Only defining the Kalahari as a desert is akin to only appreciating a diamond for its strength. The Kalahari plains burst to life after the rains. Springbok pronk in plains of finger grass, and kaleidoscopes of African Monarch butterflies dance around wild dagga flowers.
Travel to the Jao Concession to see the place that sits between earth and water, as a cloud does between air and rain. A flowing land made completely soft and flat by tens of millions of years of slit and sand. A place where lavender waterlilies bloom over rivers painted sangria red with tannins, or glowing aqua blue above the white Kalahari sands.
These small beetles are the bottom of the food chain for a diversity of cleverly adapted desert animals. Most are miniature to limit their need for scarce resources, and have found ways to blend into the dunes, making their hidden worlds hard to find. However, all life leaves little signs in this world of misty moving sand, and those that have learned to read them can take you on one of the best desert safaris in the world.
Overall, the trip from Kasane to Maun was grueling with long days in the car, where anything you need is scorching hot and covered in choking layers of dust. Being self-sufficient for your vital supplies, relying on GPS for navigation, battling through deep sandy roads, and co-existing with wildlife at night means every moment is an adventure, and that is both tiresome, and invigorating.
The Ebb and Flow of the Okavango Delta hen the water in the Okavango Delta is high, it is an alluvial fan with marshy islands in the middle, and finger lakes extending far into northern Botswana. Day lilies dot the water, and mokolwane palms and papyrus reeds line the waterways. The reeds are […]
Khwai is a tapestry of ecosystems, each with its own enchanting character. In October, the Khwai river is reduced to a stream. It flows slowly like silver solder into a groove, giving its surface a metallic cobalt sheen in the afternoon. On its banks, majestic elephants wade through marsh, ripping reeds in slow motion with their trunks. Hippos float in river bends, and wallowed cranes, and saddle billed storks poke around the papyrus reeds for a meal.
The Savuti sun seems to descend into the eyes of the lions, setting them aflame with devious focus. They emerge from the surrounding shadows to set ambushes in the dark. Even the elephants seem weary. In fact, Savuti is famous for a pride of lions that hunts elephants. An extremely rare feat, even for these king cats.
I stayed a week, and felt this wild park grow familiar. Sitting by the campfire and watching the sun’s glowing orb set over pods of hippos in the Luangwa river, and the stars float in overhead on a moonless night is the epitome of a wild safari. I do not know if there is a better place to do that than South Luangwa National Park. So, although it will always be a place where I will have to look all ways before getting out of my car, I am so happy to now have a connection to the ecosystem that will certainly bring me back for years to come. Now I know, South Luangwa was the park of my dreams.
Kidepo Valley National Park is the destination in Uganda that everyone recommends you visit, but nobody has actually been to. Located in the North Eastern corner of the country, pushed up against the borders of South Sudan and Northern Kenya, tribal warfare, rebels, and notoriously bad roads have kept it isolated from just about everybody. However, this seclusion has fueled its legend as one of the last surviving tracts of unadulterated wilderness left in Uganda.
Then we hear the baritone beating of tree trunks all around us, and a group of male chimpanzees comes swinging aggressively through the trees, screeching loudly. Branches and leaves pour to the ground around us. The females climb higher on trunks and scream back, all the trees around us start swaying with chimpanzees, and I feel very much like a dazed red colobus monkey on the ground. It is an impressive show of force.
The snow-capped peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains tower to the west, and the dense woodlands of Kibale Forest National Park stand to the north, stocking the Bigodi Wetlands full of water and wildlife. It is one of the best places in the world to see primates, with nine species jumping through the treetops during the day, and four nocturnal ones that emerge under the moon. Further, the birdlife in the swamps is exceptional, as the wooden walkways traversing them allow you to go deeper into the ecosystem than usual to find what is hiding in the reeds.
Bwindi’s vast swaps, sheer peaks, and dense canopy make it foreboding enough, however, once inside its boundaries, the giant mountain gorillas ensure you realize that they are the true guardians of Bwindi, and the ones who may decide if you ever make it back out. Overall, the experience is exhilarating, and as much as the gorillas feign aggression, they also show their gentle and playful sides.
