13 December 2012- Kalahari
We were woken this morning just after 4 to the roar of lions for the second night. It wasnt long before the alarm was set to go off so we sleepily got up in the dark and quickly got ready to go out for our guided bush walk. We met the guide and left the fenced camp before they opened to the public, still dark and drove slowly using spotlights to see if we could catch a glimpse at anything on the way, we went for about 20 minutes and then parked up in a no access area so we could have this bit of the park to ourselves for the walk. When we stopped the guide told us what to do if we came across a lion (don’t run! stay behind the guide and do whatever they tell you, no worries there!) and as she was telling us suddenly we all went silent we could hear the distinctive noise of lions roaring. She said they were still a little ways off yet but could be calling to each other, it was likely the two brothers who run the pride whose territory we were in were calling to each other and on the move, so we must watch out in case we come across them or the females coming to find each other.
We set off across the dry, bare and grassless riverbed, just the two of us, no one else had booked so we had our own private walk. Us, the guide and back up, both of them carrying rifles spent three hours walking along the dry river bed and over the dune looking at trees, bushes, spoor (footprints) poo and insects as well as watching Springbok and wildebeest. The guide told us about animals, plants and their uses and pointed out so many things you can never see from a vehicle. For obvious safety reasons you can’t walk anywhere in many national parks in South Africa on your own, any parks that have predators or large animals which is many we have been to. We both loved it! It was so good to be walking rather than in the vehicle and to see all the small things and to experience walking in lion territory, out there as the sun was rising, just brilliant! We walked in single file behind the guide and back up, the guide stopping every few minutes to show us something, while we were looking at whatever she was showing us the back up kept a keen eye out, looking around rifle in hand. We heard the lions the whole time we were walking (on and off every 20 minutes or so) but the closest they got was over the dune and we never saw them. She kept reassuring us but we both hoped they walked over that dune!
After our walk and before we headed to the main camp (the opposite end of the park) for the night we decided to drive down a small track that winds its way into the Botswanan side of the park. Coming out of the river and up the first dune there was a flash of brown and black and it took a second for my mind to realise there was a lion lying about 1 metre from landy- I gasped as we came to sudden stop- Olly had seen it a second before me and the male had looked at him right in the eyes, which caused his heart to leap out of his chest. My heart jumped into my throat as the lion then glanced up again, his yellow eyes felt like they were piercing, he would def win the staring competition! He looked at us for few seconds and laid back down with a flop. The female was fast asleep and did nothing but twitch every so often. We were so close we could hear them breathing and sat there mesmerised by their size, the sheer beauty and majesty of them. We could not believe we had two lions sitting next to landy! We both had pounding hearts- you know you are safe (although if they got up and moved at all towards us we would have rolled the window up quick smart!) but it’s completely involuntary, the body’s response rather than the mind. The mind is saying wow this is incredible, they are so beautiful and the body is saying look at how big they are, those claws, get out of here! We sat there with big goofy grins on our faces for almost an hour when the male opened one eye, then another, looked at us again with his piercing eyes and sat up to groom himself. We could hear his rough tongue as he licked his paddle sized paws (literally the size of both of my hands together) and generally yawned and scratched. Suddenly the female stirred and within a few seconds they were both up and growling, they walked off to mate (a metre or two away) which was a quick affair and involved plenty of roaring, then they both flopped over back to sleep within seconds. Incredible.
We have spent the last few days getting up very early and have spent most of the time driving the great sandy roads/tracks that follow the Nossob River bed, looking for animals and loving the scenery the remote wildness of it up here. We have been seeing the big unlikely looking Gemsbok, they almost look mythical, as well as springbok, wildebeest, bat-eared foxes, hyenas, ostrich, jackals as well as heaps of birds that are new to us. The Kalahari is very beautiful in a stark muted way that is similar to places in Australia, somewhere many people would prob drive through and think its very boring (same landscape for ages) and possibly even ugly, as it can appear at first glance to be so desolate and harsh looking. The river flows about once every hundred years or so and besides that it is a flat dry riverbed with a few taller trees called camel-thorns which proved much needed shade for animals especially in summer when temp can reach 50 degrees (C) but are often in the 40s. At that time of year (peak summer being Jan and Feb) the ground is about 70 C so the shade is literally a life saver for the animals that live here, they can’t walk in the mid day as they will be burnt. Besides the camel-thorns there are small thorny shrubs and some patches of long brown grass, but mostly its a sparse area with not a lot. According to our guide the riverbeds are are full of long green grass in the middle of a good rainy season, which is so hard to imagine the bare sand and soil sprouting such richness. The area is semi arid rather than desert, although it looks very much like desert now. There has been some rain in the past two days, while we have been here. Surprisingly and much welcomed by the rangers (and no doubt the animals!) we have had more rain here than anywhere else we have been in South Africa! We were not expecting that! Its been mostly in the form of big, fast, fleeting but fierce afternoon thunderstorms and its something else to watch the sky blacken within an hour or so and the sky rumble and grumble and then the rain suddenly hits – it had us running for cover!
