I felt like cattle when we were urged to get into a 4×4. 25 people were standing in the back, holding on to a rail if they could. The ride into the desert was bumpy, at times hilarious, but mostly uncomfortable. When we finally arrived in the big patch of sand a desert guide called Boesman greeted us. He said some people would think he walked quite fast, but that it wasn’t a problem and he would wait for everyone. As soon as that was said he turned around, power walked to the first point of interest over the hot sand and left us all standing with our mouths wide open in surprise.
Boesman told us about the animals in the desert. Bugs, lizards, springbok and gemsbok. We were lucky and saw some gemsbok running up a dune. A rare sight. Besides the animals, Boesman was talking about the bushmen who lived here until the start of the 20th century. He described them as little, yellow men, of about 1,5m high, that live from whatever they can find in the desert. When black and white men came they didn’t understand the yellow bushmen and considered them animals. It was strange to hear that you could have a bushman as a pet and that you were even allowed to shoot them.
It was the Dutch that named this people. They live in the desert but are called bushmen. It has to do with their way of hunting. When shooting with their bow and arrow, they hide behind a bush. If there isn’t any, they built a bush around them so they can hide. Then they can come closer and kill their prey. It is hard to live in the desert and there is no guarantee for food every day. These people had developed a flexible stomach and could eat up to 10 kg of food in a day. This would last them until their next kill.
The desert and its inhabitants have developed many ways to survive. Plants dry their seeds. They don’t open until the next rain falls. Spiders hide in holes in the loose sand. But the vlei, the valley of desert is constantly changing. A visit to Death vlei showed us dead trees, only 600 to 800 years old, on a limestone plateau. The scenic place was captured on video for the film The Cell with Jennifer Lopez. Death vlei used to be a patch of sand full of life, but has changed over time. The desert we were standing in would also become a death vlei one day.
Boesman was an amazing story teller and the stories were equally amazing. I wouldn’t last a day in the desert, but the bushmen lived here for years. They named this place Sossusvlei, ‘the land from which you disappear’, for most ordinary people would not last here. Boesman had obviously adapted. The sand got so hot at times, that the soles of your shoes would melt, but Boesman was happily walking around barefoot. Never before had I felt so dependent on all my luxuries. We go camping and think we are living in the wild. The truth is, we don’t even know what wild is.