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Desert Cruise

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Words and image by Stephen Cunliffe

There’s nothing but sheep farms out there,’ said Hettie Steenkamp dismissing the area with a wave of her arm. This wasn’t what I’d been hoping to hear, so I changed tack, ‘Do you think my VW California will be able to handle these D-roads?’ ‘This bus? You’ve gotta be kidding; you don’t have a chance!’ Then, seeing my disappointment, she threw me a sliver of hope, ‘But you can ask my husband what he thinks tonight.’ And then she left. So there it was.

The first day of my Namibian adventure and we were off to a dodgy start. Like almost everyone I came across in the Grünau area, Hettie and Rean Steenkamp were sheep farmers with land in the foothills of the Groot Karasberge. When we gathered at the Vastrap bar that evening, they seemed more relaxed. ‘Those roads might be pretty bumpy – I’m not too sure when the grader last went through – but that fancy VW of yours should be fine,’ reassured me.

I celebrated this good news with another cold Windhoek while we feasted on lamb chops. With the Steenkamps mellowing, I decided to try and probe for more intel on potential tourist attractions in the area. “Sure, if you look hard enough there are some real hidden gems out there; it’s only that some of the people around here prefer not to speak about them or share them with outsiders.’

When I asked Hettie if she was perhaps talking about the Lost City of the Namas, she was surprised I’d even heard of it. Built in the late 1700s, the old settlement of the Oorlam tribe of the Namas is located on Alwyn Smit’s Gugunas farm overlooking the Bak River, but despite umpteen phone calls and a couple of emails, I’d failed to make contact. I tried to put myself in Alwyn’s shoes; as a busy farmer, taking tourists to view the stone remains of the fabled city on his farm was neither lucrative nor a productive use of his time. ‘Don’t worry, Steve, most people around here are very friendly; drive slowly and take the time to chat with them and you’ll uncover other interesting stuff around here,” she concluded cryptically.

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