Category Archives: Botswana 2009

Ghanzi to Grasslands

They say that Africa is not for sissies – I think they should qualify that and say that the backroads of Botswana are not for sissies.  Our trip to the Central Kalahari and Chobe for example – definitely not to be tackled by the faint-hearted.  We should have realized this when we read that one could only enter the area with a four-wheel drive vehicle.

No problem, we thought, we’ve had a 4×4 for years and have had a few successful attempts at rocky and sandy terrain – this should be no different.  First mistake.   Never under-estimate the challenge of the Kalahari.  We were prepared, after all.  We had a high-lift jack and had also acquired a brand new pair of sand tracks just in case we got stuck in the sand.  With these heavy duty plastic miracle rescuers we would be home and dry.  The second mistake was placing them under the running boards on the sides of the car, neatly tied on with bungy cords.  Out of the way but easily available if we needed them, we thought.

Our co-travellers, Jon and Hillary, are denizens of the remotest areas of Botswana, having made more forays into the wilds than David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley put together.  Only their mode of transport was different. David and Henry probably did it all on foot or horseback, whilst Jon & Hillary have a trusty Toyota and an off-road caravan.  So, we were all set and keen to tackle the unknown.

Our meeting in Ghanzi was marred somewhat by the news that Jon’s vehicle was having wheel-bearing troubles which he was having repaired at a local garage of doubtful repute.  It took until late in the evening to get the car on the road again and Jon’s wallet was about P800 lighter.  Not a good start to the trip!

Day 1 – Ghanzi (Tautona Campsite to Grasslands)  135kms

We were hoping to make an early start from Ghanzi, but our plans were thwarted when Jon thought that his caravan was hitched to the car when in fact only the electricals were attached and he drove forward.  The wiring seperated from the plug, and the caravan was instantly without indicators, tail-lights and stop-lights.   Unfortunately we didn’t have a wiring diagram, so after a fruitless two hours of trial and error attempts to get everything working,  Jon took the car back to the same garage in Ghanzi.  They were unable to help.  He finally phoned a mate in Durban who managed to sort describe the wiring set-up.

So it was quite late on Saturday morning when 45kms further up the main road we turned off at a little village called D’Kar (named after some unknown traveller’s initials found carved into a tree in the area).  Once we left the tarred road the narrow track turned to thick sand, bordered on one side by a fence and on the other by a low sand ridge covered with thick shrubs and thorn trees.  Hillary had smilingly assured us before we set off that the only hazards we’d have to contend with on this deserted stretch of road were the ten or so gates that we’d have to open and close as we went through.

We bravely took the lead with a feeling of exhilaration and excitement at finally heading off on our adventure.  The first few kilometers passed without incident.  Apart from the soft sand and the deep furrows made by the wheels of other cars, the road was quite drivable.  The high ridge between the furrows (aptly described in Afrikaans as the middelmannetjie) was covered with grass, which gently brushed the undercarriage of the car.  Rob joked that one could practically put the wheels into the tracks and let the car steer itself.  His mirth soon turned sour when the sand deepened making it much tougher to plough through.

I noticed things getting quieter in the car.  Rob was leaning into the steering wheel gripping it tightly with both hands, his knuckles white with the effort.  As we bumped and ground our way through the sand he was deep in concentration, breaking the silence only to say that it was a good thing this was such a remote road as he wouldn’t like to meet an oncoming vehicle under these conditions.  “We must keep up the momentum or we’ll get stuck,” he said knowingly.

Sandy Road

Sandy Road

The umpteen gates that had to be opened began to pall after about number seven or eight.  Fortunately, with Jon and Hillary taking up the rear, we didn’t have to close them behind us.  Jon fell back slightly so that they didn’t have to drive in our dust.  Things were progressing quite well until, horror of horrors, I saw a vehicle approaching us from ahead.  Oh damn!  They would have to get off the road somehow as we had the fence running alongside us on our left.  Fortunately it was a safari vehicle so they managed to clear the ridge on our right-hand side quite easily, driving over shrubs and grass with all the ease of practice.  We stopped to tell them that a car towing a caravan was coming up behind us, but they pulled off without hesitation, happy to clear the way when they met the obstacle.

