I just returned from a most amazing journey through one of the most spectacular parts of our beloved country. As anyone who has ever had the privilege to travel to the far north-western corner of Namibia would testify, few places on earth match this part of the Kunene region for remote ruggedness, beauty, and a sense of responsible freedom.
As we made our way up along the coast toward the mouth of the mighty Kunene river the landscape became more unforgiving and the pursuit for survival more pronounced. I realized quickly that where there appears to be nothing, there is usually a lot; it’s just that we have to learn to recognize it.
In this barren place there is no clutter, no excess, glut or distraction – only the bare essentials needed to sustain life itself.
Life does not require a grand home, a flashy car or fancy friends, only food, water and shelter. Out there, if you’re stuck with someone you do not get along with, conflict or war is not an option either, for a party divided, is a party at risk. Survival is based on symbiosis and, only very occasionally, confrontation.
I observed a jackal catch a fish in the shallow waters of the ocean near Bosluisbaai and witnessed a hundred ghost crabs feast on a seal carcass.
Near Cape Fria lappet-faced vultures waited patiently for their next meal. Life and death are but two sides of the same coin.
At the Kunene river mouth, dozens of green turtles made their way upstream into the river in search of either food or breeding grounds.
I realized that everything – even the smallest tick or strangest lichen – seem to capture our imagination. For once we had the time to stop, look, listen and think.
Every night we made a fire – to cook, for entertainment and for warmth – and every morning we cleared the remains of the night before.
Preparing two meals a day with only the most basic of ingredients and utensils for more than two or three days presents a challenge for most. The longer the trip, the greater the challenge and although everyone had brought provisions our food fate remained in the hands of Nessi, our cook.
Not only did Nessi have to deal with everyone’s fussiness (although that diminished considerably as the days passed), limited fresh ingredients (he served a fresh salad every meal and opened a tin only once), he also had to deal with nature’s contributions in the form of wind, sand and dust.
Never did we have the same meal twice and never did we have a bad meal. From oryx loin, shallow fried with an egg-and-flour batter, to rice-and-peas Nessi never missed a step: fast, efficient and flavourful.
I enjoyed listening to everyone’s account of their day – what they’d seen or experienced and what they understood of it. I also enjoyed the quiet moments when words seemed superfluous and everyone seemed content just to stare into the flames. It is possible to get rid of glut and survive with only what is necessary.
I promised Nessi that I’ll teach him to make ice cream with only two plastic bags, ice and salt. I also promised him a good, dry curry-spice mix to add to his already considerable repertoire of magic ingredients.
This mix comes from Vietnam although its early roots must have been Indian. Therefore, it is nothing like the bland, sweet curries I grew up with. The kind they still serve at large church functions in many parts of our country.
It is easy to make and if kept sealed in a cool, dark place it will keep for a few months.
As I made his, I kept thinking that making a good curry is very much like life along the Skeleton coast. Every little part has its rightful place in the bigger whole. There is no space for glut and excess. It is all about just the right amount of everything needed to achieve that precious yet delicate balance.
If you do not like tripe, use the recipe with ordinary meat – beef or mutton will do fine as well.
Take care of everything and everyone.