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!