Thursday, November 12, 2009

Day Four - Tsumkwe Lodge

We are deep into the Kalahari Desert now, and settled in at our final destination: Tsumkwe Lodge, in the heart of Bushman land. It is the only place to stay for 300 miles in any direction, and as such there is a certain rustic charm to the place.

The road into the lodge is a single lane, dust-covered route that becomes treacherous when it rains. So that’s maybe twice a year. We live in cabins with wooden frames and canvas walls, just like summer camp. The main lodge has a thatched roof, two dining areas and a bar/lounge area.  It is where we will end up spending most of our ‘group’ time together.

It is hot – what else is new? – so the entire company is having a siesta right now. It is virtually impossible to get anything done between 1 and 3pm here, which may present a challenge for us: the San are no doubt inured to the climate, and we are here to be with them on their schedule, and not ‘stage’ anything.

The last leg of the drive was quiet. And not because we’d turned off the radio, or stopped singing Tragically Hip songs at the tops of our lungs… My sense was, we were all thinking in our own way about the San. Expectations and assumptions. Hopes and fears, about how it would all turn out. A sobering thought: at core, we really had no idea how ‘it’ would go.

The drive was essentially a long, dry afternoon, broken up only by the occasional check point. These were unintentionally funny, since the guards were unarmed and they had no radios nor walkie-talkies (jealous?) …and we’re still not sure what it was they were checking for.

Funnier still, I don’t think they know what they were checking for. After all, our caravan of four vehicles is stacked with film gear in black hard-shell cases. In other words, we look like we’re carrying enough illegal guns and drugs to outfit a small military coup. But no-one stops to ask us ‘whatcha got in there?’ We just smile and wave. They wave back, and let us through.

The only other diversion is a tortoise, obviously in no hurry; perhaps happy to receive this sudden attention from the Canadian crew.

...and this termite hill, ALSO very happy to see us. If you get my meaning. And I think you do.

Lunch is a picnic under a giant Bilbao tree.... 

Next to the Bilbao is another enormous beast of trunks and branches, which is without doubt every tree-climbers’ dream. And as with the rock range at Spitzkoppe, the entire crew reverts to pre-adolescent glee: let the jungle gym begin.

On the far side of the giant Bilbao tree is another, slightly smaller tree, which looks like the inspiration to several Dr. Seuss books. I will not eat it on the sea; I will not eat it in a tree; I will not eat green eggs and ham!

So, yes, lunch is finished and we are settled in to our new digs. The Tsumkwe lodge will be our home for the next five days, and tomorrow begins our time with the San.  We will meet our guide, Leon, who is San himself; but who currently lives in Windhoek. Leon has one foot placed in both worlds, the old and the new. One world is a tribe of nomadic hunter-gatherers who live at the mercy of the elements, but who somehow manage to survive and thrive. The other world is an accelerated culture, an Africa eager to plug in, go on-line, and stay connected with rented Voda phones.

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