A terrible cracking sound comes from behind us as the dominant silverback decides to make his entrance into the clearing by snapping a tree right next to us, and pulling it down with a single hand. He walks by us on all fours, not showing us his face, but ensuring we see his size, and his silverback. He passes the other gorillas, and moves deeper into the jungle, and we all follow like part of his family.
Ishasha lies in the Southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park. It is a fabled place in Uganda where prides of tree climbing lions live in the canopies like troops of monkeys. This behavior is rare enough that there is still debate over what drives a 180 kilo (400 pound) cat to clumsily scratch its way up a tree, but sightings seem to be becoming more common.
The jungle heat hits us as we descend past the giant bamboo, and views open up of the rolling hills. The porters and guides start finding chameleons all over the trees with horns like triceratops. The land feels ancient wilderness. When we make to the ranger’s station at the park entrance, we stop to sign out, and looking at the registration book, we realize that no one has entered the park in the last six days.
It rains for several hours again in the night, and it makes me feel trapped, knowing the kilometers of tussock meadows between us and the bottom of the mountain are slowing turning into waist deep sludge. Our gateway out is closing. My feet are tender, swollen, raw-open wounds, and I can tell they are already infected.
This piece gives an overview of the plans I have made for my Great African Road Trip, which will traverse 16 countries and cover over 20,000 kilometers over the course of 2016. I talk about preparing to be unprepared, and finding purpose along the way.
Staying on Samatian island feels like the world has melted away around you and have somehow found the last haven of civilization. Samatian Island is the only development on its own island in the middle of Lake Baringo, so staying at the camp means you have the whole island to yourself.
The elephants wake-up early, and the day starts with a visit to their enclosure where they can sleep safely through the night. If the wild herds of elephants visited the night before, they can be quite rambunctious, crashing through the trees, and trumpeting to the wild giants, but the wild elephants are still suspicious of them, and not ready to accommodate them in their herds.
Hundreds of thousands of hooves beat down on the soil, and huge clouds of dust rise-up over the savannah. The dust veils the herds, and animals leap out from it, as ghosts from crossings past, suspended in mid-air before splashing into the muddy waters below. The crocodiles inch forward through the ripples, patient, observing, carefully choosing a target among the masses.
The Great Migration in the Serengeti plains is an intricate system of weather cycles, circuits of motion, and circles of life, which is fascinating to understand, amazing to see, and at risk of losing the balance it needs.
The long grasses hang heavy with dew drops, but the skies are clear, and the rising sun reveals the silhouette of Mount Kilimanjaro 120 kilometers to the west. The dew twinkles in the sunlight as it evaporates, the grass lifts its seed ladened stems upright like a peacock spreading its plumage, and the whole savannah turns a lavender pink.
Leaves blink beady yellow eyes and stretch out razor sharp praying mantis arms, twigs spring tendrils, transforming into stick bugs, and lantern bugs position themselves on tree trunks sipping sap. The canopy blocks the stars and the moon, and as a blanket of black descends, iridescent mushrooms glow lime green on the forest floor.
The thundering vibrations from wildebeest hooves pulse through your body like the drum beats of an approaching army. It’s a dull and distant rumble, but it is visceral and it makes you feel vulnerable and connected. You suddenly feel not much taller than the swaying blades of savannah grass, and imagine how helpless you would be if the thousands of migrating animals veered and trampled through the camp.
Sound ceases except for the front of the canoe brushing through an awning of six foot high bulrush, draped into the river as we drift downstream along the bank. The guide’s eyes beam ahead and we are all laid flat on our backs in the canoes with our paddles extended lengthwise down our bodies.
However, for those willing to take a shallow plunge, the reward is spectacular. The sun illuminates the jellies, causing them to radiate golden light through the emerald green lagoon. As you dive through them, it feels like gliding through a million stars in the night sky, some gently brushing across your mask, and along your skin, pulsating on their path towards the bright spot of sun on the lake.
In Vava’u, the far northern islands of the Kingdom of Tonga, the water is so clear you feel like the sun’s rays are penetrating all the way to the bottom of the ocean, but you know just beyond their reach, shrouded in the gloomy depths, is a full grown 80,000 pound, 60 foot long, female humpback whale with her newly born calf.
They are bull fighting with a tiger shark. It is so heroic and you are stoked to be in the arena with them, you just wish you had a rodeo clown. Every once in a while the shark misses the fish head, and turns towards us, mouth gaping in expectation.