One of many gates

One of many gates

We pushed on, glad that it was now a quiet early Saturday afternoon when most people are already at their destination. We expected a clear ride through to our campsite at Grasslands.   Suddenly we came to a corner where the sand was especially deep and yet another gate had to be opened.  Rob cursed as he jammed on brakes, worrying about getting going again once the gate was opened.  He put the car into gear and tried to pull off.  The back wheels spun furiously in the sand and the smell of burning rubber filled the air.  It was clearly now time to engage four-wheel drive, which up until then we had managed to avoid.  Once we were on our way again the rubber smell was still strong, but Rob assured me that this often happened when wheels spun in sand.

About five minutes later a warning light flashed on the dashboard and the car lost power and slowed down to a crawl.  Alarmed, Rob stopped and pulled out the trusty car owner’s manual.  The book wasn’t exactly reassuring when one was in the middle of nowhere on a Saturday afternoon and it read:  “malfunction – take vehicle to nearest service provider.”  Quite scary when we had no power and it was impossible to turn around on the narrow track.

By now Jon had pulled up behind us and jumped out to find out what the problem was.  “Give it a minute or two to cool down,” he said, “maybe it will fix itself.”  Sure enough, when Rob started the car the malfunction light had gone off, power was back and we were able to proceed with our journey.  “Aren’t these self-repairing Toyota’s wonderful,” Jon laughed.  We spent the rest of the way anxiously watching to see if the light came on again, which fortunately it didn’t.  This wasn’t a good thing to have happen when one was about to go into the wilds of the Kalahari for ten days.  I was secretly thankful that we had been so understanding and patient with Jon about his car problems – hopefully he would feel the same about ours!

The sand was getting ever deeper, more gates had to be opened and it looked like the ninety kilometer drive was going to take a good couple of hours, but we pressed on.  When another car approached we were again in no position to pull off the road.  The other fellow braked about ten meters in front of us and a young man jumped out of the front passenger seat to direct operations.  He turned some knobs on the front wheels to put the car into four wheel drive and instructed the driver to pull the car up onto the bank on our right.  Easier said than done.  The wheels just slid back into the deep furrow in the road.  The driver reversed and tried again.  Same result.  He then climbed out of the car to have a look at the terrain.  He was very well dressed in a nice suit, which was actually quite out of place where we were.  His decision was to reverse back even further and try another spot to ride up.  Once again his tyres slid back into the rut in the road.

This was going to prove more difficult than we thought and of course there was a caravan coming up behind us too.  By now two other passengers had alighted from the car.  At first glance they looked like bulls in drag, or perhaps the driver was taking two bulls to a fancy dress party.  Then we recognized them as being Herero ladies, who wear hats in the shape of bull’s horns.  To anyone who has never seen this particular headdress it must look quite strange.  I’ve often wondered at the origins of this peculiar form of adornment – the best explanation I could come up with is that they remind the men of the lobola (bride price) they have had to pay for the women – usually in the form of cattle.  But I digress ….

Eventually, the other driver managed to get two wheels up onto the ridge but his vehicle was still halfway across the road.  We would have to try and squeeze past him somehow.  With very little space to maneuver, Rob pulled his side mirror in and just made it past without touching the other car.  Whew!  That was a close shave.  Relieved we pressed on hoping that that would be our last encounter of the day.  Alas it was not to be.

About a kilometer up the road we saw yet another car heading our way.  “Goodness,” I said, “this is like the main road of Underberg on a Saturday morning!”  This time it was a hearse bearing the name “Joyce’s Funeral Parlour”.   With dismay and some difficulty we managed to pull over onto the verge.  “Let’s hope there isn’t a whole funeral procession,” Rob quipped.  Well, there was and there wasn’t.  The procession was very broken up with cars coming at odd intervals.  So it wasn’t like we could just sit and wait for them all to pass by.  Every time we got going again we met yet another mourner.  Eventually about sixteen cars later we cleared the last of them and were able to proceed with our journey in relative peace.  It was a relief to see the Grasslands gatepost looming up, assuring us that we’d arrived safely at last.  It could only get quieter as we drove further into the Kalahari.

