Not your average travel blog
Jumping back to Botswana, it has been a couple of days drive to reach, in my opinion, the last untouched wilderness on solid ground: The Kalahari dessert…. And it is, the absolute pinnacle of Pavlovas, a stuffed-strudel of a sequel after roaming through the melodramatic peripheral-wilds. It’s a bucket of creme brûlée (my favourite of desserts, by the way), a colossal lagoon of key lime pie, a torrent of tiramisu, a barrage of bombastic baklava, and an absolute indulgence into a stodgy sticky toffee pudding so rich in toffee, it’s accurate to say that many people haven’t made it out alive. It is true WILD. That isn’t to say it hasn’t been hugely effected by man, ingredients have been tossed into the mix while Mary Berry was’t watching, but that’s another story and hot debate altogether. We stretch Penelope’s legs and get dust up her skirt for a day or so into the southern region of the desert. She loves it.
On route, Penelope ambles through a few remote villages. The sandy landscape matches the tint on the horizon and also the sun-scorched body work of Penelope herself. It’s sometimes hard to distinguish between a sand pile, a stout rock formation, roads, houses and occasionally the sky just above the horizon as the wind or trails of herded cows rustle up the dust. It is the winter at the moment and the temperature is in the mid 30’s (centigrade) during the day.
Although long, dry, hot and desolate, the drive into new territory is enjoyable. Apart fro some research and a lot of preparation, the southern part of the Kalahari is unknown to me. It is an expedition to drive across it – most visitors only glance into either the northern or southern sections. Should everything go to plan, and without the ability for Penelope to refuel or stop at a water tap, it should take four to five days to cross this wilderness. Should we encounter any of our worst case scenarios and we have to use our Satellite phone to call for help, we have emergency supplies and everything we need for ten.
The drive might be thrilling, and it is building anticipation, but it isn’t without frustration and fatality. Two rabies-infused dogs ran out of the bush at Penelope while ambling along at 60km/hour. One ran possessed, head-straight into the side of us and ricocheted back into the sandy mounds by the side of the road. Coincidentally, we were filming at the time and it wasn’t a pleasant experience for any of us. As unsightly, unsavoury and as unfortunate as the incident was, killing a rabid dog quickly and returning it to the depths of nature was probably the kindest thing that could have happened to it. Of course it’s never a cut and dry argument when it comes to animal welfare, but under the circumstances, putting an end to a dangerously diseased animal with your car is about as humane as it gets. Although rare, coming across any rabid creature while on foot would certainly be a huge and shocking problem. Domestic dogs aren’t the only carriers. There isn’t much prep you can do for an encounter, other than having the instinct to strike before it and having something to use within arms reach. Rabies isn’t something anyone should experience and despite the injections travellers should have, it is still possible to contract it from a bite. If if it is curable in time, it apparently isn’t a pleasant treatment. Back to the road and hopefully Penelope won’t be hitting any healthy, wild creatures on the journey ahead.
We’re not camping in the official wilderness yet. There are buffer-zones around the desert perimeter. Our first night is a peaceful one. So peaceful in fact, it is a little unnerving. The wild is normally only silenced like this, in my experience, when there is a predator very near by or prior to a ballistic storm. Even the insects throw on a muzzle. However, it is beyond that quietness. It darkens quickly nearer the equator, but tonight we have a beaming moon spreading light across the sands. Leaves on branches are clear enough to see by it and everything is still. Torches are surplus. It’s as if everything has stopped, just to witness the slow-floating stars as they drift by. Besides the moon’s glare, there is no light pollution for hundreds of kilometres. The constellations in the lit sky are clearer than seeing them sat in a planetarium. It’s silent and although large predators will undoubtedly be wandering within a few kilometres, there is no pant-wetting notion in the air. Sometimes you just have a feeling…
This is lion and other wild cat country. Hyena, jackal and wild dog all roam close by. Deadly snakes and intrusive bugs are a presence although with the right preparation and sensible approach to camping, threats are hugely minimised. Our food is locked away, our tents face the truck in case of the need to quickly incarcerate ourselves, the fire is a deterrent, we take closing our tents and sealing our bags seriously. We also have been selective in our stock – so to avoid unwanted interest from elephants. The last thing we want is a giant beast pulling the car apart simply to reach a stray orange – they love those things and they are not barterers.
Our second night is a little louder. We’re surrounded by invisible bugs that seem to be fans of Popeye. All evening as the sun sets, they imitate his chuckle in a slightly higher pitch – “Ak kak kak kak”. Unlike any eager and often overbearing cicada (which sound different on each continent), their popeye-giggling calls are both entertaining and relaxing.
In the morning we’re heading to into the Khutse Game Reserve and to the official line in the sand where the Central Kalahari begins. Beyond there, it is the desert wilderness in an area larger than Switzerland.
If Penelope thinks she’s had a tough drive so far, wait till she meets the sand….