Oh Zim!

Zimbabwe…hmm….well it started with the border crossing which was by far the most confusing and convoluted one I had yet to venture through. Luckily South Africa 4×4 has an agent there to help. If it weren’t for Emmanuel I’d probably still be there filling out forms. And then there is the matter of being Canadian. Usually that affords a little kindness from every other country, but not Zim. Zim penalizes you for being Canadian, not sure why. So basically double the cost for Visa’s and most park fees. And it’s all US dollars so let the monetary exsanguination begin!

Victoria Falls was nice, I have not been on the Zimbabwe side before. Somehow didn’t seem as grand as from the Zambian side but the last time I saw it, it was rainy season.

Double Rainbow
Small portion of the falls

At the rest camp I met Nikita and Vincent. A young couple doing the same sort of trip as me but they are already 6 months in. Nikita and I ventured for a little souvenir browsing and ended up having fried Mopani worms and warthog croquets for brunch. I preferred the worms myself, the warthog tasted like they smell. Protein is protein, a little hot sauce always helps, lol! Hopefully we will meet up again north of here.

Hwange National Park was the first stop after the falls and the numerous police stops. If the last 4 didn’t find a reason to give you a ticket well maybe this one will. The new rear light seems to have been wired incorrectly, as the 5th police women told me. She was so close to giving me a ticket but I managed to talk my way out of that and the fact that my fire extinguisher is too full, really?! Once at Hwange, the first camp overlooked the valley below. A nice herd of elephants slowly made their way across. Not a bad place for the night. I attempted to figure out the problem with the light. As luck would have it the camp was full of engineers. They took the light on as a challenge and pretty soon disassembled, re-wired, and soldered it back together better than before.

Hwange had much to see, alas no cats, again. I did come close apparently as one of the research assistants told me. I was a stones throw from a pride of 11 lions, he saw me drive carefully by. I wasn’t sure if I could go onto the airstrip where the tracks lead and I couldn’t see the team nor the pride. D’oh! Birds and other herbivores it is.

Cape Buffalo with a Yellow-Billed Oxpecker
Cape Buffalo have words with the local hippo family.
Cape Buffalo, Hippos and Marabou Stork
Adult Southern Ground Hornbill
Hooded Vulture
Ostrich – he’s so fluffy!
Purple Roller
Red-Crested Korhaan being coy
Goliath Heron inflight
Blondes, Brunettes and Gingers. Take your pick.
Frozen steenbok in the morning light
Not sure, could be a male steenbok but I think it’s an Oribi. (Update it’s a Steenbok)
UNICORN – Ok a unicorn Roan Antelope.
Yellow-billed stork with an itch
White-backed vulture, keeping an eye on me.
Tawny Eagle devouring breakfast
Blackjacked Jackal trying to be inconspicuous.
Elephant Parade

Chizarira NP is next then off to Kariba. I had originally planned to go to Matsudona NP but a friend, Will of Will of Africa, strongly recommended not going as he has lost 1 or 2 specialty tires on that road and for one night he did not think it was worth it. He hasn’t lead me astray so far and his wife is from Zimbabwe so I will heed their advice.

Chizarira is beautiful but getting there is anything but. To call the only way in and out a road is exaggerating. It’s more a collection of suggested pathways that converge in a like direction. Between sand, to straight bolder climbing and old paved portions you come to a gate. Which is locked. Really!!! There is no speedy getaway here. I signed in and noticed I’m it. I’ve been the only camper before but not the only person in a whole national park before. Apart from the rangers I was the only visitor for the past few days. Hmm.

The campsite is basic, way over priced but that’s a Zim thing. The camp over looks the Mucheni Gorge of the Chizaria Mountains. Down below is a small pool of water, or what’s left of a river. The noises echo throughout the gorge as the occasional trumpeting elephant reverberates to the campsite above. I was starting to wonder why on earth I scaled that road, and will have to do so again, when they appeared. A small herd of elephants, 6 with one little one. Surely they aren’t going to climb down the mountain side just for that small pool of water?! They began their precarious journey down slowly, cautiously. Amazing! That’s why I’m here. The sun was starting to set and I was eagerly watching and silently cheering them on. I was desperate to see them reach the water before the sunset. I trip over my own feet in broad daylight, in the dark on a cliff face probably not the best place for me. They finally reached the water, passed it right by. Totally confused and unsure whether to stay or go, I watched on. They tried to climb the other side, my side of the gorge. It was far too steep and they turned about, stopped for a quick sip and set off down the bottom of the gorge to find a better way out. Dusk was fast approaching and being stuck in a gorge at night is not place for man or beast. Hope they made it.

