Finding Order Unexpectedly At Tsauchab River Camp
Have you ever entered a room and felt utterly overwhelmed by the décor, the sudden onslaught of colour or the furniture placement?
I find antique shops with the clutter of overstocked bric-a-brac or art galleries where paintings hang too close together and where colours, textures, and patterns become a kaleidoscope of movement confusing and unsettling.
A psychedelic wheel never ceasing its colourful spin. Farmer’s Markets have the same bewildering effect on me. Although I love attending them, I should do it without the crowds and have a specific to-do list or not.
Once upon a time, I believed an adrenalin rush fueled my creativity and that I could function optimally once my nerves were on high alert. That was, of course, rubbish. Once I’d figured out that I functioned best when I had a method, a system and no clutter, mental or otherwise, to distract me, I performed best. The trick was to declutter my mind.
Cruising dirt roads are good for me. I find the simplicity of slow meandering across country relaxing. Our bodies, at times, rebel.
Driving up the driveway on a bloody scorching afternoon to the Tsaucheb River Camp agitated my tired, throbbing head. My first impression was that a mass of rusting steel and iron was haphazardly thrown about for a shabby chic look.
On every square meter of space, there was a rusty piece of metal, or aged wood, discoloured leather and bits of scrap metal, an old suitcase and tyres. My first instinct was to wipe the whole lot into the dry riverbed. Realising my anxiety, I sat down and ordered a tall drink, which was soon served in an ice-encrusted glass. After a few sips, things started looking up. I could face the assault on my senses.
There were collections of old farm implements, vintage cars, old tractors and trailers, scrap metal, rusty buckets and basins, ancient carriages, signs and stainless steel. Too much to absorb.
My mind slowed down, and my eyes started focusing on single items. As I zoomed in, I started noticing the order. An exact and disciplined order. Chairs were precisely placed around long tables. The vintage and antique Singer sewing machines were placed evenly spaced, and the suitcases with attractive travel labels still intact were stacked precisely. There was symmetery, a plan executed.
While sipping our drinks and enjoying the delicious toasty and my first grapes of the summer, my eyes wandered to the bar with all its memorabilia, not a mish-mash of odds and sods, but carefully curated. Under the high-pitched roof, a cool breeze wafted in, cooling us. I even smiled and found myself intrigued and inquisitive to investigate and even touch some beautiful pieces on display.
The antique green, wooden two-seater buggy upholstered in white canvas drew me closer, and I wondered about the person who might’ve been transported in it to church or communion. Did she wear a beautiful embroidered gown and bonnet? Was she German? With her peaches and cream complexion how could she survive the heat, the drought, and this punishingly hard life in a backwater somewhere in Africa?
Butch reminded me we should find a campsite. My eyes adjusted to the dark, cool reception office where an attractive young woman was patiently waiting for us to enter. The bubbly, vivacious Nicki Steyn awaited us with a big smile and firm handshake for such a whisp of a girl.
We set up our campsite under a gigantic wild fig tree on the left bank of the Tsaucheb river, a few hundred meters from the main building. Private and secluded, we felt like early settlers surrounded by the Kalahari grass and thorn trees. But, first things first, while the sun was hot I had laundry to do.
Later, when the sun faded and crickets and cicadas quietened, frog choruses took up and filled the quiet air with their loud ribit-ribits or croac-croacs (if you’re French!)
We were sold after experiencing our first sunset and extended our stay from two nights to three.
The old wild fig tree engulfed our ablutions with roots, stems, and branches encapsulating the small rocky building. With a single candle burning on the small table, shadows danced on the tree’s limbs—an enchanted forest experience. Quite bewitching.
Our campsite was swept, and the braai area was cleaned every morning. At 15h00, the donkey would be lit for the evening’s hot shower, and shortly after sunset, candles dotted strategically around the campsite would be set alight. Romantic, calming and incredibly special and thoughtful.
During the morning, we’d wander across the dry, rocky riverbed for a coffee and chat with Nicki, who enthusiastically told us about the farm’s history and how they built their flourishing business. She told us how Johan, her husband, a farmer, could call his massive herd of goats from the veld and grade them simply by whistling a specific tune, and the goats would trot off to their respective pens! His goats were very special and were exported all over the Middle East. A severe drought a few years ago decimated the flock and forced the farmers to diversify. Tourism was booming, and they decided to invest their time and energy in hospitality.
Having wifi connectivity made it possible for us to catch up with our correspondence. I had to finish some blogging. My writing was lagging. With Johan’s permission, I set up my laptop in the dining room, furnished with traditional, dark, heavy Imbuia ball and claw furniture. I spent the remainder of our first-day writing, occasionally getting up to explore the intriguing front rooms’ nooks and glass-fronted cabinets, shelves and displays dotted around the rooms. Heirlooms and precious Meissen collectables made fine conversation pieces, I’m sure. A collection of a bygone age’s rich history in southern Namibia.
We had to stretch our legs, and on day two, we stepped into our walking shoes, shorts, and hats and covered ourselves in squirts of tropical coconut sunblock. We arrived at the reception desk looking like Livingston and his sidekick. Nicki took one look at us and suggested we do one of their recommended 6km hikes. We protested, of course, but she assured us it would take at least 90 minutes. We relented. The day was going to be another scorcher.
