Before traveling to Namibia, the word Kalahari reminded me always about the film “The Gods must be crazy”. I watched that film many times when I was a child. I loved the funny moments when Kate Thomson, a posh-like white woman, feels the dangers of the desert after crashing with a small plane and the pilot. It is also lovely how the San people, also known as Bushmen, help them and how a San father, Xi, looks for their two lost sons.
The Kalahari desert is just next to the oldest desert in the world, the Namib desert. It is considered the cradle of the Homo-Sapiens. In fact, different studies of the DNA and blood type of the San people have demonstrated that Bushmen are the most “original” Homo-Sapiens. Meeting them in their home desert was the first thing we did when landed in Namibia. It was a privilege.
We landed in Windhoek in the mid morning. Our taxi driver took us towards the rental car company where we picked our 4×4. Then we drove towards the limits of Windhoek to stop for a fast lunch in a completely new shopping Mall, the Grove Mall. We ate two delicious burgers and bought all kind of groceries, filled our fridge in the car and started our adventure. However, we were already two hours delayed from our plan.
We had planned to spend our first night in Namibia in Jansen Campsite, in the middle of the Kalahari desert. The distance between Windhoek and Jansen Campsite was 3 hours and the sunset started almost 1 hour before reaching our destination. I was driving on the left for the first time in my life, with a giant 4×4 covered pick-up, and the rental company told us not to drive at night because of the wildlife.
However, I could not stop in the middle of the desert. So I continued driving, slower and carfeul… a fox-like mammal crossed in front of us, then a Springbok, then tens of meerkats and the up and down gravel road through the red sand dunes of the Kalahari desert with the red sun in the rearview mirrors is one of our first experiences in the loneliness of Namibia.
Finally, totally dark, we found the wooden sign of Jansen Campsite. We opened the ranch door and got stuck with the car in the sand. I told you it was my first time with a 4×4. I didn’t know how to use the car to leave that point, so I took the shovel and started digging around the wheels. After some minutes, full of dust, under the dark and starry sky of the Kalahari, we could continue till the ranch house. There, a young man opened the door, welcomed us and guided us with his 4×4 in front of us to our camp site.
We were completely alone! The young Jansen told us they just opened the camping business that year, so not many people knew them. Then he left towards the ranch house, some kilometres far from our site. Our first night in Namibia, in the middle of nowhere, under one of the starriest skies we had ever seen, feeling the cold and loneliness of the beauty. From time to time we heard noices. Being so alone has the counterpart of being frightened from time to time. Maybe it was a cheetah.
Next day we got up early when the sky started changing the black for the light blue. We had breakfast in the cold morning and packed and prepeared everything for our next encounter: the San people. Some kilometres to the South, there is the Bagatelle Game Ranch where we had the opportunity to meet one tribe of San people. We reached Bagatelle before 7:30 in the morning and relaxed in the hall of the lodge, just waiting for our guide and translator.
The Bushmen talk a Khoisan language, a group of languages which main characteristic is the click consonants. When they talk they sound as nothing you have heard before. Nowhere in the planet you can find the same kind of sounds, just in Kalahari.
Once we started walking with three bushmen they explained us a little bit of their customs and desert knowledge. For example, they use the eggs of ostrichs for storing fresh water. They put around the desert ostrich eggs full of water just in case. They know it well: Kalahari comes from the Tswana word kgalagadi, which means “The great thirst”. They also showed us how they hunt termites and how delicious they are. And they also managed to make fire with a stick and dry grass.
Then we moved forward to their village, where tens of children welcomed us and young women tried to sell some handycrafts. We were invited to talk with the head of the tribe and he explained how the men woo the women. It was a funny moment while the kids played around us.
Definitely, my view of Kalahari changed in just two days. From just a film memory to an intense exprience with the San tribe. Visiting them was like a time travel to the origin of our species, when knowing how to store fresh water was more important than switching on a computer, when termites where delicious and sushi didn’t exist, when the value of sharing among everyone in a small community surrounded by all kind of dangers was more important than the money. The way the Homo-Sapiens has changed may be a sign of the Gods must be crazy.