A Night with Edgar Allen Poe in Solitaire
Traveling onward deeper into the African bush, a thousand miles from any civilization we stopped in a small town of Solitaire, a place that would soon become without question, its name. Where we unloaded from the Overlanding truck into a quiet and balmy evening as the sun was setting over the Savannah, a picturesque place with a reputation of the best apple pie around, lazy dogs and a population of seventy two counting us and probably the dogs too.
We hurried to set our tents for the night as the light of day was fading quickly. We had learned by now, putting up heavy canvas tents with only headlamps becomes an arduous task. Not to mention, the quicker the tents were up, the quicker we could get to a piece of this famous apple pie. We hurried around preparing for the night then off to the little bush soda for a piece of pie and a cola.
When you have traveled for this many days, some home cooked food that is not filled with African road dust is very appealing and not quite as gritty. The dogs and locals came out to meet all the travelers passing through sharing stories, exchanging greetings and telling tales of the area we were in. As you looked around, only a few buildings surrounded you, a number of old cars from the 1930’s and 1940’s were dotting the town as they rusted in the dry desert air 50 plus years later still standing where they last rolled too it seemed and one lonely 4-way intersection where all roads from nowhere converged at this simple location on earth.
Oddly, there was nothing really spectacular about this location, it was quaint, friendly and the only civilization we had seen for many a mile aside from the occasional Sans tribesman who would just appear in the desert as if the ground had opened up and let him out only to disappear as quickly; leaving all of us to wonder mirage or not? But aside from the remoteness of the location, it was what we all thought, just a nice place to camp for the night. Quaint, welcoming and quiet, a location that put us a day closer to Etosha and a day closer to finding lions and game drives. As the evening rolled into the night, we gathered our belongings at the soda and said goodbye to our new friends and returned to the tents that were dotted around the sides of the overlanding truck.
A few of us would soon learn, that Solitaire would make us believe we were in an Edgar Allen Poe story, a quote from “The Raven” seems most appropriate to what the night would bring:
“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door-
Only this, and nothing more.” – Edgar Allen Poe
Nestled deep in two sleeping bags, you listen as the winds pick up outside and the tents flapping and whipping in the gusts of air, the zippers of the tent doors were tapping against the canvas. At first only a few times as the waves of wind would roll across the desert floor, one wave of cold, bone chilling wind, then calmness, the next wave of heat-filled wind blowing and howling across the desert, this exchange of hot, cold would rotate through for hours as the trade-winds blew across the earth. The weather for all the earth, it seemed was originating right there in the desert with us, as if we were at the vortex of all climate creations, a cauldron of weather brewing. The intensity of the wind speed would slowly come through the campsite while other times we could have been in the Wizard of Oz. Finally the curiosity of the evening got the best of some of us and we came out from the shelters of our tents.
As if we were drawn out of our tents by the tapping, the overlanders began to come from their tents to stand in the open air. As the tapping grew intensely, the winds howled fiercely as if they were filled with spirits of the past passing through, goosebumps on your arms as you stood in the eeriness of the night. Realizing the electricity had gone out and only the hum of a small generator would produce a dim flickering light near the wash house and the only other light we had was coming from the stars and galaxies pulsating in the southern skies. Shadows moved across the ground under the light of the stars, as if the trees were dancing with the wind. But there were very few trees, there was no reason for shadows and we were all standing still. We stood their waiting for the unknown, the what next moment that could have easily made all of us jump off the ground and want to run, the problem was, run where? We were in the middle of nowhere. The tapping and howling slowed down as the raven screamed into the night, his timing could not have been more perfect. At one moment, we stood in the night air, fascinated by the wind and the unknowns, the next all you heard were zippers being pulled tight closing tent doors as all were startled by the eeriness and perfect timing of the raven.
The tapping and howling continued moving across the desert in waves of wind, a remarkable and eerie experience that would make Solitaire for some of us, one of the most unique places we would stay in Africa. We had of course, spent a night living a tale from Edgar Allen Poe in Solitaire, “Once upon a midnight dreary, where there came a tapping at my door, only this and nothing more”.
Excerpts: Overlanding Africa 2008