by Sven-Eric Kanzler
A dune crest on the right, a dune crest on the left. Bright red sand peeps out from the yellow grass, green acacias occasionally greet the eye. Ahead of us a red track winds through the long, grass-covered valley. Then a green gate, and here we are: shrubs and succulents protectively surround several buildings nestling under the leafy roof of enormous trees, and some chalets seem to be climbing up the softly undulating slope of a dune…
Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch embraces its guests immediately. It is situated some 50 km north east of Mariental in a most beautiful part of the Kalahari, the semi-desert of long, reddish sand dunes in eastern Namibia that is mostly ignored by tourists on their round trips of the country. If only they knew what they were missing!
At reception we are greeted by a friendly lady who introduces herself as Onie Jacobs. She is the owner, as we learn later during a chat. After a refreshing drink we are taken to our wooden chalet, sitting on the crest of the dune. The view is beyond description. As we’re climbing the steps to the entrance, the Kalahari is settling down at our feet. It’s dune crest upon dune crest with wide valleys – referred to as ‘streets’ – in between. A watering point for game is right below our chalet.
But the spectacular view is almost outdone by what we see inside. A king-size double bed. Floors and walls covered in gleaming reddish wood. A high roof with ample breathing space. Stylish furnishings. And a bathroom with shower and tub from which you look straight into the landscape. A dream!
Four chalets are situated on the dune crest, each with its own private area. Six bungalows snuggle up to the slope. They don’t command the same grand view, but they have a stoep (roofed veranda) facing onto the long valley. With reddish-brown grained walls and tasteful decorations, they immediately exude cosiness. The reason becomes clear only at a closer look: the walls are 60 cm thick and consist of pressed and smoothly plastered bales of hay. “Because of the natural insulation,” Fred Jacobs explains with visible pride, prompting us to feel the difference between the warm outside wall and the much cooler wall inside.
In one place a small window, framed like a picture, reveals the wall’s golden-yellow interior. The bungalows are spacious enough to accommodate families – a sleeper couch doubles up as a bed for two children. Both chalets and bungalows have air-conditioning.
After our tour of the premises we have to hurry, as we want to join a drive and experience nature in the Kalahari. We are taken through the 7 000-ha nature reserve in an open cross-country vehicle with several passenger benches. Behind a dune crest the scenery changes unexpectedly and we find ourselves in a huge pan that fills up with water after sufficient rains. Springbok take flight in wide agile leaps that end with supple bouncing; Gemsbok gaze at us attentively with their characteristic black and white faces. We have parked under massive communal nests built by sociable weavers and admire the durable plait work. As the sun dips onto the horizon, we stop on top of a particularly high dune and, much to our surprise, find tables and chairs waiting for us – the ideal spot for sundowners.
With the mood set for supper we return to the lodge. Fred opens a door behind the bar counter and shows us his treasure trove: a small wine-cellar with bottles and bottles of South Africa’s best, expertly stored at the required temperature. Of course we have to choose a bottle of red to go with the tasty venison served for dinner – the cuisine too meets the highest expectations. We enjoy the last glass of wine on the sofa next to the library where dozens of coffee-table books, factual volumes and novels beckon guests to browse. We can’t recall when we last spent such an unhurried, thoroughly pleasant evening.
The following morning we go for a nature walk. On the way Fred reads to us from the Kalahari Times: spoors left by beetles, geckos and jackals tell of the night’s events. You cannot fail to notice that Fred and Onie Jacobs love the Kalahari. This is further substantiated by their decision to reintroduce cheetah in co-operation with the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF). The spotted runners were systematically persecuted and eradicated from this area. The CCF assisted with its expertise in building a suitable enclosure, and transferred four non-releasable male cheetahs into it.
When it is time for our good-byes the next day we regret that we only booked for one night. Bagatelle is very much more than a stop-over on the way from Windhoek to the south…
This article appeared in the Dec ‘04/ Jan ‘05 edition of Travel News Namibia.
This article appeared in the Dec ‘11/ Jan ‘12 edition of Travel News Namibia.
Additional photos courtesy of https://plus.google.com/117832452182271454005/about?hl=en