Jane, Jon and Hillary at Grasslands

Jane, Jon and Hillary at Grasslands

The manageress at Grasslands struck the fear of God into me when she commented on the road we were to drive the following day.  “There is a very sandy stretch for about 26 kilometers just before you get to the Xade Gate,” she said.   “You will have a real battle towing a caravan through that, especially as there are deep ruts as well.  At least you have two vehicles so you can pull each other out, but it is going to be a very tough drive.”  I was secretly hoping to goodness that Joyce’s Funeral Parlour didn’t have any more business in the Kalahari that weekend!  Imagine meeting them on that awful road.

Leaving Grasslands

Leaving Grasslands

TripsTo Piper Pan in the Central Kalahari Park

Piper Pan in the Central Kalahari Park

Day 2 – Grasslands to Piper Pan  185km

Hillary’s research told us that this was a very sandy stretch with deep corrugations and one could expect to take the whole day to cover the relatively short 185 km.

Before we left Grasslands Jon and Rob tied seed nets onto the front of the cars.  These are a must as they stop grass seeds from getting stuck in the radiator and causing the car to overheat.  Seeds in the radiator are not the only thing to fear from driving over long grass.  Grass accumulates in nooks and crannies on the chassis where it gets really hot and could catch alight.  It could be burning merrily while the passengers in the car are blissfully unaware of it until it’s too late to do much about it.

Long grass on sandy road

We saw a burnt out vehicle in the middle of nowhere which amply demonstrated that this was a very real possibility.  With lions around, possibly no-one else driving past for days and all one’s possessions, including water, gone up in flames, there was more than just a lost vehicle to be concerned about.  Best to make regular checks just to be sure.

Burnt out vehicle

‘Road’ is an optimistic description of the tracks that we had to drive along.  Quite often they are barely distinguishable through the grass and thorn bushes.  Passing between thorn bushes and hearing the scratching on the sides of the car is enough to put our teeth on edge.  Known as a ‘Kalahari carwash’, this scratching is an integral part of a Kalahari journey.  Nothing that a bit of wax won’t fix after the trip, unless of course one has had a brush with a really strong branch. It still goes against the grain to hear it , as one’s first instinct is always to preserve one’s car.

The first part of the journey went well and we made good time.  There were lots of birds around and plenty of sand grouse on the road. We had one stretch of about one and a half kilometers where we came upon a Spotted Thick-knee in the road; it took off, flying down the track in front of us instead of turning into the bush.  It kept settling on the road for a second until we approached and then taking off again.  It looked panic-stricken and exhausted by the effort and we were quite stressed ourselves by the time it finally moved to one side and we drove past.

Spotted Thick-knee

I think we were all dreading the notorious sandy stretch, except maybe Jon who was game for any adventure that came his way.  This was a challenge for him though as it was the first time he was pulling a caravan through this sort of terrain.  When we saw the sign for the Central Kalahari Game Reserve we turned onto the sandy stretch.  We stopped to wish each other luck and Rob took the lead so that he could give Jon a tow if necessary.  We kept Jon in view most of the time, but had to try and negotiate the sand as fast as possible.  By fast I mean between 20 – 30 kms an hour.  Once in the sandy ruts, there was no turning off and one had to keep going to keep from getting stuck.

Jane on road to Xade

At times the sand thinned out and we were on hard ground.  This was preferable, but it came at a price – corrugations!  Teeth-rattling corrugations!  Whenever we got to these hard patches we waited for Jon to catch up with us.  The deep ruts that we’d heard about didn’t actually materialize because it appeared that we were on a new road.  The original road, with knee-deep ruts ran parallel with our sandy track.  If we’d had to negotiate the old rutted road we’d have got stuck for sure, in fact the vehicles would have straddled the middelmannetjie and gone nowhere.

