Not your average travel blog
The fourth morning of traversing through the Kalahari began early.
The drive was roughly 200 kilometres through more sand and dust and Piper was to be our next camp to the north. Supposedly, we were travelling through one of the beauty spots of the Kalahari. Deception Valley and the iconic salt pans that are a common feature of the landscape are truly awesome. Seemingly lifeless and desolately dusty until you get up close, wildlife hides in plain sight. The vast, open spaces sporadically spring to life as creatures appear from the sidelining bush, from the dry branches of desperate trees and from the invisible undulations of the grainy, soft, salty ground. Things became even more frantic as it began to go dark.
We really shouldn’t break the first rule of any camping trip, but unhurried through dusk, we amble towards a camp spot. The reason for this was because, as expected, the wild came to life while the sun disappeared and magical darkness shrouded the cooling desert. The highlight was turning a corner, throwing on Penelope’s spot lights and without exaggerating, illuminating more than a hundred bat eared foxes, all waking up and getting ready for the pumping nightlife ahead! It was like a crowd of hormonal teenagers dissipating after the police show up with their torches at the rave. We’d caught them in the headlights. Many of them froze and the rest on the perimeter quietly scattered themselves and hid ‘consumables’ into salty holes to return for later after our interruption. Bat-Eared Foxes are like cheeky kids looking for the quickest bit of mischief in a small rural town – they seem to regularly dream of the party over the hill, but never quite make it beyond the peripherals of the salt pan. I have never seen so many in one place.
Along the yellow-sand road, we followed two young jackal for almost a kilometre. Even for the animals, the sandy track is easier to walk along than the through the clumpy-grass-covered surrounds. It was hard to follow our own directions to camp while being more interested in what these little dudes scavenge for supper.
They quickly ran off into the grass and almost as soon as they disappeared, a Spring Hare came out into the headlights. These things are wickedly fairytale-esque – as if someone robbed a giant mouse from a traveling circus of elves and stuck half a dwarf kangaroo to it’s bottom, while moulding a miniature capybara to it’s face, throwing on some bat ears and dipping it’s tale in a pot of black tar just for kicks and giggles. The elves wouldn’t recognise it as it bounced away, terribly embarrassed. They aren’t uncommon creatures, but we don’t see very many of them.
Carefully, we pitch tents around Penelope, strategically placing ourselves as much out of harms way as we can from possible predator threats. It’s been a long day and even in the vibrant darkness, it isn’t difficult to fall asleep.
In the morning the wind makes packing up difficult. The weather doesn’t leave it solely up to the wildlife to remind us we are very much at the mercy of the wilderness. Of all the things that are most dangerous, the elements should be the most respected and first priority to assess. After a very pleasant breakfast of omelette on toast, heated up stewed vegetables and copious amounts of genuinely perfect coffee (we don’t leave home without a good stock), Penelope takes us towards the north gate.
Our fifth morning in the desert is our most productive. Not only does the landscape filter out to being more expansive and easier to find bearings, it allows things to come into view compared to the more denser growth to the south. The roads get firmer as the sand is compacted into dirt and the salty roads stiffen up like trails of burnt meringue.
We spot giraffe for the first time on the trail northbound. A family of four wandering around the edges of the spinneys in the dryness of the bush. We know they’re struggling from reports of it being so dry, but they are clinging on with their children till hopefully, the rains come. It is antelope galore as the remaining waterholes play host to numerous gemsbok, springbok, gazelle, impala, and in the more prickly undergrowth, we see the odd dik-dik pretending it isn’t something out of a children’s wonderful wilderness fantasy tale – but it is.
More Cory Bustards wander around, wondering where the hell they’re going to get their next lover from. It’s a little amusing to watch these magnificent birds clinging onto their middle aged flirting techniques of puffing up their necks into confusing bubble-like-neck-pieces, and when they don’t manage to land a lady, casually peck at the ground for a mouse or grub as if it’s no big deal. Keep it cool, Colin, keep it cool…
Goshawks and small falcons all survey the open ground. Vultures crowd branches and occasionally old carcasses which have already been stripped. Smaller bee-eaters and weaver birds swarm bushes and trees as they also look for love and undoubtedly their next meal. It is a bird-lovers paradise.
The biggest surprise of all comes from a fleeting glance into the shade. We heard the unmistakeable sound the night before. A few kilometres away, the throatal groans heaved a yearning, guttural danger into the air – a warning from the beast that couldn’t give a monkeys from behind it’s steely eyes and yellow teeth.. Lion are kings in the Kalahari. However we had almost given up looking for them as they seemed to have other survival concerns on their mind, and rightly so. Appearing for us wasn’t a priority and nor should it be. Away from the pride, a definitely tired but possibly a little sad, a lone lioness takes a breather in the shade of a small bush. Let’s not sugar coat this – she’s a skilled, opportunistic, powerful killer….but also a caring mother and servant to her pride. She deserves the upmost respect and is just one reason why the Kalahari isn’t for messing around in. According to the WWF, lions can run up to 50 mph (80 kph) for short distances and leap as far as 36 feet (11 m). Although arguable, covering up to 22 meters in a second, even Usain Bolt would struggle out of the blocks against these felines. We all know lions are the largest cat, but until you see one in person, it’s hard to imagine the sheer bulk and presence of these creatures. Solid muscle is wrapped up in a golden thread of cuddly, yawning, sleep-wherever-the-hell-you-like, curtain wrecker. They’re amazing.