Six Windhoek lagers were not going to get us through the desert. Even if it was only for one night. And six measly beers were all Joaquim Sá and I were left with after a member of the Khoisan Groot Gariep Wine Society decided to – overnight – clean out our little fridge standing on the porch of the Upington lodge we were staying in.
They died, the three bottles of wine. Kanonkop Paul Sauer 1991. Messias Port 1963. And one other bottle I am so ashamed of losing I am not going to mention it. Three bottles we had saved for enjoyment under the starry Kalahari skies, listening to the silence and feeling the solace and hearing the haunting sound of saggy Bushmen breasts flapping in the aromatic desert breeze.
Now our wine was stolen. Gone. Having drawn our weapons and searched – fruitlessly – for the thieving little bastard who did this, we cut our losses. Packed the vehicle, and headed north to the Kgalagadi Frontier Park bordering Namibia, South Africa and Botswana. That is me, Joaquim and six beers.
Obviously the beers were finished by the time we hit the park gate two hours later. Where we were greeted with bad news by two solemn SanPark officials. If we were entering an Ebola zone or facing an onslaught by Isis, the harsh news could have been handled. But “no wine sales on Sundays”? This meant a booze-less day and night in the Kalahari. Wrestling a just-circumcised crocodile seemed be more inviting.
Of course, all this spiritual talk Joaquim had been having on the way up about the pilgrims to Fatima in Portugal had made him all righteous and moral. So he proposed “we go dry”. Two guys going dry. Sounds as horrible as might be.
“Dry,” he said. “No drinking.”
Then we set off on a game drive.
Five hours and about 1092 sightings of Gemsbok later, I lit a fire at Camp Kalahari. Of course, lighting a fire with the taste of Sprite Zero in your mouth is one of life’s greatly understated pleasures, ranking right-up there with a prostate check from a doctor with arthritic hands
We sat. In silence. Watching the fire, which when one is sober is not such a charming activity everybody makes it out to be. We were dreaming of foaming mugs of beer, popping Champagne corks, messy slurps of Burgundy and ice-cubes chiming in crystal tumblers filled with Single Malt.
I took another swig of Sprite Zero.
And was happy to see that the Great Portuguese 24 Hour Prohibitionist next to me was also running a nervous sweat and biting on his lips.
There is a restaurant, I said. They only serve wine to diners. Bribe the manager with a few pieces of biltong, a Manchester United T-shirt or R30 of Cell C airtime. “Just get some wine.”
He stood up silently and left. For a long time. After 20 minutes I wondered if he had not been eaten by the camp’s roaming hyena or found a television showing a sardine-fishing documentary.
But when Joaquim returned he was bearing wonderful things. Three bottles of wine, the starlight giving them broader gleam than his smile.
“Well done with the bribing,” I commented. “We’ll have to get you into the construction industry.”
He shook his head. “Ethics is not a town in ‘Greece’ and ‘Moral’ is not a sex act,” my Portuguese buddy said.
Sticking to the rules, Joaquim had entered the restaurant. Sat down. Ordered a schnitzel and three bottles of wine. When the wine came he had simply picked-up the bottles and left.
“What about your food?” the waitress asked.
Being Portuguese, Joaquim’s reply was true romantic. “Wine is the true food of life,” he said as he left with the bottles.
The souls were fed under a starry wilderness. And it was just fine.
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