Saturday, November 7, 2009


Today began our long drive into the Kalahari Desert: the start of two full days of travel in our caravan, getting closer and closer to the San people… and further away from ‘civilization.’ Along the way we will search for evidence of the San having lived here, in some cases, thousands of years ago. We are excited to leave the capital – not that there’s anything wrong with Windhoek, but it feels odd to create a documentary about disappearing cultures when the view from your hotel window looks like this--

What will we find? What challenges? The land itself has not changed much, so our trek might very well feature the same challenges the San faced centuries ago, as they made their migratory trek across the harsh and beautiful and otherworldly terrain.

As it turns out our first challenge is likely not something the San faced: just 20 minutes into the desert and the lead vehicle overheats. Oh, jeepers, the fun begins now. And although I am a ‘creative’ producer who loves to solve problems… I elect to let the others solve this particular creative gem.


Turns out the problem is easily fixed… by our Fixer, naturally. The lead car should not have been pulling a trailer. So we switch up… and we’re off. From there we travel up, across and over the winding roads, through desert canyons, into an area called Kuiseb. The walls of this canyon are massive, curving, and colourful. 

Every so often we stop to observe various creatures along the way. A stubborn little desert tortoise brings the entire brigade to a halt. 

     Scram, you! Vamoose!

Or this tree filled with giant bird nests – but nests the size of a Smart Car, mind you, and they house several families living together. Remarkable. Everyone gets along, like a hippy bird commune. But we know to be careful as we approach the nests, as King Cobras are fond of slinking up the tree bark to steal away baby birds’ eggs.

On the creature front I have also seen: Ostrich, Antelope, Hornbills, and something really cute called a ‘Dassie.’ About the size of a Groundhog, these rock-dwelling creatures are in fact most closely related to the Elephant. Only these guys are mini-me sized.



As for Elephants, I am making it my mission to see at least one this trip, in their natural habitat. Other wish list animals include: Scorpions, Lemurs, and any member of the Monkey family. Uncle Orangutan, Brother Baboon, Auntie Ape. Any Chimp will do, even a chump chimp. 

At other times we stop to observe a curiosity, or unintentional sight gag. My favourite is the road sign that breathlessly warns: ‘Caution! SAND!!!’

Really? Sand? In the desert? Shut up get out! Wow, thanks for the heads up. I musta missed it, the first four and half hours.

 And you see what happens when I get smart-alecky? A flat tire. I feel that this is somehow my fault, Karmically speaking, for making fun of their road sings.

Yes it’s not even lunch time and so far we’ve overheated one vehicle and flattened the tire of another. I know that comedy works in threes, so I decide to keep my hilarious comments about Namibian road work to myself…

…but I can’t help myself. Right then an enormous cargo truck passes us, and what do you thing its load is?

Coke bottles.

Seems THE GODS ARE NOT SO CRAZY after all.  Either that, or they’ve figured out how to make a killing on the soft drink market.



On the other side of Kuiseb we arrive at an even larger and more impressive gaping canyon in the earth. About 2/3rds the size of the Grand Canyon, this is also a prime location to look for evidence of stone weapons the San people made from rocks and stones. Specifically, sharpened flint-like rocks in the shape of an arrowhead. Shaped that way, because they ARE arrowheads.

Turns out the San used to follow the route of the game during hunting season. And the game followed the trail to water. During rainy season (rainy season? What’s that, like, 7 minutes in February?) small pools develop at the bottom of the canyon, and  mid-sized game go down for a drink while the San sit in wait.

What makes the search for these items all the more exciting is the fact that any one of the arrowheads could have been fashioned 2 months ago… or 2,000 years ago. The tradition has not changed because it works.

…and since comedy really does work in threes, I find three separate arrowheads in about 10 minutes. A tingling goes through in my hand, and travels to the rest of my body, as I clutch a piece of history and ‘civilization.’ I’m one step closer, to a culture and a tribe who have in fact moved away from ‘civilization.’ 

And we are following them.


Here’s another example of San ingenuity; another clue as to how they think (smart) and how they’ve managed to survive for so long in the desert: according to Rick our fixer, the San would catch a monkey - not an easy task - and bring that monkey to a termite hill or ant hill. The San would dig a hole right in the ant hill, just big enough for the curious monkey to thrust his paw in. But the hole is NOT big enough for the monkey to get his hand OUT. So little Curious George is stuck there, tethered to an ant hill.

I know what you are thinking: this seems cruel and unusual, and nothing to do with ‘survival’ at all!  In fact the San are extremely humane – they let the monkey go after only one day. And since the poor monkey is thirsty, he or she will scramble to the nearest watering hole in about 5 seconds flat – with the San in hot pursuit.

All anthill. No Monkey. 

You see? SMART. Who figures this stuff out? Genius.

The closer I get to the San the more intrigued I become, and more anxious – in a good way – to meet them face-to-face. I am developing an extreme respect for the San, given that I am experiencing first-hand what they’ve suffered through and endured with nothing more than desert smarts, and each other (and, as I will later learn, an incredible sense of humour and playfulness).

Funny. Despite all of our modern technology and conveniences, we are still taking a beating from the elements. What with the overheated cars and flat tires, it seems comical that we are losing a battle against nature that the San have mastered for thousands of years.

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