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” said Daan, pointing to ‘n cross he drew on a map, indicating where he believes the Lost City of the Kalahari lies buried under centuries old sand dunes. That was three months ago. The group gathered around his dining table were hand picked friends; friends he decided were the most suited for an expedition of finding the Lost City. For more than two years he had been intensively studying all kinds of maps, he visited several places in the Kalahari such as Mier, and spoke to old folks. He studied all kinds of satellite images as well, including infra red. He sometimes called one of us in or dropped in at our offices to assist him in interpreting some of these maps. Being a geologist, I received many of his visits. Much of these were directed at trying to establish how far lime stone or dolomite formations stretched into the Kalahari. This, I realised, was because he believed that if a city indeed existed in the desert, it would have needed an ample water supply. And the only way was subterranean, such as the eye at Kuruman or in the Wonderwerk Caves. He also spent hours with Carien, a geomorphologist, mostly spending ours on contour maps. Carien’s husband, Jakes, is a well known photographer. Ken and his wife, Sandy, are archaeologists, and have also received numerous calls and requests to follow up on leads he received from people he spoke to during visits to the Kalahari. Three months ago we, joined by my wife Marié and Daan’s wife, Magda, and Carien’s husband Jakes, our eyes were fixed on the map, fascinated as Daan explained how he came to the conclusion of where the city was hidden. Marié, an established reporter, had her laptop open and was typing as the discussions followed. She was to be the official narrator of the expedition. “But I thought what Farini saw was already found to be natural rock structures,” I said at last. Daan looked at me, smiling: “I deliberately did not take any of Farini’s reports on the matter into account. The folklore on the lost city predates Farini probably by three centuries or more. I believe he only reacted on existing tales, and built a story to bolster his career. Also, he came out with this story soon after the Zimbabwe ruins were found, and people had major speculation on the origin. We again followed Daan’s explanation. “For a city to develop in the middle of a desert there must be a very good reason. Probably something like gold or diamonds. I believe, in this case, it was diamonds”, and he took out a satellite image and pointed to a spot. I recall that I received a visit on the matter. “Nico confirmed that this round dot probably represents the surfacing of a diamond carrying pipe.” Those were not my precise words, but I let it be.
He returned to the map. “The diamond pipe was here,” and he pointed to the cross he drew on the map. “This line was where we believe the Molopo flowed in ancient times, with much more water flow than now. As you can see, it came very close to the cross.” “Also,” he said. This spot lies at the vast outpost of a lime stone massive, which links to this dolomite areas in which the Kuruman Eye is also found.” …………………………………. “There,” said Daan as we rose to the crescent of a high dune, and were able to look over the top at the spot where he believed the Lost City waited to be uncovered. That was only yesterday – and just over 24 hours later our lives have changed for ever. His hand remained pointed, lost for words as he was shocked by what he saw however. There, about 400 meters away, was a beehive of human activity. A faint drilling noise reached our ears. “Bliksems,” he said at last. “Beating me to the discovery I have worked so long for.” I also regained my breath from scrambling up the high dune: “Maybe not, Daan, I believe they are digging up diamonds in that diamond pipe of yours. Probably illegal. Maybe they have no notion of the Lost City right next to them. “What do we do now?” asked Daan at long last. “We go back to Mier and have them getting the police here to apprehend the people involved with this illegal operation. Then we return and look for the Lost City. Reluctantly we turned around, and returned to the vehicles where the rest of the party were waiting. But we were to be surprised yet again. Four unknown men were keeping the folks at the vehicles at gun point, clearly waiting for our return. “Welcome back,” said the apparent ring leader of the gunmen. “What brings you to this God forsaken hell hole?” “The lost city,” says Daan. “The what?!” The gun man looked very surprised. “I don’t think you were the first to find these diamonds,” I proceeded. “We believe the mysterious Lost City of the Kalahari is buried under those dunes.” “What ever,” said the bandit leader, apparently not the most intelligent gent to have set foot in the Kalahari. We were bundled back in our two heavily laden 4 X 4’s, and some of the gunmen drove us to the drilling site. More folks were waiting for us at the drilling site. We, at gun point, had to give a more detailed account of what we were doing here. “You go and dig for that city,” the site boss told us. So there we were digging at a spot Daan selected, with two gunmen keeping a close look. The blazing Kalahari sun was our other companion. Later, with the sun dropping of to the western horizon, it became more bearable. Suddenly I struck rock. The others also heard the load clang, and came running in the loose sand to the spot where I had been digging. In the excitement, we almost forgot about our predicament. It was a flat surface rock I found. We started clearing the surface, working to the side of the dune as we realised that this was the shortest way of finding
