In the shadow of Mpandangare (Kalahari)

We’ve just returned from what feels like the highlight of our trip; a week of big skies and big cats in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR).

With no rain for over a week, the roads in were extremely good. Bumpy, but no deep sand or mud. Due to its remoteness (nearest town over 200km away) one needs to be entirely self-sufficient – you have to take in your own water, wood, tomatoes and chocolate. 120L of diesel, 145L of water, several kg of biltong. People have asked about what ‘stuff’ we have, here is an outline…

OK – enough from Ralph!

This leg is always exciting because the CKGR is a very beautiful, big, silent wilderness.

What also makes CKGR feel special is that one can sit on the roof of the Landy without fear of a jolly good telling off (although it is not strictly allowed). Who ever is on the roof is the lookout, with a walkie talkie that inspires a lot of silly chit-chat. The landscape feels very different from the roof.

Magic happens at dawn and dusk so we drove out each morning before sunrise, and returned to the bush to look for animals again as evening fell.

The middle of the day (11am-4pm) was spent in camp. It was extremely hot but we had shade and set our fridge to icey cold. We set up a very comfortable camp, finally using every awning, peg and rope we brought along. Ralph’s favourite camp, ever! Camps here are patches of cleared bush where one is allowed to sleep. There are no gates, no fences, no taps…

Yesterday Mila and Bea poured a cup of water into the sand in our camp, and within minutes it was covered in hundreds of butterflies. Mila monitored this butterfly home, while Bea finished off her Social Studies.

How absurd and magnificent to be in several thousand square miles of pristine Africa, where the lions FAR outnumber the human souls. During our four day stay we saw only 5 other vehicles. We made friends with the inspiring Portuguese/Dutch couple Helio & Anna, also in a Cape-Town Gumtree purchased Landie. With breaks to earn money, they have been living in a car for 16 years. But what a life!

Together our two CA-Landies staked out three cheetah under a tree, near the Lehitau Pan, for 8 hours. On this game drive, we saw 9 cheetah (2 groups of 3 with females, one group of 3 males), all within 5 km of each other. It’s really unusual to see so many groups so close, although female cheetah have overlapping territories.

It was novel to be game watching with another car, one vehicle on watch while the other drove a couple of km off in search of diversion and some shade. When Ralph spotted the third set of cheetah, about 5 hrs into the hot day, groans of “Cheetah pah!” were almost audible. Like bloody buses. Anyway Anna walkie-talked us back to the stake-out point (simulate strong Dutch accent): “There are coming… 14 giraffes!”.

Lion and other cats are nocturnal, but cheetah hunt by day while other predators (who steal their kills) sleep. However the cheeth only emerged from under the tree as the sun set, when we were rewarded with these three beautiful creatures, who’d been nervous at day break, walking beside our car at ease, even resting in the long shadow of Mpandangare.

Although it’s not universally fascinating, for the record we saw:
Day 1, Deception Valley: a thwarted cheetah kill on a small gemsbok and five huge lionesses in the dark seemingly swimming through the long grass
Day 2, Lehitau: one old male lion and nine cheetah incl. an abandoned cheetah hunt of a steenbok
Day 3, Sunday Pan: five slightly smaller lionesses at dusk fanning out to hunt gemsbok
and a partridge in a pear tree.

Mila even spotted an upside-down giraffe (extremely rare at this time of year).

Lions are typically active 2-4 hours in 24. It didn’t really feel like that to us, as the lions calling to each other kept us up all night. Lots of yawning happens at stakeouts.

This is the road to Sunday Pan, an island of syringa trees and what rests in their shade.

As ever, we left Deception Valley at sunrise, Lisa on the roof STILL excited by secretary birds, Ralph STILL on the lookout for lions, all of us looking forward to real shade and water, but sad to be leaving. Forty km down the sand road out of the park, Ralph saw fresh lion spoor on the road. For miles we followed the ghost of this huge solitary lion, to just by the gate where the tracks disappeared into the bush. Part of our hearts went with him.


  1. Andy says:

    Oryx are my favorite. Great photos.

  2. Mihiretu, Mae, Lana, Liz & Ben says:

    I’m teary after watching the short video you just posted. Your journey is so inspiring… how you all must be growing from this shared experience! You are missed very much here in Marin. Love from the Caprons…

  3. Dipstick Jones says:

    Your trip still looks nice. Even the lions look nice. And the children look nice. And the boxes look nice. The wife looks nice, the husband looks nice and the children look nice. Nice Trip.

  4. John Powell says:

    Cheetah pah, fat chance. I could watch them all day long. Same goes for Secretary Birds. I still haven’t seen an upside-down giraffe, but here’s hoping. I’m doing this trip one day. Looks amazing.

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