By Phyllis Dawson
Botswana - Part 12
The Kalahari Desert to Cape Town

February 21

Another crystal clear sunrise. A lone acacia tree was silhouetted on the horizon against a crimson sky. As the dawn sky faded from fire, to delicate pastel hues, and finally to blue, it was accented by the white streak of a jet trail as some unknown vessel sailed high above the continent, oblivious to the richness of life going on far below. A pale moon was hanging low in the western sky. Our trip was nearing its end, and this was to be our last full day on safari with Gee.


     A White Stork strolled beside the road, backlit in the rising sun. I almost got a great photo of a scrub hair, but he took off just before I got the shot. The ostriches were out in force, as were the jackals, and the gemsboks of course.

     Several of the oryx were alertly watching something in the bushes; it turned out to be a pair of bat-eared foxes. We got to see a community spider nest quite close up; it looked like a fishing net cast over a bush. Two more honey badgers! We got a quick look; we were now up to 12 of these fascinating creatures now - unbelievable. Gee was following lion tracks in the road – could it be our males from yesterday?


     I was riding in the back seat. The farther back you sit in the land cruiser, the bumpier the ride is; when we hit rough patches of road those in the rear get bounced up high off the seats. You also have to watch out for branches and thorn bushes, and be ready to duck inside quickly to avoid them.

     We drove back around the edge of Deception Pan. On the far side two giraffes were mock fighting, whacking each other with their long necks. I had seen a documentary where two male giraffes fought violently by striking each other with their heads and necks with incredible force, but this was nothing like that - they were just having a little friendly combat practice. When they were finished roughhousing they stood together, crossing necks and pivoting back and forth like a slow motion dance, their dual silhouettes making elegant geometric shapes.


     A single oryx made its way slowly across the dark moist earth of Deception Pan. An adult jackal and a half grown youngster playfully nipped at each other. A pair of ground squirrels watched us with interest, standing up like meerkats peering at us.

     We encountered a really interesting new bird, the Eastern Clapper Lark. The male ‘displays’ to attract a mate by flying high in the air, making a sharp loud noise as he claps his wings together, and then whistling and falling straight back down to the ground as if shot. We watched as he repeated this version of the mating dance over and over. The females must find this seductive.
An oryx went running across the road. A few minutes later Gee spotted a lioness hunting in the distance; even with binoculars we could just barely make out her far tawny form. Gee said the gemsbok has good eyesight, he saw her and went running.  Obviously Gee has good eyesight too, as few people could have spotted the huntress.    

     Mid-morning we found the pride. A lioness was lying under a bush, not fifty feet from the road. As we drove closer we could see two more; another lioness and a youngish male, full size but still with a scruffy mane. Gee told us they were from the Deception Valley pride.
They were lying quietly, intermittently napping and doing a little paw licking. When the shade moved around the tree, the older lioness stood up and posed beautifully for a moment, gazing out over the plain – then she moved to a new shady spot and settled in for another nap. As the shade continued to move around the tree we waited to see if the lions would move again, but they couldn’t be bothered to make the effort.


     We decided to go for our tea break, and come back to check on the lions later. Gee drove far enough that we wouldn’t be lion bait and stopped under a tree right beside the road. Jineen coerced Paula and Gee into a springbok-dung-spitting contest. Jineen is an old hand at impala dung spitting, but Gee, who claimed to have never engaged in this particular activity before, came out the winner. 
After tea we went back and checked on the lions. A couple of them had moved as the shade shifted, but they were all still sleeping. We left them to their slumbers and moved on.

Secretary Bird 

     A secretary bird was strutting along through the grass, the long quills on the back of his head and neck standing up like a headdress on a Native American chief.  Gee spotted a mostly white bird with a greyish tail; he told us it was a Marico flycatcher that was leucistic, meaning partially white, sort of like half albino. (Their normal coloring is a darker brown with a white breast.) 
The temperature was not too hot, but with the clear dry air, mid-day the sun became really intense. A pair of ground squirrels were rummaging about for food; to my amazement they held their furry tails arched up over their backs and spread out like an umbrella to provide shade. Isn’t nature wonderful?


