The beautiful Kalahari - day 2


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Africa » Namibia » Kalahari
February 6th 2010
Published: March 20th 2010
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We woke up early the next morning as we had booked to go on the Bushmen’s walk at 7am. We met our guide and translator by the lodge who brought us out on the grassy plains surrounding the lodge. He stopped by a shrub and shouted out something. After a few minutes wait he shouted again and again. We were guessing the bushmen were late. After a while we saw 4 small skinny figures walking towards us, wearing animal skin as skirts around their waists, one carrying a bow and set of arrows, another a stick. They were very shy and didn’t want to look us in the eye. They spoke a Khoi-San language with click consonants.

Summary from Wikipedia: The san people (or bushmen) are the indigenous people of southern Africa who lived as hunter-gatherers. The bushmen originally lived in the Kalahari desert but were forced out by farmers who took over their land although it’s referred to as relocation rather than being pushed out. They started working on farms in the 50s and 60s and I’m not sure if any of them live in their original habitat anymore, unless it’s for tourism. Only as late as 2006 there was a ruling to say that they would be allowed to return to live in the Kalahari (mainly in Botswana), and although thousands wanted to, they still were not allowed to return. Many of them, and in particular the ones we met, live near game reserves and are employed on reserves to help with the animals, farms or tell tourists about their heritage.

We had a demonstration of the lives of the bushmen by these 4 young men. They showed us what trees and plants provide medicine and can be used as tools. They also showed us how they hunt. Interestingly, they don’t trust each other. Even though they live in groups and hunt as a group, individuals don’t trust one another even if they are best of friends. We were told that individuals bury water underground and don’t tell anyone, as they know others would steal the water. It seems that their main diet was meat, however, at the Iziko South Africa museum, there is a San people exhibition where it states that the majority lived on a vegetarian diet. Nevertheless we learnt a great deal from the live performance given to us by these bushmen.

Giraffes


After our morning guided tour we had a nice relaxing breakfast. We wanted to explore the area some more and went to ask the reception if it was ok to walk around the reserve. The receptionist told us that it was fine, but to be aware that the dunes all look the same and it’s easy to get lost. He then said that the giraffes had just passed by and we may be able to catch them if we walked out the front. No time was lost, we hurried off with cameras and binoculars! We walked behind the lodges alongside one of the dunes and there! I saw some legs!!! Amongst some trees there they were, a group of giraffes! What a fantastic view! There were some baby giraffes too. We walked as close as we dared to, worrying that they may get scared off. They are such gorgeous creatures! I don’t think I’ve ever felt more inspired and happy to live on such a diverse planet as we do. Even though many animals are now sadly gone or only living in reserves, it was so good to see that animal life still exists and that these giraffes at least are safe, even if within a game reserve.
We continued by climbing up one of the dunes, I suppose they are around 15-20 metres high or so. A bit about the desert follows.

The Kalahari desert


The Kalahari surrounding the Intu Afrika Game Reserve is full of acacia woodlands and red sand dunes with grasses and some succulents growing in it. The river Auob was completely dried out when we were there. The dunes are divided by grassy plains with camelthorn trees growing in these ‘dune streets’. The dunes look the same, and it’s very easy to get lost.

From the web
Much of eastern and southern Namibia is covered by the Kalahari Desert. The Kalahari is not a true desert as it receives too much rain, but it is actually a fossil desert. The landscape is more one of golden grass and small red dunes.

The Kalahari Desert - or Kgalagadi, as it is known in Botswana - stretches across 7 countries - Botswana, Zambia, the Republic of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It's coverage in Namibia is called a ‘desert' principally because it's porous, sandy soils cannot retain
surface water, but in some areas annual rainfall can be as high as 250mm, which accounts for the luxuriant grass cover during good years.

Unlike the Sahara, The Kalahari Desert is covered with trees and ephemeral rivers and fossil watercourses. Most of the southern segment is taken up with camelthorn, red ebony and other acacias, and towards the centre silver terminalia and shrubs are common. Farther north, where the climate is wetter, the acacia gives way to bush savannah and dry woodland of kiaat (also known as Transvaal Teak) Zambezi teak (also called mkusi or Rhodesian Teak) wild seringa (formerly Rhodesian Ash) manketti, shiwi and other magnificent timber species. Large numbers of Tamboti trees grow in the Grootfontein area.

