The smell of rain was carried by the northern wind. There was a brooding silence that hung thickly in the air at first light. A few barking gecko’s broke the quiet with intermittent calls. I lay quietly in the tent, merely absorbing each feeling; the emotion of being somewhere in one of Africa’s wildest spaces.
While we were preparing breakfast, life started to stir on the pan in front of our camping site – springbok, wildebeest, gemsbok, ostrich and a Cori Bustard in display. A new sighting for both of us which we enjoyed immensely. His neck feathers all puffed up, he strutted across the pan – a mixture between peacock and turkey. We certainly did not notice a lucky lady – perhaps she was hiding, or perhaps it was the cool, moist weather that just went straight to his head…
We decided to explore all the pans once again, as we did on our previous visit. It was winter then, but now, summer was making her presence known in splashes of green and delicate bunches of desert flowers. The intense heat of the previous day was somewhat subdued which helped greatly with the fuel supply problem we have been experiencing the past days.
Our first stop was at Mpayathutla pan – it was quiet, except for tracks – yes, we found them once again – BIG lion tracks that headed in the direction of Khiding (where we would be sleeping that night…). We decided to follow the spoor just in case we needed to psych ourselves for later in the day. (Stupid thing to do really, as I already started to deduce again; if we are in the rooftop tent with enough to eat and drink…what happens if…) The what-if’s never presented, as the spoor disappeared into the veld three kilometers onward, but there is always that sense that hovers between wishful thinking and reality. (Yes, that lion encounter one day fills me with equal amounts of excitement and fear…) But for now, we decided that the spoor must be planted by the Botswana rangers in order to keep visitors at their camp sites at night…
At Khiding a picture of abundance awaited us – a large herd of springbok and gemsbok were grazing in the pan. The vegetation had become lush and green. The camp site’s trees had inviting dark shade. We were pleased with our choice, knowing that even though there was no water, we had a little oasis waiting for us when we return later in the afternoon.
We headed to Mabuasehube pan after inspecting our lodgings for the night. As we turned into the road that circumvents the pan, we noticed the tracks once again – and this time, there were signs of play – all the way to the drinking hole. The whole pan was deserted, save for one solitary gemsbok that looked intently at something on the horizon. My thoughts worked overtime – Khiding was smack bang in the centre of all these lion tracks – an average of 11 kilometers away from both pans… As we turned the bend, we did not notice any campers, thus, we discussed that if there was water at Mabu’s showers, we would have good soak there. Farthest from our thoughts were three lions awaiting us as they comfortably lazed in the shade of the A-frame of site number three…
Did we shower? Yes. At the next site, three kilometers away. It was one of the most exhilarating showers I have ever had in my life! Strange to think that the coolness of the water was so refreshing in comparison to the heart-stopping shower we had in August. Perhaps I did not feel much of the water temperature in any case, as I kept on asking partner whether he is keeping a good lookout. As I washed the shampoo out of my hair, I kept on thinking those “what if” thoughts and knew that we were vulnerable beyond words – not even my shaky plan B (to climb onto the shower frame) would have survived one klap from that lioness if we were to be kitty breakfast.
After we cleaned up nicely, and looked much more presentable, we returned to where we had found the lions. They were still there, and very obviously parked for the day. When we made our booking for the Botswana side, it was a toss-up between Khiding and Mabu’ – I now wonder what we would have done if we had to negotiate a double booking with three lions.
We returned to Khiding by late afternoon after a day filled with incredible sightings. Kalahari tent tortoise, Bateleur, Black Backed Jackal, Cori Bustard, Meercat, Yellow mongoose, Slender mongoose, springbok, kudu and gemsbok.
The sun started to prepare for dusk across the pan. Dark clouds gathered on the horizon, another storm was brewing far off again. Sunset lasted for almost two hours – we sat and watched a live painting that changed by the second, each colour more brilliant than the one before.
Then finally, darkness came and the landscape changed into a mysterious woman in a black dress. We could smell her fragrance, see her glittering jewels on her cape, feel her warmth and hear her song of night – she was neither here nor there. This woman who’s name is Africa…
Dinner became quite a bush cook-up. Roasted brinjal, butternut and honey and thickly cut lamb chops. After we washed up, I sat contentedly, thinking that if I am to be kitty dinner, at least my last meal was a good one – which still needed a good rounding of Amarula coffee… While I was waiting for the water to boil, partner presented me with a barking gecko (just like a little boy with a frog in his pocket…) and indeed, it is one of the cutest little reptiles I had seen – all 8 centimeters of it.
Somewhere in the night, my wish for the Kalahari manifested…A summer storm hit us in full force and although we were dry and snug inside our tent, I wondered whether it was a matter of time before we would become airborne. The wind rocked and swirled around us and huge raindrops hit the tent with force. I looked through the flap on my side into the darkness that was pierced by bolts of lightning every few seconds to see trees and bush lit up in ghostly light. I unzipped the tent door slightly and put my hands out to feel the icy water splash on them. “Thank you…” I whispered into the darkness.