Mom! We saw a cheetah!!

The sun was already high in the sky when we started the drive. We had no way to get into the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park at sunrise, and now just had to hope there was an animal or two resting under shade where we could see it.

Squirrel
The squirrels are considered ‘wildlife’ here, worthy of a checkmark and their own place in our Animal Guide…

As luck would have it, two cars pass us, each telling us there’s lions under a tree some 20 kilometers in the opposite direction. A third one mentions a cheetah, moving from shade to shade with her two cubs a few kilometers past that.

We u-turn.

red breasted bird
This Crimson-breasted Shrike was such a strike of colour in its otherwise yellow, brown and faded green surroundings

We drive through the undulating expanse of small red sand hills, green brush, dry yellow grass, the white gravel cutting across it into the horizon. We later come to realize that no animals are ever visible on this part of the road, besides a mole digging up the red dirt right where everyone drives over it. Like clockwork, every few hours, a new mound of red dirt is formed, and then promptly flattened by tire tracks, before eventually erupting again.

steenbok
Lie. We did actually see this little Steenbok, a tiny little thing.

We don’t know why. Perhaps it is too open here. Perhaps there is no where to hide, too far from water? We don’t know.

road in kgalagadi
Road around the Kgalagadi

Eventually we reach the crest of the main hill and start the descent down, watching the dry landscape of the Kalahari stretch out in front of us. We can see cars up ahead – there is something to look at over there – and immediately spot the herds: wildebeest, springbok, gemsbok, coming over the next hill, standing awkwardly in the field, crowding around the waterhole.

gemsbok
The gemsbok (oryx) would always stop and stare as we drove past staring at them and their ridiculously long horns, which can reach over a meter in length.

Their movements are hesitant – they do not look like they are a threat to one another and yet they proceed among themselves with caution. They stand fiercely still. A quick step, step. And then they stand still again, staring off into the distance, focused, unmoving, yet skittish.

nervous animals
They were so nervous and skittish

It wasn’t until we drove to where the other cars were parked that we realized a mere two hundred meters from the waterhole was the tree where the two lions were sleeping.

Animals in the wild are something else. They are more immense, more terrifying than you could ever hope them to be in a zoo. The lions, lazy in the heat, were lying on the dirt on their sides under the shade of the acacia. We waited a few minutes for the shade to move, hoping it would prompt the lion to move, stand up, show himself, but when the sun hit his leg, he merely rolled onto his back, paws in the air like a kitten, and stayed that way beside his still flopped over companion. Even from this distance, a hundred meters, maybe less, I could see how massive they were. Do we have different lions in Canadian zoos? I wondered. Because I’m never really impressed there. Here, I was quickly terrified at the thought of their presence.

lions with paws up
(Pardon the perspective but…) don’t they look so cuddly?!

We went a few kilometers further, but the cheetah must have been long gone. The afternoon heat was already beating down on us, and like the animals, we quickly escaped to find shade.

giraffes
Giraffes crossing the Khalahari

Our early morning drive is similarly eventful. A lone red hartebeest, a few hornbills, an elusive black-backed jackal.

red hartebeest
Red Hartebeest
yellow-billed hornbil
Southern Yellow-Billed Hornbill
black-backed jackal
The shy black-backed jackal nervously takes his turn at a waterhole.

Another lion, another ton of muscle, lazying under the shade of a tree. When too many cars turn up, he stands, and saunters slowly away from us, up the dry grassy hill, out of view, and out of human access.

lion under tree
A lion lazies under the shade of an acacia
swallow-tailed bee-eater
Swallow-tailed Bee-eater

It was hot. It was damn hot, the hottest it’s been in 21 years here at the park, it’s rumoured. The winds start. We don’t know where to turn. It’s too hot to stay in, too windy to stay out. The cloud cover comes within half an hour and is a blessing for the rest of the day.

We drive out for the sundown, hoping to see more and see…nothing. The gemsbok and the springbok, despite their colours, their odd masquerade-like markings, are just not exciting in their large numbers, aren’t considered ‘sighted.’

springbok
South Africa’s national animal, the gorgeous springbok, as if painted for a masquerade.