But the Kalahari's true lure lies in its eerie silence and solitude, both in the sparsely grassed plains and open spaces, also home to huge numbers of game and other animals. Due to variability in rainfall and generally arid conditions, the Kalahari has a small, but scattered population.

We saw some interesting tracks in the ground, I guess giraffes and ostriches. We also saw many scorpion nests, but not any scorpions or spiders. Most animals come out at night and live during the cooler hours. We did see many interesting plants and trees, names of which I know nothing, even if I’m a gardener! A lot of aloe grows in Namibia, they have many different types of it.

In the early afternoon we were lazying about in the pool. We saw a very interesting animal that was living in the pool. It looked like a very large tadpole. It had a large upper body and back legs, but no front legs or anything to swim with. But it swam around! I couldn’t even see any eyes. It was about 5-7cm long and about 2cm wide and of grey/black colour. The pool was very cold, apparently they cool the water down (unlike us heating pools). Thinking about it now, there are many poisonous frogs in existence and this could have been one of their babies! I choose to think it was just an ordinary African frog growing up in a swimming pool.

Evening game drive and sundowner


We had booked the evening game drive which lasted 2 ½ hours. We were in a typical safari jeep with open sides and raised seating for better viewing. We shared this drive with a Welsh couple and 2 German couples. We set off with a lot of anticipation of seeing wild animals. The driver is one of the reserve game keepers and has a lot of knowledge about the animals and plants. One of the German couples was particular entertaining! Their English was really good but they had a very strong German accent which made some of the conversation quite bizarre and funny! I don’t want to offend anyone German by saying this! One of the most hilarious moments was when the German man exclaimed "There is a lion over there!!!" Of course I knew there wouldn’t be a lion, and it turned out to be an ostrich. An ostrich doesn’t look anything like a lion.

Up and down dunes we went. It’s quite an experience to go across dunes in a 4WD. I lost count of how many dunes we crossed, and each ‘valley’ looked either exactly the same or completely different than the last one we’d been to. Some were very wide and others very narrow. Some had many trees and others only a few. We saw many types of antelopes, gazelles, birds and bigger animals such as wildebeest (the gnu), ostriches, oryx, impala etc. We also saw 2 lions. These lions are kept in a separate reserve within the reserve. The area is large so I didn’t feel that these lions were in a ‘cage’ or treated as zoo animals. The driver approaches the lions very carefully and we were told to be absolutely silent. We were around 7 metres away from them and again being up close to such an incredible animal is absolutely amazing. You are in awe of their size and their attitude. You can tell they are highly intelligent and they look at back at you, probably thinking: ‘ah, another tourist’. The Intu Afrika reserve lions were previously held captive but were bought by the reserve and released into ‘freedom’ in their own area. Within this area also live the springbok and other gazelles and antelopes so that the lions can hunt for themselves. In addition the reserve game keepers keep track of their living conditions and eating habits and subsidise their food where required. The Kalahari desert still has endemic lions, although illegal shooting still takes place, not only of the lion but also of other animals. There are even game reserves in Namibia that offer hunting safaris to tourists. We wanted to stay well clear of those and the government advises that such farms should not be supported. When leaving the lions area, we crossed a very wide dry river bed. One of many we had seen whilst driving. They are very special and you can see how shallow the rivers are when they are full of water, but they are very wide.

When the sun started setting (around 7pm) our driver quickly drove up and down dunes to get to a very special point. We were served some lovely alcoholic drinks (!) whilst watching the sun set. It was the perfect end of a perfect day and the only thing that spoilt it somewhat was that the German’s mobile phone started ringing and on top of that he answered it loudly stating that he was on top of a Kalahari dune watching the sun set. The rest of us just wanted to take his mobile and throw it as far away as we possibly could. I was sipping my sparkling wine whilst watching the sun set over the Kalahari desert. Surrounding us was miles and miles of red sand and vegetation and then the stars started appearing in the clear sky.

When we returned to the lodge, it was already very dark, and we had missed the animals that may have visited the water hole. In my head though I was thinking of all the animals we had seen and about the beautiful day we had had.
Slept well again and felt depressed that we had to leave the Kalahari the next day. I could easily have stayed longer and explored that area more. The Kalahari continues into Botswana and originally we wanted to continue our journey there, but you need at least 3-4 more days to drive through the Kalahari in Botswana and then back down to South Africa. Unfortunately we didn't have the time to do that this time.



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