A hot Night in Hukuntsi… Stories from Kalahari Desert

A hot Night in Hukuntsi

Having barely arrived Hukuntsi village, the northern gateway to Kalahari Transfrontier National Park, it is already pretty late and when the African sun disappears behind the horizon then all things called night time become literally pitch-black. Driving a car under conditions like that is a lottery, hence I stop to find a place to stay overnight. I find exactly one what brings negotiations for the accommodation fare to a quick end. I eat something for dinner while starting to clean up the little built-in fridge and to set all things inside free from half a kilo of gluey mayonnaise that didn’t survive the ride on bumpy roads in the Central Kalahari. What a pleasure that is. Getting real butter in Africa is a physical impossibility and eating dry toast for days (often the only bread available) is no option, hence it’s about mayonnaise.

After having cleared that veritable mess I board my roof top tent to wake up with the sun. Having barely closed my eyes I get joined by the security guy who’s taking his guarding job literal by sitting down on the ladder leading up to my roof tent. Watching very closely what he has to watch is alright, but his two-hour whistle concert rather reminds of a four year old boy having discovered that lips can be puckered. Politely but determined I point out the quality of his show and its non-positive effect on my need for sleep. The security guy backs out searching someone else to favour with his art. He could have taken along the army of mosquitos queuing up in front of my tent flap wanting to eat some German, but he didn’t. Their buzzing noise plus still high temperatures keep me awake.

It is a lot hotter than 30°C and I roll from one side to the other. The door of the neighbour house opens. The fat guy living there kicks out his dog as the young cur surely did inside what it was doing outdoor for the next 4 hours non-stop, that is barking and jowling. I’ve got no idea what the rabid mutt sees out there, but its whingeing constantly. The only thing interrupting that fiasco is the one or other squeaking donkey that’s rather sounding like a local hooker being nailed to orgasm than an animal.

In the mistaken belief that at 1:30 o’clock the sun rises the local roosters join in the dog-donkey-intermezzo. Fortunately Hukuntsi has no cats as otherwise the Bremen Town Musicians would be complete. At some time between 3 and 4 in the night, temperature fortunately has dropped, I am allowed to enjoy some 10 minutes of deep sleep that all of a sudden gets destroyed by the neighbour’s yapper. Wishings thoughts like Hattori Hanzo sword, tear gas and nuclear bombs through my sleep-drugged mind… The following phase of sleep is not really what I call relaxation. Feeling like being knocked up pretty recently I wake up and start to drive south to Mabuasehube gate. At half way I am broad awake as I see big cats. Awesome! Four cheetahs have a stroll on the path leading to the national park but the nailing Diesel motor runs them off though, unfortunately :( Along the way to Kalahari Transfrontier I spot other animals, such as countless steenboks, Impalas, springboks and rare red hartebeests.

Suddenly I meet a huge group of ostriches with countless chicks… That can’t be the breed of one bird only… The small runners escape running from wildly from left to the right of the bush road. I really have to be super careful not to run a young ostrich over as they cross my way literally in front of engine bonnet. Something very surprising and remarkable to see is that the mature male actually meant to defend the group escapes into the bush straight away letting the youngsters down.

Kalahari here in the southwest of Botswana is visibly drier and thornier as it appears in the centre of the country. The colour orange dominates tickling your retina and reaches far into South Africa as well as Namibia. Again my way leads along salt pans and some artificial waterholes where heaps of different birds rock down the place having a noisy H2O party. Countless weaverbirds have a drink as well as yellow-eyed starlings, pigeons and impressive Bateleur eagles. In the far distance even vultures turn up to fill up their water tanks.

While silently driving through the bush something escapes again. Wow! A cheetah! The predator spent its noon break directly beside the bush path in the shadow of a tree. Its camouflage is so good that my eyes, meanwhile being trained to spot animals very well, didn’t notice it. After a short run away from the jeep it starts to walk normally. Wiggling its hips majestically it strolls through the savannah on the search for a new shadowy place. What an intensive moment! And the photos are able to show the animal in its natural environment.

But things should become even more amazing… When the sun sets I return to my campsite to prepare the jeep as long as there’s still enough light available. While being busy putting up the roof top tent I hear noises, steps and some sort of roaring. As I look out the tent I see three mature lions strolling through my campsite. To boot the male and two females laze about at one of the trees, what nails me down to staying in my roof top tent for the next 1.5 hours as it’s inconceivable to go down. It’s impressive and beautiful to see those proud animals very close but also maddening as the whole photo equipment is inside the jeep… Dang it!

The morning after the Kalahari kicks everything up a notch as when stopping by an empty campsite to have breakfast and to enjoy stretching legs I spot a cheetah in the far distance. The animal gets closer and closer and at some time it stands right in front of me. Jesus! I take the super tele lens as this thing is the only thing between me and the predator. Well, attacking humans out of the blue is not typical cheetah behaviour hence I keep calm.

Eyeing ourselves up and kind of sniffing at each other we stand face to face for more than one hour in the savannah of Botswana. At some stage I notice that the animal has a strong interest for the tree I am standing at as up in the branches the cheetah has a little meat supply. I back off slowly and take a bite of an apple to send the signal that I am definitely not interested in raw antelope, that I am not interested in stealing its food. Cheetahs don’t go for your throat but you don’t want to get scratched by its tremendous claws. The whole situation allows me to get very very close to a predator par excellence and I can get wonderful detail shots of the young big cat with its prey. My heart beats like a machine. What a moment of purity I was allowed to experience in the magic Kalahari!

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