Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Solitaire and back

On our third morning at Sesriem, after ablutions involving an inspection of the new jackal tracks around the camp, and coffee with rusks (described by the unconverted Vince as "pieces of old castle wall" - I guess you had to grow up with them), we decided to drive to Koedoesrus in the Naukluft Mountains, about a 60km drive, I think, to see whether we wanted to spend a night at the campsite there. We were growing attached to Sesriem despite its steep prices and initial misgivings. Then we dicovered that diesel was not to be had at the Sesriem gas station as the pump was broken and a mechanic was expected in a vague future. Hm. So our drive extended to Solitaire, about 150 kms away, if memory serves, being mapless now, the next spot with diesel in the vast and dry and thirsty land.

Our drive was pretty rattly at first, and I think this is where we saw more cast-off tyres than ever before. It was so bumpy that our faulty pump kicked into action for a few minutes, pumping about 30 litres of fuel from our fully loaded (and heavy) auxiliary tank into the rapidly emptying main tank, and then it gave up the ghost for good.

Springbokkies trying to get some shade. We saw what I have never seen before: dead stock. A big big steer, brown legs in the light, upside-down and swollen in rigor. He was on the wrong side of the fence and I suspect the poor dear escaped and could not find his way back to water, for there are windmills drawing underground water for the stock in the camps. Sheep too, not many, just a handful, but it was sobering.

The geology of the place is foreign to me and these chocolate sauce mountains intrigued...
Below, I don't remember its name, but this place actually made it onto our map.

After much bouncing, we were there, dust and all. I was expecting a small town.

There was a gas station, a restaurant, a general dealer, and a couple of other buildings. And that was Solitaire.

I like these shops. Invariably they have, behind a counter, canned food, sweets, candles, one or two bottles of shampoo, highly scented body lotion, white soap, matches. These will be handed to you by the counter person, usually a woman, and scrupulously polite. In a freezer there will be lamb chops or steak or wors (sausage). This freezer had the usual coils of sausage and we chose two packs. There's a fridge full of soft drinks, and a shelf of practical car stuff, like tow ropes, and many unidentifiables; and camp stuff, like gas bottles and glass lanterns (I bought a couple). On the counter there is droewors and biltong. We bought packets of the latter.

In March there is a desert festival to celebrate Namibian Independence.

Tanked up, we headed back south, to complete the loop we'd begun. Very soon the landscape shifted drastically from flat 'n bare to elevated and lush. By desert standards.

Many beautiful camelthorns, and the chance of seeing kudu, beautiful, high-jumping antelope that favour bush.

This looked like leopard country to me. We found the park we were looking for and drove in, winding a lot - oddly, I took no pictures. We saw our first zebra. And rustled up some human life to get permission to look at the campsite. The caretakers seemed bemused. We were there in the middle of summer, which apparently confirmed that we were mad. It was stifling hot in the narrowness between the mountains, and as we wound down to the empty river bed beside which the camp stands were located under dense green trees, I felt a dread of the high stone cliffs crowded round, home surely to baboons and their predator, the leopard, and I eyed the isolated and deserted camp site, too, thinking wussy thoughts about being crept up on and no one knowing anything about it till we didn't show up in Cape Town again.
So we left!

We had a sunset appointment on Dune 45 in Sossusvlei so drove as fast as we could back to camp. What the Landcruiser possesses in roadworthiness it lacks in suspension. Lots of bouncing.
The dirt roads in Namibia are constantly being attended to by road crews, it seems, and these men camp by the road in army-khaki tents, their pot bellied cast iron potjie stoves over the embers of old fires. I cannot imagine the heat. One crew had, hanging over the barbed wire fence at their backs, strips of fresh red meat, being turned into biltong. I wondered from what animal. Maybe it had been snared?

The stones packed at the foot of fences were ubiquitous, and we often saw a lone worker adding more, or repairing places where they had been moved. I assume they must be to stop animals from digging beneath them, pushing the wire up and allowing any invisible stock to escape?

And so back to the now familar plains and distant mountains near Sesriem, and back to its convoluted, suspicious and painstaking bureaucracy of forms and permissions and counter- signatures before access could be granted (again) to Sossusvlei, the prize it guarded, and its raison d'etre.

That night we braaied the Solitaire sausage. White stuff started to come out of it. Horror. It was septic! Then a vague Austrian memory surfaced, of standing in Vienna by a sausage cart and biting into a sausage beween slices of rye, which squirted hot stuff out: OK, not such a vague memory: CHEESE! There was cheese in the boerewors. And it was pork, not beef with coriander! Noooooooooooooooooooooo. Primal groan. Wrong, so wrong. In Vienna, yes, here, NO!

On a sleety Brooklyn night, consumed by the sniffles and flu, this all seems quite impossible.

But we were there.


  1. Hi Marie. Continuing thanks for sharing your travelogue! Sorry that you are feeling so yucky...i hope you're being able to get some bed rest (and get that big blag cad to keep you company...they are excellent hot water bottles). My family's sovereign remedy is hot water (hydration), lemon juice (vitamin C), honey (soothes the throat and all the good things that are in honey), and brandy (warms you from the inside and helps you sleep).

  2. Yes we were there... It seems so unreal already. But I'm sending you a map since you were left without one, which is unacceptable. You can always put it up on the old castle wall... ;-)

  3. Echoing thanks for sharing your travels and beautiful pictures with us... and sorry you are feeling poorly. My family's favorite remedy is very like Quiltcat's, but substitute whiskey for the brandy.

    My wish for you -- besides recovery from what ails -- is that Beence will join you and the cad very soon, or vice versa, whichever makes you happiest.



Comments on posts older than 48 hours are moderated (for spam control) . Yours will be seen! Unless you are a troll. Serial trollers are banned.