     I had been noticing that many of the animals we saw had some type of horizontal or diagonal striping. We had seen more subtle striping up near the Delta in the impalas, lechwes and jackals; here in the Kalahari it was often more vivid, showing up in animals such as the gemsboks, springboks, and even the ground squirrels. (We are not talking zebra stripes here – they are a whole nother thing) 
Gee said the animals have the horizontal stripes for temperature control. Especially in the Kalahari, the white sand reflects the heat upward, so many animals have white bellies to stay cool. He told us a bit of black higher up helps absorb some of the heat in cold weather, and brown works well as a middle ground for both. I was not totally convinced of the logic of all that; I think perhaps God just wanted to make them pretty.


     For those of us riding in the far back seat, every bump in the road would bounce us out of the seat, and if not careful, slam our heads into the roof. As we traversed some of the narrower roads, we had to lean in hard to avoid the thorny branches whipping us in the face. When we would hit a big bump, we grasped the side bars and hung on for dear life. This inspired another bad limerick:

The back seat feels like wild horses broncing 
Or perhaps more like springboks pronking
The bushes have thorns
Long as antelope horns
And our heads we’re repeatedly bonking

     We saw something dark on the horizon - it looked like a herd of buffalo. As we got closer we saw it was a flock of ostriches, a dozen of them. They all stood together, and some were holding their wings outstretched to cool themselves.

     Crossing the wide dry riverbed, we admired the lovely scene stretched before us; the grassy plain was covered in little yellow flowers like dandelions, and a herd of springboks grazing peacefully. We went back to camp for lunch and showers.


     Before going back out for the afternoon drive, I set my camera on timer mode and we all posed in front of the land cruiser for a group photo. Along with staff and guests, our mascots, Duma, Merle and Solo were included.  KK wore Samba the mamba wrapped around his neck. We were back on the road at 3.30. As we left, BD told us no dinner unless we brought back a photo of a cheetah!


     We headed back to Deception Pan. All of our usual Kalahari friends were out; gemsboks, springboks, ostriches, jackals and bat-eared foxes. A hartebeest stood under an acacia tree, silhouetted in shadow, the shape of his thick horns unmistakable. A pale chanting goshawk looked down from his perch at the top of a small tree, a proprietary gleam in his eye. 

Pale Chanting Goshawk

     Four female ostriches were lying on the ground together with just their heads and necks sticking up, and a fifth one was lying a little apart from them; we were able to get fairly close to her. With her rounded back and her skinny neck sticking up above the grass, she looked like some sort of weird giant turtle.
Contrary to popular belief, Gee told us, ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand when frightened - but sometimes if they feel threatened they will lay their heads down flat on ground to escape notice.


     We spent a fair bit of time at a big puddle in the road, watching the birds and butterflies that gathered round it. Our old friends the doves were there, Cape turtle, laughing and Namaqua, along with a flock of red-billed quelias. There were several new ones; a Grey-backed Sparrow Lark, and a Cinnamon-breasted Bunting. Swarms of small cream-colored butterflies hovered around the water, joined by some chestnut-orange monarchs.

      The sun was getting low as we stopped at the edge of the wide riverbed plain. A herd of about a dozen wildebeest came out of trees, the most we had seen together in the Kalahari. They had two really tiny calves that still had light brown coats, though their faces were dark. The herd paraded sedately across the plain right toward us, finally crossing the road a short ways in front of us. We were surprised, as they usually keep the really small babies hidden. We felt lucky see them close up - even wildebeests are cute when they are babies!

     We spent sunset with the springboks. We got to see a little light pronking. The younger adults would warm up by running, chasing each other, and then suddenly they would start their unique signature leaps. They would jump high in the air with their back rounded and all four legs and head hanging straight down. They looked like they were being hoisted up by a band around their stomachs. As soon as their feet hit the ground they would leap again, and again. I tried to catch it on video, but as they gave me no advance warning it proved impossible. 

     We watched the springboks until the light faded. Their white markings seemed to glow in the dusky light against a fiery sky. As the sun slipped below the horizon we heard the high pitched yips and cries of the jackals calling, a beautiful haunting sound that sends shivers down your spine. The call of the jackals was the ‘Cry of the Kalahari’ that the book was named for.


