“Where the hell are you taking us now?” asked my ever-patient wife. The question was valid, considering it was our honeymoon and we’d just spent three nights in a floating bungalow on the Orange River.
“Don’t you worry,” I said reassuringly, “It’ll be lovely.” To be honest, even I was having doubts at this point. The farm road which had started out wide and smooth was getting narrower and bumpier by the metre. The middlemannetjie was almost as high as the bonnet on our rented hatchback. And there was still no sign of any human settlement.
And then, suddenly, it was upon us. The khaki green tents, strung out in a long line along the mountain slope, blended in perfectly – more adept at camouflage than even the wiliest chameleon. And the kookskerm, which was made entirely dead branches and shrubs, shielded the only permanent structure: the cargo container which would later turn out to be the kitchen.
I booked our stay at Agama tented camp over the internet, and although I had hoped it would be remote and tranquil (and hopefully not too rustic),
nothing could have prepared us for quite how remote, tranquil and luxurious it really was.
Owners Victor and Linda have set aside a mountainous section of their farm as a nature reserve, and it is in a secluded valley in this section that the camp lies. Each tent is totally private from the next and our balcony had a view down the valley which could cure a year’s worth of rush hour traffic in an instant. The bed was enormous and as comfortable as any hotel bed, and the shower was hot enough considering our location.
After unpacking our bags we went for a walk. It was a lot greener and cooler than one would expect the Namaqualand to be in September, and the veld had a pristine quality that I have seldom seen anywhere in the country.
We had arrived just before the Spring Flowers really hit, but already there were some flowering vygies and succulents. Because there has been no cultivation and very little grazing on the land, Victor explained later in the evening, they don’t get the single-colour carpets which adorn postcards from Upington to Riebeek Kasteel and everywhere in between, but rather have a far richer variety of blooms which warrants closer inspection.
We were so busy focusing on the finer details – the flowers and insects and sunbirds – that we didn’t even notice how close we had got to a family of gemsbok. They looked down at us, from their vantage point a few metres up the hill, before wandering off down the valley. It was nearly dark by the time we got back to the tent.
Supper was in the kookskerm and we dined together with the only other guests – a middle-aged upcountry Afrikaans couple who had been working in Cape Town for a few years. Every few months they both took leave from their high-powered jobs and explored parts of the Cape they knew nothing about. Just as it had been for us, Agama was a revelation for them. They’d been there four days already and were staying for a few more. They didn’t sit still though: they’d been on daytrips to the nature reserve at Springbok and to the port-town of Lambert’s Bay; they’d gone for hikes and game drives and they had lots more on their agenda to boot.
Seven days in Agama sounds like heaven to me, but I can assure you I’d do a whole lot less with my time than they had. To each their own, I guess…
What We Love About Agama
Linda’s cooking might be the very best thing about Agama. Using nothing but a small gas ring and a few cast iron pots she prepared a boerekos feast which, for mere mortals, would have required a fully-equipped kitchen and a staff of about 10 assistants. Roast lamb, chicken pie, and bobotie as well as veggies, bread and malva pudding may sound a bit obscene, but you’d be surprised by how much we all managed to eat. It was that good.
Once we left the kookskerm, and its Cadac lanterns, we realised how dark it was. We’d been in Namaqualand and Namibia over a week by then, but this was a new level of darkness: no electric lights and a new moon made the galaxies and constellations come alive in a way that verged on being unreal, Disney.
We sat on the balcony and cracked open a bottle of port we’d bought in Upington. A couple of glasses and a dozen shooting stars later, we went to bed. I don’t think I’ve ever slept as well as I did there. We were woken by the clunk of a tea tray being deposited on our deck just before eight o’ clock.
“Why did you only book for one night?” asked my wife.
“I knew nothing about it,” I said as I dipped a homemade rusk into my locally grown rooibos tea, “I thought you might hate it.”
“Well, we’ll just have to come back sometime.”
And that is the truth of the matter. Victor has promised to drive us to the highest part of the farm and Linda swears that we have to try her apple crumble next time we come. To be honest, I’d go back just for the sleep.
We left after breakfast, full to bursting with bacon and eggs and moerkoffie and pumpkin fritters. I rolled down all four windows of the car and turned off the radio so we could savour the sounds of Agama for just a little bit longer.
Moving On To Garies
All too soon we were back on the highway and a faded green sign beckoned us to visit Garies. How could we refuse? Just the name ‘Garies’ is an invitation; it sounds desolate, exotic and old-fashioned and it is at least two of these things. It sounds Afrikaans too, to my English-hearing ears, but it’s actually derived from a Nama word referring to a local species of grass.
Even when compared with other platteland dorpies, Garies is a small place, and its location 110km south of Springbok and 146km north of Vanrhynsdorp is perhaps best simplified to ‘the middle of nowhere’. We only lingered long enough to fill up with a tank of unleaded and a kilo of the best gemsbok biltong south of the Orange, before continuing our southward adventure. We were headed for Nieuwoudtville and its famed kokerboom forest. But more of that some other time…