Two weeks ago we headed out to the Tankwa Karoo National Park with my whole family - parents, brothers and sisters-in-law - for a long weekend.
It took us over 6 hours to get there.
Because? It's seriously very far from anywhere else.
That's our cottage in the background. 3 bedrooms, 1 kitchen/living space, 1 bathroom (for 10 people!), 1 small solar-powered fridge, 2 gas plates, a big indoor fireplace, 1 hot water 'donkey' (i.e. you have to light a fire and wait an hour for hot water) and one melodious 'wind pump' sighing and creaking outside.
The nearest neighbour 45+ km of bad road away.
Arriving in the dark on Friday night it seemed like we were surrounded by a whole lot of nothing. Waking up the next day didn't immediately lead us to believe otherwise - magnificent vistas and awe-inspiring skyscapes yes, but otherwise pretty barren.
Until you started to look more closely.
This vast land is filled with tiny little beautiful things. Random bits of magnificence dotted about the hugeness. Small things easily missed, but miraculous to discover.
And so started 3 days of hanging out together in the Tankwa. Having conversations in random places, stopping regularly to bend over and examine or exclaim.
Our vision, and photographs, continually jumping from LANDSCAPE ...
... to macro...
... and back to just, wow.
For the other thing this wild and lonely place is filled with is signs of human habitation. The most beautiful stone-packed walls, 'rubbish dumps' of ancient wind-tumbled glass bottles, broken bits of pottery and glass in blues and pinks and greens. Sheep dip stations, kraals and ruined houses.
It feels so desolate and yet so full of life - human, vegetable, animal.
It's all about water-retention is this near desert - lots and lots of curly little plants.
We saw gemsbok (or 'hemsbog' as my dear English-speaking 5 yr old calls them) with their eerie masks and flipping 'high-pony' tails.
Elusive ghostly eland - so huge yet so quiet. Apparently their hoofs make a tiny clicking sound when they walk and there's a story that this is the reason the original San language has so many clicks in it.
We saw jackel skulking and hartebees hopping, baboons up to no good (are they ever?) and zebra. A lone springbok frequented the water hole near our cottage and his many cousins took off in waves as we drove across the plains.
Late one afternoon we watched a family of bat-eared foxes for about half an hour, as they played and hunted and groomed in the scrub near our car.
We learnt anew that kids can have the 'best day ever' (Frieda said this at the end of every day) drawing vast pictures in the sand with a trailing stick and a canvas finally big enough to accommodate their limitless imaginations.
We made balancing stones ...
... and then walked away, leaving them to stand until wind or curious animal or time relieved their tension.
To celebrate two birthdays we had a tea party on the edge of a pan. Smoked salmon sandwiches, carrot cake, meringues, brownies, cheeses and salads.
And only afterwards realised we'd had another silent guest in the tree above us.
We took sundowners out to the rim of the world and watched night fall over the far off Cederberg mountains. It was cold cold cold in the evenings but that didn't deter the adventurous types (my youngest brother and eldest daughter) from hunting out deadly scorpions with a UV light in the dark.
But mainly, mostly and most marvelously, we just hung out. Caught up and 'leaned in'. Spent time with our most dearest, in a place so far removed from our everyday, that we were able to just be today.
That was the greatest gift the Tankwa gave us.