     We never did find the cheetahs. Gee was feeling a little bad about that, but he shouldn’t have - we constantly had the most amazing sightings, and we had seen so much. We were happy! Part of the magic of safari is in the search, and the fact that nothing is guaranteed. This is not some glorified zoo; it is the wilds of Africa. Anyway, we took Gee’s picture holding Duma the stuffed cheetah, so that we would have something to show BD when we got back to camp.

     We returned to camp just after sunset. As it became fully dark, for the first time on the whole trip the stars were out in their full glory. No clouds, no moon, just velvety black overhead, with the Milky Way stretched gloriously across the heavens, undimmed by the light of any civilization, shining against the depths of eternity. 
The brilliance of the stars was the one thing I had been missing on this trip. I would have liked to set up my tripod for some night sky photography, but since it was the last night and we had our goodbyes to say, it was not the right time.

     We were sad the trip was almost over. We felt closer to this camp staff, BD, KK and Life, than we had to any other on previous trips. And the bond we had formed with Gee was special - he is a friend for life.
     Dinner was bittersweet; we thanked the crew and tried to tell them how much they all meant to us. Jineen read two limericks that she had written for the occasion, which summed up our feelings nicely.

 We thank our amazing staff
They fold towels in the shape of giraffes
Our water is hot
There’s good food in the pot
And together we've had lots of laughs.

Our guide, Gee, is truly the best
Our thanks we would like to express
His spotting skills are superb
Whether leopards or birds
And he treats us like family, not guests.


February 22
Our wakeup call came at five as usual, and at breakfast we said goodbye to BD, KK and Life. We were on the road with Gee by six, as we had a long drive back to Maun. We were already wondering when we could come back. 
Gee drove slowly as we left the park, scanning the plains; we knew he was looking for one last chance to show us a cheetah. But we told him not to worry; not having seen one gave us a good reason to come back! Also, he had told us there was a place we could go next time where we might see rhinos - we were already dreaming of the next trip.

      We saw a duiker near the gate on our way out. This tiny antelope is similar to a steenbok, and was a new animal for us. Gee told us that he has them around his farm. After we went out the gate, we turned left and followed a track that ran right alongside the CKGR boundary fence; this was the shortest way back to Maun.  

     We passed a female ostrich, and the closeness of the vehicle startled her into a run.  First she ran along beside us, between the road and the fence on our left.  She was racing us, but in a slightly panicked state. She pulled ahead and swerved into the road, and then ran along in front of us, comically zig-zagging back and forth, clearly thinking we were chasing her. With her giant drumsticks pounding and her tail feathers waving in the wind, she looked like something out of a cartoon. Finally she swerved to the right and exited the road, no doubt giving a sigh of relief when we did not turn and follow her. Amazingly, Mary was able to capture the whole thing on video with her phone.


     It had been the most amazing trip. The final count of some of the more notable animals was as follows:

Leopards - 13
Lions - 16
Honey badgers - 12
Leopard tortoises - 7
Impalas - 87,632

     Whenever I visit Africa, along with great joy I am always tinged with sadness. The grandeur we see in these parks, the amazing diversity of life, is just a small remainder of an environment and ecosystem that used to cover the entire continent. No matter how fabulous the parks and game reserves are, they are isolated islands, just tiny pockets left of how the world used to be. 
The vast majority of wildlife in Africa (as in other places) has been lost through encroaching civilization, loss of habitat, trophy hunting and poaching. Botswana has done a better job than most African countries in managing and protecting both their wildlife and their people, but there are still problems. Not enough people in this world care enough to save the environment and the animals, and one wonders how long these oases of nature can withstand the tide of development.  And the horrible poaching, killing magnificent animals for their tusks, horns, or hides, still continues unabated across the continent.      

On the drive back to Maun we saw the usual assortment of donkeys, cattle, goats and the occasional horse nonchalantly roaming loose beside and in the road. Several donkeys were pulling carts, and we passed a couple of adorable baby burros.
At the Maun airport we said goodbye to Gee. We were very sad to be leaving him. When can we come back? We will come back.


