It is the summer equinox here in the southern hemisphere. This is their longest day of the year while at home it is the shortest. For us, this will be the longest day of the year with the drive we have ahead of us. Our replacement tour is left Cape Town yesterday, the day we arrived. Gellé at Go2Africa, arranged for Backpackers Bus to drive us to meet up with them today. Ron went to the Checkers grocery store, a block away from our guesthouse to get some breakfast things and brought them back to the main Ashanti house to eat with some tea. Promptly at 8:50 am, our driver was there to pick us up, early by ten minutes. His name was very unusual and neither of us can remember it. He was very pleasant and as we were putting our things in the compact car, he apologized for the size of the car and as he was stating we would be driving for 10 hours today. Under normal circumstances, this would have put me into a catatonic state. I despise long car rides. The excitement made it less horrendous. As small as the car was, it was duly comfortable sitting in the back seat. I could stretch my legs across the back and Ron seemed to have adequate legroom in front. Three hours into the drive, we stopped for gas and a lunch break. The convenience store is well equipped with hot and cold drinks and food items. We chuckled to see there was also a Wimpy’s fast food chain attached. I love looking at foods in other countries in places like this. I chose a chicken breast encrusted in filo dough with cheesy pepper sauce. It was only 3.60 Rand, about 55 cents (7.2 Rand to the dollar) and worth twice the amount in deliciousness. Ron hungered for Wimpy’s and had a burger and fries. After eating, we changed seating arrangements in the car, with Ron in the back. I suffer from highway hypnosis. Put me in a moving vehicle and I am sleeping like I have been drugged. From what I remember seeing between coma naps were hills that varied in size from smaller to a bit higher, but nothing close to a mountain in size. There were lots of shrub brush, but there was an absence of trees. The earth was a palette of browns that were only intermittently interrupted by spots of green to breaking the monotony. This sight seeing soon wore thin, so there was a guiltless pleasure in napping some more. At some points, the heat made it seem like sleeping in a tanning bed with all clothes on. The car did not have air conditioning, but with the windows partially opened, it was almost bearable. The driver said the temperature was around 40 C with little fluctuation throughout the year, this being one of the hottest spots in South Africa. He is from this area, but when he was a child, his father could not take the heat any longer and moved the family to the Cape Town area. The people in this part of the country are primarily goat herders and miners in this area. Copper is the most commonly mined metal. We had it explained to us by the driver that the goat farmers would find semi-precious stones, polish them, and sell them at markets for extra money. During the second 3 hour stint of our drive, we suddenly went from 110 k/m to a complete stop for goats crossing the road. The tail end was the shepherd and his three dogs making sure all had crossed over. Our driver said it is not unusual for the shepherd to spend a week at a time with the goats in the fields and then return home for a couple of days, then return to the goats again. I cannot imagine those two days are enough to cleanse the smell of goat from his body. Pity his family! By the 6th hour of driving, we made it to Springbok with an hour to go, we were told. Our driver asked if he could stop to buy a CD of music if he could find the right store. He added he would need the music to keep himself awake on the ride home. My goodness, man, you have to do this drive again today, without a sleep over somewhere. Someone would just have to shoot me if I had to do that. When we finally made it to our destination, the South African/Namibian border, the driver tried calling our tour guide to let him know we had arrived. He had tried calling before this, but there was no cell service in the area. As it were, we had to backtrack a half mile to find the right location for cell service to kick in. Our group had already crossed the South Africa-Namibian border. Our driver did not have his passport with him, so he could not take us through. I think he did some smart planning there. Our truck and group had to return to pick us up. The truck returned to our side, where Bruce the guide, John the driver, and Thomas, a student intern all hopped out of the cab to greet and welcome us. John introduced himself as “I’m just the driver.” Bruce opened up the truck for us to climb in and I was pleasantly surprised to see the wide age range of fellow travelers. Bruce announced “Everyone, give a warm welcome to Ron and Ryan, who will be joining us.” If silence was truly golden, we would all have been rich. No one in the group barely looked at us, let alone welcomed us. We skulked to the two empty seats and sat as quietly as the rest. I was not sure if it was hostility I was feeling around me or just highway weariness, but this was not the time to try bonding. They drove us to the