Aside from the B & B in Cape Town and a few people in Lesotho, everyone we have met has been holidaying South Africans. We have met some really nice people in the past few days at camp- our neighbours have been a family from Pretoria, the dad a real character (he is a contender for best character met on the trip, although the winner is still Harley who we worked with on the garlic farm in northern NSW) he was a loud happy Afrikaans man who roared with laughter and slapped Olly so hard on the shoulder I was a bit concerned. Then he asked where we hired the landy (he really liked the pop top!) and we told him it is ours and we shipped it here. He roared and said ‘You Aussies, you cant beat the All Blacks but you go hard or you go home, I love you guys! Fu*&ing Aussies!!’ (All Blacks are NZ rugby team). He roared to his family- ‘They are from Australia!’ which brought much laughter and head shaking and back slapping of Olly and general chit chat about rugby and cricket. Later they came over to have a look at the pop top and landy in general and soon another guy came over, then another, when I turned, there were three more faces there and within a minute or so there were about 10 people from various groups around the camp looking at landy- we showed them all the pop top (very impressed!) and put the bed up and down a half dozen times so they could all see- a few questions here and there then much chatting amongst themselves in Afrikaans then a few more smiles and questions. We were like local celebs! Well local to a camp in the north of the Kalahari, so very local! 🙂 South Africans seem very keen to hear what you think of SA and if you like it. They seem very interested in our impressions of the country and if people are nice to us, if we feel safe, if we want to come back, if things are expensive here, etc. So many people have gone out of their way to wish us safe travels (some think its great and others think its not wise, this trip of ours).
I can’t believe today is still the same day as this morning, at the moment each day feels like several as we just see so much and are doing so much. So tired!
Next day- 14 December
After the absolute thrill of our time with the lions, it took awhile for the adrenalin to wear off and for our hearts and stomachs to settle, such a rush! We spent most of yesterday driving back to the main camp- we went through the middle of the park and bumped our way over red dune after red dune, very beautiful, and arrived at camp about 5. Showing them our park permit and signing up for a sunset drive took ages so by time we got to our camp site we just had time to wolf down dinner and go out again for our guided sunset drive. I love seeing whats out there at night! My favourite part was when the guide suddenly stopped and turned off the engine and lights and we just sat looking at the stars the sky goes on and on and on. What a beautiful way to end a long fantastic day- what was to likely be our last night in SA- (not to be see more below).
Last night while waiting for our sunset game drive we met a family who asked how our travels in SA were going and asked where we were going from here, one thing lead to another and we told them we are driving north etc. Henry immediately lit up and invited us to their chalet for a morning cuppa and to look at the maps, so this morning we went over. Him and his wife have travelled a lot in Africa (they are South African) and through work, have lived in a few other places in Africa as well. We took our maps over and went through our intended (very rough at this stage) route with them and got heaps of tips and suggestions as well as some contacts for further north. They were so lovely and genuinely thrilled for us, so generous with their time and knowledge despite being on holidays themselves – we kept saying we didn’t want to keep them as they were moving on today but they were happy and eager to talk about travel so we sat with them for several hours pouring over maps. Such a nice couple, we could have chatted with them all day!
We spent much of this morning waiting. Waiting for the place that sells fuel at the main camp to take the cash they have made this morning to reception so we could go to reception and get cash out to go get fuel! We intended to leave for Namibia this morning until we hit that stumbling block. By the time reception had money it was after 1 and everything does seem to take a while (which we are already getting used to) so to get the cash out took almost another hour- I have no idea why, there were 5 or 6 people surrounding the computer going back and forth etc etc I didnt ask- sometimes you just have to wait and it gets done as they do it! By this time we decided it would be better to just stay put- the border is not very far but we dont know how long that will take and its then another 3 hours once we cross into Namibia, depending on the road conditions, it could be more. So we booked in for another night which took a further hour to do. Olly was starting to growl when I went back out to landy to get our park permit (again!) he couldn’t belive it was taking that long to withdraw cash and pay for a nights camping! Anyway here we are for another day- its hot now so we will go out for a drive later this afternoon to see what we see and we’ll leave first thing in the morning for the border, which opens at 8. We are not sure what internet will be like in Namibia both getting it and the reception, so we may not have it as much?