The earth’s fruit-basket . . .

Damara Mopane Lodge, twenty kilometres east of Khorixas and a smooth and easy drive from Etosha Safari Camp, is out-of-the-ordinary extraordinary. Besides being an attractive lodge set in a mopane woodland, each spacious chalet has, wait for it, and this definitely deserves a drumroll . . . its very own food garden!

Photo: Ron Swilling

That is definitely the way to go today, planting your own greens. It’s healthy, saves money and ensures that you always have a nutritious meal on the table, even during the shortages of Covid-19. One of the things that emerged worldwide in 2020, besides good-heartedness and an urge to travel, swim and walk barefoot was a bevy of urban food gardens where empty spaces were transformed into green pantries.

Here at Damara Mopane, I am delighted to see that I have a stand of happy sunflowers in my yard that after the recent good rains are eagerly visited by an assortment of butterflies, and that my garden beds are filled with leafy beetroot, eggplants and onions. I even have a scarecrow. The food at supper is noticeably fresh, tasty and delicious.

Photo: Ron Swilling

Unusually, this innovative lodge is built in a semi-circular labyrinth design as in African kingdoms of old. It is a peaceful oasis of green and the ideal place to rest up from the road, laze around the enormous and inviting swimming pool and walk up to the sunset deck in the late afternoon. I make sure I do all of the above. It’s also a good place to overnight on the way to the Twyfelfontein rock engravings, Palmwag and Omarunga Epupa-Falls Camp. It’s difficult to leave this peaceful haven, but once on the road I quickly get back into the rhythm of travel and the spirit of the open road.

A gravel stretch lies ahead, the road dipping and rising and the landscape transforming into the striking characteristic Palmwag scenery of deep-red flat-topped mountains and rocks, punctuated by vivid green mopane and shepherd trees and an explosion of green euphorbias. This land, deep in Damaraland in north-western Namibia, is home to desert elephant and I’m wondering as I drive along if regular lodge visitor Jimbo will be around. Along the route roadside stalls sell an assortment of earth jewels and I pause to look at crystals, carved animal mobiles and wood roses.

Photo: Ron Swilling

When I pass the small Riemvasmaker settlement of Vrede, Corbiana Adams flags me down for a ride. On the short trip to the nearby village of Bergsig, she recounts the story of the forced removal of the Riemvasmakers from the Northern Cape in South Africa in the early 70s and how they were invited to return after independence in 1994. Corbiana’s grandmother said she was too old to travel and the family stayed in Namibia, which has become home. We also talk about the recent rains, which are the first the area has received in more than five years, breaking the long drought. Everyone is appreciative and hopeful.

Photo: Ron Swilling

After I drop her off, I spot elephant dung on the road and a family of giraffes watches me as if I am the roadside attraction. It’s been a relatively short three-hour drive (with stops) as I turn towards the lodge marked by towering, verdant makalani palms that grow along a tributary of the Uniab River.

Photo: Ron Swilling

Jimbo has gone walkabout again but I’m warmly welcomed by the staff and a pair of hornbills that hop on and around my vehicle. A light rainshower freshens this usually parched section of the country and puts a shine to the rock. I breathe in the freshness of the day. The evening is glistening and spectacular and I forego the sunset drive to lap up the scenery at the lodge. It’s a long day’s drive tomorrow as I head southwards along the infamous Skeleton Coast to Swakopmund for some more green-tripping.

Ahhh, but that’s a story for another day.

Ron Swilling is a freelance writer, who has a deep love for the land of big sky, its vast open plains, spectacular scenery, free-roaming wildlife and salt-of-the-earth people.