A trek through the Kalahari is like spending your vacation in the world's greatest zoo. On
Border Crossing, Last Gas, and Giraffes
The sun burned a searing orange hole in the morning sky as we passed through the border post at Ramatlabama, Botswana. Unlike many African border crossings, this one was seamless. (I'd have several difficult crossings in the months to come). Insurance, registration, passports, and carnet were in order, and the guard issued our visas, stamped everything in duplicate, lifted the gate and we motored through. We set the trip meter to zero, and barring any major issues, we'd cover approximately 2,500 kilometers by the time we reached the Kazengula ferry.
The last fuel before entering the Khutse and Central Kalahari Game reserves was in Letlhakeng. Ahead lay 750 kilometers of soft sandy two-tracks before the next available fuel. Knowing it would be dicey, we filled the H3's 23-gallon tank and our four roof-mounted jerry cans to the brim, about 43 gallons total. We'd need to drive on the conservative side, avoid costly detours, and average 11 mpg. If not, we'd need to derail plans and go towards Namibia for fuel-or get stranded in the desert and be a candidate for the Stupid Tourist Award.
At 1,600 square miles, the Khutse Game Reserve is but a speck on the map compared with the Central Kalahari (32,000 square miles). But within its boundaries (an imaginary line in the sand), the arid landscape stretches into oblivion and it feels as though you are entering the burning gates of hell. The sun was setting and we'd knocked off 150 kilometers by the time we pulled into the Molose Camp water hole. After heavily scrutinizing our reservation printout, the ranger at the gate told us, "The park is fully booked," when we had asked to camp closer to the water hole. (Water holes are where wildlife congregates during the Kalahari's scorching dry season-and lions exercise their dominance of the food chain.) What we learned is that the park service has no idea what is happening in their park. During the next two weeks, even though all camps were "fully booked," we'd see no one, and camped in any site we fancied. Our first night in the Kalahari, we sat and watch in awe as the fiery orb settled into a distant acacia forest. A giraffe stepped into the scene, along with a few jackals and a variety of birds. We stoked up a good fire, listened to the sounds of Africa, and witnessed the passing of a billion stars across the sky.
Known as a Kalahari watermelon, this softball-sized fruit is part of a staple diet, and a
The definition of a desert is that its annual evaporation rate is twice its annual rainfal
Southern Africa is home to a dozen species of undulates, and the Gemsbok (oryx gazella) is
Soft and deep, the sand two-tracks of the Kalahari seem to go on forever. On our second da
The Road From Hell and Ticked-Off Rangers
The thin red line on the map didn't seem so long, but the trek from Molose to Xade Camp, at 266 kilometers, was a brutal day. The sand of the Kalahari, which is exceptionally dry and fine-grained, made for a grueling pace. Though the H3 floated over it like a genie on a magic carpet and the Yokahama Geolandars worked flawlessly, the tach was pegged at no less than 3,000 rpm the entire day-making for a really thirsty Hummer. Fire had recently swept through large tracts of the area, and the smell of charred wood hung in the air. Smoke from a distant fire obscured the skies, and it was nearly dusk when we saw a pair of headlights poking through the haze-two couples in rental Toyotas. They'd spent the day digging and towing each other out of the sand, and said there was a big military camp ahead set up to fight the fire (they call firefighters "fire extinguishers" there). They passed and wished us luck. With 90 kilometers to go, we flipped on the headlights as darkness fell. Suddenly, the suggestion in the guidebook, "Don't travel alone," was making more sense.
Park rules dictate that you are not allowed to drive at night. But you are also not allowed to bush camp. We drove and drove and drove, eventually reaching the military camp. They rerouted us to the XaXa camp "just a few minutes away." A few minutes turned into 25 kilometers and five precious liters of fuel (10 liters round trip), something we could not afford. The only highlight was that we got to tow a ranger's Land Cruiser that was buried to its frame.
The people of Botswana are some of the friendliest in Southern Africa-as long as you're pl
It was well into the night when we found the XaXa water hole. Though we searched the area, there were no posted signs for the camping areas (it is illegal to camp close to a water source). With 12 hours and 194 kilometers behind us, we were dog-beat tired and said the hell with it-camp here. About that time, another ranger appeared, and an angry one at that. We got our butts royally chewed for not using the official camp. "It is illegal to camp here, you could be arrested," he proclaimed, and, "I'll take you there if you cannot find it. It is well marked." There was the sign, and in perfect English, but it was lying on the ground to the side of the track, in the bushes.