Original Source: yearinthewild.com
So, it’s my last night here in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. I’ve covered pretty much every road and jeep track in the 38 000 square km protected area. I’ve seen far too many lions (if that’s possible), not enough leopards (not one!), sweated many drops of sweat (it’s been VERY hot), stood spread-eagled under several rainstorms to cool off and driven through way too much sand (I didn’t know this until recently, but did you know the Kalahari is the biggest continuous expanse of sand in the world?! It starts in northern Congo and extends all the way down to the Northern Cape in South Africa. That’s a LOT of sand).
And I’ve met some special people. They all have one thing in common: they love the Kgalagadi and they love nature. That’s one of the reasons why I enjoy my work – most people I meet are kindred spirits, especially in the Kgalagadi and other parks, which attract the wilderness lover and not the tour bus day visitor.
In Mabuasehube, the Daley family (Simon, Claire, Mike, Rob and Kim) kept pushing cold beers into my one hand, and delicious food into my other hand. They drove up from Hermanus (a two day drive) at the bottom of Africa to spend four days at Mpayathutlwa pan in Mabua. They love it that much.
I arrived at Mpaya after they had set up camp and they kindly offered to share their campsite with me. Which I was very grateful for, because Mpayathutlwa has the only working shower in the whole of the 28 000 square kilometre Botswana side of the Kgalagadi. It’s also why the lions like hanging around here, because of the delicious fresh water leaking from one of the taps.
Then I bumped into the truly legendary Isaac and Liesel Jocum, who probably know Kgalagadi better than almost anyone, except the equally legendary Gus and Margie Mills and a few other long time researchers.
Isaac and Liesel were on their 99th trip to the Kgalagadi! Yip, that’s correct – 99th trip! Hailing from near Vryburg in the North West province, they drive here as often as they can to take a break from their cattle farm.
I met them coincidentally at Lijersdraai waterhole one day where a spotty hyaena was drinking her fill, and we had a long chat (the Jocums and I, not the hyaena, although I am sure the spotty was listening). We spoke for ages about the park and cool things like the importance of allowing natural ecosystems to function wholly within farming areas.
Then I ended up camping next to them at the beautiful Polentswa campsite, on the Botswana side of the Nossob. (This is my favourite camp in the park).
Isaac and Liesel are kindred spirits of the desert, and told me many, many stories about their travels in Kgalagadi, starting back in 1996 when they drove a Toyota Cressida sedan towing a trailer! These days they drive a Toyota Land Cruiser, and Isaac is very quick to access the two fridges in the rear to give me a cold Black Label or three. They also helped me with some diesel when I ran out driving back from Gharagab to Nossob! (My Ford Everest ran out of diesel at 680kms, whereas normally I get 900kms from my 110 litre tank – I think all the thick sand on the track to Kaa used much more fuel than I realized).
At the beautiful Gharagab Wilderness Camp, I enjoyed two braais with Kevin and Linn Lancefield, and “Pilot” and Christine de Villiers (both from Tzaneen in Limpopo – “the centre of the universe”, they joked).
Kevin and Pilot kept my wine glass full, and Christine and Linn obviously thought I wasn’t getting enough greens (which I wasn’t, until I met them), because they kept putting delicious fresh salad on my plate, along with some fillet steak of course!
Finally, at Nossob, I had two dinners with Claudio and Lisa Zamagni, who – for the past three years – have ventured down to deepest, darkest Africa from northern Italy to spend three months from November to February exploring the parks of South Africa.
For the rest of the year, they work 12 hour days at their home town so they can save up enough money to take three months off during their winter to come to Kgalagadi, Mapungubwe, Mountain Zebra, Addo Elephant, Marakele and several other national parks. (They have probably seen more of our country than most South Africans! This year they have already driven 15 000km in three months!)
My spaghetti bolognese cooking skills were placed under close scrutiny by these lovely Italians the first night (Claudio gave me a nod of appreciation on tasting my bolognese, so I passed the test – just), and the second night they cooked chicken in beer for us! (Did you know, by the way, that not just anyone can be a chef in Italy?! You have to train for YEARS before you can cook professionally.)
Now, I’m at Urikaruus Wilderness Camp on the Auob River, and I happen to be a few chalets down from Isaac and Liesel! So, I’m off to have a braai with them, drink some beers, watch the sun go down behind a thunderstorm cloud, and listen to the lions roar – and hopefully spot a leopard coming to drink at the waterhole in front of camp. (Did I mention I haven’t yet seen one on my trip?)