Mabuasehube on the eastern side of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is well known for its lions. But as Nick van der Leek reports in the second and final article on his visit, there’s more to the Kalahari wilderness than lions lingering around campsites…
After camping at Leshloago Pan (described in Part 1) we pack up and move on to our second campsite at Mabuasehube Pan – a beautiful site that has been earmarked for the development of a lodge. This was to be our favourite campsite, because of the variety of animals and the beautiful and unusual texture of the pan.
It is rumoured to have diamond deposits in a Kimberlite pipe, hence its unusual pinkish colour.
We decide not to camp in the site designated to us as there are people right next door, so we drive up the dune to the next campsite.
Here we meet a host of charming creatures, from a large group of ground squirrels to the “flying bananas” – a pair of hornbills busily looking after three young chicks in a nearby nest.
Out here, life’s a beach. Hot, sandy, with lots to look at. The only difference is that there are big, nasty thorns to watch out for, and the sharks are called lion, leopard and hyena.
Each day on the “Kalahari Beach” starts the same way: We emerge slowly from sleeping bags, enjoying the morning cool, viewing all the activity going on right beside our camp and using binoculars to study the pan below.
Breakfast is coffee and rusks, and perhaps some fruit. By midday many of the animals have disappeared, although a few antelope move stick-like through the belly-dancing glimmer of the pans.
We take showers fully clothed and retire to the A-frames to escape the furnace-like heat. My sister walks around in slops, a bikini and a sombrero virtually all day.
Lunch tends to be light: braai leftovers, dried fruit and nuts, the odd mango, and biltong if there are any lingering hunger pangs.
By late afternoon we emerge and go for a game drive to nearby pans, armed to the teeth with cameras, lenses and other sniping gear. We scan the road for animal tracks, particularly lion. We find leopard at one point, and hyena and lots of antelope.
As the day cools, animals and birds emerge under a sky bubbling with powerful cumulonimbus clouds… the variety of life in this difficult sandy setting is astonishing.
We try to be back in time for sunset and get a fire going, but being consistently distracted by animals on the way, we lose track of time. Out here, this is easy to do.
Each day is predicated by weather and lightning. Each day’s decisions are the same, and simple: where will we camp?
What will we eat? Our first night at Mabuasehube Pan is awesome: the sky turns to fire, and all three of us run around like maniacs with our cameras.
The following night there is a sudden swarm of termites just after dusk: with all sorts of critters – geckoes, a scorpion, squirrels and a mouse – guzzling the writhing seed-shaped bodies.
After that, all hell breaks loose. One of the fiercest, most deafening storms I’ve ever experienced starts crashing around us. And it doesn’t let up – it simply goes on and on.
We start off standing under the A-frames but we’re soon soaked: gusts blow the rain horizontally through them, and another burst of lightning and deafening sizzle sends us sprinting to the Land Rover.
We sit there eating biltong and taking in the storm. It reminds me of being at a drive-in, watching a horror movie. The wind blasts the tent until the wee hours of the morning.
Our final campsite is Mpayathutlwa Pan (which means, “giraffe’s stomach”), some 12km from the gate.
It’s 19 January, my 36th birthday. By this time I have filled up four memory sticks with photos, including pictures of the three hornbill chicks.
There is so much you cannot photograph, though – you just have to enjoy it. We see storks riding an invisible tornado with outstretched wings as a moving pipe of air rotors them higher and higher.
We also see some ridiculous acrobatics from the raucous northern black korhaan that launches into the air when disturbed, making a tremendous racket (not unlike a Gatling gun) and then boomerangs back, landing like a parachute, legs hanging, not far from its point of take-off .
The red-crested korhaan flies straight up, appears to go into a convulsion and then lands in a plop of feathers.
Yes, this place is a writer and photographer’s dream – a place of diesel and dust, and sun, sweat and soil in a vast wilderness. But you will also find yourself as you get closer and closer to the Kalahari.
It is such a compelling experience that you may well suffer withdrawal symptoms when you are back in civilisation. Unused to road signs, fences, barriers or controls, I fail to notice the first few stop signs when we get back to Kuruman.
Back in Johannesburg, I go to gym and while swimming in a pool – a rectangle of water suspended in a building in the city – I realise with some sadness that this is about as far from the Kalahari as one can get.
I yearn to return. You will too.