AFRICA SPECIAL

Namibian wilderness: Self service

Creature comforts were thin on the ground when Matt Carroll headed out into the Namibian wilderness to fend for himself – helped by one of the last remaining tribes of hunter-gatherers

Whoever said the life of a travel writer was glamorous should see me now. Forget the boutique hotel with restaurant and swimming pool – I've been dumped in the middle of the Namibian bush and left to scratch around in the dirt and elephant dung for my lunch.

OK, so "dumped" is perhaps a bit harsh. It's day one of a week spent living with a community of bushmen and women whose lifestyle has hardly changed in 40,000 years – and I'd pestered my guide, Arno, to let me live out the bona fide experience. However, I didn't reckon on him leaving me alone out here, and as his pick-up truck departs, I'm beginning to re-think my decision.

There's no agenda. I'm simply going to hang out with the tribespeople and do whatever they're doing. Today, as is often the case, it's foraging for food. Located in Bushmanland, in the top right-hand corner of Namibia, the !Kung people (click your tongue on the roof of your mouth and say "loong") are one of Africa's last-remaining groups of hunter-gatherers. They'll often spend up to 14 hours a day roaming the sparse scrubland surrounding their village looking for berries, bulbs and birds – catching the latter in home-made traps or shooting them with a bow and arrow.

And if all else fails there's always the mengetti nut, which you'll find buried in piles of elephant dung (yes, really). Too solid for their unsophisticated digestive system, these nuts pass straight through the huge beasts intact, forming a readymade snack. According to Arno, who has worked with the bushmen in this region for about 16 years, along with his wife, Estelle, the nuts contain 80 per cent protein. On my arrival at the camp the previous evening, he'd given me a crash course in the day-to-day lives of the !Kung over a cold beer around the campfire.

"Although they'll be out hunting from dawn until dusk, when they do go out, the average bushman only works 2.6 days a week," he said. "Different guys go out hunting each day, and bring back whatever they find to share with the rest of the village."

It might sound like an idyllic communal lifestyle, but subsisting here is tough. Driving up from the south of the country, I'd watched tarmac roads turn to dust before becoming a barely discernible trail through the sand and scrub. This is about as Middle of Nowhere as it gets, with the nearest town around three hours away.

Generally, visitors spend their nights in one of 10 safari tents scattered around Nhoma camp. These are akin to anything you'll find on a regular luxury tented safari – with double bed, chest of drawers and an adjacent bathroom with flushing toilet. What's more, if you're not up to spending the week subsisting on elephant-dung-nuts, the chefs – who also hail from the village – rustle up delicious meals every night.

The camp is perched on a hill with a commanding view of the surrounding countryside. I sat back and watched the last of the sun's rays stain the sky a raspberry sorbet colour. Once I'd got over the shock of leaving behind my urban safety blanket, with its 24-hour shops and nightlife on tap, the peacefulness of this place hit home.

For the first part of my morning, Arno had come along with me as an interpreter and guide, which is the way it works with most guests. Once I'd been introduced to the men I'd be hunting with – Rinus, Jonas and Ukxa – we'd headed out into the wilderness on a mission to feed ourselves (and the rest of the village).

Within minutes, tracks had been spotted: they belonged to a caracal, a species of big cat. As if it wasn't amazing enough that my co-hunters could distinguish its tracks from the other anonymous prints in the sand, they could even work out when it passed by (about three hours earlier) and the fact that it was carrying a daker – a small deer. This was big news. If the predator had yet to finish its meal, there might be meat on the menu back at the village later.

As I struggled to keep up, Rinus, Jonas and Ukxa raced off into the bush, judging which way the caracal had dragged its prey by the position of disturbed leaves on nearby bushes. Excited shouts from up ahead announced that Ukxa had found what we were looking for (minus the cat, fortunately). All that was left were the forlorn remains of the daker's hind quarters, but it was enough to make a stew that would feed half the people back home. It went into the sack and we carried on.

As we walked, we spread out over a wide area, scanning the surroundings for anything else that could be eaten. "This place is a shopping mall," said Arno. "You just need to know what to take."

A seemingly anonymous plant turned out to be "wild sweet potato", which can be roasted; eaten raw it tasted like green beans. The next thing I knew, I was on my hands and knees helping to dig up a water bulb – a valuable source of hydration in the searing heat. My bushmen companions then started poking around in some nearby holes with long, thin sticks. "They're looking for spring hares," said Arno. "Those hooks on the end of the poles are used for holding the animals in place while the others dig them out." Luckily for the hares, they weren't at home when we called.

After giving up this particular avenue of research, Ikun darted up a nearby tree to look for some honey; he poked around in the hive seemingly without any fear of being stung. This was another task that I was encouraged to help with. I barely made it up to the first branch, much to the amusement of all concerned.

However, thanks to the "share and share alike" philosophy that abides here, I still got to taste the spoils of Ikun's plundering. The honey was about as organic as it gets; I tried not to notice the maggot swimming around in the middle of my helping. It was at this point that Arno gave in to my request to be left to fend for myself. "You want it, you got it," he said, slamming the truck door and bouncing off down the track.

So here I am. Just me, a bunch of bushmen and a pile of elephant muck. Let's hope we catch something...

Traveller'sGuide

The writer travelled to Nhoma Camp with Expert Africa (020-8232 9777; www.expertafrica.com). The camp is owned and operated by Arno and Estelle Oosthuysen.

A 10-day trip including one night at Okonjima Main Camp, three nights at Nhoma Camp and two nights fly-camping in Khaudum National Park with Arno as an expert wildlife guide costs from £1,835 and includes scheduled international flights with Air Namibia from London Gatwick, car hire, all accommodation, most meals and activities as well as National Park entrance fees.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
The cartoon depicts the UK (far left) walking around a Syrian child refugee
newsIn an exclusive artwork for The Independent, Ali Ferzat attacks Britain's lack of 'humanity'
Life and Style
tech
Sport
footballManager attacks Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp after criticism of Diego Costa's apparent stamping
News
video
Life and Style
food + drink
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Day In a Page

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

    Pot of gold

    Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
    10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

    From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

    While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
    Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore