Monday, June 27, 2016

Sailing the Kalahari

A couple of South Africans we spoke with back in Simon's Town had the same advice to us about seeing the natural of South Africa. Go to the Kalahari, they said. Kruger is great, they explained, but the Kalahari is wilder.

Well, who could resist? Certainly not the Galactics. Soon our initial plan of a two-week overland tour had blown out to a month, with plans to take in the Kalahari and points north in Namibia.

(The three-day trip between Kruger and the Kalahari still resonates with us. Alisa met a woman from Jo'berg recently who said, "You did that with kids? You're brave."

Surely it couldn't have been that risky?)

Our target was the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, which is shared among South Africa, Botswana and Namibia.

A trophy moment for us - a leopard stalking and catching a bird. Here, the pounce...
A quick reaction as the bird tries to get away
And success - we couldn't ID the bird, but you can see it in the leopard's mouth.
Galactics are quite bloodthirsty in our wildlife viewing - we love seeing
acts of predation.
The Kalahari is much drier than Kruger, but at least in the bit that we saw, it isn't quite desert. More of an arid savannah.

We found less car traffic in the Kgalagadi than we had in Kruger. And there was much less camaraderie in the Kgalagadi. In Kruger, everyone was forever rolling down their windows to share tips for recent sightings. In the Kgalagadi we struggled to get people to talk from their vehicles, and then found ourselves giving up and generally keeping our own counsel. Remarkable how quickly you fall into line with the social norm.

Pale chanting goshawk
Ostrich - much brighter plumage than we've seen in captive birds
Secretary bird - a raptor that has evolved to be a stork
So we spent our days driving the sandy roads of the park, watching the wonders of the world through our truck windows. The megafauna populations of Africa are highly fragmented, hanging on in various scraps of protected habitat that are quite widely separated. Long-term, the prospects for a lot of species aren't that hot. See "southern ground hornbill" and "African wild dog" and "theory of island biogeography". And both rhino species are in a poaching-fueled free fall, with not much further that they can fall. But it is still possible to rent a truck and drive around with your family to see the wonders of southern Africa for yourself. Too cool, and a great example of reveling in the state of the world as you find it.


Cats. We always look for the cats.

The kids running around the rig to burn off energy in the middle of a long day of sitting and riding. Note that this picnic spot is unfenced. Consider the photo above and wonder about the potential consequences. We were pretty vigilant.

Our redsand campground.

Finally, there's this photo below that Elias got with the point-and-shoot. He was so proud of it, and so keen that it be posted to the blog. I think it encapsulates a lot about how much he and his brother are getting out of this side trip.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Just Fun

The Galactics, watching wildlife
Well, courtesy of the patchy cell coverage that we have enjoyed in the out of the way places that we've been visiting, we're now nearly three weeks into our car camping trip through South Africa and Namibia and the chronicle of our doings in this space is hopelessly out of date.

I want to post this brief note to say that in spite of the inevitable hassles of putting in long days in the car with a six year old, and the occasional moments of travel uncertainty, we have been having almost nothing but fun, day after blessed day.

Now, having fun is about the only goal that some yachties need in their approach to sailing and life. (Thinking of you, Fatty Goodlander.)  But fun, to be perfectly honest, usually bores me to tears.  I outgrew fun, as a pursuit, right around the time that I flunked out of college for having too much of it. The idea of traveling the world in a small boat just to have fun seems completely ridiculous to me.  Why not stay home and watch You Tube? That would be more "fun".

I am not at all fit to keep their company, but the travelers who I look up to are the Ryszard Kapuścińskis of the world, the Bruce Chatwins and the Bill Tilmans.  I admire people who travel far  afield out of an overabundance of human spirit, who travel out of an incurable romance with the idea that whatever there is to figure out about life, it won't be figured out sitting at home.

What did any of those three men know about "fun"?

The land yacht
The braai

Nonetheless, that's what we've been doing on this trip - having fun. We've been hitting the national parks in a supremely comfortable camper and seeing the iconic wildlife of southern Africa. Every night we braai (barbecue) under the stars. The beer is cheap, the wine is cheap and good, and we can afford t-bone steaks. Both boys are mad for birding, and nothing makes them happier than spotting a species that is new to the family - in our lexicon, a "lifer". I have a good book to read, and just before this trip I finished up a huge push of science work.

So who wouldn't be having fun?

And, well. There might be something to be said for this fun stuff, after all. It's not like the gloomy and serious among us have all of the answers. So, for this month at least, I'll be satisfied with the company of my dear wife, and the hundred smiles that my boys grace each day with, and the supreme good fortune that sees us able to undertake this trip together.

But we take our fun seriously! Up at 0500, making sandwiches to see us through the day...
Eric and lion

All funned out

So, cross us off your things to worry about in the world.  We're having fun.

I'll post some specifics soon...

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Place You Never Heard Of

Blue wildebeest duking it out
It's the same way over and over.  You arrive in a new country, and start to hear about some place that you've never heard of before. Soon it becomes obvious that it is the place, and that you should really go see it for yourself.

In the case of South Africa, that place is Kruger National Park, in the northeast of the country. Our Rough Guide describes the Kruger experience as "democratic game viewing". And it really is that, at least in terms of democracy for people with the discretionary income to take some time out for game viewing.

We were in the park for seven days and six nights.  The campgrounds are fenced in to keep out the animals with a taste for tourist flesh.  The gates open at six in the morning, and then you go out and spend the day driving around the park, looking at the incredible, iconic macrofauna of Africa.

Again and again, I marveled at how Pleistocene these animals are.  Why did their analogs in North America and Europe and Australia go extinct with the arrival of Homo sapiens, while the African mammalian spectaculars persisted?

And while the rhinos and elephants and great cats and on and on are breath-taking, we also had the diversion of fantastic birding. We spent long days in the truck, and while we might have wearied at times, we never got tired of the experience.

Lilac-breasted roller


We don't have a high-end telephoto lens, so our ability to fill the frame of these photos speaks to how close we were to the animals.

The boys were completely over the moon, again and again.

We shared almost all of these sightings with other cars. There's a great feeling of camaraderie and information sharing among visitors. Lots of tips get shared between lowered windows of vehicles. At times there are some pretty big conglomerations of viewing vehicles, but there were never so many that we couldn't get a great look ourselves.

We had a memory card meltdown in our point-and-shoot, so I can't share any pics of the camps or our poptop camper.  Those will have to wait for the post on the Kalahari...

Klipspringer. They live in rocky terrain and walk on the tips of their hooves.
Peak moment!

Spotted hyena

Yellow-billed stork

Impala and oxpeckers

We watched this lion mating with a female three times in half an hour, about 30 meters from the road.

Chacma baboon and young
And, while there's plenty more to write about this land trip of ours, I am blessedly limited in internet access, so will leave this post as a somewhat hasty photo dump.

More soon!