the edge of the rock. Soon our spades also sank deep into the sand, and we knew we had found the edge. Digging deeper along the edge, the rock also gave way, en we started clearing under it. Soon we struck something vertical. Now Daan was really excited. “We have found the wall. I think the flat rock serves as roof.” “Roof?” I said in amazement. “The Zimbabwe ruins did not have roofs.” “Man, o man, Nico,” said Daan. “I don’t think this Lost City has anything to do with Zimbabwe, or any other form of known rock built civilisation in Southern Africa we know of. “Do you mean Prestor Jan’s empire?” “Something like that. Have you ever heard of Vigiti Magna?” Ken and Sandy were all ears now. “The first Cape colonists were looking for Prestor Jan’s empire, but later, after learning of King Monopotapa from the Portuguese, they started looking for Monopotapa’s Makalanya kingdom, and later, after contact with Northern Cape tribes, this all changed to Vigiti Magna, and they even took interpreters along who could speak several Latin based languages.” “So you are looking for a Roman city?” “Probably not Roman, but built something more like Rome than like Zimbabwe.” Whatever it looked like, and whoever built it, we apparently have found it. We were digging down the vertical wall, already almost two meters deep. The wall was clearly build of lime stone “bricks” and sealed with a lime pulp which hardened. “They surely had some massive lime stone quarry,” said Marié. “Not necessarily,” answered Sandy. “I believe they have probably built the city mainly underground on account of the hot weather, and used the rock they excavated to build structures on the surface. Raw lime stone is soft, but becomes hard when exposed to the atmosphere. That is how the Mayas were able to build their cities without metal tools.” Then, at two meters, we hit the hard, soil surface. We started digging sideways. Ken’s spade was the first to hit wood. All of as left our posts to assist Ken in uncovering which happened to be a thick, wooden door, but severely rotten away with virtually nothing left of the iron strips keeping the door intact. We worked carefully so as not to damage the door any further, but eventually we were able to carefully open the door and have our first peep inside. What we saw was very disappointing. We looked down a passageway, with heavy wooden doors neatly spaced on both sides. Inside both metal and wood was apparently much better preserved than the outside of the door we had opened. “Looks like either a jail or slave quarters,” said Sandy. Our captors were also very interested, clearly because they realised that they could make good use of this unexpected bonus. The corridor was probably 50 meter long, one could make out in the fading light, growing darker deeper down the corridor, with some 20 doors on each side. One “good use” was to lock us up for the night in one of the cells. The diamond diggers also moved in, using cells as living quarters, store rooms and even a kitchen.
“We have to get out of here.” I have thought the matter over and realised that we had no choice – these bandits could simply not afford letting us go. “Should not be much of a problem to break the door,” I said, but they’d be waiting. The outside wall also offered little promise. A sand pile lied under the window, blocked not only by sand, but a few thick bars were partially visible. “I have an idea. Sandy spoke about a subterranean structure. Maybe we are lucky to find a way down.” Our source of light was a lantern our captors gave us. In our luggage we had some torches, but as we may have had better use for that light later, we started combing the floor for some clues of going down using the dim light of the lantern. “Here is some kind of lid,” said Ken. We scrambled to Ken, and sure enough, he was lifting a lid, but definitely too small for a person to get through. “There is enough space for people to go through if one can get through the hole,” said Daan, looking down the hole with the lantern. “Let me have a look,” I said. “I have an idea, but we will have to be swift,” I said after taking a look. I poured some paraffin from the lantern over the surface of the rock floor to one side of the hole, and also sprinkled some at the bottom. The dry lime stone swallowed the paraffin eagerly. Then the paraffin was set alight, burning merrily. In the mean time I dug one of our water bottles from the luggage, and waited until I believed the rock would have heated sufficiently. Daan and Ken were standing by with two geology rock hammers. When the flames started fading I poured the water over the surface. Ken and Daan waited anxiously, not wanting to make a noise. I put my boot on the wet rock, and with a sight of relief I saw it giving way, and tumbling down. “Let’s go,” said Daan, dropping through the hole, and followed by some of the most important luggage, before we, one after the other disappeared through the hole. We found ourselves in some underground dry aqueduct, with not much space to move in. “Which way?” asked Daan. “Downhill, the water must have flown somewhere and exited.” “How do you know?” “Because this used to be the toilet of the prisoners.” Daan started scrambling in the direction of what appeared to be downhill. But we soon ran into a rock grid, obviously put in place to prevent prisoners from escaping the way we planned. “The other way,” I said, and we turned around, now scrambling up hill. Soon we came to a large cave, with most of the bottom forming an underground lake. The water was prevented from flowing down the tunnel we came through because of a rock sluice in place. I immediately opened the sluice, sending the water into the tunnel. “No one will be following us that way,” I said after noticing that the flooding water filled the entire tunnel. We started combing the area to find a way out. Surely, someone had to get here to open and close the sluice. We eventually found the “door” made of
