Kgalagadi | More than a million miles
Uncle Louwtjie and Auntie Nancy Nel are almost just as part of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park as the gemsbok and camel-thorn trees. Not to mention their Ford bakkie with more than a million miles on the clock. Karlien Roos dropped in.
People who go camping at Mata-Mata in the Kgalagadi probably know Louwtjie and Nancy Nel. Octogenarians both, they have been camping on the same stand beneath the same old camel-thorn tree for yonks.
Once they’ve settled in, they are in no hurry.
“You see,” says Louwtjie, “we’ve been coming here for twenty years and we camp for more than a month at a time, as long as it is out of season.
“Sometimes we are all on our own, with only nature as company.”
Louwtjie, who occupies himself with research about unusual episodes in the Boer history, says there is nowhere else he can think more clearly than right here in the open spaces of the Kgalagadi; here where sand dunes and camel-thorn trees speak to you and reveal their deepest secrets.
Yes, the silence here is sometimes so absolute, you can almost hear God breathe, Nancy muses.
They are people who refuse to grow too old for their lifestyle. Furthermore, they are grateful that they can still enjoy nature’s goodness daily.
Nancy walks with difficulty, but that doesn’t complicate their camping life, because the personnel of Mata-Mata have become so attached to “Grandpa and Grandma Nel” that they pitch camp and come in daily to help with the washing, cooking and tidying.
“We have come to know and care for each other over the years,” Louwtjie remarks.
Pg 2: Three days by …
Three days by Ford
They don’t drive around much once they’ve settled in peacefully here under the camel-thorn tree, but every morning their cream-coloured Ford bakkie is started up and left idling for a while – just to keep its lungs healthy.
When the giant bonnet opens, a few curious men usually walk up to check out the engine and see how things were done in years past.
Louwtjie bought the Ford bakkie − dating from the early sixties − from a farmer near Klaserie in 1972. The chickens were already sleeping in it then.
The front windscreen was missing and the bell housing broken, which meant Louwtjie could twist the owner’s arm to lower the price from R450 to R350.
Apparently only four of these specific models, built in America from ex-war materials, were imported to South Africa.
They differ from other Ford bakkies from that era in that their engine mounting is the same as that of large trucks.
The back axle of Louwtjie’s Ford was also 10 cm shorter than the front axle, but that was fixed with a few spacers and a little elbow grease.
At the time, Louwtjie’s local Ford agents said they were unfamiliar with such a Ford, and could therefore not supply spare parts. However, personnel at the then Ford plant in Port Elizabeth were so excited to hear that one of these Fords were still running, that they sent Louwtjie a free and complete set of factory manuals.
Next to the speedometer of the Ford, which has done much more than a million miles, Louwtjie keeps a kilometre conversion table to calculate the speed limit.
Not that he ever speeds, because keeping this wild old steed on the road from Randburg to the Kgalagadi is apparently a tad tricky. Fortunately, its driver knows just how by now. Even so, it still usually takes them three days to travel from their home in Randburg to Mata-Mata.
To make their wanderlust a little more comfortable, Louwtjie had the vehicle customised to suit their needs. The giant canopy at the back houses a comfortable bed and toilet facilities. Despite that they still tow their similarly antiquated caravan (which Louwtjie built himself) along with them when they go camp for such long periods.
Pg 3: Jump, Piet …
Jump, Piet, jump!
One of the scariest incidents the Nels have ever experienced at Mata-Mata occurred one day when they were sitting outside chatting to Francis Jacobs, one of the park’s personnel who had dropped by to visit.
Francis’ husband, Piet (a game ranger and experienced tracker) and another worker, Bertus Springbok, were fixing the water hole’s broken pump on the other side of the high fence.
The next moment Francis’ screams pierced the air. No less than eight lions rose from the shadows about 80 m away and approached the water hole.
Before she could even warn Piet and Bertus, the lionesses came charging.
Her screams lifted Bertus clear over the fence like a hurdler, but Piet, who had a slightly heavier build, wouldn’t have made it. Fortunately, he had a spade at hand, which he threw at the nearest lioness. He used their consequent short hesitation to scale the fence baboon-style.