The start of the way down.
Slowly they make their way down.
Had no idea they could even do this. Makes me love them even more.
So close to the water as they edge along the cliff face.
Victory, briefly.

The following morning I repeated the same “road” back down. I arrived at Warthogs in Kariba on the lake and settled in for the night. Couple Savannahs later and all was right with the world. I was chuffed I made it out in one piece, down that road, and without much ado. An entire large bottle of dish detergent had exploded in the back of the bakkie! Explains that nice scent I picked up about 30 minutes from Kariba. Could be worse, at least it’s clean.

The morning held more surprises and I didn’t fair as unscathed as I had thought. The morning checks revealed a torn CV boot. The manager directed me to the only repair shop in town. Kevin, cheers pal you are a prince, quickly assessed the problem and felt 30 min and you’ll be on your way. We’ll just adjust the remainder and you’ll be good to go. That is until he hears I’m headed to Mana Pools. Full stop. Nope, can’t do it, those roads will destroy what ever temporary measure he tries. So there goes my first day in Mana Pools and add another day in Kariba on the Lake. Can’t complain the view was great and he managed to get the part from Harare despite the strikes. Fixed and off a day late but safely.  He did let me watch as he dismantled the drive shaft to get this rubber cover on. The Mana roads were fine. The corrugations I was warned of had been grated and not much trouble. On a scale of nothing to Epupa Falls it was a 2.

Is it just me or does this young lady have a little mustache?
Almost got it
Green Woodhoopoe
Malachite Kingfisher
White-fronted Bee-Eater
Brown-hooded Kingfisher
African Pied Wagtails, because they continually wag their tails.
Bee-eater perhaps, but a dragonfly will do in a pinch.
Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah. How it manages to fly with that tail…
Marabou stork in flight
Landing gear down
Touch down
Sunrise at Mana Pools overlooking the Zambezi
Sunset, glorious

Elephants, the whole reason I am in Mana Pools. It’s one of the few places large bulls will rear up on their hind legs and reach up with their trunks to strip the good leaves off the trees. After finding my campsite, or rather left side of the tree (not the right as I had parked), I headed out. Within minutes they were up and eating leaves. It is a sight to behold. These behemoths up on their hind legs. Just wow! I watched in awe. Sorry guys didn’t get a picture. I just enjoyed gobsmacked at the feat before me. I figured I’d see it again, should have known uncle murphy was in town.

Not to fear I managed to get a repeat performance, sort of, the next day. Although he wasn’t quite as committed to the cause. Only up on one but still it’s pretty amazing.

Stretch, almost.
And up we go. Nom nom nom.
If I could just…
A little bit more

Almost forgot, the Canadians! In the middle of camp I spot a vehicle with a Canadian Flag waving proudly in the window. I stop them quickly and learn they are from Red Deer. One family is from Lacombe and the other Wetaskiwin, the remainder from SA. Small world indeed. That evening I joined them and their large family/friend group of 29 for dinner and frivolity as well as an impromptu ear-piercing of one of the ladies. Between the multiple nurses and physicians, I think we had it covered but it went smoothly. Wonderful group, safe journey until you all come together again in 2 years. Liné has my info. Thanks!

And as I left after two days of fun in Mana Pools I was rewarded for slowly ambling on my way. On the road in front was a figure. A spotted figure. Wait is that, can’t be, really just like that after looking for 2 months. Yup, a gorgeous, can’t believe you are crossing the road in front of me, leopard. I came to a stop and he hid behind a wee little scrub bush. This is when logic and the inner photographer have a go. The logical part of me says, snap a picture before he runs off, at least you’ll have a photo. The pseudo-photographer goes just inch your way up slowly you’ll have a perfect shot. There you have it, a common predicament, I often lose the shot altogether. But maybe just this once. I inched my way up slowly and he took off. Blast!!! Quickly snap a few parting shots. And as quickly as he darted he stopped and turned around, eyed me up for  moment and sauntered on his way only to pause once more to ponder his route. Yay! Ladies and gentleman we have leopard! Mana Pools, thank  you, so coming back.

Fleeting glimpse.
Battle scared face with those piercing eyes. Looks like he’s missing a part of his upper lip and nice scar over his right shoulder. At least I think it’s a male. Couldn’t get the full monty to be absolutely sure.
Pause for effect, fade to black.