South African Border control and Bruce had Thomas walk us through the exit visa procedure. Then the truck crossed over Namibia again. They left us there with Thomas while Bruce took everyone else to get settled in the camp. They would return for us, but from the looks of all of the faces, doubt was playing in my mind. Do border controls come equipped with tents for abandoned tourists? I really was hoping not to have to find out. With Thomas’s help, we made it through the Namibian side after filling out the documentation. There was a short line, but the two agents were very professional and we were passed through in under 3o minutes. John, just the driver came back for us and delivered us to the campsite where the rest were already relaxing in their cabins. We were staying on the Orange River at Felixunite (www.felixunite.com) in rustic, but attractive cottages, en suite, right at the river’s edge. After we settled in, Bruce gave us a private orientation as to what we missed on the workings of the truck and shared duties. He was reassuring, competent, and said he would advise us when we will have opportunities to have needs met along the way: ATMs, batteries, etc. After a shower and change of clothes, we went to dinner. Bruce will cook most of the meals and where we will be eating them will depend on our location. For tonight’s dinner, there is an open air lodge for us with tables and benches. Everyone has an assigned day to help with the cleanup so the chores are divided. Impressively, once at the lodge, each member of the group came up to us and introduced him or herself. They had done a name game the night before, so knew each other’s names already. Many of them apologized for the quietness on the truck, but explained it was highway weariness. That was a great relief. We had thought they found out we were the U.S. Americans and were holding a grudge. Our group multicultural is: Sweden The Rasmusson family from Sweden, but living in Uganda. Klas works for the Swedish Embassy. His wife Lena, son Rikard (13 yo), and daughter Anna (9 yo). Also from Sweden are Anders and Inger. Germany Thomas the student intern Hans and Suzi – They are retired and travel for three months of every year The Netherlands Dirk and Harm – Friends from early childhood Inike and Wilfred – a young couple Canada Jean and Omo (pronounced Alma) – Jean is originally from England and Omo is from Nigeria, but both are Canadian citizens. The UK Rob and Vicky – a young married couple Switzerland Doris and Adrian – Friends traveling together We bonded especially quickly with Omo and Jean since we had similar partnerships, though many people did not ‘get it’ about them for some time. For the two of us, they must have read it on our forehead, since we were never questioned about how we were related. I learned that Omo is an attorney for the city of Toronto. She went to Canada for her university studies and stayed there. Jean is a reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Service. At this point, I had not had an opportunity to speak with Jean, but Omo was delightful and knew we were going to enjoy their company. Bruce had made tasty hamburgers for dinner. Everyone blended especially well considering the short time we all knew each other. The kids were entertaining with their acrobatics and they succeeded in getting the adults to join in. After dinner, a group of the adults went to the bar, but we headed to the terrace outside our cottage for a final beer of the evening and a the thoughts of a pleasant rest. The Gariep River is right at our door. The river was known to the Bushmen as the Nu Gariep (great river). It was formerly known as the Orange River named for William Prince of Orange in 1779. Other references to the orange name come from the Barbel fish that grow to 6 feet and dwell in the mud of the river. Their flesh turns orange when dried. The river is the border between South Africa and Namibia. The Gariep carries 23 per cent of the total water run-off of South Africa to the sea. This area is a combination of sedimentary mud, volcanic lava, granite, limestone, and metamorphic rock. As we sat sipping our beer and having our souls massaged by the rivers currents, the sky was lit up with an explosion of stars. I have never seen so many stars in a night sky before. Breaking away from Eurocentric thinking, we learned that the constellations here are very different from what we know. Orion’s belt is three zebras who Aldeberan the unluckiest warrior failed to hit with his arrows. He could not go home without any meat, but was fearful of using his last arrow for fear for the lurking lion he would surely pass on his way home, the star known as Betelguese. The Milky Way is retold as the grey ash and hot coals that an angry girl threw into the sky when her mother forbid her roasting her roots in the hot fire. The Southern Cross pointing the way south are four giraffes whose heads are visible where they are. Today, we traveled from Cape Town through the Cedarburg Mountains to Citrusdal, then through Springbok on to the Orange River. We roasted in the heat of some areas and are now sitting with our coats on as we star gaze on the river in the cool breeze. We covered 730 kilometers today.