Nevertheless, with nothing else in sight, we park where a herd of the gemsbok and wildebeest are grazing on both sides of the road to watch them in silence for a while. Eventually, with no one else around, they go back to grazing, go about their lives, though still eyeing us suspiciously every once in a while. A zoo does not have the ability to show you animals going about their daily lives.

wildebeest
Wildebeest moving along, doing their thing

One by one, the gemsbok slowly cross the road into the large field. There is maybe ten of them, and I spot it immediately. Their focus. They all stare in one direction. More gemsbok cross over to them, but they too fall into line, face the same direction. They advance by a step, and then stop. They stare, a focused, rigid stare. It could only mean one thing – a predator – but as I looked into the field to where they were looking, I couldn’t see a thing in the knee-high grass.

gemsbok on guard
An army of gemsbok on guard

The gemsbok advance another step. Stop. Stare. Step. And then abruptly rush in the opposite direction, spooked, but only for a few meters. They turn back around and stare. Step. Stop. Stare. Spook, turn and flee, but only for a few meters. We turn the car around to get a better view. And there it is: a dark spot moving in the grass. Cheetah! Invisible from where I was looking off into the distance, the cheetah was only a few meters in front of the gemsbok, her two dark cubs following nearby.

cheetah
As obvious as she looks in the photo, the cheetah was next to invisible when we weren’t looking directly at her.

She gracefully made her way through the grass, occasionally turning to glance at her cubs, at the gemsbok so intently keeping an eye on her and like a tentative army, following her step by step. She would never attack them for food, she was too thin, too petite, but must have given them a scare if she thought they were getting too close.

cheetah pauses
The cheetah pauses to assess the scene behind her

And so she made her way across the plain with them not letting her out of their sight. A diva, impervious to the crowd of cars that was slowly congregating around her – our cheetah – she lay down in the middle of the gravel in front of us, her loose skin almost folding into the ground, her two cubs playfully tumbling around her.

cheetah lying on road
It looked like she deflated!

She stayed that way, posing, for only a minute before another car approached and she swiftly stood and walked off and up the hill on the other side. Her two cubs played another second before they realized she had left, trusting they’d be fine, and they too followed up the hill.

cheetah walking
Cheetah walking

Attentively, like the rest of the onlookers, the gemsbok stood on the field at the edge of the gravel, staring after her until she disappeared over the peak.

First Sightings at Pilanesberg

“Oh! I thought they were real!” I squealed when we entered the Pilanesberg National Park through the Manyane gate late on a Friday night. In front of us on the lawn were dark deer-like silhouettes littered across the lawn – lawn ornaments, I guessed. And then one of them looked up. “Oh! They ARE real!”

And so began our first wildlife sightings at Pilanesberg. The impala ended up being all over the camp, and by the time we saw a rabbit hop across the street, it was like a scene out of Bambi.

An impala grazing.
An impala grazing. They were all around the camp ground, coming out just as it started getting dark.

In the morning, we woke up to our third animal sighting – the baboon, which seemed to have replaced the impala. They were everywhere! Running around, knocking over garbage bins (there were animal proof bins, but many of these were either broken or inadequately closed), being chased from tent sites by people waving chairs to thwart them off from stealing bread. A ranger finally came and shooed them away and back over the fence into the actual park, though many of them just went around and behind him and right back to the garbage they were dealing with in the first place.

The Manyane campsite where we were staying is situated right at the entrance of the park, so it took us about 3 minutes to get to the park gates. The park is big and has a lot of different routes to take. Where do you choose?? We were such amateurs at this. Everyone else seemed so determined, flying off in different directions. Did they know something we don’t?

Luckily, within the first ten minutes we saw the Greater Kudu,  a large horned antelope. Man, it was huge!

The Great Kudu walking.
Our first sighting! We couldn’t believe how massive the Great Kudu actually is.

After that, there were zebra in the distance, and eventually we saw giraffe, and a herd of elephants. We were shocked at how well all of them blended in, like the zebra, though there was nothing specifically black and white around them!

We got to drive real close to the zebras and fully appreciate how gorgeous they are.
A zebra eyes us as we stare. We got to drive real close to the zebras and fully appreciate how gorgeous they are.