Rob and Jon could pat themselves on the back for making it the whole way without getting stuck at all.  Jon did have to deflate his tyres at one stage, but both men drove like a real pro’s.  We were all very relieved when, much later, we were on solid ground and heading for the Xade entrance gate.  The staff at the gate were extremely friendly and helpful as they warned us of a very sandy stretch just after we entered the Park.  After a wonderful picnic lunch at Xade we started out on the last part of our journey to Piper Pan, a distance of about 79kms.

This leg of the journey didn’t start off very well, as we immediately took the wrong turn and headed off on the same road that we had come into the Park on.  It was only through the speedy intervention of the Parks Board staff, who came racing after us that we turned around before we had gone too far.  They had apparently been watching us through binoculars because they were worried about us getting stuck in the sandy stretch.  Once we turned back and got onto the right road, we realized just why they were concerned.  The sand was very deep and made for very slow going.  Eventually we stopped on a hard patch to wait for Jon.  When after twenty minutes he still hadn’t caught up with us, we decided to turn back.  Not an easy thing to do on that road.

Jon’s car was comfortably bogged down in the sand (the caravan wasn’t dug in at all).  Fortunately the Parks Board fellow who had rescued us, had seen the problem and gone back to base to fetch a tractor.  What service from a Government official!  We were most impressed.  Once Jon was rescued and the staff had left, he assured us that he could have got going again without the tractor’s help, but as they had gone to so much trouble he didn’t want to tell them that he could manage on his own.

Jon being towed out

After this short delay, we were ready to carry on with our journey,  but now when Rob tried to start our car, the malfunction light came on again and the car was dead.  Oh great!  This didn’t bode well.  We waited for a few minutes and when Rob tried again it was all systems go.  We had no idea what was causing the problem but at least we knew that it self-corrected after a few minutes.

Once we passed all the sandy bits the road improved somewhat.  When I say road, of course I mean track, because once again we were driving through very long grass.  The sky was a magnificent blue and the temperature in the mid-30’s.  Now that the difficult parts were behind us we could relax, and what a glorious day it was turning out to be.  We saw a couple Secretary Birds and Kori Bustards along the way and the odd Springbok, which made the journey more interesting.  As we neared Piper Pan the vegetation became thick with catophractes plants – these are silver/grey bushes that are excellent camouflage for the many birds and animals that live in the area.

At last the sign read ‘Piper Pan’.  The Pan looked nothing like we were expecting it to.  For starters it was completely covered with meter high yellow grass – we had been anticipating bare ground or white salt pans.  This was totally different.  We were also expecting to see loads of animals, but all we saw were one or two Gemsbok and a Wildebeest.  Still, there was bound to be game at the watering hole at sunset, so we headed to our campsite on the northern side of the Pan.

There are only two campsites at Piper Pan and they are about six kilometers apart, which makes each site very private.  Ours was about 10 meters from the road and was sheltered by a hedge of trees and shrubs.  We set up camp close to the hedge, positioning the cars and caravan in a U shape to form a laager as protection against the wild animals.  As an added safety measure Jon also stretched some shade-cloth between the cars to stop lions and hyenas walking in on us. I was jokingly going on about having lions and leopards walking through the camp – hoping that it would happen so that I could get some nice action photo’s.  The toilet and shower were on the edge of the campsite, in two round wooden open air cubicles.  I knew I wouldn’t be using them at night!

Campsite at Piper Pan

With the camp all set and evening approaching, we made our way to the watering hole about two kilometers away.  Armed with beers and salty snacks we sat quietly watching a peaceful Botswana evening unfold as black-backed jackals made their way down to sip the water.  It was disappointing that no other animals came along, but we were in good spirits as we made our way back to the camp for a braai.

Black-backed jackal

Later as we sat eating we heard the deep roar of a lion in the distance.  What a lovely sound that is.  When about half an hour later the lion roared just on the other side of our hedge, I dived into the car, trembling with excitement.  Of course I was the butt of many jokes because of my cowardice, but I’m not stupid –  I wanted to see lions in the camp from the relative safety of the tent or car!  We quickly grabbed the spotlights, bundled ourselves into Jon’s car (ours was immobile because of the rooftop tent) and went in search of our lion.

