What do you do when you’re in the Tankwa Ka­roo and you for­got to pack lamb chops for din­ner? Gideon Brück­ner had to make a des­per­ate plan.


Gideon Brück­ner gets chop fever in the Tankwa Ka­roo.

My wife Elsabé and I love the Tankwa Ka­roo and we travel there for week­ends when­ever we can. So it was this time: We both longed for crisp air in our lungs and to braai a few chops while look­ing out over Pram­berg turn­ing red at sun­set. Elsabé made a few quick calls: She booked an overnight stop at Sadawa Game Re­serve north of Touws River, fol­lowed by two nights in the Tankwa Ka­roo Na­tional Park. We left Som­er­set West early the fol­low­ing morn­ing and filled up at De Doorns – petrol sta­tions are scarce in the Tankwa. We turned off the N1 onto the R46 and headed into the great wide open. Soon we were at Sadawa. The next morn­ing, a woman called Daleen who works at the game re­serve showed us a sneaky short cut that would get us to the Tankwa Ka­roo Na­tional Park much faster. We headed off with joy in our hearts.

A cou­ple of hours later, Elsabé sighed. “Oh, good­ness,” she said in English. I knew it was trou­ble. My wife is from the old West­ern Transvaal and only re­sorts to English when some­thing is re­ally bad. The short cut road was hor­ri­bly cor­ru­gated. Since I was al­ready hold­ing the steer­ing wheel of the VW Tiguan quite tightly, she didn’t no­tice how my grip in­ten­si­fied. I glanced over at her. “What’s the mat­ter?” I asked, as­sum­ing that she was up­set by the state of the road. But it was much, much worse. “I for­got to take our meat out of the freezer at Sadawa.” Now I clenched the steer­ing wheel with ev­ery­thing I had. I had heard her just fine, but I wished I hadn’t. In my mind’s eye, I was

stand­ing over a bed of red-hot coals, hold­ing an ice-cold beer. But this men­tal pic­ture lacked a cru­cial de­tail: There were no mut­ton chops spit­ting fat as they siz­zled on the grid. We were al­ready 140 km from the game re­serve and turn­ing around wasn’t an op­tion: We had to watch our fuel level and we’d al­ready sur­vived two hours of cor­ru­ga­tions. Surely we’d be able to get a braai pack from the lit­tle shop at the na­tional park? “We have some ba­con and eggs,” Elsabé said, search­ing for a sil­ver lin­ing. “That should get us through tonight and tomorrow…” But she knew it and I knew it: Ba­con and eggs are fine, but they’re not chops on the braai. We drove on in si­lence and when we ar­rived at the park re­cep­tion of­fice, the woman be­hind the counter told us what we didn’t want to hear: “We don’t sell any meat. You’ll have to drive to Mid­del­pos, 50 km from here.” Our shoul­ders slumped. It was noon on a Satur­day and it had been a tir­ing drive. But we had to have chops. “Why don’t we drive to Mid­del­pos tomorrow and see?” Elsabé sug­gested. “On a Sun­day? What if the shop is closed?” We asked the re­cep­tion­ist to please phone Mid­del­pos. “They’re closed on Sun­days,” she re­ported back. “And they close at 1 pm on a Satur­day.” By now it was 12.10 pm. Elsabé took the leap: “We could make it if we leave now.” I turned to the re­cep­tion­ist. “What is the shop called?” “It’s called Die Winkel,” she said. “There’s only one shop in Mid­del­pos.” She could see that we were be­yond help, but she could also prob­a­bly sense our des­per­a­tion. “It rained in the Renos­ter­berg last night,” she said. “Drive care­fully!”

