It was a cool morning on the farm, it had dropped below zero overnight and there was a sheen of frost reflecting the sunrise off the fence. It was quiet, weekends were like that on the farm, especially on Sunday morning after the Saturday braai (bbq).
The sun sets early, around 6 pm, the flames dance in the dark, the kids wrapped up in sleeping bags looking up at the stars, counting fiery meteors and tracking satellites. I tease them a little bit about girlfriends and boyfriends, they are all in youthful denial; the first one to spot a tumbler (satellite) will get an extra scoop of ice cream later. Yes, it’s cold, but who could deny the kids some ice cream? We look up at the Southern Cross, slowly crossing the sky, and uncle Lucas comes over to show us more constellations. I ask the kids to count all the stars, they laugh raucously. “Don’t be silly, it will take a million years!” I smile at them: “It will keep you quiet for a while!”, then walk to the fire, people are getting hungry.
To one side lies Lumley, my Springer spaniel buddy, chocolate and white; like me, she is not keen on crowds and waits patiently for the titbits that will come later. “Tomorrow, Lumley, we are hitting the road”; she wags her tail, as if understanding that we are heading out into the desert, no destination, let’s see where the road takes us. We wait patiently for the socialising to finish, the visitors to head home to their farms, we would like a good night’s sleep before heading out in the morning.
We enjoy a peaceful sunrise, Lumley and I, sitting outside facing east; our usual ritual, me with a freshly brewed coffee, maybe a rusk, and Lumley enjoying her breakfast. I watch the sun creeping over the horizon, listen to the birds getting ready for the day, in the distance a donkey brays. Coffee finished, I get up to go have a shower, then we will be off. The car is packed, we have water, fuel, tyres, toolbox, tent on the roof; Lumley’s blanket is on the passenger seat, she will stare out the window for a while and then fall asleep, silently snoring.
Shower done, shorts, t-shirt, shoes, it’s time to go. “Die pad ist lang”, I shout into the house, “see you all in a week or so”. A response of painful groans, they know my style, I head out the door: “Lumley! Car, let’s go!” She yelps with delirious pleasure, tail wagging, running circles around my legs. “Calm down,” I respond with a big smile and open the door for her to jump in then walk around to the other side. We head out the farm gate down a bumpy two-track and on to the tar road. Right turn, west, towards the coast, I start singing that silly tune: “On the road again…”, Lumley wags her tail, another adventure has started, “Just the two of us…” The road is quiet on a Sunday, I pass a few minibuses heading to church somewhere, everyone singing and smiling; I give them a thumbs up and continue on my way. About 30 minutes down the tar road is the turn off towards the coast, a dirt road, I love the smell of the dry dust, this is where the pace of life slows down to a crawl.
“What are you thinking, Lumley?”, she barks a short response, “Want to tell me about your latest lady friend? I saw you getting all friendly yesterday”, she just wags her tail, we will continue this conversation for the next week or longer, an old man and his dog. It’s a good road, we are lucky, it has been graded recently. An easy relaxed drive, winding turns making the drive interesting; I slow down, unbuckle my seat belt, it’s time to enjoy the views. This is dry country, small whirlwinds keep us company, every now-and-then a steenbok scampers away, overhead vultures glide slowly in circular patterns. Some of the thorn trees are sprouting bright yellow blossoms, spring is slowly coming, the winter gloom lightens. Dogs bark at us when we pass a few farmyards along the way, Lumley responds in kind, tail wagging; the farm occupants wave lazily and I wave back, life in the slow lane. We cross the highlands and, a few hours later, get to an escarpment and a road pass that will will drop us down a few hundred meters. Time for our first stop, breathe the air, stretch our legs; Lumley jumps out and runs about sniffing the trees and bushes, there is a herbal scent in the air. It’s nearly midday and starting to get hot, both of us need a drink; I fill Lumley’s water bowl and grab a cold beer out of the fridge, then go sit on a rock.
Below me the road drops away onto a lower plateau, in the distance a dust trail whirling into the sky, signs of another traveller and on the horizon the golden glow of dunes painted with Kalahari sands. Thorn and quiver trees are side by side with meandering sheep on the slopes of the mountain. My eyes slowly glide across this canvas, taking in the nuances of colour while listening to the quiet heartbeat of life. Lumley eventually finds her way to me after spending about half an hour running about, sniffing everything; she pushes her nose under my arm, it’s time for a cuddle. We sit there, enjoying each others company, dozing lazily. The sun starts to burn, it’s time to go, we should start looking for a place to camp.