The airport at Maun is very small. As we lined up for our departing flight, several airport employees were opening and inspecting our luggage. The man checking my duffel opened it up and saw Samba the Mamba, who was coiled up on top of my clothes. For a moment I feared I might be in trouble, but he picked up the rubber snake and casually thrust it in the face of the woman inspecting bags next to him. She screamed and jumped back in fright, no doubt having heart palpitations, and we all laughed until we thought our sides would split. When she had just about regained her composure he shoved the snake at her again, getting a repeat of her frightened reaction.

     We had arranged for a brief visit to Cape Town on our way home. Sally and Mike had been there before so they left us at Maun, but the rest of us boarded a plane for Cape Town. Looking out the plane windows as we flew over many dramatic mountains, we noticed that the land was brown and seemed very dry and barren - very different from the green of Botswana.       
We found Cape Town to be a beautiful city, terraced on the shoulders of the mountains, overlooking the water. We had rented a mini-van, and Tara drove us expertly. We followed the eastern coast down to Simontown, with the ocean on our left. 


     We stayed in a beautiful hotel overlooking the harbor. It seemed strange to be back to civilization, but it was nice to have a day to decompress and ease back into society before boarding a plane to go home. A sign in our shower instructed us to catch any extra water in a bucket for reuse, as South Africa was experiencing a terrible drought. That explained why everything looked so brown from plane.
We had a nice dinner at the hotel restaurant. Afterwards Tara and I walked down to the pier where people were fishing. All sorts were there; locals, tourists, Asians, Australians – it was quite a mix.

February 23
     We had breakfast at the hotel restaurant, overlooking the harbor. Then we went kayaking with the penguins. We were instructed to climb down a little ladder into thigh deep water, where we precariously climbed into the kayaks. I was paired with Mary, which was some comfort as she is an experienced kayaker - but I was sitting in front and so couldn’t really turn around to talk to her. At first I felt very insecure, like I was going to tip over; I had brought along my second string camera, and was mainly regretting doing so for fear of capsizing.

     After a quick briefing, we set out in a line following the group leader. It was a very foggy morning;  it was kind of eerie gliding along silently through the mist, barely able to see the kayaks in front of us. A grey heron stood on a mostly submerged wall, along with hundreds of Arctic Terns. Why are artic terns so far south? Wouldn’t they be Antarctic terns?
Mary and I were falling behind most of the group. I tried to paddle faster but I felt a bit unstable; any unconsidered motion sent the kayak rocking from side to side. Also my feet were cramping. I got more comfortable as we went on.  Fortunately the water was very calm.
We paddled alongside a huge military ship, and then around the point and along a high retaining wall. It was covered with mollusks; our guide made what he called an ‘American joke,’ telling us the mussels are an ‘alien’ invasive species, and this was proof that walls don’t keep the aliens out.


     We glided on through the mist, avoiding floats of seaweed. Cormorants looked down on us from rocky islands. We came to a little cove with a sandy beach and got out of the kayaks. There was a colony of African Penguins on a rocky point by the beach; we watched them through the fog. They stood on the rocks grooming themselves, and did not show any fear of us. Some of the penguins lay awkwardly on their stomachs, and some were swimming. We watched others waddle down the beach.


     They looked like they were wearing black tuxedos with white shirts. They had a black stripe across the front of their necks like a tie, and a white stripe curving up the side of their heads in a C-shape, accenting their large black bills. There was a pink crescent of skin above their eyes, like they were wearing pink eye shadow. They were really cute, way cooler than I had expected them to be.


     Back in the kayaks, we paddled over to Boulder Beach, a famous penguin spot. We could not see many from the water; it seems most of them were out to sea. We did see a few swimming, bobbing up among clumps of seaweed then diving again.
As we paddled back the fog lifted, and we could see the rocky mountainsides standing tall around the harbor. A seal bobbed in the water in front of us; I tried to get a photo, but we had slid past him by the time I could get my camera out of the drybag.
Back on shore, we did a bit of shopping at an open air market where local people were selling their wares. Then we drove to Boulder Beach to see more of the penguins. It was quite commercial there; after standing in line to get in and paying a fee, we followed the boardwalk down to the beach.  Penguins will Bite, a sign warned us.    