And even the three ton elephants walking on the hill! We were one of a few cars to park on the road and watch them for a while as they slowly made their way down a hill on our right, over the plain, and eventually crossing the road in front of some of the cars.

Herd of 11 elephants on a hill.
This herd of 11 came down the hill almost completely camouflaged! We didn’t realize they could walk on such steep surfaces!

One of the elephants stopped in the middle, as if to act as a crossing guard as the other ones passed behind it, but he eventually turned and faced us! The cars directly in front of must’ve had quite a scare because we immediately saw their reverse lights turn on. The elephant didn’t come any closer and once the herd finished crossing, they all disappeared down the valley on our left.

Elephant in the grass.
A final photo before they disappeared behind the brush.

Pilanesberg has a couple of “hideaways” which are covered bungalow shelters that you can look out onto the water to secretly spy on animals, but it was a bit disappointing – you could get a much better view of the hippoes and the animals on the lake by driving right up to them on the other side, and not from the hideaway.

Giraffe above dry branches.
A giraffe pokes a curious head out above the branches of a dried tree. We saw quite a few of them, but could never get quite close enough for it to feel real.

By then it was mid-afternoon and being in the car in the sun was unbearable, so we called it a day, and went to relax at camp instead.

The next morning we managed to get into the park shortly after it opened and took a road that was filled (read: three or four) with rhinos! The hideaway got us a good spot to look at them, but like the day before, we managed to get closer in the car than there.

A rhino.
Our second day was all about rhinos it seemed. Talk about prehistoric – they looked like dinosaurs up close!

And of course, warthogs!  The ugly little pigs are actually quite adorable, especially when their tails point towards the sky like an arrow when they run.

Mama warthog watches us.
The warthogs was one of our favourites! Here the mama warthog watched us as her little ones ate close by.

So in the end, we only did two drives, which was a lot less than we wanted but it was a good first try, and, while we didn’t see any cats, we were pretty pleased with what we saw.

First sightings: Success!

Week 3: False Starts and Perfect Beginnings

This post takes us away from Jo’burg (finally!) through lakes and red sands to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park.
—-
As I write this we are resting between animal viewing at the Twee Rivieren campsite inside the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park. We finally managed to be up for the sunrise and got in just as the gate opened! But more on that later. Here’s a quick breakdown of our third week in South Africa (already!) and what’s in store for us next.

The Guests that Wouldn’t Leave

After Pilanesberg, we came back to Jo’burg, picked up the foam for our mattress, and after taking our hosts out to a nice steak dinner (that only cost us $80 CDN for 5 people!!), we opted for an early night to get out ASAP the next day.

But alas, there were a lot of small fixes the Landy needed, and by the time we were packed up it was once again after 3pm – way too late to get on the road, especially since we still needed some supplies. Nevertheless, we were determined, so we took photos, said our goodbyes, and started off on our great adventure.

Moreno with Kuda just before leaving - Anywhere Bound
Moreno with Kuda just before leaving (the second time…)

And then, driving out the gate and on every speed bump thereafter, we heard a horrible metallic clunk somewhere in the back. When, after shopping, Moreno still couldn’t tell what was wrong, there was nothing left to do but put our tails between our legs and go back to our hosts for help.

I can’t even tell you how agonizing it was – it was one thing to overstay our welcome, but a whole other to come back, again. But they took us in, helped us figure out what was wrong (one of our shocks broke!!), and found us a mechanic that had the parts we needed. On top of that, I had apparently forgotten my toothbrush! Phewf!

The Landy getting its shocks fixed - Anywhere Bound
The Landy getting its shocks fixed.

And We’re Off!

In the morning, we squeezed in a visit to the Apartheid Museum, one of the only real tourist attractions in the city, and the only thing I had really been set on doing so that our time in Johannesburg wasn’t just spent hurrying up and waiting. Then we got our heavier shocks and we were off, and wanted to get as far away as possible from Jo’burg. The little site on the Rietspruitdam Lake was a perfect beginning to our ‘on the road’ adventure.

Camping on Rietspruitdam Lake - Anywhere Bound
Camping on the lake. A perfect beginning.

We didn’t get as far as we expected on the second day, so we camped and drank ciders and beer while star gazing among antelopes that came out of the bush.