We were al­ready mak­ing long strides to­wards the Tiguan. The road was good for the first few kilo­me­tres and I pushed the speed limit, but a bit fur­ther on a dust cloud loomed. I prayed that it would be a car trav­el­ling in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, or one that would soon turn off. Over­tak­ing is dif­fi­cult on these roads. Just be­fore we got to the foot of Gan­naga Pass, the dust cloud dis­ap­peared. Yes! But then I had to hit the brakes. The road was heav­ily rut­ted, most likely due to flood­wa­ter hav­ing rushed across. The Tiguan shud­dered and nearly skid­ded, but I main­tained con­trol. “Look!” Elsabé shouted. My heart sank. Up ahead on the pass, we saw a po­lice van – the source of the dust cloud. The rea­son the cloud had dis­ap­peared was be­cause the van was driv­ing so slowly, block­ing our way to the most cov­eted chops in all of the Ka­roo. The driver of the van was tak­ing great care up the pass. Over­tak­ing wasn’t an op­tion: Gan­naga Pass is way too nar­row and windy, with a steep drop-off on one side and cliffs on the other. It was 12.30 pm. At this point, Elsabé wa­vered. “Let’s re­lax,” she said. “Why don’t we just turn back and en­joy the af­ter­noon at our chalet?” But I was be­yond rea­son. My yearn­ing for a pic­ture-per­fect Ka­roo braai had turned my heart dark as coal. A lust for meat had taken hold of me. I had chop fever, and there’s only one cure for chop fever: lamb chops! The Tiguan also seemed to have suc­cumbed to the fever, like it too wanted to feast on a car­cass come night­fall. In front of us, in­fu­ri­at­ingly, the po­lice van pot­tered along, blissfully un­aware of our des­per­a­tion. We reached the top of the pass and I over­took the van near Gan­naga Lodge. Mid­del­pos was still 20 km away. The muddy road snaked around a kop­pie and the Tiguan leant into it with gusto. “There’s a Shell garage in Mid­del­pos,” Elsabé said, look­ing at Google Maps on her phone. “They al­ways have a lit­tle shop at a Shell. We can check there if Die Winkel is closed.” It was 1.10 pm when we to­bog­ganed into town. I prayed silently that the shop would still be open. We saw the Shell first: two fuel pumps and a quiver tree. Next door was Die Winkel, where we came to a halt in a cloud of dust. Two peo­ple ex­ited the shop car­ry­ing plas­tic bags. It was open! We ran in­side, just in case some­one was wait­ing to close the door. The only shop in Mid­del­pos was very much like the gen­eral deal­ers you used to see in the plat­te­land. Elsabé and I split up like hun­gry dogs, sniff­ing the shelves on the trail of meat and meat alone. Elsabé found the freezer first and started dig­ging. But all she man­aged to find was of­f­cuts, more suited for mak­ing soup. No chops. We waited for the cashier to serve the last cus­tomers, then we ap­proached. The news was bad. “We’re out of chops, I’m afraid,” he said. “But let me see what I can do. How much meat are you look­ing for?” Hope flick­ered in my heart. “Say about four chops and some boere­wors?” I asked ten­ta­tively, hop­ing not to sound too greedy. “Okay, wait here,” he said. He walked to his bakkie, got in and drove away. Min­utes later he re­turned, car­ry­ing a frozen pack of chops and an­other pack of frozen boere­wors. He even apol­o­gised! “It’s a twee­tand ewe,” he said. “Sorry about that. Let’s make it R110 for the lot.” I was so elated I couldn’t care less how old the sheep was when it be­came chops. And I would have paid R500 – or more. I counted the money hur­riedly and handed it over, wor­ried that the bounty would dis­ap­pear in front of my eyes.

Back at the top of Gan­naga Pass, we stopped at the viewsite and looked out over the beau­ti­ful Tankwa be­low. We felt like we’d won the lotto. The two life-sav­ing pack­ages were next to us on a rock, thaw­ing in the sun. As we drove down the pass, we started plan­ning din­ner. Should we have our meat with baked pota­toes, sour cream and leeks, or maybe with some mieliepap tart? “We’ll make both!” Elsabé de­cided. Back in­side the park, we found our way to our chalet in the Elands­berg wilder­ness camp and climbed stiffly from the Tiguan. I opened the boot to take out our pre­cious cargo. I looked at Elsabé and she looked at me. No, it couldn’t be. We checked the back seat of the car. Noth­ing. We checked the boot again. Still noth­ing. And then I saw it: The two packs of frozen meat, still thaw­ing on a rock at the top of Gan­naga Pass…

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