Friday, 2 March 2007

Khutse NP - It's raining cats and dogs - Day1

Khutse, Botswana
Friday (2 March 2007)

I was never supposed to go on this trip. 

Here was the scenario – I was coming over to Botswana for 2 months for work, but was only supposed to be arriving on Sunday 4th March.  And Dru was going to be doing his monthly camping trip to Khutse with Rob.  But at the last minute, Rob pulled out and I managed to get the Friday off and travelled that morning to Gabs.  All this was organised the week before.  So the plan now was arrive in Gaborone at 10.30am, Dru would pick me up, we’d go straight home, get unpacked, throw some clothes into the car and head out to Khutse, to be there by nightfall.  From Cape Town to Khutse in a matter of hours ;)

Of course, as with everything, it’s not complete without a bit of drama.  Coming from the airport we had a guy hit into the back of the car at the robot.  Ok, maybe I shouldn’t have panicked when I saw the bakkie in front of us brake, and thought Dru hadn’t seen him and shouted that he stop.  Of course he slammed on brakes, but not the guy behind us.  Flashbacks of our first trip together, where we hit into the back of a car the day before we left for Chobe.  That was a complete drama back then, having to spend the afternoon at the police station.  And a drama that is still going on a year and a half later. 

Luckily no damage to Kruger – the guy hit the tow bar on the back.  His bulbar was bent, but could’ve been a lot worse.  If had been a normal car instead of a 4x4 we probably would have still been filling out paperwork.  In the end, handshakes, apologies and the incident was left like that.  So we hadn’t even got the trip started yet and there was already drama.  Hopefully it’s not a sign of things to come…

Luckily all smooth sailing from there, thank goodness.  And with a quick shower and change of clothes, we’re heading into the bush.  The Khutse (or Khutse – depending on which signboard you read) game reserve borders on the massive Central Kalahari Game Reserve and is about 200km from Gaborone.  The first 100km is tarred and not too much of a problem except for about 40km of the narrowest highway I’ve ever seen. 

That and going through Molepolole (or Moleps) – it seems like that whole town is built along the main road.  So instead of taking you 10 minutes, it takes about 40 minutes to get through the town.  The last 100km however brings home the fact that you are heading away from the main centres and into the rural areas.  It’s a sand road, which would be alright, but the powers that be have maintained it by pouring on calcrete (a natural component which seems like a combination of concrete and rocks).  Makes for interesting driving ;)

The drive took us about 4 / 4½ hours to get from Gabs to the Khutse gate, with the minimum of fuss.  Dru headed off to sign in and came back to say that the last people in the park had signed out on the 25 Feb – a week ago – imagine getting stuck there for a week without seeing another car – and that’s why we travel with enough food and drink for an army for a month – just in case ;) Of course we did find out later that there were others in the park – actually quite a few others but for now we were imagining having the park all to ourselves.

Though we were booked up at the top of the park (KH15 – the same site enjoyed by now President Ian Khama apparently) we decided to head down in the direction of Molose – the epicentre of lion activity.  No point going straight to camp and missing out on an evening drive.

A pretty uneventful drive with not seeing much, though we did see plenty of lion spoor around.  Except, surprisingly, when we got to Molose – there wasn’t a sign of a cat.  We spotted the first campers though, so at least we knew that there were others around.

We got our first shock of the weekend – and probably the reason the lions weren’t around – no water at the Molose waterhole!  What was happening?  This is a pumped waterhole, and always has enough water.  But this time, there was hardly anything left – a tiny amount in the one pool, but the adjacent pool was almost completely dry.  Not a good sign for the animals.

After seeing that, we decided to take the chance and keep heading down – all the way to Moreswe, the bottom campsites.  We figured that not many people would make the trip all the way down to the bottom of the park just for a weekend, so there was a pretty good chance of getting an empty site there – hopefully KH24 – my favourite, the one that overlooks the Moreswe Pan.

We had probably headed about 10km past Molose and it was starting to get dark, when we spotted our first lion for the trip – and my first one at Khutse.  She was lying right in the middle of the road and hardly bothered to look up at us.  Right next to the sign that said “Tropic of Capricorn”. Kingsley Holgate, the SA explorer, must have passed there on his trip around the world on the Tropic line.

We watched here for quite a while (well, we couldn’t get past without running her over) until it was too dark to take photos anymore.  She was showing no intention of getting off the road, so we started the car and slowly inched forward. 

Finally, she reluctantly got up and what a shocker!  I have never seen such a thin animal – she was just skin and bones and was struggling to walk. We videotaped her walking, but what a sad sight – Dru suspects it was the same lioness that they had seen a month earlier in the same area – and was now on her last legs.  Still wouldn’t get off the road though (some fight left in her yet) and turned round to give us that “I’m the King of the Jungle” stare a few times, but eventually she got off and headed back in the direction of Molose.  Hope that the lack of water wasn’t causing this because that wouldn’t be good.

Finally got to Moreswe and did a turn around the pan before heading for the campsite, and that’s where we got a look at lioness number 2 – just a quick look as she headed into the bushes, but at least looking a lot healthier than the first.  And she was only about a km from the camp – a bit worrying if the rest of the pride was nearby. So the plan was get everything sorted as quickly as possible and head for bed. 

Leftover roast chicken and rolls was dinner, quick washes and into the rooftent.  We’re getting better at organising every time we go out – think it took less than an hour from when we rode into the campsite to taking the first sip of liqueur in the tent.  And a gorgeous evening to be out in the middle of nowhere – hard to believe I had woken up in Cape Town the morning ;) The moon was full – giving a bright glow to the bush – fantastic to watch the horizon and fall asleep to eventually…

Want to know what happened next? Day 2

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