Zambia you’re up. Lusaka for a couple days to get supplies and well shower.


Happiness is…

The convoy left in the morning for Chobe and beyond. Glad I joined on, though dusty, the roads were quite sandy in sections. Nice to have 7 vehicles in front of me to compact and pave the way. The 200 KM drive took several hours going through Mababe until settling in Muchenje. I honked my adieu to the Joburg contingency and headed to my campsite along the Chobe River just outside Chobe National Park.

Nice little camp site with wait for it free Wifi, quick yes I’m still alive to those in charge of sending in the guard and I settle in. Clean ablution blocks with OMG hot water. I never thought I’d miss hot showers as much as I do but being clean in hot water is epic! Quick talk with Bronwen the manager (she does an awesome job) and purchase of boerwurst for my braai. That’s right, I’m getting the hang of it. The boerwurst was amazing and lasted for almost 4 meals. The lamb the next night was just as good with a much craved for, potato. I don’t often crave potatoes but driving from Khwai to Chobe we passed many potato bushes that smell like fresh made mashed/smashed potatoes. Could be why all I wanted was a baked potato when I got to camp, lol!

The Ngoma entrance for Chobe park was just a few minutes away and the next day I planned on taking a day trip. Why I ever think I can just go for a few hours on a self drive I don’t know. Over 8 hours later I amble back to camp, as the sunset, to plan my drive to Kasane just up the way a bit the following day. I drove the river route and refueled at Kasane and re-entered at Sedudu gate. The park was full of the usual suspects plus lions on a cape buffalo kill. Or rather tired male lions doing what they do best, sleep and their counterparts as well. Two brave young boys calling on the other end of the park and a few surprises like Sable and Puku. And of course more southern ground hornbills. I know they are endangered and rare but man I’ve seen my share. Can I swap for a leopard?! Kasane is this months treat a B&B, The Old House. Right on the Chobe with great wifi and restaurant and a real bed. Springbok gets a much needed rest and new rear light. Looks much better intact! 2 weeks worth of laundry hand washed and strewn about the room to dry. Photo reviewing and blogging marathon commences to update all of you lovely people.

Instead of doing another self drive today I spoiled myself and Springbok and took a decently priced 3 hour game drive. It was nice not having to watch the road and just look about. So nice in fact it finally dawned on me I’ve been here before. 3 years ago after a medical mission in Mwandi, Zambia. We entered the Sedudu gate every time we did a game drive for those 2 days. Granted it was the wet season (February) and everything looks completely different. Not sure if I would have realized it if I kept driving around myself. More southern ground hornbills and lions. Then a beautiful sunset boat ride along the Chobe with river crossing elephants, birds, hippos and distant lions calling all with a marvelous sunset.  Had no idea elephants can swim from about 2 months of age. Snorkel up and go. What a way to end my time in Botswana. Tomorrow I cross over to Zimbabwe and head for Victoria Falls for a quick stop before going to Hwange National Park. Can’t wait!

Rock Python in a tree. Too bad I spotted him a little to late to get his head.
Two male lions before the flop back to sleep.
Sable Antelope
Puku, only found here in Chobe. Like a smaller version of a Red Lechwe.
Kudu showing of his good side.
Kori Bustard mating ritual. He’s so fluffy!
Egyptian Geese in a tree.
Comb duck (back) and Whitefaced duck (brown in front)
African Spoonbill
Squacco Heron.
African Openbill
Yellowbilled stork
No idea. A bird! Update: Wattled Crane
Grooming time at the baboon troupe.
Baboon security system
Elephants crossing the Chobe. Can you see the wee little trunks in between the adults. So tiny!
Safe on the island
What a view.



Chicken little crosses the water

The drive to Magotlho is of two ways, back the way you came and up the cutline to the north gate or around the delta. Traveling, I rely on others for road advice. I had asked a couple people who’d come east to west along the delta if it was doable for myself. They all said it’s muddy and not the best idea. So I retraced my tracks. Turns out they were off a wee bit but that’s fine. Eh, next time! Khwai has another large bridge crossing which usually has abundant water but it’s the dry season so more of a puddle really below the wooden bridge. Now the next crossing not so much. I ambled along to get to the camp meeting elephant and hippos in abundance and then the river Khwai. Impassible at most places and then one rather deep looking pass with no water marks or tire tracks or signs of anyone using it. Must be another way across. A little searching and a small crossing easily done, after checking it out thoroughly.

