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