cold. It was Alexander Bay on the far north western corner of South Africa. Across the waters of the Orange River, lay Namibia. But we couldn’t see the mouth of the river. A fresh breeze blew across the floodplains while we stood staring across the small stream towards the white sand dunes behind which the ocean so obviously raged. The sound of fish and chips … gulls crying, waves crashing … but this was the last place to get fish and chips. Alexander Bay seemed desolate. We had to drive ‘off-road’ to find someone to ask directions. Luckily for us, an elderly gentleman had done an early morning shop for eggs and jelly at the local Sentra store, the only shop in town. His greeting was cheerful despite the ghastly weather. He was the one that directed us to a little hand-drawn signpost that led onto a muddy road scraped across the floodplains. He said we could walk to the beach from the parking but, alas, the water was too deep. We still don’t know if the water we saw was the actual Orange River, or if it was just a side stream.
There appeared to be pans of water where flamingos stood, one-legged, beak skimming the surface of the muddy water, filter feeding. But it was too cold to stand and stare. We decided to head back into town, leaving what looked like a derelict mining building behind in the mist … spooky.
Getting on the bike for the first kilometer of Alex to Kosi came just outside town, where the security office once stood to check all visitors in, that is before the town and surrounds became ‘mined out’. But the Orange River still carries diamonds. It spits out a load into the cold Atlantic and that’s where the diamond divers suck them up out of the undersea gravel with their long pipes that lie curled like snakes behind the boats in Port Nolloth harbour.
The wind was pumping across the sandy scrubland with not so much as a bush to stop it. To the left of the road lay the orange lichen fields of Alexander Bay. We were headed south to Port Nolloth … into the teeth of the wind. But we were big and strong, and we’d only just begun.
Eventually we took to sheltering behind the bulk of the vehicle, and that way we could stay on the bikes for the full day one distance of 83km. This took some creative driving and cycling but the road was deserted and we were practically the only ones out there for kilometers. There must be some mining activity still going on since we saw some kind of equipment far off in the distance in some places.
Lunch was at an equally lonely picnic spot. At least, by that time, the sun had started to peak out every now and then.
But it was still chilly, and remained such all the way to Port Nolloth and the friendly folk of the Richtersveld Experience Lodge where we were staying. Pedaling through town, we saw a few more folks than earlier that morning but still, it wasn’t busy.
Later on we were also the only people at the beach at McDougall’s Bay, a little holiday hamlet just down the road from Port Nolloth. The sun was shining that perfect kind of shimmer off the sea and the west coast gulls gave their distinctive cry. I had to ask, ‘now where’s the fish and chips?’ …