Out here in the Kalahari, signal is only available in certain places: at the end of a stoep; at the top of a dune; under a specific Acacia karoo; in a bar under the stuffed kudu with the Lexington in its mouth
Words and Pictures: Chris Marais, www.karoospace.co.za
When we pack for a long country assignment, everything but the kitchen sink is tossed in the back of our old Isuzu bakkie. The main items revolve around cameras and communications gear. Jules packs her laptop, the tablet, the Kindle and her cellphone. I’ll pack my laptop, a nest of photographic stuff and my 2005 vintage Nokia that still makes excellent telephone calls when I want it to.
Some time ago we were preparing for a marathon Kalahari trip. Nobody told us that making a telephone call from up there would be harder than contacting the International Space Station from Cradock. However, we found one little oasis (literally speaking) of connectivity in the sandy lands.
Somewhere between a town called Vanzylsrus and a trio of cattle farms called Lonely, New Lonely and Tampan, is Die Belduin. If you’re looking for constant WiFi, tweetspace and 24/7 Whatsapp, you must not come here.
There’s hardly a public phone available. But, if you look carefully as you pass, you will see the sign to Die Belduin – The Phoning Dune.
And if you need to phone home, this is where you stop, walk through the open gate and follow the road up the red sands to a place where the horizon stretches out forever beyond the waving blonde grass. And this is where you make That Phone Call.
Our travelling companion, Calvinia Dirk, had to call home from the Kalahari while on a trip with us some time ago. He needed to find out how his pet crow was doing. What followed was strange:
Dirk (on the phone): “Yes, I’m happy to know you’re all well and that the bakery is fine. But how’s my crow?”
Of course, the signal isn’t always that clear. Jules (on her phone to the local security company back in Cradock): “You say the alarm’s gone off at home? Well no, I can’t meet you there. I’m in the Kalahari. No, not eating calamari. I’m in the Kalahari.” And so on.
Then, out of nowhere, a very pleasant farm worker appeared and said we were trespassing. We should have reported in at a farmhouse across the road. We apologised and carried on up the road.
“How’s the crow?” I wanted to know. “This morning he swallowed a two-rand coin,” said Dirk. “I told them not to worry, he’ll spit it up. Maybe we must phone in again tomorrow and find out.”
But will there be reception tomorrow?
Chris Marais & Julienne du Toit are an award-winning team of photojournalists, publishers and authors who produce regular features for SA Country Life magazine. They also write a series of books on life in the Karoo, available from www.karoospace.co.za