NAMIB DESERT

Meet Boes­man Davids, the man who loves noth­ing.

go! Namibia - - CONTENTS - WORDS & PIC­TURES ERNS GRUNDLING

The C14 gravel road links Soli­taire with Walvis Bay, cut­ting through parts of the Namib-Nauk­luft Park for 234 km. The last time I drove this road was in De­cem­ber 2003 in my Nis­san 1400 bakkie – with no wa­ter, air con­di­tion­ing or ra­dio. I was on my way to Swakop to at­tend a New Year’s con­cert fea­tur­ing Valiant Swart and Karen Zoid. For 234 km I didn’t see another per­son or ve­hi­cle, only a few wild horses, spring­bok and gems­bok.

To­day I’m on the C14 again, but I’ll only be do­ing a short stretch. It’s June but it’s still hot out­side – the desert doesn’t pay much at­ten­tion to sea­sons. Toast Coetzer and I are film­ing our 2016 TV se­ries

Weg Agter­paaie and we have an ap­point­ment with Boes­man Davids on his farm Charé, 34 km north of Soli­taire.

We haven’t met Boes­man be­fore. He was brought to our at­ten­tion by Jermanneke Havemann, one of the magazine’s reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tors. Jermanneke told us that Boes­man knows the desert bet­ter than most, he’s al­ways bare­foot and he’s mar­ried to a Ja­panese woman. He sounded like a guy we had to meet!

There wasn’t much on the In­ter­net that could tell me more about Boes­man, save for a short video that proved he’d been on TV be­fore – on an episode of the Bri­tish se­ries New Lives in the Wild.

Pre­sen­ter Ben Fogle stands next to Boes­man in the desert. “I see a dune,” says Ben.

“I see life,” says Boes­man.

We al­most miss the turn-off to Boes­man’s farm. The only in­di­ca­tion is a small sign that says “Camp­site 2 km”, with two hik­ing boots and two baby booties dan­gling from it.

The road winds deeper into the empty land­scape un­til we reach a camp­site with ablu­tion fa­cil­i­ties and Boes­man’s house. Ex­cept for the quiver tree in the gar­den, there’s noth­ing grow­ing here that could be de­scribed as “lush”.

A lit­tle girl runs over, with 52-year-old Boes­man fol­low­ing close be­hind. He’s bare­foot, as promised, and ra­di­ates a calm­ness that money can’t buy. His daugh­ter’s name is Laila and she’s three years old. His wife Yuri also comes out to greet us – in flu­ent Afrikaans. She car­ries their four-month-old son Rainy on her hip.

We all get into Boes­man’s truck, which has been turned into a game-view­ing ve­hi­cle, and drive out into the desert, to­wards a wall of moun­tains on the west­ern hori­zon. Herds of spring­bok and gems­bok graze in the dis­tance.

We pull up to a dune cov­ered in Bush­man grass. Laila is in her el­e­ment: She wants to look for spi­ders and roll down the sand.

“This moun­tain range is part of the Great West­ern Es­carp­ment,” Boes­man ex­plains. “It runs from South Africa to the other side of An­gola. Sand storms blow in and dry every­thing out – that’s why it’s a desert. We’re right on the line where the semi-desert meets the desert proper.”

When you farm with dunes, you don’t want rain. “Rain just con­fuses the desert,” Boes­man says. “It har­dens the sand mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for tok­tokkies and lizards to breathe. They need the sand to be soft. Even with­out rain, a desert ecosys­tem still de­pends on plants. A gems­bok can live its whole life with­out wa­ter. It eats plants at night, which gives it the mois­ture it needs. We get our mois­ture from the ocean. It’s enough for us.”

Boes­man is wor­ried about how few sand storms there have been in re­cent years: “The storms carry pieces of plant ma­te­rial down from the moun­tains for small an­i­mals to eat. They up­root the grass and make the sand soft again. But we haven’t had a good storm in a while…”

Two decades ago, Boes­man lived another life. He was Gideon Davids, an in­sur­ance bro­ker from Windhoek who lived in a big house and drove a flashy car (while wear­ing shoes).

“One day I looked around at all the peo­ple in the city and I re­alised I was lonely,” he says. “I was earn­ing good money, but I was poor. So I de­cided to leave every­thing be­hind.”

The desert was call­ing. Boes­man was born in Keet­man­shoop and went to school in Tsumeb. His fa­ther taught him about the desert. “He showed me how it worked and taught me to love it,” Boes­man says. “The desert is where I find hap­pi­ness.”

