Monday, September 12, 2005

Botswana: In the Kalahari

Previous Post: Arrival

I have time to write this morning because my husband and I skipped this morning's game drive. Our arrival late last night left me with too little sleep and no sense of where I was - meaning I awoke both exhausted and disoriented.

My husband got up with the others to see the sun rise, but he is sleeping now. Once it became light, I couldn't sleep - I wanted to see this place, so I got up and went in search of a cup of tea to start my day.

Before asking for hot water from the large kettle sitting over the fire, I suggest to the two camp staff working by the fire that we do introductions again and introduce myself. They look a bit startled, but introduce themselves as OT and Dick. I chat with them for a moment, but they seem eager for me to leave them to their work and so I do. As the trip progresses, I will come to suspect that most tourists never actually talk to anyone but the guide. I also will learn that the only member of our party whose name our camp staff learns is K's husband, who is a large, outgoing man with an easy to pronounce name.

So, by 9 a.m. I am relaxing in a quiet camp, drinking tea out of a plastic mug, and writing.

When the wind comes up a bit, it is almost cold where I sit in the semi-shade of a sand acacia tree (also called a bastard umbrella thorn). Along with the remains of the last seed pods, these trees are beginning to put out dainty new leaves, which provide a surprising amount of shade.
A small herd of gemsbok wanders near camp. From where I am sitting, they are just visible through the trees and across the road behind Dick and OT. I walk past OT as he finishes the breakfast dishes and stand near the road watching these six or ten gorgeous animals graze in the open land across from me. I am elated that they have come to visit me this morning.

The gemsbok move on and I look around at the landscape. What an isolated place this is! It is still now and desolate, yet also oddly beautiful.

Where there is grass, it is dry and golden, but in most places the sand is bare white. Most of the trees and shrubs have lost or are now losing their leaves, yet some are just beginning to put out new leaves of soft green. The scene is further softened by the surprising number of trees and shrubs in bloom. This gentleness is deceptive though, as EVERYTHING (with the possible exception of the grasses), has thorns - really big thorns in some cases.

As I am thinking about the serene scene surrounding me, I notice a large dark object moving in the distance. An elephant? I look closer . . . No. A huge ostrich is strolls along the distant ridgeline, moving so smoothly he appears to float.

When my spouse gets up, we circle our small camp. It has been set up in a grove of mostly small trees at a bend in the sandy track that serves as the road. There are our three tents; a toilet seat perched above a hole dug in the ground behind a thorny, leafless shrub with a bit of canvas tossed over it; a brown plastic enclosure with an empty canvas water sack hanging above it that is the shower; a table large enough for seven; the campfire; a stack of coolers; two tents for the camp staff; and the supply truck. Beyond this, the Kalahari stretches off around us until, on one side, it finally becomes a brushy ridge. The land around us is open and harsh looking.

We follow the road beside our camp a short distance, staying within sight of the camp staff who nervously watch us wander. The sand is laced with the tracks of birds and small animals, but aside from another huge ostrich in the distance (which we first mistake for a truck on the road), no wildlife is visible. Of course, by now the mid-morning sun is high and hot and even the birds are beginning to settle in for the day.

What is visible everywhere around us is sweet thorn. At this time of year this thorny shrub has no leaves, but is instead covered with small yellow pom pom flowers. These perfume the air with a strong, sweet floral fragrance. Throughout the Kalahari we are alerted to the presence of sweet thorn by it's heavenly scent long before we spot its brilliant yellow blossoms.

Also near camp is a large tree loaded down on one side with loosely woven bird nests, probably the work of white-browed sparrow-weavers. These nests, gnerally built only on the leeward side of larger trees, become a familiar sight and a quick way to check the direction of the prevailing wind.










It is late in the morning when the others return.

We eat lunch and then spend the afternoon sitting in the shade of the thorn trees reading about the Kalahari and the birds and animals we have seen. We all nap in our tents for awhile. Later I write while my husband goes in search of thorns suitable for use as pegs for the cribbage board.

The afternoon game drive yields lots of springbok, which are ubiquitous, but still a delight to watch.


We also are treated once again to a wealth of birds, kori bustards and pale chanting goshawks being the most notable.

The highlight of the evening is brought to us by two male kudu that are in the midst of an argument. They shake their antlers at each other, break a moment to check us out, and then shake their antlers some more until one lopes off. The winner of this encounter quickly buries his face deep in the grass. Later we look to see what was so irresistible. Kaiser reaches down into a large hole pulls out a piece of a large tuber. It must be quite a tasty treat if one is a kudu.










After stopping to snap a few pictures of the sunset, we return to camp in the dark. Along the way we have glimpses of our nocturnal friends - the honey badgers, bat eared foxes, and other creatures that disappear into the darkness as we drive by.



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