solid rock, but it was stuck unmovable. The city dwellers obviously did not want the prisoners to escape that way either. “What now?” asked Marié. “There must be another way out,” I said. I noted, when scanning the walls of the cave, that there were some faded, primitive drawings against the walls. Obviously the ancient dwellers did not come through that door as it was man made, and also not through the tunnel we entered as much of that was also man made.” “Do you think the water level may have been lower at some stage?” “Most probably, and that means one would probably find an exit by following the submerged cave.” A little while later, with Marié protesting profoundly, I was swimming under the submerged roof of the cave, with a rope tied around my waist. The underwater torch was priming through the clear water. Sooner than I hoped, the roof started lifting, and soon I was breathing fresh air again. I followed the torch beam, and relived I saw what had by now become a common sight – dune sand against the side. I swam to the side, and then gave two sharp tugs at the rope, the sign for the others that the coast was clear. I tied the rock to a firm stalagmite, and started digging in the sand while I waited for the others to arrive. One after the other they arrived, and lastly we pulled out luggage we brought along through tied to the other end of the rope. This included Marié’s laptop, and Jake’s camera’s, carefully sealed in plastic. Soon we found ourselves digging in the sand, following the roof of the exit. We had no idea how deep under the dune surface we were, but we calculated that we were not very far from the entrance to the slave quarters we first discovered. Hour after hour went by, but then, eventually, Sandy’s hand went through into free space. The stars above were unbelievably bright, only matched by the stars in the Namib. I peeped through the opening carefully, and saw that we were indeed near the entrance. A guard was sitting on a camp stool near the wooden door. “Fast asleep,” I realised, carefully dragging myself from the sand, and walking in his direction as silently as I could manage, my steps muffled by the dune sand. I reached the guard unnoticed, and knock him out cold with the side of the geology hammer. I started collecting the weapons he carried. Apart from a rifle which was lying over his lap, he also packed a revolver, and a knife strapped to his ankle. We started scrambling for the vehicles, but before getting far all hell broke loose. It was our pot luck that the guard was to be relieved so soon after we overpowered him. “Run for the vehicles,” Daan shouted. Bullets were already flying in our direction. But we also faced fire from the vehicles. “Back to the cave,” I shouted. I slung the rifle to my shoulder, dropping one of our pursuers. His mates started scrambling for cover, but I managed to drop another. There is no pleasure in shooting people, but each one shot means less bullets flying our way.
Just as we were about to dive back into the sand opening of the cave after reaching our destination rather quickly, one of the bandits came from inside, having apparently followed our trail to see how we escaped. There was no time for shooting, and I simply ran the butt of the rifle in his face, sending him back in the hole. We followed, stripped him from his rifle, revolver and torch, and started looking for some indication of which route to take. “This way,” I said. As geologist I probably have the most experience of caves, and I know that caves like this can continue for hundreds of kilometres, but are not always easy to progress, or even find the route. Instinct, rather than good sense, told me that we need to get on ‘n ledge just over two meters from the ground level, and not progress in the direction in which the cave apparently goes. Later, with more daylight, I realised that I subconsciously noted that the stalactites were slightly bent, indicating that air was flowing from behind the ledge. In a hasty scramble of lifting and pulling we were all on the ledge when our pursuers arrived at the opening. A torch light came beaming in and when the light fell on their fallen comrade inside, some rather nasty swearing came in through the opening as well. “You guys go deeper in the cave” I whispered, and I will try and knock a few down when they storm in,” I said, pointing to a dark hole I noticed to my relief when we got on the ledge. “I’ll stay with you and assist with some shooting,” Ken said, taking the other rifle. “Where do you think that cave will take us?” asked Ken. “Hopefully that will take us to the interior of the Lost City,” I said plainly. “And then?” “Hopefully we will then have some home advantage to knock them out so that we can get away.” “&^%$, the *&^%$s have taken our satellite phone. If we can only get hold of that and get a clear signal.” The next moment it was time to start shooting. The attackers came in through the hole at speed, and started tumbling down the sand to the surface floor. Ken and were firing, not selecting targets. Some of the attackers thus took two bullets, but that also meant that four or five reached cover behind a rocky outcrop, from where they could shoot back at us. “Let’s retreat and see whether we can get a safe vantage point from where we can shoot at anyone who gets on the ledge.” We fell back, not wasting any bullets. But before retreating too far we ran into an excited Carien: “We found it, we found it!” We followed her and ran into a huge hall in the form of a dome, little bits of light peeping from tiny holes to the clear blue sky. A new day was breaking over the Kalahari. What we saw in the hall took our breath away. Passageways bridging over waterways, balconies, stalagmites … Piles of sand covered much of the dome. “This must have been a fantastic sight when this place was full of well watered plants,” Ken whispered.
