On their first trip to ‘darkest Africa’, they went to bed feeling pretty chuffed with their new experience. But waking to a pride of lions taking over their camp was a little more excitement than they’d bargained for. Especially when the older lions wanted to leave, but the cubs refused to budge; they were having too much fun sniffing around the vehicles and tents.
Grumpy at such defiance, the elders came and ripped a sharpened claw or two through the thin fabric of the tent (quaking tourists still inside) and finally stalked off, chastened cubs in tow.
‘They packed up and left the park that day, too scared for a second night,’ chuckled the Botswana border official as he stamped our passports so that we could visit Polentswa, a similar wilderness camp a little further north. Then he pointed to a photo behind him of a leopard lazing on a log. ‘But that's the one I don't trust, watch out for him,’ he warned.
Alrightie, so we were all set for some serious camping paranoia!
And indeed, things did not go well. For those who don’t know the place, Polentswa is a super-rustic wilderness camp on the Botswana side of the Nossob riverbed, with just an A-frame thatch shelter you can pitch your tent under, a long-drop loo and a pole shelter with a steel gallows from which you can hang your shower bag. You have to bring all your own supplies, including firewood and water; you have to take out any rubbish you accumulate; and there are no fences, so you camp in the open where lions, leopards and hyenas roam.
We drank in the 360-degree view of nothing but Kalahari duneveld. We congratulated ourselves on finally getting a booking at this much sought-after camp where you have only three neighbours – and they’re so far away you can barely see or hear them. We’d been looking forward to our first time at Polentswa for three years.
The second hitch was that one window of our nine-month-old Jurgens Xplorer 4x4 caravan hadn’t done a very good job of sealing out the fine Kalahari sand. Now we had half the sandy road inside our van, settling in nicely on our mattresses, our blankets, you name it. The cupboards, inside and out, were lined with a layer of dust thick enough to write swear words in.
So instead of a quiet beer under our camelthorn tree while the sun started to drop to the horizon, we were unpacking the van, beating the dust out of mattresses and blankets, sweeping up inside, doing some serious housekeeping. From the top of the beds and the floor alone, we collected about a cup and a half full of sand and returned it to the wild.
To prevent a repeat performance on the rest of our trip, we washed the dust off the outside of the windows, allowed them to dry (less than a minute in the dry Kalahari air) and carefully covered over all the window seals with clear tape. For the rest of our trip we wouldn’t be able to open the windows, but it was a small price to pay to keep the sand and dust out. Subtract 10 points from the Xplorer’s report card.
(Long story, but we did eventually fix the fridge. We discovered the 5-amp fuse had blown, so we replaced it but it blew again. Clever hubby made a plan that involved putting in a 10-amp fuse because that's what his fridge manual said was needed, even though the place we bought the caravan from insisted 5 amps was correct.)
No close encounters
Equipment issues aside, for me, the worst was that Polentswa delivered no close encounters of the animal kind. Not that I wanted to be used as a lion’s plaything, but it would have been nice to see more than a lone wildebeest in the distance and a few birds. We woke to some jackal tracks nearby, but saw nothing and heard nothing during the night. Not even fellow campers, although of course that was a plus.
Be warned though: after a few nights of wilderness camping at Polentswa, even the remote and basic Nossob camp will feel like Sandton City on a Saturday morning.
More about the Kalahari
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