Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Hemingway Safari: Leaving the Kalihari Lions (Part 11)

Our last morning hearing “Good morning” and zip zip, as our water is delivered. The big full moon is still up as we get our coffee around the campfire, hating to go. But, all too soon, it is time to load our bags into the truck and head for the airstrip. It is cold. I have my sweater on over my dress. Both Godfrey and Paul, at separate times, admire my long Saudi dress, and tell me with approval that I look like an African woman. I am just glad that there are also blankets available in the truck, as it is really, really cold in the desert.

I am even more glad for the blanket a couple hours later, when Godfrey slows the truck, and then stops. In the middle of the road, not 100 yards away, are two lions. Big young male lions. They show no fear, and, in fact, one starts walking purposefully toward the truck. He eventually turns back, but as we begin to leave, he turns back for another look. Now, there are three of them. The biggest keeps walking toward us, and walks to the side of the truck, the side where I am sitting. Godfrey tells us just to keep still, and all that he has taught us about lions goes through my mind. Sit still, look him in they eye so he will know you are dominant and not afraid.

We’ve seen lions before, in Chobe, in Moremi, and in these more heavily travelled game parks, I think the animals know you aren’t a threat. Most of the time, they just tolerate you presence, or slowly walk away. And, my friends, I am looking this lion in the eye. He is four feet from me. And I know sees me. And I don’t think he thinks I am a part of the diesel and rubber smell, he looks amused, and intrigued, and . . .hungry.

I have seen my cats look at little mice the same way. And I am aware that we have no gun, and no real weapon. There is a shovel, but it is attached to the front bumper. The jack is on the rear bumper. There are thermoses, but they are in the wicker baskets. I am sitting her with nothing but a blanket and a camera, and this big interested looking lion is within pouncing distance. And he doesn’t think I am dominant. And he is very, very close. “Godfrey, DRIVE” I say, and I can hear AH and Angela breathe again; we’ve all been holding our breaths. Godfrey drives, very slowly, and the three young males lope along behind us.

I will add, that while I was sitting motionless with terror, eye to eye with the Kalihari lion, my husband was sitting just behind me, shooting photos over my shoulder.

What if we had had the flat tire in the middle of all this, we wonder? How would we change a tire? Godfrey says, you just wait until they go away. Waiting out a lion could take a LONG time, and it would seem even longer.

Then, out in front of the truck steps a female, and she has wounds. Godfrey drives very slowly, very carefully, for a wounded lion is a far less predictable lion. We are nearly giddy with relief when we finally get free of the lions, who lope along behind us for quite a while. The road is sand, and we can’t drive very fast.

My Adored Husband is totally annoyed that he ran out of film in the middle of the episode; I had film but I didn’t want to shoot while I was busy maintaining eye contact with the lion. (As it turns out, he did get one really good shot of the lion, a very beautiful shot, the lion is light gold against the white wheat of the background, and I love the shot.) The adreneline is still pumping. We made it to the airstrip just in time, in spite of the time we spent with the Kalihari lions.

Time to say goodbye to Godfrey, climb aboard our last little Cessna and leave the bush. What a way to go! Our flight to Maun is uneventful. Maun is a funny little airport, very small. We find a couple gift shops – we haven’t been spending anything out in the bush – and we deliver a message to Afro-Ventures from Godfrey, telling them he needs more information on his next safari. He has a full contingent of seven for the safari, a reverse of ours, starting in the Kalihari, just hours after we leave. They promise they will radio him the information.

We are not the same people as before we went to Botswana. We miss our camp. We loved this trip. You have to be able to endure the bumps and lumps of the overland drive to handle this particular trip, Afro Ventures’ Botswana a la Hemingway, but there are other ways, there are trips where you fly from destination to destination, and stay mostly in lodges. You would still experience much of what we experienced, just not the camping portion.

AfroVentures and CCAfrica merged, and we don’t think you can get a better combination of knowledgeable guides and gracious accomodations. Every single day of our journey exceeded expectations. It was a grand adventure. Thanks for coming along.
This lion is actually a Grumeti lion from Tanzania, but I wasn’t digital yet when we travelled Botswana.

September 21, 2006 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Botswana, Cultural, ExPat Life, Travel | , , , , | 2 Comments

The Hemingway Safari: The Kalihari (Part 10)

The next morning, we take it easy, late breakfast, get all packed up and are ready for our short trip to the airstrip. Our pilot is Collin McAlister, again, which we find delightful. And this time, I don’t even feel the least bit claustrophobic. I LIKE flying this way, where you stow your own bag, you get on, fly, get off, grab your bag – it is SO efficient!

This flight is totally different from the last one, in that we go from the lushness of the Okavango Delta into the dry Kalihari. Now the Kalihari airstrip seems remote enough when we see Godfrey there to meet us, but we still have a four hour drive in front of us to the Deception Valley camp site. Godfrey has put the canvas top over the wagon which protects us from the hottest part of the sun, but still we can see out.

Godrey points out to us the tiny melons growing along the side of the road, and says that the lions eat them for water, as there is no source of water in the middle of the desert. There were some pumps, but there was an earthquake and the pipes broke. Later, on one of our game drives, we see a crew out in the middle of way-far-out-nowhere, and they are repairing the pipes so that one day the water holes will function again. We also see a tiny green desert hibiscus flower.