The pass is steep, a sign warning that caravans and trucks are not allowed, I engage low gear and let the car drive itself onto the plains below. Lumley is starting to liven up now, looking out the window; this is cattle country, she knows cows from home and greets them all with a short bark. They don’t respond like the cows at home, these ones don’t know Lumley, she looks a little confused. “These cows aren’t nice, are they, Lumley? Not like Betsy and Charlie back home, who always give you a moo in response. That should make you appreciate them more.” Lumley just looks at me, tail wagging, I get the feeling that she may be thinking: “Strange man.” Then again, she’s probably not wrong, she tolerates my idiosyncrasies with affection.
In the distance, just above the horizon, I see some lights. It looks like a plane coming in to land, I look for a landing strip and spot one over the next brow. The plane is getting bigger and Lumley recognises it now; sometimes we have to take passengers to the local airport when we are back home, on days that we are at work. She starts to get excited, this may mean friendly people and some attention. “Not today, Lumley, these people aren’t for us, it’s a medivac.” An emergency airlift, the nearest hospital is an hour’s flying time away, better that 5 hours by dirt road in a pickup truck.
We stop to watch the plane land, then continue on our way. The sun is heading downhill and I have an idea of where I want to camp, it’s another 3 hours drive away: “Lumley, we’re going to the canyon.” She looks at me, “Yes, the one you liked the last time we were here, remember?” She just gives me that “you’re so strange!” puts her head on my lap, it’s time for another snooze. I softly scratch her head until I hear soft snoring. Dogs, they can fall asleep and snore anywhere; I am told that cats are different, they will only snore when they like people. My favourite cat snores next to me, not the other one, the Lady, but that’s another story.
We get to the T-junction. I look down at Lumley: “Hey snoozy, do we do a left or right here?” A grunt is all I get, “I guess it will be a right then!” I wait for some cars to pass, heading in the opposite direction towards the dunes. I smile to myself, they will have fun walking up those dunes, they are higher than they look; there will be some sore legs tomorrow. Not for us, we are heading away from the crowds to the river and small canyon where I want to camp. I drive along at a good pace, this car likes dirt roads, a bit like me and Lumley, and I quietly hum an unknown tune, in time with Lumley’s snoring. The landscape changes as we get closer to the river and reminds me of an expression I heard somewhere: “When God made the world, he had a few bits left. These he put in Namibia”; one explanation for the amazing beauty of this country.
We cross the dry river bed, the rainy season is still a month or two away, and turn off the road immediately after the bridge, a two-track dirt road that runs in the dry river. A few minutes later and I spot our previous camp site, a flat sandy spot with under a rocky overhang, protected from the wind with a nice view of the night sky later. I wake up Lumley and we jump out to take a look around. We can hear some cars in the distance, these will quieten down with nightfall, nothing but the wind close by. We stroll to the middle of the river bed, there are still pools of water, some contain small fish. On the opposite bank baboons are sitting on rocky ledges, watching us. We need to be careful, I am scared of baboons, and I make sure that Lumley stays close, no need for her to become a meal. I collect some driftwood for the fire later, this wood lasts for hours and may still be hot enough in the morning for a quick coffee. As we head back to the car, I see some klipspringers on a rocky ledge, so we stop to watch the graceful hopping from rock to rock. How do they not slip, I ask myself, shaking my head in amazement.
When we get back to the car, I take out some meat for dinner. “Lumley, boerewors (sausage) or chops?” She barks and furiously wags her tail. “Ok, boerewors for you”, she likes her sausage and knows that she will get the chop bones later. Time to get the fire going and set up the rooftop tent. The latter is easy these days, I flip open a big lid and the tent unfolds; all I have to do then put a sleeping bag inside for me and a blanket for Lumley. I fill the water bowl, grab a chair and beer, then go sit next to the blazing fire. It will take a while to reduce to coals, there is no rush, life in the slow lane. It’s been a hot day, I down most of the beer and lean back in the chair, giving Lumley a good back scratch. The shadows are getting longer, it will be dark soon; it’s getting nippy, time to put on the jersey. I only have one jersey on my travels, a woolly fisherman’s jersey, had it for years, it is a part of me now.
The flames slowly dwindle down to coals and it’s time to get cooking. On goes the meat and sausage while I prepare some toasties, one each for myself and Lumley; my idea of veggies as they have unions and tomatoes. Madam back home would probably have a fit if she found out, I have sworn Lumley to silence. We share the meal, Lumley is a little impatient as her sausage cools down. She knows what’s coming, it’s worth the wait.
The soft red glow of a setting sun hangs over the rocky ridges of the canyon, it will be dark soon, no slumbering dusk in this part of the world. Time to pack away the food and lock the car, those baboons will come foraging later and they know how to open a car door. I lift Lumley into the tent and she starts re-arranging her blanket while I slide into the sleeping back. I say Good Night to the moon and the stars, Lumley is already asleep and my eyes start to close as I listen to the night sounds.
The baboons will stay away tonight, I hear the call of a leopard.