     The sandy beach was strewn with huge boulders (hence the name), and the ocean was a deep turquoise blue. There were large rock stacks just off shore, covered with cormorants standing shoulder to shoulder and looking out to sea. A large colony of Africa penguins inhabited the cove; some of them were quite close to the boardwalk. We watched the penguins waddling, preening, and interacting with each other. Some would come in with the surf and others would swim out, but most just stood or sat serenely on the beach. It was quite fun to watch them, but we would have preferred a more private setting.


     As we left we passed a group of local musicians singing and dancing; we stopped a few minutes to listen to them harmonizing, and Mary bought their excellent CD.

     We drove southward, down the coast. We stopped for lunch at a nice restaurant by the ocean called the Black Marlin.  The waitress had just served our food when suddenly a big male baboon came bounding into the open air dining room, jumped up on one of the tables, and began eagerly eating the bread and condiments he found there.
     Our waitress grabbed our plates off the table again to keep them from the baboon; it was obvious he had been here before. Some of the people were afraid of him and a big fuss was made, while others ignored him, obviously used to his presence. As some of the staff chased him, the baboon made off with dozens of sugar packets clutched in his hand, stuffing them in his mouth, paper and all.


     Before long the baboon was back, very confidant and a bit aggressive. He jumped up onto a table beside a man finishing his lunch and proceeded to lick out the parfait glasses that ice cream had been served in. Again the waiters came and chased him away. He made a third visit before a game warden arrived with a pellet gun of some sort, meant to scare and deter, not kill. We asked the waitress if the baboon came often; she said he was there 3 or 4 times a week. They did not seem to have an effective way of dealing with him.


     We continued down the coast, and sooner than I had expected, we came to the park entrance for the Cape of Good Hope. We stopped at a high overlook just inside the park. The ocean stretched before us, the shoreline curving in a crescent cove. We could see the white lines of breaking waves far below, and sheer granite mountainsides rose steeply from the rocky coast. A misty haze on the horizon blended the deep blue of the water seamlessly with the sapphire sky. Banks of wispy clouds streamed around the shoulder of the mountain.  


     The scenery was spectacular as we drove through the park. The narrow road zigzagged as it climbed the mountainside. As we came to higher elevations, there were long slopes of tundra-like areas, with short dense shrubby vegetation and a few stunted trees. This ecological zone is called fynbos, and it reminded me of the heath in the highlands of Scotland, or a mountaintop where we hiked in Costa Rica.

     It was late afternoon when we came to a rocky beach at the tip of the continent. The mist was thicker, and you could hardly see where the ocean ended and the sky began. Cape of Good Hope. The most South-western Point of the African Continent, a sign proclaimed. We picked our way over the rounded stones toward the water. I took a small stone for the cairn in my yard at home.


     The Cape of Good Hope was spectacular. It was shrouded in mist and mystery. The surf rolled in from two different angles; the Indian Ocean sent its waters from the left, and the Atlantic surged in from the right. The waves met in a thunderous display in front of us, crashing into each other as they pounded the rocky shore, spraying up onto the cliffs with an incredible show of power and conflict. I could have stayed there all day, watching the two oceans battle for supremacy.

Cape of Good Hope

     We drove up the Atlantic coast, taking the longer scenic route. The fog lifted and the scenery was beautiful. We were surprised to see fields with cross-country jumps; we stopped to investigate. It was the Noordhoek Community Park, which we surmised was an equestrian schooling and competition grounds.
We stopped at Chapman’s Peak to admire the view. We saw the sunset from Hout Bay, with the iconic Table Mountain in the center of the panorama. Driving further up the coast, we watched the last warm light of the evening fade into dusk over the ocean.

Sunset at Hout Bay, with a view ofTable Mountain

     We found our guesthouse in Cape Town, arriving late – our host thought we were getting there early afternoon and had been waiting on us. Whoops. It was a lovely old house, quite fancy, with plaster relief art on the walls that had come from an ancient Italian church. Too bad we were only there for a few hours. We walked down to a restaurant with a Casa Blanca theme for dinner, and then went back to the house to pack. Early the next morning, we headed for the airport, and our three flights to get home. I was already plotting about when I could come back.  

 ~ The End ~

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