We have never seen such a bleak landscape. It is hard to believe that this land can support any life at all, but . . . Godfrey shows us wonders. One of the first is an entire herd of gigantic male kudus, very large deer-like animals with beautiful twisted antlers. They can bound over very high fences, and make it look easy. We saw this, on the long drive to our camp site, the fences were over 7 feet high, and these huge antelope sailed over at a gallop. It takes our breath away.

We also saw ostrich, many of them, male and female, and they always run away when we get close. When they run, they really bounce from side to side, and look very comical, like ballerinas running off-stage.

We have to stop several times to go through gates into the Kalihari game reserve. We want to see the lions, the lions of the Kalihari, the great, very wild lions we have heard about. We don’t see any on the four hour ride to our camp, but we have seen so much that it hardly matters. And we are grateful to sink into our familiar beds in our familiar tents, to have a hot shower, and a rest before the afternoon game drive.

As we come into camp, John and Richard are leaving in the big truck, to go get water. We use water very sparingly, but supporting life out on the desert means you have to bring in everything. John and Richard will drive a couple hours to the water station, will fill and drive back. The water is a little red. We don’t drink it, and we keep our mouths shut when we shower.

During our late afternoon game drive, we see a Cape Fox running through a herd of steinbok, and just as the light is failing, Godfrey spots a cheetah walking through the grass a few hundred yards away. We watch until darkness falls and we can’t see it any longer.

By this time, our ears have adjusted and we can understand Godfrey almost perfectly. When he says the steinbok dig for “tubas”, we know it is not musical instruments, but tubers. When he says “maybe he feign-ed illness, I don know”, we understand that maybe Paul was sick and maybe he wasn’t. We know that the “red boo boo shirke” is the red breasted shrike. We have come to admire and respect Godfrey immensely. He has so much knowledge of the animals and birds and trees and flowers, and also he manages the staff so well, keeps them operating smoothly under very extreme conditions AND keeps all the equipment well maintained.

We admire his driving ability. You would have to see the roads we are on to understand, the narrow, one lane, unpaved roads. Sometimes rocky, mostly sandy and always rutted and full of holes. In the Kalihari, there is the additional challenge of aardvark holes. The aardvark loves digging in the roads, as the roads are clear of brush. But aardvarks dig HUGE holes.

Back in camp, the lanterns are glowing in front of our tents, Dorcas meets us with hot washcloths, and oh, glory, there is a huge full moon rising over our camp. Here we are in the Kalihari desert, and we never want to leave.

I DO miss the sound of the elephants and hippos, and I don’t hear any lions. Even the birds are quieter here, no owls. It is very, very quiet. And then, there is that huge, full moon. We are in heaven. For dinner that night, Sky serves chicken in peanut sauce, and oh, it is delicious. The next morning when we stop for mid-morning tea and coffee, we find he has made sandwiches with the leftovers, and we are delighted. On this morning’s game run we see mongoose, an aardwolf, and a bat-eared fox. Four days in the Kalihari, and where are the lions?

We take a full day game drive to far away places. We see a solitary giraffe, and wonder how on earth he survives? He is very old, you can tell by his very dark color, Godfrey tells us. We set up for lunch under a huge tree. Godfrey looks up, and while we don’t see a leopard, we know a leopard has been there, as there is a dessicated springbok carcass high in the tree, where the leopard left it.

We get to see the springbok springing, which is a lot like the pronking of the impala, and we see a red haartebeast, and a brown hyena, all very rare, but still, no lions. We do see lion poop, Godfrey tells us we know it is lion poop because it has fur in it.

On our way back to the camp, at the end of a long day, we have the first, and only, flat tire of our trip, and the cause is a thorn. Not just any old thorn, this thorn is as thick and strong as an iron spike. It is astonishing how fast Godfrey and Paul change the tire. The tires are big, thick, sturdy tires, and we are amazed that this is the first and only one we have had. And at the same time, we haven’t seen anyone else for hours. If we didn’t have a spare, or if we lost a tire AND a second tire, we would be very very isolated out here in the middle of the desert. It is a soboring thought. The kind of thought you don’t think before you make a trip like this or you might not make the trip at all! 😉

We are back in camp this last night of our journey about 5, early for us, but we have been out all day, and we have to be packed to leave the next morning BY seven, in order to make it to the airstrip for our pickup.

Godfrey prides himself on being reliable, and says if you get a bad reputation for not being on time the bush pilots can refuse to do your pick ups. Not only does he deliver people promptly, but he always has tea/coffee/sodas and sandwiches available to offer to the pilots, and from talking with Collin, we know that this is exceptional and remarkable. But Godfrey is a very unusual person, and we have watched him now for two weeks, and learned that a lot of his success comes from taking his time with people, talking with them, building relationships and consensus. We kid him that one day he will probably be president of Botswana, but Godfrey says he will be happy to be president of the Tour Guide association.

September 20, 2006 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Botswana, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Environment, ExPat Life, Travel | , | 2 Comments