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Text and Photographs: Nina van Schalkwyk
There’s a quirky little restaurant a couple of kilometres southwest of Rehoboth in Namibia’s dry and dramatic Hardap region. Called Conny’s, the establishment is a famous stop-over for many a tour bus or camper. It’s a place to relax and recharge over lovely local cuisine made in the Baster-style of the area. Try to Google it, though, and you might not find much about the area. In fact, without the weathered sign next to the road one might miss it altogether.
Conny’s has been around since 1978 when it was started by Catherine (Conny) van Heerden and her husband. Their homestead housed the little restaurant which at that stage served as a fish and chips spot and a general dealer. Conny’s became known among tour operators, and many stopped here on their way to Sossusvlei and further south. Inside the simple and sturdy building, next to the old-fashioned glass counter, is a collage of photos, drawings, postcards and letters from all the foreign friends that Conny made over the years. Smiling up from the pictures, one can tell that Conny was the kind of person that drew people in. Unfortunately Conny passed away, but the tragedy opened the door for new boots in the kitchen.
Günther Martens has soft blue eyes and a relaxed smile that is partly covered by his white beard. He’s dressed in a T-shirt, shorts and, despite the heat, wool slippers. Here, in the middle of nowhere, without electricity, stands the last remaining hippy with only a little black puppy to keep him company. Günther tells me that he was never interested in making money. He could have done far worse, though.
The atmosphere at the restaurant is laid back when my friends and I arrive after a weekend in the south – tired, dusty and ‘car-strophobic’. We’d never heard about Conny’s, but, as with all great road trips, we spotted the sign and had to stop. At first it seemed as if we were mistaken, when we drove through the gate and saw around us a scene that resembled a typical rural homestead: aged buildings discoloured by the dust, an old Mercedes baking in the sun and a medley of bric-a-brac (including a pair of white plastic swans guarding the entrance of the main house). The place seemed deserted, except for two modern 4x4s parked on the side of a building. We stopped next to them and looked apprehensively at each other before getting out. A sign with “Conny’s Restaurant” stood against the wall, the arrow pointing towards a fence with only the road beyond. We headed in the opposite direction, and around the corner was life.
The building we’d parked next to has a large veranda with potted plants on the balustrade. The sand was meticulously raked, and two iron chairs and a rickety table stood in front of steps leading to the entrance. And that’s where we found Günther. The lunch crowd had passed through a few minutes earlier: very little was left of the yellow rice with raisins, and none of the meat. However, we grabbed cold drinks from the gas refrigerator (no electricity here) and a few home-made muffins and made ourselves comfortable, our feet cooling on the cold cement floor, little Conny the dog nibbling at exposed toes. An unexpected pleasure was the fantastic coffee. No exaggeration. Günther’s passion is coffee, and his coffee set-up allows him to make multiple cups. He demonstrated the correct way to sip the brew, and guided our tasting process to reveal which blends we preferred. Strange to find a connoisseur in the bush. Vows were made by all to come back for a proper demonstration of the art of making a truly delicious cup of coffee.
To reach Conny’s Restaurant from the south, take the C24 that turns left just before Rehoboth and turn left on the MR47, which will take you straight to the small settlement of Klein Aub. The Restaurant is about two kilometres outside Klein Aub on the left-hand side (look out for the signs).
This article was first published in the summer 2017/18 edition of TNN.