By BRUCE DENNILL
It’s the end of a long day. The Namibian border is within sight. This is not an area in which there are a great number of options for an evening meal, though the neat, well-run Kalahari Info & Tented Camp has a coffee shop if you get there before closing time.
The owners of that operation are hosting us for sundowners and a barbeque. Presumably it’s a barbeque and not a braai – even though their first language is Afrikaans – because the former is a word understood by a wider range of visitors.
“My name is Hendrik Bott, This is my wife Gertruida. You spell ‘Bott’ with two ‘t’s. If you spell it with one, it means ‘dumb’,” says a confident, heavyset man with a cheerful grin.
Shadows are creeping up the dunes as the sun sets. Hendrik reckons he can get us to the top; faster than the speed of dark. His confidence extends to his driving. On deflated tires, we reach around 65km/h up the slope, zigzagging between clumps of tough desert grass.
It’s hair-raising and smile-inducing. Someone loses a hat, another catches a shoe under a corner somewhere and snaps a strap. But it’s worth the attrition, even though we only catch the sun’s final wink before she bows out for the night.
There’s a gazebo set up and meat is cooking on a steel braai, while a potjie simmers on a bed of coals in the sand. This is meat Northern Cape style: the smallest portion of chicken is a quarter of a bird and the lamb is so fresh the ewe is still looking for it. There’s roesterbrood to go with it, and piles of salad. Something about the potato salad is different and there’s an enquiry as to the secret ingredient.
“Condensed milk,” says Gertruida.
“Along with the mayonnaise, and not too much.”
We eat on our laps, sitting on camp chairs and blankets. The moon is not yet up, and even close to the fire and with an electric light that runs off a generator, the stars are startlingly bright. A collectively sketchy knowledge of astronomy is quickly revealed, but textbooks are not needed to recognise a shooting start that streaks across the sky for a full six seconds, trailing an impressive tail in its wake.
It’s the sort of experience that can only be had in remote locations like this where man-made interference is minimal. Inhabitants of the village of Rietfontein, the flickering lights of which provide the only distraction, probably don’t appreciate that observation, mind you…
On the way back down, Hendrik relates the story of how Dakar champion Geniel de Villiers and his team had used this property – and the dune we’d had our supper on – as a testing area for their rally cars.
Turns out he’d had a taste of his own medicine.
Hendrik smiles: “The man drives 200km/h where there are no roads.”
“I didn’t go to the toilet for two weeks after that. Everything dried up inside.”