14 & 15 November (Part II)
Since my childhood, which was spent in the veld, I have had an acute sense of tuning into the delicate web of nature. It something akin to a sixth sense and it is not reserved for animals only, landscapes tell me stories. In the Kgalagadi, it took a while for me to find the rhythm, as this was a new landscape for someone who intimately knows the fragrance of dawn in the Bushveld.
As we traveled further away from the turn off at Nossob, I felt the presence resonating in me and without effort, I started to pick up little things that nature was showing me. About fifteen kilometers further, had me searching for a pan – the growth patterns of flora started to change and I knew that by the look of things, a pan must be somewhere close. Indeed, as we scaled another dune, a smallish pan awaited in a dune street. I was amazed to read about the occurrence of pans – there are almost ten thousand pans in the Kgalagadi, ranging from a few meters to some as big as two kilometers in diameter. The pans provide vital sustenance to animals during the rainy season, firstly water for short periods after rain, and once the water filters away, the soil type enables growth of very palatable grass.
Another ten kilometers had us stop underneath the only tree close to the road, and there is not an abundance of trees in this area if you compare it to the Gharagab environment. We were in the middle of a large pan, where the Klein Stofpan water hole is located. The windmill was damaged but we lingered long enough on the hot surface of the track to overheat the fuel supply again. We haven’t had that problem in a while, so as usual, partner did the “cool-down-trick” and we utilized the time we had to wait for breakfast. Weatbix and good cup of coffee!
A little while later, we were negotiating the dunes once more. Not much of a 4X4 guru, but as a qualified passenger, this road was not lekka. If I jokingly recommended a sports bra on the previous trip, then I would suggest a corset for this one…and a gum guard… Partner explained the technical aspects of bad dune driving as well as the draw-backs of traction control in modern vehicles for less fortunate who needs to use the road after them – this all minced with a few choice words as we were rocking over the dunes.
A kilometer drive away from the main road to view Namabies water hole had us frustrated – the windmill was also broken and by the look of things, it has been out of order for quite a while. (A sign at the turn-off to inform visitors would have been nice…). I was relieved when we stopped at Bitterpan wilderness camp twenty minutes later. Two sweaty, shaken and stirred travelers hobbled out of the vehicle – seasick from the dune road.
Ah!, but what a picture awaited us, as Oliver, who supervised the camp, escorted us to our room. I walked to the front of the complex and just stood there in rapture. This place took my breath away and made my soul dance in its magnificent ambiance. The preceding discomfort forgotten, almost as if the journey here needed to be somewhat difficult in order to appreciate what was waiting for us.
Bitterpan is situated on the edge of a pan on top of a dune, which allows for wonderful views. In front of the braai area, a dry tree completes the postcard picture. But it was not only the “picture” that surrounded us, there was something about this camp that personified desert, seclusion, and utter remoteness.
Oliver explained how things worked in the shared kitchen and braai area and then added as an afterthought that we shouldn’t worry about these arrangements in any case, since we were the only guests at the camp. Partner and I looked at each other like two cats with a bowl of cream – such bliss!
After setting about our work for the day, we returned to the kitchen for a lunch time snack. As we were sitting at the dining table, we noticed that we were not alone – a cheeky three-striped mouse was casually lapping up the breadcrumbs that fell on the kitchen floor. We started to giggle nervously – it has been while since we had an encounter with mice, but it brought back so many memories of a journey that started thousands of kilometers ago. “Remember to hide the tinfoil, dear…” partner remarked.
Lunch done and dishes washed, we opted for a long cold shower to revive us. We still had a bit of work to do for the afternoon and after noticing the gas stoves with ovens, I excitedly told partner that I would bake bread for our evening meal since we had finished the last of our bread during lunch. Whilst we were working at the dining room table, I decided to read the guestbook and an entry had us in stitches. “…had a flat wheel on our way here and my husband broke two crowns…” (So please take my recommendation about mouth guards to heart…although we were assured at a later stage of our journey that the grading of the Bitterpan roads were to begin a few days after our visit…)
Late afternoon, after we were finally finished with all our work, we opted for another cold shower and then I headed for the kitchen to start working on my masterpiece of freshly baked bread. But what a calamity awaited me – a baby mouse fell into the soapy water I had left after washing the dishes, and it was near drowning. How do you resuscitate a baby mouse, I wondered as I wrapped it in a dishcloth to dry it off. I turned the small animal on its back and softly massaged its stomach, which seemed to work as it started to gulp. After drying it, the baby mouse was placed inside my scorpion box with the lid off on the kitchen floor with the hope that mama mouse would find her. It took a few strategically placed peanuts to get mum interested and luckily twenty minutes later, both of them disappeared into the recesses of the kitchen. Rescue mission one done, had me kneading bread like a true boere-tannie. Operation two presented itself in the gas oven – as I turned on the gas and lit the opening, another (hopefully not the same almost-drowned one) mouse with burnt whiskers leapt from somewhere out of the stove and had me fall flat on my bum with fright. (I have a healthy fear of gas ovens…)
After capturing the poor thing in the heating drawer, I inspected for burn wounds, but the only signs I could find was scorched whiskers. It quickly ran away once I had set down on the kitchen floor. So it was partner that found me on my knees on the kitchen floor, talking to the mice of Bitterpan; “Ok guys, I need to bake a bread now and prepare dinner, can you please behave for a little while…?” “The heat is getting to you…” partner remarked as he made little circles around his ears with his hands. Grrrrr.