The campsite at Magotlho is unique. It’s a plot, so no ablution block no long-drop but it’s  first come first serve sort of thing. You find a campsite and claim it. Which is great if you have a camper or a ground tent. You set up and go driving. If your tent happens to be on your car not so great as there is no trace you claimed said spot. I ended up choosing a rather large spot mainly because the elephants had claimed the other free spot. Yeah, the elephants rule the campsite. The large trees are their scratching posts and we are merely in their way. And they are habituated to vehicles and people and have no issues getting really really close even if you’re lets say sitting in a chair reading a book.

I quickly gathered wood before the sunset and inspected the area for prints. This is free range. Meaning we are the free-range meal for all the things with teeth to come and get. There are no fences we are in their domain and thus abide by their rules. Suddenly a large convoy of vehicles goes by, I point that there is a spot next to me but elephants have claimed it. They circle around as I had done and this time “light bulb”. I flag the lead car down and strike a deal. I have a large space you can split between the two plots or take this one I need very little room for my bakkie and tent. This way I have a reserved spot for the next 3 nights the same as them. After inspecting, plotting and scheming with the men we had a deal. What a great group, 7 caravans (families with kids mostly 6-13) and all love it out here. One rule was not to make fun of my fire starting skills which in the end were not needed. We’d be there all night if it were up to me. They had it covered. And within an hour a metropolis of canvas was erected. Spot lights and braais going. And people to converse with rather then talking with the elephants who at this point, I think, thought I had gone mad and started to move away. Had my first braaibroodjie – a staple being added to my repertoire for sure.

I’ll be honest apart from having a spot claimed I was very happy there were more people with me. Between the elephants coming back to camp through out the night shaking the trees, lions roaring all night very very close and a leopard sawing/chuffing through camp (or at least it sounded like it) plus hyenas, having more people was reassuring. The night life is literally on your doorstep. At least I’m up on the roof!

The lion-free status persisted and no leopard to be found despite quite the effort after all that sawing he did the night before. Awesome birding with more southern ground hornbills. Elephants, hippos, lechwe, baboons, vervets a plethora to keep me occupied and driving around aimlessly as I love doing.

Canada Day, another loud and noisy night. This time the hyena got into someones rubbish I think. And as I find later in the trip made away with my left sandal. Still not sure how, smart buggers. First thing was to check the boundary between Chobe and Khwai. Just missed a pride of lions, again. But only a few minutes later happen upon a plethora of vehicles both private and game drives and 4 lions. Two females sunning themselves and 2 males across the river. One quickly disappears with a bloody nose and the other slowly and somewhat carefully gets up and eventually limps on left. Sounds like all that roaring meant there was a turf war going on. Eventually, the ladies brave the water and cross the river to join the male. What a way to start the day. And then with a bang, literally, I have my first driver related Springbok injury. Reversing and diligently avoiding a tree stump. Didn’t see it’s twin and totally nailed it and took out the rear light. How the bulbs stayed intact is miraculous as the casing is shattered. Bugger! A couple cuss words later and I sent myself to a time out watching ellies play on the banks. Sheesh. Could have been worse I guess. Bush accident #1. Tree stump 1 – Me 0.

I run into some of my new friends and we do a quick loop down leopard alley which was devoid of any signs of leopards. But to reach me they had to cross the river. I happened to be next to the deep crossing I bypassed on my way to the camp initially. They assumed I went through and proceeded to do so. It was above the tires deep but they all made it. I quickly corrected them saying I went through the puddle. After the leopard-less alley I went back across my little puddle and they went through the deep crossing again. We reunited and after much ado Nico (thank you) hopped in the car and talked me through it, as we did the crossing together a couple time. Honestly, it was pretty sweet. Although I have the knowledge now, I’m still chicken little for now. That night the lions were outside camp calling like mad, thankfully across the river but right across the river. A few of us (4 adults, 3 teens) piled into one of the bakkies in the dark and managed to see two pair of eyes, hear the roaring and then 2 responses from the right and then gone. But a honey badger made a quick appearance too. Nice way to end the stay at Khwai. The next morning I head to Chobe. The group was going the same way just further up the road and across the border. And there is only one road so I joined the convoy, now 8 cars strong. Oh, and I think Theo had camera traps set up that night too. Hope he got some good hyena footage. Hope to see you all in Joburg, thanks for the drinks Vasti. Hope Caprivi is good to you, maybe I’ll see you in Kasane.