Myself? Somehow I felt a deep disappointment, but also realising the stupidity of the sensation. As far back as I could recall, I was intrigued by the idea of one day finding the Lost City. My thoughts have gradually fixed on the idea of uncovering buildings much like those of Zimbabwe, covered by ancient mystery. What I had been witnessing was rather like some modern buildings being covered by sand, something stripped of romanticism. But the others, especially Daan, Ken and Sandy were so excited that it soon caught on. “Look at all the writing on the walls,” said Ken. “Looks like it may be related to ancient Ahramic of old Abyssinia,” said Sandy. “Looks like those tales of large caravans from Northern Africa, and a depot city developing in the Kalahari was not all that far fetched,” said Daan. I have heard my share of these tales, and even of alleged aerial photo’s of such a sight, but much further north. “These people really had to have a good reason for going to all the trouble carving and building a city of this magnitude so far from home,” I said eventually. “Diamonds, my friend, diamonds,” said Daan. Which was a timely reminder of the predicament we were in. We were further reminded of the predicament when shots rang out from the entrance we entered through, and where Jakes was on guard. Soon the four of us who had firearms we took from the bandits, were in positions from where we could shoot at anything approaching. “I got two,” said Jakes, before they could take cover.” How many more could there be? I wondered. With the light seeping through at so many places, we were not really trapped on account of this entrance, as we could easily make our way out. But it will be much easier to do so undetected if the numbers on the other side were down. Daan became fed up. Nico, give me that knife you took from the bandit. My dad was a recce, and he taught me. I am going to get them from behind.” “How?” I am going to look for this side of that rock door we could not open, and if I find it, swim through …” “Are you sure?” “Just watch me.” He slid away, and we started waiting. How long, if Daan succeeds? I also slipped away and handed the women Daan’s rifle. “Go and look for a safe place in case we get holed up for some time.” They might also find another entrance. An hour passed, and another. “Do you think they are still there?” Ken asked. “Positive,” said Jake. “If they moved from their cover I would have spotted something.” “Okay, it’s me!” came Daan’s voice from the dark. I’ve got them.” “Where are they?”
We dragged the six bodies from the cave, and followed Daan through the rock door to the lake we first found after our escape. We then dumped the bodies in the water flowing through the sluice. We were heavily armed then indeed. “Why do they all have revolvers and not pistols?” asked Ken. “Pistols are hard to keep clean and to clean in a sandy surrounding like this. One can be severely injured by a pistol exploding in your hands.” “Tonight I am going out and finish this.” Daan said that with great determination. “You don’t think they may abandon ship and flee?” asked Ken. “I hope not, as they will most definitely not leave us a vehicle in working condition, radio or any other means of communication,” I said. “The best Daan can do is to get hold of a satellite phone and bring it here. Then we can get some help.” With the rock door again securely blocked from the inside, we joined the ladies, with Ken now keeping guard. “This place must have had approximately 25 000 inhabitants as far as we could establish,” said Sandy. There are approximately ten submerged avenues going from the big hall, and each of them has roads leaving them sideways with houses or rooms.” “Could you figure out the writing?” “Only here and there, but I do not have any knowledge of the language. But I believe the experts will be able to read and translate this in no time.” Again I had that strange feeling of defeat. A city lost for centuries, myths built around it, and simply releasing its secrets when found… We shared rations, resting, and each doing a stint on guard. There was no movement yet. “I think they are also waiting for the dark before launching an attack,” said Daan. “Let’s clean all the fire arms the best we can, and load them with as much ammunition they can take,” I suggested. Marié, who opened her laptop at the slightest opportunity was typing our experiences and discoveries. In the mean time we had been looking up the holes through which the sunrays beamed and which we could reach, to find the most suitable one for Daan to slip out that night. Eventually we decide on one. Again we waited, taking as much rest as we can, and exploring the parts of the city we could get access to. ******************************************* Again and again I am overcome with a feeling of anticlimax. This area, on the furthest outreach of the Mier rural area, is definitely destined to become a tourist haven. Will it even be possible to distinguish the ancient city from surrounding hotels once it has been restored to its former glory? And what about the diamond mine? “Okay, I’m leaving,” announces Daan. It is a careful operation to get Daan out and making sure that he leaves undetected. Eventually his boots follow his body, and he is gone. And again we wait. But not for long. Suddenly all hell breaks loose, with heavy fire coming from the entrance of the cave. Shadowy figures race into the large hall even before we can get ‘n single shot fired, but then we too are firing. Shooting in the dark
