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krisek Stampriet - A travel report by Krys
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Stampriet,  Namibia - flag Namibia -  Hardap
9276 readers

krisek's travel reports

Walking with the San people.

  11 votes
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Discovering the Kalahari desert with the San people, who had to flee to this harsh terrain, was eye-opening. Learning about scorpion holes, anteaters, elands, gemsboks while on foot on the desert was thrilling. Close and personal.


Chinco - the San leader
Chinco - the San leader
The Bushmen of Namibia are people related to the San tribe that occupies Kalahari in Namibia, Botswana and partly South Africa, but also Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland and Angola. They go through life in a traditional nomadic way living on gathering and game hunting. They are masters of living on the desert, are unbeaten at finding water in the driest places and defending themselves from lions, leopards and other man-eaters.

The San, also known as Kung, Khwe, Sho, Basawa and the Bushmen (although the last one can be perceived as pejorative in some cultures) are probably the first people on Earth. All humans can ultimately trace their genetic heritage to the San, it has been claimed. This makes the ethnic group very special and remarkable. And visiting them a stirring, enthralling, unforgettable and an ultimate traveller's experience.

Much of their life has been destroyed by the civilisation that crept into the region following an aggressive expulsion by rival tribes, like the Bantu. Then, they have been discriminated and pushed around for their persistence to remain faithful to the traditions of their ancestors rather than embracing the modernisation and progress. They had the ugliest problem in Botswana, where the government forced them out even of the Kalahari desert claiming that the San had lost their desert skills. Realistically, the tribe can practice more farming that hunting and gathering these days, due to the lack of habitat.

I knew nothing about all this until I came to Namibia and one of the safari trips took me to the Kalahari to meet the Bushmen. It was a great big surprise, as I completely missed this item from the trip's itinerary. And a mesmerizing surprise, too! Had I my driving not expired and had I rented a car and driven around independently, I would have not had a chace to meet the San of the Kalahari.

Favourite spots:
Stampriet travelogue picture
The walk in the Kalahari was really absorbing and the San, one of whom was named Chinco, were very keen to show everything about their way of life and answer many questions. The walk was organised by an association, which helped the tribe with some extra income to support their traditional ways.

The San actually liked better those visitors, who asked many questions. It was very important to them that the travellers showed them some genuine interest rather than just taking a picture after picture. They were so excited to answer any queries but I have a strange feeling that they might have happily lied if they did not know the right answer. As they walked us across the desert they asked plenty of questions too. It was more like a quiz or teasing - just checking if there was a slight chance if any of us from the 'civilised' world would survive on the Kalahari with just a knife, a spear and perhaps a bow. I was lucky enough to guess how scorpion's den looked like.

What's really great:
The Bushmen children
The Bushmen children
Before I met the San, I heard about the language they spoke. It is based on clicks (with the tongue), which is not easy to speak. Meeting with the tribe was however the first time that I heard it spoken. I even tried to pronounce some of the names of the San guides but it was not as straightforward as they made it sound. Well, it was not hard to click but making it fluent with the regular words requires practice. A lot of practice! It was okay when there was only one click at the beginning of the phrase like in the word '!gama' (water) or 'Chin!co' (the name of the guide). It was getting increasingly complicated when there was more than one click and they were in the middle of a phrase or a word. I really struggled with the word for motorcycle. It definitely imitated the sounds of a motorcycle.

In fact, in the southern Africa, many tribes speak variations of 'clicking' languages. The San, however were the first people I met in person, who 'demonstrated' it to me.

Sights:
The San children
The San children
Chinco and his mates demonstrated how to get water, explained why every bush was important (e.g. hiding from prey), showed where to find medicine, how to avoid a scorpion, treat the sting, and many other things. They showed a few tactics to stalk and ambush a gemsbok, and interesting facts about anteaters, which always eat so much that they eventually collapse under the extra weight. This is how they become an easy target.

It was a very pleasant and educating morning. Then, for the end of the hike, Chinco led everyone to the small Bushmen village, where naturally I took plenty of photographs.

There were a few children in the village. Some of them were curious and some just did not pay any attention but only until I showed them how photogenic they were. As soon as they were able to see that it was possible to view the photo immediately after it was taken, they just wanted to be photographed more and more. That was very exciting and exotic to them. I had a feeling that I made their day.

Accommodations:
The San village on the Kalahari
The San village on the Kalahari
We stayed at a lodge and campsite named Intu Africa (in relation to the superb film Out of Africa) right in the desert. The lodge was quite nice and of one of the most expensive in Namibia but the campsite, marvelously situated in the dry riverbed, was neglected and the facilities could have been improved a lot. There was obviously and unsurprisingly no hot water available in the shower unless one brought own firewood to heat the water tank. It was really run down and messy. But the scenery was extremely spectacular.