Baby giraffe with umbilical cord still attached.
Proud mom whose a brunette but baby is ginger.
Giraffe family
Giraffe and elephant tet-a-tet
Elephants munching on reeds.
Those lashes (Maybe it’s Maybeline)
From my elephant parade, keeping the little ones safe.
Down snorkel, they do love the water.
And a quick dust bath after a cool dip in the river.
Such a happy baby hippo.
So adorable strutting into the water.
Big brother to little brother look at my teeth, they’re coming in well.
Totally awesome bro, I’m a big kahuna now.
Canada Day lioness in the dawn light
I see you. (Roof top shot)
Bloody muzzle male
Young male with a few good battle scars and a sore leg.
Still majestic
Lioness crossing a tributary of the Khwai River.
That’s right, that just happened!
I’m wet, I’m cold, don’t mess with me boy!
Pied Kingfisher hovering and searching for breakfast.
Time-out elephants.
Elephant foot print at camp. That’s my foot granted I have small feet but still that’s massive!
Baby prints and teenager prints.
Reedbuck (I think)
Red Lechwe




After a noisy night in Makgadikgadi it’s time to head to Moremi, Third Bridge with a quick supply stop in Maun. Third Bridge is so called because you cross, you guessed it 3 bridges to get there. The last has a slightly deep water crossing after a log bridge. But that’s for the morning.

The drive to Third Bridge is long and through game reserves which means Elephants and other wildlife at any and all corners so slow going and pockets of deep sand just to make it interesting. This is my first experience with a shared campsite. Until now I’ve had my own spot in a camp site. Whether it be just a plot or more luxurious with it’s own ablution block (very rare) but me on that campsite. Third Bridge I now share one spot. Interesting. Luckily my co-campers for the first night are Czechs (we’ll ignore the next night campers). The home land, excellent. Martin I hope Namibia was as amazing as I said it would be. The first night the Lions were on a kill. You could hear whatever it was they were killing most of the night plus the battling hippos everywhere as waterholes dotted the lands. And of course hyenas whooping. The hyenas at Third Bridge are quite brazen. One in particular not only sniffed and licked the vehicle like others in the past but then proceeded to shake it too! And other campers just next door for good measure. Not sure if he’s trying to shake something loose or get in but he must have been big to be able to shimmy my bakkie!

Very early start, at the crack of dawn, no driving in the dark. At least not in my car. Headed east towards the lions. First challenge Third Bridge and the water crossing. Hold your breath and go, not too bad, not too deep. Piece of cake. And then after about 30 minutes the lake in the middle of the road where the lions surely are. No way am I going into that. Rules are you need to walk the water before you can cross it with your car so you’re not surprised if it swallows your car. I was not going into that deep water alone at dawn. Sheepishly I turned around. Turns out the male lions were just passed that on a giraffe kill. But I was smart to turn around. As the campers at site 5, a small convoy of 4 vehicles I think went forth. One drowned his VW. Gerard I hope it started again in the AM. The water was quite deep glad I turned around.

Instead I happened upon a clearing between two forested areas. Don’t ask me where because I have no idea where. I was wondering and ambling about. I saw a small herd of elephants and parked. There were babies amongst them and those are always fun to watch. But what happened instead I’m still trying to wrap my head around. The herd of about 20 came by the vehicle. Only then did I notice the row after row after row 3 deep in front and back of me. Hundreds of elephants of every age and size. All surrounding the car. Peacefully going about their business not minding me one bit. I held my breath at first, as they approached. These massive behemoths just swallowed my bakkie in their bulk as the calmly walked by. It was surreal, they just kept coming. I couldn’t take a picture there were just too many. Every time I thought I was good to move more would emerge from the right cross over and disappear to the left. It’s amazing how something that large can so easily disappear meters away from you. Wow! Just wow! And then a southern ground hornbill family. Lions would have been good but this was beyond imaging.

A quick beer with my new friends at camp site 5 and off to bed for a early start to drive to Magothlo along the River Khwai.

African Sacred Ibis
Black Heron
Goliath Heron
Greater Flamingo
Grey Heron
Grysbok (I think)
Lone Hyena, at last!
Water Monitor
Young Wildebeest strutting his stuff

N-tongue click-ai Pan

The roads in the Makgadikgadi are more what I thought the Kalahari would be like. Glad I filled the tank these deep sandy roads eat diesel up quickly. What I wasn’t expecting was to cross a river. Luckily it is the dry season and no need for the ferry just a little low range and across we go and up the other side. Now if the Zebra rolling around in the sand would just move I might make it up the steep incline in one attempt.

