Crossing the plains along the national road an hour north of Keetmanshoop, the traveller cannot fail to notice a huge rock sentinel, towering over this largely unvegetated landscape. 1586 m high and visible from 80 km away, it is known as Brukkaros, which curiously means “skin trousers”, a name given to the place for an early Khoi clan who once lived on its slopes and whose women wore a distinctive trouser-like leather apron.
Called Geiseb-nama by local people, it is a place of imposing mystery and local folklore (and still feared by some older local inhabitants who will not venture onto its slopes). Long thought to be an extinct volcano, or even the result of an ancient meteor strike (meteorite fragments are known in the region and further north near Gibeon), Brukkaros’ dark “volcano-like” appearance is more likely the eroded rocky remnant of a massive gaseous explosion some 84 million years ago which produced its distinctive crater and scree-covered floor. In1930 it was used as an astronomical observation site by the Smithsonian Institute to explore the surface of the sun. The trail they cut to this site exists today.
In the mountain’s shadow lies a famous settlement called Berseba or !Autsawise – referring to a perennial spring located between Tsawi trees, discovered by the IHai IKaua people who arrived in the area in the early 1800’s from Pella in the Western Cape under the leadership of tribal Kaptein Paul Goliath, a major figure in Nama history in the region. Rhenish missionaries, who came to the area, building the Lutheran Church here in 1857, coined its more familiar biblically inspired name.
Berseba has some 90000 predominantly Nama-speaking residents, and also includes nearby settlements at Snyfontein, Rouplaas\Ganigobes, Gainachas and Gutenhoas, together forming one of Karas’ 5 constituencies. Still fairly isolated, with a modest infrastructure, communal stock farming is still much in evidence in this largely underdeveloped rural area.
The area has limited formal tourist facilities and most visitors tend to overnight at towns such as Keetmanshoop. But for the lover of true natural solace, the Brukkaros Campsite is a rare opportunity to experience a night on the mountain, under the amazing canopy of the southern stars. Entirely run by the local community, it consists of 5 individual sites, 2 of these situated at the foot of Brukkaros, and 3 higher up on its slopes and reached only with 4 x 4 vehicles. Sites are shaded and have wind shelters, fireplace, bush-shower and toilet. As there is no running water, visitors need to stock up with supplies at Berseba just 12 km away.
No visit to Brukkaros is complete without a hike up its slopes or into its 2000m wide rocky crater. For eco-lovers the mountain is a rare biome, with plant and animal species that appear nowhere else. Longer hikes into the crater assisted by local guides, are suited to those who are relatively fit, but shorter walks to the summit also provide one of the region’s most sought after bird’s-eye views and amazing sunset/sunrise photo opportunities that truly capture this vast landscape.
The settlement of Berseba with its mission church is an ideal opportunity to meet some of the region’s most colourful inhabitants – a few of whom still practise traditional activities such as the building of the original portable Nama mat huts, constructed from flexible branches, covered with woven rush mats and often seen during tribal celebrations or weddings.
The Berseba Nama are a colourful, friendly, often humorous people – the town itself is called “The smile on the face of Brukkaros”. Known for their rich music, poetry, storytelling and dance tradition, interaction with those from Berseba provides a rare glimpse into a simple, rustic way of life quintessential to the Karas region.