A “Mata” of taste

A few years ago, South African traveller, photographer and foodie, Maricha van Heerden and her husband Butch, traded their old life for adventure, and now they spend their time exploring and experiencing all this continent has to offer with their customised camper, The Honey Badger.

We have to own our retirement, make the most of it, embrace all adventures and challenges and be unapologetically thrilled by all the opportunities coming our way. This is what ‘they’ say and I could not agree more. Who who would’ve thought it possible that we could sit here, on a fine Sunday, my fingers flying over my keyboard, while my photographs download. Under a tree, a mere 600m away, four lionesses are catching up on some shuteye while a large male guards and tussles with the oryx they hunted during the early hours of this morning… Unbelievable, right? And yes – we will own the privilege. Refired and refined we’ll eventually be! One lioness keeps watch, occasionally getting up to chase the cheeky black-backed jackal back a few yards. Her pregnant belly bulging from the recent snack she enjoyed. Restless, she paces. With her powerful paws, she digs a hollow clearing in the sand for a comfortable, cooler, lie down. With all the power lions wield, they never let their guard down, all eyes are on approaching danger or an opportunistic scavenger who lurks waiting in the wings. Being able to witness their interactions for a few uninterrupted hours is fascinating. There’s even time to play, but the lioness soon tires and resumes her watch. Our fridges ticking on and off in the heat are the only sounds I’m aware of, besides the occasional bird twitter, jackal natter or wildebeest snort. There’s no technology to rob us of the silence around us.

The herd of wildebeest checking out the scene took off over a knoll to find grazing in a more peaceful field. They knew instinctively a pride of lions was not to be trifled with. When we’re sure there’ll be no more action until sunset, we’ll return home to set up our campsite and get supper going. The drive to Mata Mata, surfing the red dunes, never disappoints. Like a ship in full sail, we dipped and crested waves of golden, dry, grass covered dunes under the blue sky dotted with puffy, pink-tinged clouds. The usual suspects trotted over the road or grazed on the verges. The tortoise took his sweet time while a pair of ostriches cantered like Lipizzaners in their quest to avoid us. I always love spotting a tiny klipspringer and the Kori Bustard reminded me to send my friend Val a message to recap some of our safaris. My first trip to Namibia was with her and seven other friends. She never forgets a thing and can accurately recall events to the letter or cent.

One or two oryxes stood photo ready on the crest of a dune and the Gabar Goss Hawk kept us guessing. At last, once we were back in the riverbed, we spotted the ever-faithful tower of giraffes grazing quietly while giving us the once over with those big brown doe eyes.

This is the Mata Mata I love. We recalled previous sightings and people we’d met. We wondered where they all were now. Colossal acacia trees shaded us as we set up our campsite. Butch lit our fire, and I went off to take a few photographs around the perimeter fence. A massive cloud of Red-Billed Quelea was building up. They’d swoop up and swoosh in a huge wave to sit in a tree for a few seconds before skedaddling off to feed on grass seeds. While I waited for them to set off again, a family of banded mongooses came foraging while a couple of ground squirrels groomed. The female became over-familiar with her mate, who lay there spread-eagled while she nit-picked fleas. I gave them the privacy they deserved and moved on to the onlookers sitting like musical notes on the fence.

Our neighbours in Mata Mata were young men with their partners from the Netherlands. We’d met them before, in Nossob. Tall, athletic, fair-haired and chatty, Stefan and Dane reminded me of my sons in many ways. The uncanniest resemblance was that their partners were much like my daughters-in-law. Caitlin, from the USA, reminded me of Erin, petit with a chestnut braid swaying down the length of her back. The similarities brought out my maternal instincts. In Nossob I had Butch reluctantly march over to them and suggest they use our Oz tent. I couldn’t bear the thought of them sleeping in their vehicle. Far too uncomfortable. Butch, quite rightly, thought they were old enough to decide and didn’t push the idea when they assured him that they were okay.