The magic of Bitterpan grew as day greeted in brilliant burnt coppers and oranges in the west. Partner made a fire and we were sipping a cool Sauvignon Blanc whilst watching night striding in. A gentle breeze cooled the air, and from the side of the pan, an owl joined in with the barking gecko’s. The smell of freshly baked bread wafted from the kitchen. So it was in this setting that we had dinner, juicy lamb chops grilled over coals and a bread that would win first prize, spread thickly with butter and dollops of apricot jam – a veritable feast underneath a canopy of millions of stars somewhere in a desert in Africa.
It was at 22:00 exactly that the moon rose over the dunes, partner kissed me and a solitary lioness looked at this romantic picture from where she was having her evening drink. We smiled as we watched her in the dim light of the caretaker’s unit and I am convinced that she returned a smile as she glanced back at us before she was swallowed by the darkness.
The moon lit up the pan, a silvery-white oval, almost as if it had become an earthly mirror for the shiny orb in the sky. The Southern Cross, Orion, Taurus and Scorpio lingered to sit with us on their passage to the end of night and the earth sang her song to those who knew how to listen to silence…
Overview of Bitterpan Wilderness Camp
An approximate 53 kilometer drive from Nossob through dune fields on a sandy track takes you to this magical camp. Apart from bemoaning the road condition, which was on the charts to be improved soon, I liked the drive there, as it is strewn with pans of all sizes – and as this road is exclusive to residents of the camp only – it affords an intimate view of what happens “inside” those enigmatic dunes. It is not teeming with wildlife, but we did have sightings of steenbok, gemsbok and springbok. I am also of the opinion that season as well as the lack of water supply to the broken water holes have an impact on sightings in the dunes.
I need to single out Bitterpan as my favourite wilderness camp. Its location and sheer beauty makes it a must when you are visiting the KTP. The architecture is unique, building materials range from canvass, reed, IBR roofing and panels used for walling inside wooden log frames.
Four units accommodates eight people in total. The rooms, bathrooms, kitchen and dining room is housed in a complex on stilts and linked with decks. In front of the kitchen and dining area, one accesses the braai area with stairs or a ramp for mobility impaired persons. The entrances to the decks are gated, which provides for safety from roaming animals, as this camp is similarly to the other wildness camps, not fenced.
Each unit comprises of two single beds and a small deck. Across the sleeping units, a bathroom for each which consists of a toilet, basin and shower. The kitchen is equipped with two gas stoves with ovens, crockery, cutlery, utensils and cookware. It has two basins for washing up and spacious enough if more than one cook is busy brewing. The dining area has a large dining room table with comfortable safari chairs and a round table with four more chairs. A large box freezer and fridge/freezer provide ample space for cooling down drinks and freezing of supplies. The braai area has a 180 degree view over the pan and dune fields and provides a wonderful gathering place for large parties.
The water hole is situated at bottom of the complex on the edge of the pan, but it was not functioning properly at the time of our visit. Olivier informed us that a new water hole was to be built in the near future. In the interim, they constructed a small birdbath next to the supervisor’s cabin, but this birdbath attracted more than feathered creatures. The night we visited, we saw a lioness drinking there and also found leopard tracks the next morning. Hopefully the new water hole will be finished urgently as a lot of gemsbok crossed the pan whilst we were there, only to find a few drops of water not sufficient for their need.
At the back of the kitchen, a ladder will lead you to a landing that allows for incredible views. It is also on this landing where you can stand in darkness and pick a basket full of stars…