Campsite checked in and off to explore. Quickly come upon a Zebra kill with a gathering of vultures. There were lions, just not when I was there even though I sat around for quite sometime. They returned once I left. Sheesh, maybe that shampoo was a bee attractant but it seems to be a lion deterrent. But the day turned out to be full of wonder as a I saw Southern Ground Hornbills! Endangered and odd looking with a haunting hoot call.

There’s always the morning. Herds and herds of Zebra gather around the waterholes, great food source for the lions. Wildebeest, elephants and hippos. The Makgadikgadi is a collection of random roads, no real signs except for the important no entry. Otherwise you just drive and try and make it through the sand. Got tricky around hippo pools and almost had to dig myself out. Thank you difflock! I’ve had many questions about traveling alone and the reason etc. etc. but the gentleman in charge of the campsite was utterly confused. He has only seen “old men” do the trip alone and why. I tried in vain to explain he just shook his head and maybe tomorrow he’d understand better. Nope! After a fun and sandy day around Makgadikgadi the plan was to get  up in the am and head to Nxai Pan and Baines Baobab Tree etc. The salt pans are what I really wanted to see. Granted the wet season is when they are really layered and salt forming, dry season it’s more of a dried skin then crisp salt layers but it’s still epic.

The Baobabs with the salt pans all around are best seen at dusk. But the camps were full so daytime it is. This little island of other-worldly trees are spectacular. Here I meet fellow travelers Koos and Annika with lots of useful info for my future travels. After wondering about the islands and through the salt pans I ventured north with them to Nxai Pan. The road is deep sand, rutted , and one can easily be bounced out if you go too quick. They had a camper making the road that much harder and slower. I managed at a leisurely pace to make it to the Pan and the other massive Baobab. It looked like 4 slapped together. Still figuring out how to paste all the photos into one. I’ll post once I’ve got it. Made it there and back to camp only to get stuck whilst a convoy with a camper tries to drive by and we fish tail in the deep sand. We get close too, really close, but after digging out my rear tires and using a high-lift jack to push my cars butt to the left and their convoy to the right we are both free and on our way. Good thing they told me about the lions just up ahead. And then the elephants. Elephants chase lions away so my lion-free days continue. Can’t complain love spending time with Ellies. They are so peaceful and relaxing. I return to a full campsite with screaming kids. At least they had flushing toilets! It’s the small things, lol! Makes me miss the peace of the Kalahari. Off to Moremi via Maun in the AM.

I am the don fear me! White backed Vulture
Lappetfaced Vulture
Jackal vs. Vulture. I’m keeping my eye on you.
Southern Ground Hornbill!
Salt pan
Salt pan
Salt pan_1
Salt layer
One of the Baobabs.

Song of my people

CKGR – Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The road to the Motopi gate had a couple sticky, deep sandy points but nothing the bakkie (truck for y’all northerners) couldn’t handle. Now the Kudu leaping right in front of me, over a barrier fence and to the other side of the car and over, that’s a caused a mild heart stoppage. Once the palpitations resolved we ventured forth! The campsites in the Kalahari are few and although there are multiple spots per area most are are kms apart. You are on your own and need to be self sufficient, for everything. Bonus however, long drop toilets (outhouse minus the house) thought I’d have to dig my own.

Tall grass as far as the eye can see along the one single sandy track in. The trees over grow the track and you get beaten on all sides regardless of speed. At last at the first campsite with bird song all around. Sunset like no other and amazing stars out. As a solo traveler once the sun sets I’m up in my canvas tower aka roof top tent. We may be the alpha predator during the day but at night we are the food! I dared listen that first night and strained my eyes to see what was chewing, sniffing and licking the vehicle. First time I’d really wished there was someone else there with me. Over reactive imagination didn’t help. Visions of flying hyenas, car climbing lions and zipper dextrous leopards soon started. Convincing myself to close my eyes and hope to wake up in the am was tough but I’m still here so there we go.

The following morning I ventured east. The topography changes, becomes more plains and fewer valleys and the road gets more hard surfaced. The ruts created from the rainy season begin to appear. I stopped at a lovely waterhole to gaze upon the Oryx and a thirsty Jackal. A birding day as nothing with teeth or claws was evident. Passarge camp for the night. Found a nice fresh leopard print just outside the long-drop. I’d guess a female by the size but who knows. Plan was set, I’ll have an early dinner, quick nap and wait up for the leopard. I will get one on camera! Best laid plans and all, but the British Invasion 2016 occurred instead. Double booked campsite and I’m now joined by 5 vehicles and 8 lovely Brits with one guide, Paul from OneLife Adventure. All good, but no leopard, couple shooting stars though. Another day exploring and birders day again.