We found him very close by – a magnificent specimen of a black-maned Kalahari lion.  Although we drove close to him, he totally ignored us, not even turning his head to acknowledge our presence.  What contempt he showed for mere human beings in his majestic company!   On our way back to the camp we saw some bat-eared foxes running  along the road.  So day one in the Park ended on a high note and we were looking forward to what the next eight days would offer up!

Days 3-6  – Piper Pan

We were awake early the next morning, keen to take a drive before the heat of the day took its toll on the animals.  Jon noticed a considerable amount of oil on the back of his car, which on further examination showed that the newly repaired wheel-bearings were leaking badly.  This was not good news and caused Jon much anxiety over the next eight days as he was worried about the bearings ceasing up.  We decided to use our vehicle for the longer day drives, with Jon doing only short night drives in his car.  This suited us well because of our rooftop tent.  We couldn’t do all the driving because we had to keep an eye out for our diesel supply, which could only be replenished outside the park.

We left the camp before breakfast, heading for the watering hole.  The only animals we saw there were black-backed jackals and Northern Black Koorhaans.  We circled the whole of Piper Pan and another two pans further on, but were out of luck.  Jon and Hillary assured us that they had seen lions and a leopard here on their last trip to the area, and loads of honey badgers, but it was a different time of year and animals were quite scarce.  The birdlife was pretty good though and Rob was in his element photographing the many raptors and Ant-eating Chats.  I must mention here that we had two completely tame Kalahari Scrub Robins in our camp that almost got themselves squashed underfoot wherever we went.

Jon looking for lions

We took one final drive to the watering hole before heading back to the camp for the day.  Rob stopped to watch a jackal walk past the car and as I leaned over to get a closer look at him the muscles in my back went into spasm.  I screamed in agony, alarming everyone in the car.  Each time I moved the pain was excruciating and I knew that I was in trouble.  We would be in the middle of nowhere for eight more days, with no doctor and no way of sorting me out.

Fortunately I felt no pain if I just sat dead still and surprisingly little if I walked bent over double, but if I tried to straighten up it was sheer hell.  Hillary proved her worth greatly when she opened her First Aid kit and brought out some TransAct patches and Neurofen tablets.  These helped enormously and at least gave me comfortable nights.  I was to suffer endlessly until we reached Maun.

It was at about this time that we realized that we were averaging at least one disaster a day, sometimes more.  It became something of a joke really, but we were grateful that we were able to overcome most of the obstacles – not every one, but practically all.  One of the most disappointing catastrophes was Rob’s new camera lens that packed up on our second day in the Kalahari.  Fortunately he had brought a spare, but over the next few weeks he would curse the loss of this piece of equipment.

During the heat of the day, when the animals were sleeping in the shade and not very visible,  we spent most of the time at the campsite reading or doing chores like washing and cooking.  Our ablutions were quite unique but very effective.  Jon had brought along a portable shower kit which consisted of a 5 litre weed killer bottle, complete with pump action and an adapted shower nozzle.  We showered at mid-afternoon every day in the open-air cubicles as that was the warmest time.  We first poured in boiling water and then topped the bottle up with cold water to prevent us from scalding ourselves.  After a quick spray to wet the body, it was a race to soap oneself and then rinse off before the water ran out.  Two of us managed to shower with as little as three litres of water.  And did we feel great after a good wash.

Everyone going into the Kalahari has to be totally self-sufficient as there is no water, no petrol available and no shops.  We took 200 litres of water with us for the ten day period, which turned out to be too much, but if we’d been stuck for days it would have saved our lives.  There are also no staff to clean up , so all rubbish has to be taken out of the Park.  The system works well and we found everything to be pristine and clean.  Jon would crush all our metal cans with a brick to make them less bulky to carry out and all paper or cardboard was burnt.  It’s incredible how much rubbish one collects even on a short camping trip.

It is an amazing experience to drive around a game reserve for a couple of days and not see another vehicle.  It gives one a false sense of ownership and breeds selfishness.  On our last evening at Piper Pan we were dismayed to see we had company at the watering hole – two vehicles from Gauteng.  What an intrusion, we felt.

