I’m not quite sure what got into me. Perhaps it was a case of too many hours cooped up in a car, the excitement of arriving at a new place, or simply the untamed Kalahari bush waking up the wild side in me. And there’s a wild side in all of us isn’t there?
Haina Kalahari Lodge is just outside the northern boarder of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The bush is not flat and open (as I had first expected), but thick, thorny and sandy. Its beauty lies in its rough arid remoteness where life, defying the harshness of semi desert, continues to abound. You may need to strain your eyes a little harder for it – but it’s there. Shuffling sandgrouse with henna-painted plumage of cinnamon and gold can be seen on the roadside, ant-eating chats whistle from small dry branches, black-backed jackals sniff out scavage-worthy snacks, and (if your’e very lucky) you might see a bat-eared fox, crouching shyly in long yellow grass.
The open-plan lodge is peaceful and unpretentious. I loved the large bookshelves and cosy couches and couldn’t resist dipping my toes into the very inviting pool, despite it being the middle of winter. The main lodge area looks onto a small waterhole where elegant kudu can be seen lapping up toungue-fills of water in the midday heat and yellow billed kites hover in the air, defying gravity.
One of the activities offered by the lodge is a quad bike safari, a novel way to explore the surrounding bush.
We (photographers Em Gatland and Kevin Maclaughlin, and myself) took full advantage of this, jumping onto the quad bikes for a ride to the airstrip, a great place for sundowner drinks!
A giddy, unshakable craziness began to creep over me. Needing to shake it off I called to the others, “Im just going to ride to the end of the airstrip and see what’s there, I’ll be back now…”
The revving of the bike’s engine reverberated through my ears and I began to accelerate as fast as I could. Adrenalin streaked through my head and body numbing all outside sounds and wandering thoughts. It was all about the now – the fantasy of limitless freedom and adventure. In that moment I felt that there was nothing to do but, well, ride with it.
Unsatisfied with the view from the end of the airstrip, I took a narrow sandy road leading off into the bush. I won’t go far, I thought, I’ll just see what’s around this corner and then turn back. The thick sandy road twisted and turned and around each bend the bush was unchanged. Perhaps there’s a waterhole around the next curve, or some impala, or giraffe, I thought to myself. I was concentrating hard at keeping the wheels of the bike from slipping off the track.
But then I began to think about what would happen if I bumped into a lion in the road? Would I dare stop and freeze or would I just zoom past… would the lion chase me? What if I got stuck in the sand while I was trying to pass it in the road? Reality began to return, and I started arguing with myself…
One side of me was saying “What the hell are you doing Rach!? The others will wonder where you are, it’s getting dark and you don’t know the roads, turn around NOW…” But the other side was saying, “It’s not a big deal, the others are taking photos and having drinks, they won’t even notice I’m gone, plus I’m not going far…” The road split and, unaware of which path to take, I slowed down, and decided to retrace my tyre tracks.
Meanwhile, the others had noticed I was missing gone looking for me. About ten minutes later I met them on the road, but by the looks on their faces I knew I had overstepped the line. Em knows how terrible my sense of direction is, and with the sun about to set she had been worried. I realised I had been irresponsible and was sorry to have made them worry.
Reflecting on my little adventure made me realise that sometimes my life is too tame. I’m not sure about you but I certainly need a dose of danger now and then! It restores my soul. Perhaps that’s part of why I love the bush; in nature I regain a bit of earthy wildness, a taste of the raw wonder experienced by my ancestors on a daily basis. Although these early humans didn’t ride quad bikes, risk and uncertainty were part of their everyday existence, of carving out a life in the wild without today’s modern amenities.
Back at camp we all took full advantage of the boma’s roaring campfire. Wanda and Adriaan, Haina’s warm and generous hosts, spoilt us with a delicious lantern-lit three course dinner, before we all crawled into bed with hot water bottles, listening to a white faced owls and, yes, lions roaring…
Photo’s taken by Em Gatland.