3 days in and all that sand and dust means it’s time to use the solar shower. No matter how warm or cold being clean always feels great, even if it’s with river water. The aftermath I could not have foreseen. Whether it was the water or the Shampoo I’m still not sure but a swarm of bees emerges. At first I tolerated a couple on my head, eerie feeling as they walk on my hair strand by hair strand but by 30 I ran for the car. Regular bees vs. africanized, they didn’t tell me they just started beating on the glass to get into the car after I ran in to hide. An entire can of bug spray didn’t sway them. I sat and plotted my next move. If they get in the car this will not be good. Oh and the tent’s up so if they get in there, also not stellar. At last, I reached my limit and proceeded to smoke out the Kalahari and hopefully the bees. Well it pacified them but they continued to swarm. That buzz is deafening. I’ve used this shampoo the entire trip without issue and is supposed to be fragrance free, too bad it’s not bee free. Something had them all in a tizzy. Smoke managed to undo the clean feeling but it calmed the bees, only 3 hours until the sun went down and the bees finally left. Happily not one made it into the tent. Still no hairies and scaries or night roaring. Of to Deception Valley in the AM. Surely 3 days of bird watching will be rewarded.

Deception Valley is flat plains with tall grasses and hard roads. No 4×4 needed here until the ruts start, those will swallow the car whole! Sun rising over the tall grasses reaching close to the roof of the car, shimmering in the golden dawn hue was magical. This will be a good day. You can feel it. Finally! Lions! 3 lioness chasing Oryx/Gemsbok. 2 had given up by the time I reached them sitting on the road. I could see the Oryx running frantically as I drove up. Awesome! And then they began to serenade. Ok so they were just calling each other but I was in the middle of three rather large lioness so I was serenaded until proven otherwise. Their heads came up to the window ledge of the car. Eventually, reunited as I slowly followed giving them a safe distance. But when the one walked by with my window down and stared right at me, ecks! The hairs on your neck rise when a lion stares at you. They have a way of looking straight through you to your inner being, soul, what have you. Literally breath taking. And off they go into the tall grass and disappear before my eyes. Wow! Few minutes down the road and it’s Paul and his merry band of travelers. Another pride of 8+ lions on a Oryx kill off in the distance. One even climbed up a tree to get a break from the heat. And if there is a meal to be had jackals and bat-eared foxes will quickly appear. Apart from the cats the Kalahari has been full of Secretarybirds and Kori Bustards by the dozen.

The good keeps on coming as I ventured toward a waterhole west of Deception Valley, the following morning. I almost drove into a lioness who popped out and flopped onto the road in front of me. Shear dumb luck the way these lioness keep appearing as road blocks. Must have been a rough night and then she started calling, nothing like it. The deep resonant tones. Not quite as load as males but still impressive. Could this day get any better. Yes….Cheetahs! 2 under a tree. They are always under a tree, one of these days I’ll get a clear shot. They are not used to vehicles in the CKGR unlike other game parks. They are skittish and run off easily as it happened when one vehicle came roaring in. Side note: A viewing etiquette lesson, if you approach another car with a camera and a large lens pointing into the distance, slow down and see what’s up, don’t roar by and scare whatever they are looking at, thanks! Paul and his crew show up just a few seconds too late as they start their journey south. We parted ways and I happened upon the Cheetah minutes later followed by a Honey Badger. What a day.

The nights in the Kalahari are cold. Multiple jerseys/sweaters, toque/beanie, wool socks, cocooned into the sleeping bag with a warm blanket on top cold nights. Nose cold nights. Seemed to be coldest just before the dawn. But the mornings are fresh and crisp. Good day to explore the Kalahari Plains and get temporarily misplaced on unmarked roads. And then it happened. The second to last morning. Slowly undoing the inner windows of the canvas tower and fixing the sleeping bags to make the folding of said tent easier and wait, what’s that 3 meters away in the dim light of the dawn. It’s a leopard!!! Drinking from a puddle. There is no mistaking that white pompom tail. Alas, no photo, he’s camera shy. He didn’t flinch as I unzipped the tent and went about my business before I noticed him but as soon as I reached for the camera he was off. So awesome. I’ll be ready for him tomorrow morning. Big paw prints in the sand.