At Mata Mata, they were our neighbours. I again agonised over them, worrying about their whereabouts. It was late, and there was no sign of them by the time we sat down for supper. Again, Butch wagged a finger and told me it was none of my business, but I was relieved to see them later. They’d been on a game drive. Too little time and too much to see, they assured us. They were packing in as much as possible before returning to a cold, bleak Amsterdam. I asked Butch whether he thought there might be any possibility of finding three South African families in a remote park in The Netherlands. We doubt it very much, yet they were here enjoying our natural heritage. We have a commodity loved by so many people.

But it was time for us to move on… Butch likes to get all his ducks in a row to avoid surprises at the border post. All the advice he’d been given suggested that the border control on the Namibian side was ruthlessly confiscating all dairy products, raw meat, wood and even fruit and vegetables. Our stocks were low as our extended stay from ten days to fifteen nights had depleted our supplies. Nevertheless, we were not going to be robbed of our delicious goodies. Forewarned is forearmed, and we set about braaiing four portions of meat to adhere to the foot and mouth rules. For supper, we enjoyed a smorgasbord of vegetables and fruit. Once we had decided to move on, our heads turned, and we eagerly awaited the next dirt road. At last, we were leaving South Africa and entering Namibia, and now we were really on our way on this fantastic African adventure.

The police officer at the border advised us to get rid of all our wood supplies before entering Namibia. With a heavy heart, we did so. He did promise he’d think of us every time he braaied. With passports stamped we exited South Africa and entered no-man’s land. Namibia, here we come… Before stepping on Namibian soil, we had to dip all our shoes in a foot and mouth disinfectant. Rows of shoes turned upside down and laid out to dry lined the footpath. The road tax issue was frustrating, with us explaining that The Honey Badger is not a commercial vehicle but registered as a motorised caravan. The flummoxed official eventually phoned her boss, who confirmed that we had to pay the tax for a delivery vehicle over six tonnes. We agreed, of course, as we were not going to cause any ripples on this pond. Fortunately, all the doomsayers were wrong. We were waved through without any hassles and no inspections, and we were not even questioned or asked whether we had anything to declare. A very pleasant experience indeed. We were granted leave to stay for six weeks, and we were going to squeeze every bit of juice out of this lemon.

*Keep an eye out for more of Maricha’s adventures with The Honey Badger in future issues. In the meantime, you can read her blogs at www.maricha.com

Where it all started…

It was in 2014 that my husband, Butch, and I announced our longing to spend our ‘retirement’ bush whacking throughout the African continent. That dream only became a reality in 2016. Butch was able to secure a viewing of a vehicle and accompanied by his pal George, winged off to Johannesburg to inspect an Isuzu 300 4×4 truck. They put it through all sorts of tests, took a close inspection of all its vital statistics and unanimously agreed this was to be our girl.

With a spring in their steps the two inspectors reported back that we’d hit the jackpot. There was a vehicle with very low mileage, good age and in excellent condition, and it even had a service record to boot! A contract to purchase was duly signed and we’d settle scores as soon as the vehicle was handed over to us in Worcester. The owner would deliver the vehicle to us himself and it was with huge excitement that we took possession of our Isuzu. In Afrikaans we say “die een se brood is ‘n ander se dood” (quenching one person’s hunger could be the death of another) and with much emotion Wian Marais bid his vehicle goodbye after he’d safely parked it with our local panel beater, Basil Niemand, the owner of M&N Bakwerke, who had space in his large workshop to safely garage our truck.

We were also free to admire and coo as much and as often as we liked! My status on social media on Valentine’s Day read: “Most gals get cards, roses, diamonds or chocolates from their Valentine, but mine bought me a truck! Our dreams of travelling through Africa are coming together! Whoop-whoop! I will keep you posted via my blog.”

Much to our surprise this announcement sparked a lot of excitement, speculation and idle chatter wherever we went. The most overwhelming and heartening opinion was that we were embarking on a dream that many people would love to do and have on their bucket lists. We had lists of suggestions coming in, some good, some impractical, but mostly our minds had been opened to ideas. Fortunately, we had plenty of time to investigate all our options.

Our engineering friend and perfectionist, Hannes Cook of Vissers Engineering, had been to inspect our truck and he solemnly declared that we had a winner on our hands! We decided to call her The Honey Badger and I discovered that the Zulu name for a honey badger is nsele. Folklore will have it that if a nsele comes into your life, a miracle has occurred. I could not agree more.

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