Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sesriem: camp life

Stand #26, at Sesriem, on the edge of the Namib: our home for several days.

We set up house under an enormous old camelthorn. The tent was erected in the shadiest spot so that it would not trap the day's direct heat, making for sleepless nights. The thermometer still registered 36'C/96'F in the shade during the day. At night, I woke up chilly, and pulled the second open-zipped sleeping bag over the bed.

Yes, bed.

When we started shopping for this trip - as we had no camping equipment in South Africa - Vince, the hiker and Alp- and Utah-camper, showed me foam pads for sleeping on. I got tense. I showed him the air mattresses. He got tense.

The best investment, after the tent. I take my camping inspiration from Karen Blixen. 

The tent, see, is one I can stand up in, in the middle. It does not strike me as a large tent, but apparently it is. For three people. Sleeping like sardines. We slept easy, in the middle, 16 whole inches from animals that could, I imagined, bite us through its walls.

We took care to shake our feet free of sand before entering the tent, whose mosquito screen was kept zipped permanently while we were out of it to keep all insects and Unwanteds out. Scorpions came out at night. Me in flip flops to the ablution block. We were never bothered by a mosquito, though. The first night at Tweerivieren in the Kgalagadi was a bit hairy in terms of flying insects the size of quail. But that came later...

The mattress took 300 pushes on the pump to blow up and is good tricep exercise. One white sheet. Two pillows, and then our sleeping bags on top, like duvets/comforters.

It was very comfortable.

We woke up early - 4am -  to go to the dunes before sunrise and then came home in the mid mornings and set camp straight, made coffee and breakfast or brunch, and talked to the sociable weavers, who usually do most of the talking.

I experimented with our finds. The stunted watermelon we found at the side of the road in a dry streambed, on withered vines, turned out to be a tsamma melon (I only realized this in the Kgalagadi, reading some literature on the park). It was beautiful, and smelled good. I licked it first, found it bitter, and chewed a small piece. Extremely bitter. Spit! One down one to go.

Below, the green melon found growing in a thicket of thorns on the dunes at Sossusvlei. I felt good about this one. Inside a lovely, spanspek-peachy colour. Better smell. Interesting and somehow familiar-looking seeds. Lick. Hmmm. Good. Scoop and chew. Yum! But I was too nervous to eat it and got rid of the mouthful, thinking that anything that tasted this good had to be edible, but You Never Know. I do eat a lot of things I find but I know what they are. Not this one. Not this far from a medevac.

As it turned out the !nara melon was quite edible and an important food source in the desert... I was terribly sorry in retrospect not to have eaten it. In the book about the Namib that my parents have at home,  the Topnaar people were photographed turning the pulp into a kind of mebos, a dried, flat-rolled fruit candy in South Africa, which they poured out onto the sand to dry. The text said further that the seeds are exported to Asia. Chinatown! That's where I have seen them. In great big bins.

In the shade in the heat of the day, with time to re-do the toe paint. Hey, it's my life.

I put the melons on the ground for animals to fetch later, if they wanted to. I figured they would not eat anything poisonous and might appreciate what I was unable to. They did, scooping out cleanly with small teeth.

Vince making coffee. 

On a hungry day after a predawn start we made a fire and cooked bacon for serious sandwiches.

Prosecco and passionfruit juice. Brunch in the desert.

No guilt required.

The camelthorn that shaded us had the usual resident, benevolent lizard...

...who liked to come out, as did the lizard at Aus, when I turned on the tap. It drank splashed water drops, with its tiny flickering tongue.

We strung a washing line where our wet laundry dried in a quarter of an hour in the roaring hot wind that sprang up every afternoon.

Cold beer...

I learned to get the fire going early, so that cooking happened in twilight, rather than pitch dark. Our habits changed. We acquired new ones. We slept early.

While the dinner cooked, or the fire got going, I would walk out into the veld to see if I could spot a barking gecko as they started to crank up the surround sound kek kek kek effect.

As we ate supper, the jackals would trot out of the desert and circle the camp on slender feet. When I saw the first fox-face in the candlelight where we sat I decided it was time for bed.

I slept well there, even as they yipped and carolled to each other like tone-deaf rooster-cats.

Waking up cold at night, I reached in the dark for the extra sleeping bag and cuddled closer to Vince and pulled my feet further away from the zipped door.

In the morning the melons had been carried off. The !nara was hollowed out by many teeth, the bitter tsamma was left untouched where it had been dropped.


  1. Style? Style is taking toe nail polish on a desert camping trip.
    Common sense? That's taking a coffee pot!

  2. One clings to what one can :-)


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