New campsite and time for laundry. Hand wash and hang in the wind. Nice family of Swanson’s Spur fowl comes to say hello and where’s the food. Between hornbills, ground squirrels and spur fowls people must be feeding them as they are far too friendly about the feet and do not scare of easily as others outside the camp. The long-drop toilets in the CKGR are surrounded by little fence post privacy screen and things can easily get underneath. As was the case. It’s hard to pee with such a fowl audience, it was spur of the moment I’m sure for them to have a peep show. Ok enough with the bad jokes but the spur fowl I mean the entire family, Mum, Dad and 3 chicks followed me in and under the posts to watch. Weird! And a first for me for sure. Such pressure.

Lions calling early the following morning but I was ready for that leopard which was a no show. No matter, the lions were calling off to the east which means towards Matswere gate and the way out as it was my last morning. I doddled and packed up and drove a hundred meters, if that, to hit the main sandy track only to come upon to cars stopped in front. They appeared to be heading across the track to the other campsites. I thought that’s where the lions must be going, I’ll follow along and get in line. It’s only then I notice a huge, black maned male lion scratching his claws on the tree just left of me. This caused me to hit the brakes and stall the car. The lurch alarms him. He immediately lets go and comes over to see who has so rudely disturbed his morning routine. He’s huge, his head is above the window sill and he stares me right down, thankfully I had my windows up that morning. I try and snap a couple photos but that click seems to irk him more so the camera goes down quickly and I’m looking for an out.

It’s only then I realize the two cars in front are research vehicles. D’oh! Sorry guys. He goes behind me and I notice a female now lying in the road. I quickly try and maneuver to the entry to the other camp on the other side to give the research guys their subject. Problem is I move maybe 5 meters before 2 other lioness stop in front of me. Now I’m gesturing to the 2 vehicles. The one in the back is loving it and is fine as he has a clear shot of the brut himself and his lady friend. The guys in front are not so pleased and responding with what I think was no S–T there’s lions. And then they begin to call. All 4, all around the car, unreal. I managed to record some of it. So, to the 2 research vehicles just outside Deception Campsite 1-3, sorry hope I didn’t muck things up too badly. But you did seem ok following the 3 females once the male went around the bend. Off to the gate and Rakops to Diesel up.

And no diesel. Another pearl I’ve picked up self-driving, always have a contingency plan and enough fuel to get to a secondary site just in case. This was Mopipi which was pronounced mabibi and had me searching like mad for it’s location on the map until it dawned on me it was Mopipi. 64 Km south before retracing the route and further north to the Makgadikadi and the next leg of the trip.

Sorry Mum no hyenas, I tried. If you haven’t read Cry of the Kalahari, do so. It has made this trip so much more then just another park. The continued journey south is reserved for convoys of 3 cars, my solo trip was halted before it began. Will be back to complete the southern route.

And now for all the pictures….just a few…ha!

African Harrier Hawk on a windy morning.
Close-up of a Hornbills bill.
Little Bee-eater
Crimson-breasted Shrike
Sociable weaver weaving.
Swainson’s Spur Fowl
The peep show begins.
Please let me remember where I hid those nuts!
Sparing Oryx/Gemsbok.
Springbok springing
Perplexed Bat-eared Fox
Deception Valley. One of my favourite photos.
Thirst Jackal
I will now sing you the song of my people!
Serenade over now to rejoin her sisters.
Another lioness road block in the early morning light
Honey Badger
Honey Badger
The brut himself less then impressed
Look at the size of those prints as large as my tire track is across.

LeviOsa not LevioSA

Maun or rather Moan, although how they get the oa sound instead of au I’m not sure (it’ll remain a mystery of the english/botswani language), served as a quick supply stop. Springbok had his car service check-up, clean bill of health, prior to the trek to the Central Kalahari. Nice little camp spot on the not-so river at the moment. No camera store despite multiple assurances by locals. That’s what I get for leaving parts behind. However, as the Central Kalahari will have absolutely no amenities a solar shower was procured. Only I would go to Botswana to buy a solar shower made in Canada, Winnipeg, of all places. And a kind thank you to Marianna, Alta, Iliana and Johnny for the great company, stories, pojkie and braai, the beers were good too! Hope your travels to Savuti and beyond are amazing!

Off to the Kalahari! I’ve been warned of huge lions and sandy roads. One wheel in one wheel out, thanks Thys! Here’s hoping.