is a scary business as each shot gives your location away. But it also shows where the bandits are. Gradually the shots from the bandits become fewer and fewer. Are we knocking them down? Thinking this over for a while, I suddenly realise this is because some are circling us to box us in and attack us from the rear. Observing the area behind us, I identify a suitable position, and scrambles to a place from where I can cover our backs. Only just in time! A group of four men had been stalking us from behind, but had no cover. Only a few shots, and there is no more threat from that side. The battle continues for a little while longer, then a voice rings out: “Stop shooting, we surrender!” What now? “Okay, but you do precisely what I tell you.” “Okay,” comes the reply. “Switch on a torch and put it down in such a way that the light shines to the entrance of the cave. Then leave your weapons, and scram. In fact, get away completely, but leave us our vehicles intact.” A torch is switched on, and turned to lighten up the entrance of the cave. One by one the attackers get up and disappear through the cave entrance. I, in the mean time, have circled the area, to make sure no one stays behind and surprises us.” “Do you think it was a good idea to let them get away? Do you think they will leave us our vehicles in such a condition that we will be able to leave with them?” “Not a chance, Ken, but I don’t think they are leaving. It seems to me they believe we are still trapped, and they are waiting for us at the exit. Maybe a few vehicles will leave for some distance to make us believe they are leaving.” A little while later Daan is back with a satellite phone. We help him set it up, with a dish through the hole Daan used to exit and enter. “They are waiting for us outside the cave,” says Daan, while preparing for the broadcast. “Who are you going to phone?” “A friend at George, whom I know will be able to get half the police force here.” It takes some time, before we hear a voice on the other side: “Hallo.” “Hey Grant, this is Daan.” We can hear the surprised voice on the other side. “Man, we have some trouble. We are holed up in the Lost City of the Kalahari at GPS location….” Now Grant was laughing much better on the other side. “Really man, after this call I am sending you a text message of our experiences written by Marié, and get that to the press. But make sure the police or army comes to our rescue as soon as possible. Airborne, if possible.” A little while later Marié’s reporting on our experiences is sent from the laptop. The power had been running low by now, but some assistance from the satellite phone’s battery did the trick. “What now?”
“I only knocked the guard at the vehicles out. He will soon recover, and realise the satellite phone is gone, and then go to the others to report. They will immediately realise their game is up, and scramble for the vehicles. “And what a surprise they will run into. I have made quite sure that none of these vehicles will take them anywhere.” “And if the police do not believe them?” “Well, tomorrow morning the news will be front page that the Lost City of the Kalahari had been found, and the discoverers are trapped inside by bandits trying to illegally mine diamonds on the site. I think the police will be here sooner or later. And so will probably anybody who had some kind of thrill about the Lost City.” Six months later, we received an invitation to visit the site. We had been following Daan’s reports on progress on the internet. As expected, once the right language experts were on sight, reading the inscriptions were easy. A tale of adventurers hearing stories of large diamonds found in a southern desert, and convincing the Ethiopian King to send them finding these. They landed somewhere on the Mozambican coast around a thousand two hundred years ago, and followed exiting trade routes to the interior, eventually picking up on traders who were involved with the diamond trade. Eventually they described how they experienced a boat ride on a river flowing through the desert until eventually where they came to the site where the diamonds were in such abundance that they were easily found in a stretch running from the river into the desert. Then the cave was discovered, and the building of the city began, using a technique common in Ethiopia where buildings are carved from rock…. A magnificent city was built, called Vigaselagetta. Eventually the river dried up, and fewer traders arrived to trade the diamonds. New indigenous people arrived, attacking the city dwellers at will. The city once home to more than 20 000 people started to die, more and more groups packing their belongings and entering the desert in an effort to reach to the Mozambican coast. Since the city dwellers were Christians by then and the Mozambican coast was controlled by Arab Muslims, this was no safe option as one could easily end up on a slave market. And then, in approximately 1580, the last group wrote that they were about to leave, entrusting their lives in the hands of the Lord. “No wonder Van Riebeeck and his successors were so acutely aware of this city,” I mumbled. The photo’s on the web site also reveals how more and more buildings are dug from the dunes, revealing squares with flagstone paving, channels and walking bridges. A magnificent city is uncovered from the sand …a city most worthy of its centuries long title of the mysterious Lost City of the Kalahari.
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