Kalahari Plains Camp is situated in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, which supports a unique semi-desert ecosystem giving guests a chance to see sought-after species such as cheetah, aardvark, brown hyaena and the adorable bat-eared fox. Summertime rains soften the landscape with a carpet of emerald grass attracting herds of springbok, gemsbok and, in turn, the area’s famous black-maned lions. There isn’t a more wonderful time of year to visit…
Here are just a few little things I learned while I was at the camp…
1) Kikoys are air-conditioning miracles
Summer in the Kalahari can be uncomfortably hot! Every now and then there are refreshing thunderstorms that provide temporary relief, but often this is not enough … enter the humble kikoy! A kikoy is a colourful multi-purpose cotton sarong originating in Kenya and traditionally used for carrying heavy loads, cushioning peoples’ heads and tying babies to their parents’ backs while they work.
In the Kalahari, however, they can be used as air-conditioners! By wetting one fully, ringing it out, and placing it over your body, it acts as a wonderful cooling mechanism. It was most useful in the afternoons when I’ve wanted to have a rest but my tent felt too hot. You can lie on top of it, wrap it around you, put it over you or whatever feels most comfortable. I’ve also seen people wear kikois around their shoulders on game drives and one lady who wrapped it around her head most elegantly. Every now and then, I wet it again… it works SO well! At Kalahari Plains they provide you with a kikoi to use for your stay but you can also buy your own at the gift shop.
2) Barking geckos don’t bark
“What’s that sound?” I asked my guide, Tsholo Shandakao, as he walked me back to my tent. It was my first night in the Kalahari and this wasn’t a part of the evening symphony I was used to in the bushveld.
“Barking geckos,” he replied.
Barking? It sounds more like giggling! I got into bed listening to the cute little rhythmic giggles gracing the night and couldn’t help chuckling a little myself. These tiny territorial reptiles usually call from the entrances of their sandy burrows, shaped for amplification – although I’m pretty some some ventured on to my roof as every now and then the whole room would explode with their vocals!
3) How to catch a scorpion
“Can you find me a scorpion?” I asked Qomanase, thinking I may be pushing my luck.
“Ok” answered my wonderful bushman guide.
Scorpions are such amazing, beautifully adapted animals, able to withstand some of the highest temperatures of any creatures on earth. They are abundant in the Kalahari, but you have to know where to look for them.
Sure enough, a few minutes later and Qomanase stopped, bent down and pointed to a little hole in the ground. “This is the home of a scorpion. I can tell that the scorpion is here because the tracks and the sand around the opening of its burrow is fresh.”
Qomanase Kebangaletse is from a village 90 km from the camp, he grew up living what he describes as a traditional bushman life until he went to school and was given modern clothing.
Traditionally, bushmen catch scorpions as bait for birds like guineafowls, francolin and korhaans. After about five minutes of intense digging – it turns out scorpions can dig really well – out came the little transparent creature.
“How do you know the scorpion is not going to hurt you?” I asked. (Which I bet is what you’re thinking too?!)
“They go backwards inside the burrows, so when you are busy digging them, they wont sting you.”
After we had all had a good look at the scorpion, Qomanase dug the creature a new home and then cheerfully put him back saying, “Thank you my boy… see you later!” He then covered up the old scorpion hole “so that the springboks would not fall into it.”
4) When looking for a mate, there’s no need to be humble
Summer is courtship season in the Kalahari and everybody is showing off!The kori bustard (the world’s heaviest flying bird) is one of the most characteristic birds of the Kalahari. Chest puffed out, crest raised, neck and tail feathers cocked, the male birds certainly know how to strut their stuff for the opposite sex. Then there’s the Kori bustards’ cousin, the northern black korhaan, who takes it a step further by performing a death-defying flight display, tumbling out of the sky and opening its wings at the very last moment making the ladies gasp. Scorpions and ostriches dance, guineafowl feed each other and dung beetles show off their strength by rolling balls of dung more than 200 times their body weight! No wonder I’m single…
5) Lions get homesick too (and springbok are very brave!)
No matter how old I get, there are times when I just want my mom and nobody else will do! This morning we spent time with a young lioness, strolling around mournfully, and moaning feebly. “She is looking for her mother” explained Tsolo. I felt so sorry for the lioness because, in a way, I knew how she must feel. Despite the fact that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world right now, it’s strange being away from my family over Christmas so I miss my mom too!
Lions in the Kalahari are known to be bigger than Okavango lions and lighter in colour. They are also strictly nocturnal in their hunting habits which is perhaps why these crazy springbok were so daring (or stupid?) walking right up to the lioness and staring at her curiously. At one point she stood up – completely unfazed by the antelope – and they panicked and scattered! When she sat down again, exasperated from her futile calling efforts, the springbok began creeping closer again, a bit like children carrying out a dare. It was very funny to watch!
6) Don’t open your mouth in the shower!
The water in the Kalahari is VERY salty! Luckily, in camp, a reverse osmosis system means that there is perfectly good drinking water but showering is a different story. Your eyes will sting a bit, your hair might dry a little strangely but it’s all part of the experience.