Since becoming ‘stateless’ in 2003 and being forced to move from out native Zimbabwe to neighbouring South Africa it has taken the family a number of years to once again establish ourselves. In 2008 we decided to head back to the wilds of Africa – a privilege we had been denied for years. We were going into the oldest desert in the world.
Our route takes us through the Kingdom of Lesotho, the southernmost landlocked country in the world. It encompasses nearly 12 000sq miles and 25% of its 2 million population are HIV/aids affected. 80% of the country is above 6000ft and is home to the highest bar in Africa. Having negotiated the notoriously dangerous ‘Sani Pass’ we continue north to the Kalahari Desert.
Originating from the Swana word for ‘Waterless Place’ the Kalahari lives up to its reputation. The ‘Survivor Man’ – Les Stroud spent 6 days in the desert filming one of his episodes and was subjected to 107 deg F in the shade and 150 deg on the sand. The 360 000 sq. mile expanse was once a great lake about the size of Lake Superior and 30 m deep. It is the second largest protected area in the world and the San people have populated the desert for some 20 000 years.
The Khalaghadi Transfrontier Park is the first park to incorporate more than one African country and covers 15 000 sq. miles within the Kalahari. It is the largest continuous area of sand in the world and its name originates from the San people meaning ‘Land of thirst’. For the first time we are able to watch yellow mongoose, sociable weavers attending to their enormous communal nests, gemsbok and bat eared fox. Amongst the stark dunes scattered camel thorn acacias give shade to spring bok and wildebeest. Lion and cheetah enjoy a thirst quenching drink at the wind mill driven wells. I have fallen desperately in love with the desert and its tough and rugged inhabitants.
Having travelled through the Khalaghadi we enter Namibia and the Namib Desert. Equivalent in size to South Carolina and Rhode Island combined the Namib is the oldest desert in the world at 55 million years. Approximately 1000 miles in length running along Namibia’s west coast and 30 to 100 miles wide, the average rainfall of less than 3 inches a year is supplemented by the daily morning fog which rolls in from the sea.
We stop at the Cape Seal colony amidst the infamous Skeleton coast. Never before have I witnessed such chaos. Between 80 000 and 100 000 animals reside on this bleak rock, swelling to some 200 000 with birthing season. Massive males weighing up to 800lbs bully a harem of between 5 and 25 females.
Scattered between the adults are the pitch black calves, some huddled in ‘nurseries’ whilst their mothers hunted for food in the icy cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Everywhere the smell of death from the crushed infants, the defending calls of the live trying to locate calves and mothers and bulls rearing up and roaring their defiance. Nature unleashed. Kelly and my three young daughters cannot take the bedlam and return to the land rover.
From the coast we travel to Etosha, a great expanse of salt pan encompassing over 8000 sq. miles. Etosha means the ‘Great White Place’ in the language of the San People and amazingly is home to 114 mammal species, 340 bird, 110 reptile and 16 amphibian species. Those who survive and flourish in this waterless place are tough and adaptable. Unfortunately on our second day, the black thunderclouds have formed and unleashed a torrent of rain. Sadly the animals have disappeared from the waterholes and we were left to pack up our tents wading through deep puddles. The Intertropical convergence zone will follow us for our return journey south.
So accustomed to the Zambezi river and her inhabitants, I have been introduced to another face of Southern Africa. Equally rich in diversity, the desert offers new challenges to both photography and painting. Namibia, Botswana and their deserts are beautiful and rewarding.