 Once again we were disappointed by the lack of game and hoped that we’d have better luck at Passarge Valley, which was where we were heading the following day.  The sunset, however, made up for the lack of animals.  It was magnificent.

Sunset at Piper Pan

We had a whole flock of guinea fowl that took up residence in a nearby tree at night.  It was a noisy affair as they settled down to roost, but their silhouette against an orange Botswana sunset was stunning and we were happy to see them come back each evening.  We also had a little hare that favoured our campsite and we saw him every evening, which was rather nice.    We loved the situation of  Piper Pan, but the lack of game was somewhat disappointing, especially as the guide books say that Piper Pan has the most game in the area.  However, if one sees the whole experience as a relaxing holiday time in a beautiful remote spot, it doesn’t really matter if the animals are a bit scarce or not.

Trips | Ghanzi to Grasslands | Passage Valley in the Central Kalahari Park

Passarge Valley in the Central Kalahari Park

Days 6-8 – Piper Pan to Passage Valley 80kms

Jon drove in front for the first part of our trip to Passarge Valley as he and Hillary knew the way. The road was sandy in parts, but generally the surface was like hard clay and it was a very pleasant drive. We stopped often to photograph birds and look at tracks on the road.  Jon and Hillary both trained as Field Guides and Hillary, in particular, is something of an expert on animal tracks. It was interesting to have their input on fauna and flora that we didn’t know about and they in turn appreciated our knowledge of birds, so our relationship worked extremely well.

Just before the turn off to Tau Pan, Jon stopped to let us take the lead. At Piper Pan, on one of our many game drives, we had laughingly given rand values for each unusual animal that anyone spotted. For example, whoever saw a lion first would be paid R20,00 by each person in the party, R20,00 for a leopard and R15,00 for a cheetah. We were delighted when we had just taken up the lead on the way to Passarge and I spotted a big lion asleep under a Catophractes bush right next to the road. At last! I was in the money!

Lion on the way to Passarge

He didn’t let our ooh’s and aaah’s disturb him at all and merely lazily opened one eye to look at us before going back to sleep. Seeing this enormous lion actually gave me quite a laugh because whenever we stopped, Jon would jump out of his car, binoculars in hand, and come running up to us to find out what we had seen. Imagine if he was at Rob’s window and we pointed out a lion five meters behind him! The thought gave us the giggles for minutes afterwards. In all other game reserves we’ve been in, one isn’t allowed out of one’s car for this very reason. The Botswana game reserves are quite different as most campsites are not fenced off at all. One just has to be extremely careful and aware of the danger.

The trip to Passarge is only about 80 kms so we took our time and enjoyed the many sights. We passed a number of small pans on the way, some with little islands of trees in the middle of them. Game would often gather around the trees for shade and it appeared that there were more animals in this area than at Piper Pan. We came across a group of about fifteen giraffes quite near Passarge and when we stopped to photograph them they all turned and stared at us curiously. They looked perfect in this setting and we loved watching them amble gracefully from tree to tree.

Giraffes at Passarge Valley

Our campsite at Passarge Valley was an absolute treat. Situated on a slight elevation, it overlooked the pan and an island of trees. Once again we saw lots of giraffe and springbok. We were heartened by this, because lion and other predators only come to an area if there is an abundance of food. It certainly looked promising. There were no other campsites around so we knew we’d have the place all to ourselves. Passarge turned out to be our favourite spot on the whole trip. Not only was it in a beautiful situation, but we were blessed with our game viewing.

Campsite at Passarge

We left our camp early the next morning and headed back on the road towards Piper Pan. I was overjoyed when I spotted a male lion in the valley ahead and I urged Rob to speed up to where he was. On arrival we saw not one, but a pride of five lions at a kill that must have just happened. Luckily for us they were feasting on a gemsbok not two metres from the road, so we were able to take up a position right next to them and watch them for hours. What a magnificent spectacle and we had it all to ourselves!

The pride consisted of an adult male and three female lionesses, as well as a young cub of indeterminate sex, who had the cutest little face imaginable. We sat enthralled as they tucked into their meal, all the while encircled by at least six agitated black-backed jackals who were hoping to catch a piece of the action. The pride gorged themselves on all the delicacies that a carcass contains – we watched as they ate the liver, the tripe and the innards.