His boss didn’t ap­prove when he re­tired. Boes­man re­mem­bers the man’s al­most-prophetic words: “He told me, ‘You’re like a Bush­man. You’re leav­ing all this be­hind to go out into the desert naked.’ Since that day I called my­self Boes­man.”

Boes­man’s first desert home was un­der a tree in the Ses­riem camp­site. He started of­fer­ing tours to Sos­susvlei and his en­cy­clopaedic knowl­edge of the desert and his pas­sion soon made him a pop­u­lar guide with tourists. His postal ad­dress was lit­er­ally: “Boes­man, Sos­susvlei, Namibia”. Let­ters sent to this ad­dress still find their way to him.

Work­ing as a tour guide is how he crossed paths with Yuri. “She came to Sos­susvlei for two days,” he says. “When she re­turned to Ja­pan we sent hand­writ­ten let­ters to each other. And then she came back.”

The cou­ple im­me­di­ately “moved in to­gether” un­der the tree at Ses­riem.

“It’s just the way it was. We had noth­ing – you don’t re­ally need any­thing. We had a clothes trunk and a sleep­ing bag and that was it.”

Yuri hails from Nagano in Ja­pan, which hosted the 1998 Win­ter Olympics. It’s ba­si­cally the po­lar op­po­site of Soli­taire. “Yes, it’s a lit­tle dif­fer­ent here,” she ad­mits. “And there are fewer peo­ple.”

Boes­man says that even as a child, he didn’t re­ally like fancy stuff. “I wanted to live a sim­ple life and that’s what the desert of­fers me. The desert is a friendly place. It em­braces ev­ery­one. Adults be­come chil­dren in the desert. It’s beau­ti­ful if you un­der­stand it. I love noth­ing and that’s why I love the desert.”

Twelve years ago, Boes­man and Yuri bought this re­mote farm. There are dunes on the prop­erty, which made it pos­si­ble for Boes­man to of­fer his tours in his own back­yard.

“I didn’t want to put up a big sign or ad­ver­tise, but I had to show peo­ple how to get here. That’s how the sign came about: I hung two shoes from a pole. When Laila was born some­one added a pink baby bootie and when Rainy ar­rived they added another.”

Now it’s time to look for an­i­mals on the dune. Boes­man points out faint tracks and all the liv­ing things so eas­ily over­looked or stepped on. “Spi­der, spi­der, where are you? Look there’s lizard spoor!” he says. Laila gig­gles ex­cit­edly; she knows what’s com­ing next. Boes­man grabs a wedge-snouted lizard from the sand. “You just fol­low the tracks un­til they stop. If you need to sur­vive in the desert, catch one of these. It’s very nutri­tious. For­tu­nately I’ve never been hun­gry enough…”

Fi­nally Laila gets her way and we roll down the slope. “Come, Daddy!” Laila calls. It’s been a while since I’ve rolled in the sand. Boes­man is right: Adults turn into kids in the dunes.

“It’s a priv­i­lege to raise our chil­dren here,” Boes­man says. “They learn so much more than they do be­hind a com­puter. Laila has seen a ewe give birth. She can iden­tify the spoor of a spi­der. In the morn­ings when we get up we say, ‘Good morn­ing tree, good morn­ing dunes, good morn­ing clouds, good morn­ing shrubs.’ Then we walk around and look for spoor. She lives in a dif­fer­ent world. I want to raise them both this way, liv­ing close to na­ture. I want them to also love noth­ing.”

And how does it feel to re­turn to Windhoek and en­counter for­mer col­leagues in their shiny shoes? Boes­man laughs. “They look at me and think ‘poor guy’ and I look at them and think ‘poor guy’. It’s a rich life when you walk bare­foot.”

“You don’t re­ally want to meet peo­ple like Boes­man and Yuri,” Toast says later. “You don’t want to in­ter­fere with how they live. That’s how re­mark­able their life is. It’s so dif­fer­ent from what we’re used to or will ever know. I’m just amazed.”

It’s true. Boes­man not only taught me how to sur­vive, but also how to live: “You have to be able to love noth­ing.” I want to carry those words with me, be­cause when you love noth­ing, you ac­tu­ally love every­thing.

SAND­PIT ON STEROIDS. Boes­man Davids and his fam­ily live (and make a liv­ing) in the dunes of the Namib Desert.

HAPPY FAM­ILY. Yuri and Boes­man Davids with their chil­dren, Rainy and Laila.

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