Of all the traditional old camps at Kgalagadi, Mata-Mata was always the most basic. And we loved it that way. Just five chalets and a campsite on the dry Auob riverbed in the west of the park, and a teeny-tiny shop that sold little more than cold drinks, a few packets of dried-out biscuits and a rudimentary choice of tinned food.
When we first went there, you even had to go on a small hike to get to the bathrooms and kitchens at the back of the chalets, while a trip to the outhouse long-drop was an adventure that took you in the torchlight to the edge of the fence, along the border with Namibia.
As for the campsite, its unique charm was that you could sit comfortably in your sagging camp chair watching a herd of gemsbok or wildebeest drinking at the waterhole only 15 or 20 metres away. Meerkat and ground squirrels might be centre stage for a while, scrabbling for food in the dry riverbed just in front of your nose.
While you were braaing your lamb chops in the late afternoon a spotted hyena might come sniffing along the fence, eager to discover the source of the fascinating aroma.
A little later, his cousin the shaggy brown hyena might visit the waterhole for a drink and you’d be able to pick him out with your spotlight from the comfort of your tent. A stopover from one of the bigger cats was also sure to draw a crowd.
But all this is in the past, a victim of a management philosophy that appears to think visitors booking at the eight larney new chalets overlooking the riverbed have more right to a view of the waterhole than scruffy old campers.
So they simply moved it.
From the campsite, you’d now need a pair of binoculars and a fat crick in your neck to watch the goings on at the relocated waterhole.
It’s discrimination of the most callous kind. Yes, I know campers are paying just R150 for a campsite whereas the new chalets cream a whopping R1450. But why should that make a difference? On the four nights we were recently at Mata-Mata, the fancy new villas were almost exclusively the province of foreigners on tours, with the odd local driving a top-end 4x4 costing about a million bucks.
There’s a perfectly good hide right in front of the old waterhole, which now rather pointlessly looks out on nothing but a pile of rocks.
Would it have been too much to ask the posh chalet visitors to toddle along to the hide to view the old waterhole?
I don’t think so.
But as things are in the new order, they’re the only ones who have access to the new waterhole and no one has thought to build the rest of us plebs a hide to share in its bounty.
My argument is a simple one. Since the chalets boast microwave ovens and air-conditioners and DSTV with plasma screens, why not let their occupants play with their gadgets and leave us poor campers, who have nothing else to do, to watch the animals at the old waterhole?
At least we remember why we came here in the first place.
(If you strongly agree or disagree, please leave a comment below and let’s hear your opinions!)
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