Eventually, completely stuffed and with faces painted with blood, they made their way across the road in front of us to sit replete under a thorn tree. They left one young lioness with the task of carrying what was left of the carcass to a safe spot under another nearby tree. Rob and I took dozens of photos as this spectacle unfolded before us, amazed at what we were seeing. Once the carcass was removed, one very nervous jackal rushed up and picked up the remains of the stomach, only to be chased by the rest of the pack who also wanted his prize. The young lioness had her work cut out guarding the carcass from the jackals and the vultures that circled overhead. Eventually she pulled it right into the bush and lay next to it, defying anyone to come near her.

Having this incredible sighting of a lion feed, anything else we saw would have to be an anti-climax. We headed back to camp for the rest of the day, planning to return to the site later on to see if the pride was still there. By now my camera batteries were flat and Jon’s fridge battery was also dying, so Rob started the generator and we hitched up everything that needed recharging. The noise disturbed the ambiance somewhat, but at this stage recharging batteries was more of a priority than enjoying the silence of the bushveld!

Our camping fridges did a marvelous job and at no time did we ever have to suffer warm beers!. By deep freezing our meat beforehand, we were able to turn the fridges right down and keep them as freezers for at least three or four days into the trip. This enabled us to have gourmet meals the whole holiday. John loves cooking so he made us a scrumptious roast chicken and roast potatoes in his flat bottomed cast iron pot. When we weren’t having braais we were able to have paella, oxtail, lamb knuckle stew and even delicious campfire bread. “You have to eat the bread hot tonight,” Hillary said as she pulled the loaf out of the pot. “If we leave it until tomorrow morning you can use it as a stone for a catapult.” I had frozen three loaves of sliced bread which lasted us until we got to Maun, so we were able to have toast for breakfast every day. On one cool evening at Passarge we feasted on jaffles, washed down with gluwein. What a combination!

At about four p.m. we headed back to where we’d left the lions and were surprised and somewhat disappointed to see two vehicles parked watching them sitting under their thorn tree. Fortunately, the tourists didn’t stay long as they obviously had some distance to cover to get to their campsite, so once again we were left alone with ‘our lions’. The one female was lying asleep on her back with her legs in the air – her bloated belly pulled tight as a drum from what she had eaten earlier. The male lion stared at us as if to say “Haven’t you seen enough of me today?” and our cheeky little lion looked sleepily at us from behind his dad. There was no sign of the carcass or the jackals.

We eventually tore ourselves away from this special scene and headed back in the direction of our camp. As it was still quite light we drove further down the valley. By now I was driving and Jon and Rob were sitting on the roof of the car, beers in hand, directing operations from their lofty positions.

Rob and Jon game viewing                             Bat-eared fox

“Stop!” they shouted when they spotted two bat-eared foxes and a jackal. We also came across a Kori Bustard in the long grass that Rob wanted to photograph in flight. For this I had to walk towards the big bird so that Rob could capture it the moment it took to the air. With my muscles still in spasm I hobbled over to it and there were cries of delight as it flew off. This was to be the first of a number of attempts over the next few days to get a decent flying shot of a Kori Bustard.

Jane making a Kori Bustard fly

Later on we headed back in the direction of the lions to see if they were still there. It was getting dark so Rob and I both shone spotlights into the veld on either side of the car as we drove along and Jon was also scanning the veld. Suddenly I saw two cheetahs walking along the road in front of us. This was amazing as it was the first time I’ve seen cheetahs in the wild. We managed to get quite close to them before they headed off into the grass and disappeared.  Oh, and I had earned some more money for my good spotting! What was it – R20,00 for a cheetah?

The lion family was still sitting under their thorn tree, but as it was getting quite late we decided to head back to the camp. It had been the most exciting day of game viewing ever and I was sure I would be too pumped up to sleep that night. The Kalahari had certainly shared some if it’s glory with us and we were ever so grateful to have been so blessed that day.

TripsPiper Pan in the Central Kalahari Park | Mankwe and Savute