The riverbed was massive and the surrounding dunes striking. The sunset colours were again nicely exacerbating the vividness of the place. I had been in Namibia for two and half weeks and I still could not believe that sand could be so red. In Madagascar the soil was also red, but this was more vein blood red. Dark, almost brown. In Namibia the sand was red of various shades, from orange, light crimson through vivid cherry to deep red. I just could not get used to it.

Nightlife:
Moonrise over the acacia trees
Moonrise over the acacia trees
On the Kalahari desert at night, there are few things one can do. It is therefore much, much better not to be alone. In a group, there is always something to do for entertainment. And when there is a bonfire, many strange and funny stories just tell themselves. Often almost all night long and accompanied by the sounds of nocturnal life. This could be the 'primeval' entertainment and simple, but pure. The less complex things often the better. In Namibia, the open spaces are considered generally safe, or at least free from man eating predators. Lions and leopards are ring-fenced from general population, but there are areas where desert elephants wander freely, and these magnificently graceful beasts are very dangerous. Although they normally ignore people sitting calmly by the fire. So I was told.

Then, of course being on the desert means no light pollution. And this means brilliant clarity of the night sky. Rising moon hiding behind scarce acacia trees looks pretty spectacular, too.

Hangouts:
A perfect hangout on the Kalahari
A perfect hangout on the Kalahari
The riverbed, in which the lodge and the campsite were located, had huge dikes on one of its sides. The dikes were a great place for a sundowner, watching the sunset, the long long long shadows disappearing with the sun and waiting for the darkness to fall. And it fell very quickly. Uh, the best sundowner was a good mix of Amarula with mint liqueur or Amarula with hot chocolate - all needs to be brought along, obviously. By the way, Amarula is a chocolatey alcoholic cream made of amarula fruit, which the elephants love so much.

At sunset, sometimes small wildlife would start wandering around taking advantage of cooler temperatures. And the desert was big enough to let one walk off and enjoy the spectacle in solitude.

The over-the-top lodge of Intu Africa, a good hike away from the campsite actually, had an excellent and expensive bar for those who preferred a comfortable armchair and a glass of exquisite red wine.

Restaurants:
Hunting
Hunting
If not dining at the bush or desert lodges, one has to be self-sufficient. It is always more convenient to bring own food and drink from a supermarket. The San's skills of hunting do not seem that easily obtained and I would have no idea what desert plant or fruit was edible.

Then, after bringing provisions, making fire is just an extra skill one needs. A relatively simple skill that had been mastered by humans millennia ago... Hmm...

Anyway, I will always remember bush and desert camping for the delicious fire-cooked food. The meat was always lean and juicy and the spices and sauces incredibly yummy - a very real taste buds heaven. Game meats were the best. Ostrich was sensational! It was super lean, tender and had so much flavour that it could easily be mistaken for veal. Then, gemsbok (aka oryx) was rather outstanding, too. The oryx Stroganoff was among the tastiest options.

Other recommendations:
Stampriet travelogue picture
Seeing the San at the Kalahari desert is not hard. The Intu Africa Kalahari Game Lodge can be easily contacted through a number of web-based resources. Some are better than other, but a simple enquiry trhough a search engine would return a number of options.

Alternatively, one can reach the lodge by car. From Windhoek, on road B1 south to Rehoboth then just before Kalkrand, turn left (east) on to C21 for 48 kilometres, and then right (south) on to a secondary D1268 for 22 kilometres.

I used Wild Dog & Crazy Kudu Safaris, who offer small group trips from 3 days to 14 days as well as private group tailored itineraries and self-drive trips, with unlimited duration. Their 7 day full board camping 'Southern Swing' safari for c.€400 per person included the visit to the San people. However, it sometimes does not. Yet, the company started doing expensive 3-day trips for min 2 and max 6 people (€500 or €340 per person, respectively) visiting the San Bushman and Batswana communities.

Published on Saturday November 8th, 2008


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Thu, Nov 27 2008 - 01:50 PM rating by marianne

first class, as ever

Wed, Nov 26 2008 - 12:37 PM rating by bineba

Namibia has been on my list of 'most go to' destinations for some time now, unfortunately I won't be having the time and resources to do all the things you have been doing.
That's why it's great to be able to read about them in your reports.
And thanks for the photos, too.

Tue, Nov 25 2008 - 08:32 AM rating by basia

Very, very interesting report, super!!!

Wed, Nov 12 2008 - 07:47 PM rating by plancarpin

Krys, you just wrote a dense, informative report nicely completed with great pix!

Sun, Nov 09 2008 - 12:07 PM rating by gloriajames

brilliant ! 5*

Sun, Nov 09 2008 - 07:30 AM rating by rangutan

The brother-report of your award winning "Opuwo" girls. Fantastic! [4.8]

Sat, Nov 08 2008 - 05:59 PM rating by pesu

How long did it take to make a fire???
Super pics.

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