With his backpack and stick at the ready, Butch set off with the sheepdog guiding us—a comfortable walk with many stops to admire the spectacular views, fantastic fauna and flora. Up the hills we went, and to reward us, the landscape became more and more breathtaking. No camera can do the views justice, I’m afraid. One has to experience it yourself. Hills, klowe, and canyons one can only see from a height. Horizons that stretch forever and ever. Clouds of dust would become a vehicle trail as it silently neared us, turned off or carried on and eventually disappeared over a rise. The only witness a puff of dust.
The trail is called the Kokerboom Trail, and now I know why. There are forests of Quiver trees. Hundreds of them standing sentinel, guarding the valleys below.
Now and again, when the wind blew in the right direction, we heard goats bleeting far below us in the valley. When the dog tired and rested, panting for a few moments, we stopped for a sip of water and our snack, enjoying the magnificent views while watching a tour bus approaching from miles away. We waved, but they didn’t see us camouflaged at the crest of a koppie amongst the dry grasses and cacti.
We rested, built a cairn, thinking of our all our children and grandchildren, always wishing we could share the experiences. We were hot and flushed but walked until every joint, muscle and cartilage ached. They were stretched and well-oiled by the time we returned to the homestead, exhausted yet exhilarated. We could say, “Aloe there, we’re all a quiver at Tsauchaub River Camp, and it’s a tree’t for sure.” I think we might’ve been touched by the sun too!
The afternoon was spent relaxing on a lounger with a book and beer at the crystal-clear pool. I only dipped once, and it was chilly. At six o’clock, one of the ladies on duty presented us with a tray of delicious tapas. We assured her we had not ordered anything and were sure she’d made a mistake, rolling our eyes surreptitiously sideways to indicate other guests. Still, she was adamant the tray was sent compliments of the chef. All my resistance crumbled at the sight of finely sliced Rochvleisch, spicey olives, homemade bread, biltong, pate and other delicacies beautifully presented on a pretty platter. I’d explain later, I thought. We enjoyed every morsel. “Sit dit op die kaart my skat”, Butch whispered in that stage whisper. It was a generous gift from Nicki.
On our third morning, I decided to explore the extraordinary collection of artworks and collectables carefully curated and displayed around the property.
When we arrived, the assault on my senses was like an orchestra in full swing. Now I was ready to hear the strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion perform individually, and I could listen to the musician’s interpretation characterised by notes’ duration, pitch, intensity and timbre.
Wandering amongst the pieces brought me closer to the work and its meaning. Characters who once looked like a fistful of screws, nuts and bolts became mice on bicycles or friends fishing in a pond. The enormity of the Titanic sinking took shape as I looked at the upturned ship and the little float with a survivor clinging to a life raft in a sea dotted with icebergs brought the tragedy to life. I stopped short when the penny dropped and saw an aircraft flying into the World Trade Center. It brought the day back so vividly. “Where were you when the WTC came crashing down?” I asked into the silence around me.
There must be lots of time to think when you’re so isolated. Time to fiddle and fit things together. Like the teapot and gravy boat. A piece of wire here and an old pair of shears there, with some twisting and turning, who knows what an extremely talented artist can come up with. Creating something from scratch takes time, patience, foresight, physical strength and endurance. To keep at it takes character.
My favourite pieces were the warthogs running on their tippy toes (hooves) through the veld, tails held proudly aloft. The tortoise, rats, squirrels, porcupines, and Gemsbok were so well executed and cleverly crafted they were Kodac-ready.
While sitting on a bench, focused on an individual piece, I heard the notes. A small group of pieces brought the music. Then, when I’d done all that and turned full circle, I listened to the entire symphony. Crescendo, Decrescendo, Diminuendo, Forte, and Fortissimo. Bravo Maestro.
To appreciate the art, we must step closer, move farther away, or sit quietly and enjoy the moment. My eyes had to adjust and “see” but not overthink a piece I decided. That’s when I heard the rich, tuneful notes, trills and vibratos.
If words or expressions like quirky, original, rust and dust, collectables, history, creative, extraordinary, mindful, original, playful, frivolous, fanciful, soothing, etc etc. tickle your fancy then head right on over. You'll not be disappointed.
This extraordinary exhibition is precisely where it should be—not sold to individuals to be displayed on Steinways or for propping up a delicious monster ready to topple; they’re not meant to stand on marble nor show in a gallery in Munich, Berlin or New York. They must stay and rust away in the Kalahari, and when that happens, I’m sure it’ll be replaced by something even more spectacular and passionate.
Nicki told us she has guests who return annually for three-week periods, and I get why they do. We loved our stay and hope to be back one day, but now we have a date elsewhere.
Johan, the gifted artist and vivacious Nicki, we will never forget you. Your guts, determination, joy, enthusiasm and skill shine. At times, while waiting for you to finish a conversation with clients, we’d hear the bubbly exuberance in your voice, the hope and the dreams you realise. You are both extraordinarily gifted at what you do. Thank you for your kindness and hospitality. Under the giant fig tree, we could recharge our batteries. Under the gentle light cast by candles, we settled and were ready for the next leg of our journey. Next time we’ll investigate Little Sossus; it’s on the bucket list, but now we had to hit the road, there were plenty passes to negotiate.
“Order provides the stabilities that we crave, but chaos creates the opportunities for change that we need.”