#SpiritsoftheWest #Blogtour : Day 2 – The Thirstyland Journey

Day 2 of the Spirits of the West book tour hosted by WordCrafter Press sets out some background to my short story, The Thirstyland Journey. You can find out more about the tours WordCrafter is offering here: https://writingtoberead.com/wc-book-blog-tours-2/

Background

My story, the Thirstyland Journey, is based on the Dorsland Trek (Thirstyland Trek) which is the collective name for a series of treks by groups of Boer (farmer) settlers from modern day South Africa in search of independence from Britain and better living conditions.

The first group of trekkers under the leadership of Gert Alberts set out on the 27th of May 1874. This initial trek was followed by other groups, all taking different routes. The primary destination of the Dorsland trekkers was the Humpata highlands of south-western Angola. In order to get to Angola, the trekkers had to cross large parts of the Kalahari desert in Bechuanaland (now called Botswana) and South West Africa (modern Namibia). The trekkers suffered greatly due to lack of water and it is believed that 3,000 trekkers died during the journey.

Map from Wikipedia here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorsland_Trek

Extract from The Thirstyland Journey

“Exhaustion yaps at Elsbet’s heels as she holds Johannes’ hand tightly, helping to pull him along through the deep sand. Her thirst and rash from the prickly heat torture her and not a word passes by her swollen and dry throat. The drifting sand fills her shoes and makes lifting her feet hard work.

After a few hours of walking, one of the Hottentot shepherds lifts his nose and says: “I smell water.”  The others all spread out and presently a cry of “Water, here is water,” causes everyone to rush over and see what the Hottentot, Tom, has found. It is water, but only a small amount which had filled a natural rocky depression during the last rainy season and been covered by the drifting sand. Everyone gets to enjoy a few sips of this filtered and cool water. I need more. Two sips is just not enough.

There is not enough to share with the animals and they continue to go without. As they continue walking through the arid environment broken only by the odd patche of scrub, the Hottentots discover similar small pools of water. Elsbet, looks all around carefully, doing her best to spot these water filled depressions but she doesn’t have the sharp eyes of the Hottentots.

When the convoy finally stops, soon after the devil sun starts its march across the bleached sky, the family suck down their allotment of water and pass out into a heavy and unfulfilling sleep. “We need to be extra careful about water,” says Papa.

On the third evening in the desert, Elsbet wakes and rubs her dirty face with dry and flaking hands. Her lips and eyelids are stuck together and she pries them open with her fingers. Aletta and Johannes are in a similar state and she helps them in the same way. Aletta’s small face is pinched and her chubby cheeks seem to have melted away, leaving a skin covered skull with the sharp contours of a much older person. Sheer exhaustion has allowed the children to sleep longer and the sun is already dropping behind the horizon.”

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36 thoughts on “#SpiritsoftheWest #Blogtour : Day 2 – The Thirstyland Journey

  1. Great post, Robbie. I am proud to have included both of the stories which you wrote in the Spirits of the West anthology. Readers not only get a great story in the western pioneering tradition, but a South African history lesson as well. Thanks for participating in the anthology and in the blog tour. 🙂

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  2. I think dying from lack of water must be truly terrible, Denise. A lot of the trekkers died and it is very sad. Many who survived became ill from tetse fly which causes sleeping sickness when they reached Namibia. This is a sad piece of history.

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  3. Thank you, Mae. This piece of history was an interesting find for me. I came across the Dorsland [Thirstyland] trek when I was researching my new book. Some of the survivors returned to Mafeking and were involved in the siege of that town.

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  4. A long time ago, DH and I were lost in the bush for a weekend with no food or water. The hunger didn’t matter half as much as our thirst. We used pebbles in our mouths to keep saliva forming. I can’t imagine what these poor people endured. Powerful, Robbie.

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  5. Reading the excerpt reminded me of visiting some desert park in Arizona with my daughter. We started walking, and when I saw the sign board with the flyer that said “Don’t die in the desert” and a skull and crossbones underneath, I returned to the car posthaste.

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  6. Having grown up in the desert and suffered through incredible heat, blisters on the soles of my feet. Yep, I relate to the excerpt and relive my youth again. Well done, Robbie.

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  7. Oh Jacquie, what a scary time for you and DH. My sister was lost in the Drakensburg Mountains overnight, with a group of friends, several years ago. Scary stuff. It gets really cold overnight and you can die of exposure. It is the same in the desert.

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  8. The United States has a history of people moving west for better opportunities, and I guess it’s probably true of everywhere in the world. I’m not sure I would have the courage. (K)

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