This year things didn’t turn out so well. Yes, we had enjoyed a parade of big-eared steenbok foraging delicately in the dunes, a few small herds of gemsbok, and the wild cackling of the alarmist black korhaans as they took to the air. We had enjoyed the rhythm of our tyres along the thick red sand, the challenge of the steep ascents to the top of the dunes, sometimes made more difficult by inexperienced drivers before us churning up the sand or producing ruts in the track from taking the climb too fast or in the wrong gear.
We should have arrived to that special silence that attends the heat in the middle of the day, but something was wrong.
There was to be no peace and quiet, no soft-spoken appreciation of the view over the dry pan, no hushed enjoyment of the sun setting into misty pinkness above the camelthorn trees, just a ‘pissing contest’ in which each tried to outdo the other, at increasingly strident volume, with stories of previous travels. Long lectures followed on the merits of various campsites in the Kruger National Park until I felt like screaming, ‘So eff off back to Kruger and leave us in peace!’
Kgalagadi’s wilderness camps are small and intimate, most of them, like Bitterpan, catering for a maximum of eight people. That’s why children under 12 aren’t allowed. That’s why there’s a huge sign in the communal kitchen stating the rules of the camp: show respect for fellow travellers, keep down the volume of your interactions, honour the silence. Were these people illiterate as well as hard of hearing?
We know there’s a resident leopard in the area, who visits often. Willem Philander, the camp attendant, also told us that a lion and two lionesses had been seen from the camp in the preceding days.
Unluckily for us, the racket being broadcast across deafening Radio Bitterpan meant that such encounters were never really on the cards. We had to content ourselves with a marabou stork and some scuffling in our ceiling. When a small dropping landed on my shirt as I lay on the bed reading, I took it to Willem for identification. ‘That’s a snake dropping,’ he intoned sombrely, then paused, and grinned. ‘I’m only joking, it’s a bat dropping.’
Even bats were more welcome visitors than the Loud Brigade..
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