Camping - Red Sands, Kuruman, South Africa - Anywhere Bound
Where we put our feet up and watched the stars.

The Kgalagadi

We found out there was a border crossing into Namibia within the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park (one of the best places to see cats), so we changed our route to head there instead. This was our first time at a real big park, and we were very surprised to find that they didn’t have any room for us. We booked a spot for the two following days and found some camping on the red dunes which were absolutely stunning and the view right behind our Landy was one of my favourites ever.

My favourite view, Kgalagadi Lodge, South Africa - Anywhere Bound
Love love love this view from our campsite.

It doesn’t look like much, but the colors were absolutely stunning. Shortly thereafter, I became convinced the prints around back where giant cat paws, so I was pretty much terrified the rest of the night.

At the Kgalagadi we finally saw some cats, mostly a bunch of lions lazily resting under some trees, but our biggest happy moment was when we saw a cheetah! They have some absolutely beautiful animals here, with patterns and colours that are out of this world. We’ll have posts full of photos to show you what we saw soon.

We also attempted to tidy up the car since we had a couple of days not filled with driving, but it. was. HOT.

Kat cutting bench fabric in the heat of the Landy - Anywhere Bound
Kat sweating profusely while cutting fabric for the bench in the heat.

Next up: Our first border crossing into Namibia!!

Week 1 & 2: Johannesburg Catch-Up

Week 1: Settling into Jo’burg

We arrived in Johannesburg on the 24th to pick up the Land Rover we had purchased online from a guy that turned out to be a modern day G.I. Joe (whom we’ll call James Finch). James had grown up on a wild African farm and had been in the South African special forces, and man, did he have stories to tell us! Of training in the dark, eating rotting baboon guts, scaring away lions, and getting stranded at sea off the coast of Mozambique…And that’s really just the beginning!

Sunset over field in Johannesburg.
Gorgeous sunset at the house we were staying at in Johannesburg.

His family was absolutely amazing not only to let us stay with them while we sorted out our stuff, but also to very much help us sort it out. They spent part of the first week making phone calls for us to find out some key visa and car insurance stuff, and James was able to take Moreno around to help him with the car stuff.

That said, they also absolutely terrified us with stories of how dangerous Johannesburg is. Everyone here has pretty much been affected by crime – serious crime – and it doesn’t show signs of stopping. The consensus seems to be that while Africa’s an amazing place to holiday, living here is a whole other ballgame.

The Land Rover

Inside of the Landy before... - Anywhere Bound
The inside of the Landy before….

As mentioned, our overland adventure will be done in the Landy, but we got it completely bare (more on that coming soon), and needed to get cabinets done and fitted so that we could actually live in it.

This came with some snags and delays, but the biggest hiccup came when we found out that despite what all the papers said, as non-residents, we weren’t able to purchase the Landy off of James. So just to be better safe than sorry, we’ve come up with an agreement on paper to “rent” the vehicle from James, even though we’ve actually purchased it (we have paperwork for that, too), with lots of preparations for the various scenarios that might pop up when it’s time for us to leave the continent.

Week 2: Almost Final Touches

Moreno and Kuda prepping the cabinets.
Moreno and Kuda sanding, staining, and otherwise prepping the cabinets.

By the beginning of the second week we knew we wanted to be on the road already – we didn’t want to overstay our welcome, but there was still so much to do with the Landy. Moreno was able to hire James’ farm hand, Kuda, to help him with some of the labour during the day, but was still up till midnight every night working on it.

Cabinets in the garage.
“Yup…more lacquer…” Airing out the cabinets in the garage.

We also had to go into Pretoria to get our entry permits extended: as Canadians, we’re allowed entry without a visa for 90 days, but since our flight out of Cape Town is past the deadline, one way or another we’ll either be kicked out, or not let in in the first place.

By the end of the week, we were so close to leaving, but we still had no mattress for our bed and no one was available to size and cut foam day-of. We actually had to leave because our hosts were throwing an overnighter birthday for some family, so we decided to take our Landy on a mini camping/wildlife viewing test run for the weekend.

Pilanesberg Test Run

Three zebras, Pilanesberg National Park
Zebras!!!! They were just standing there!!!

We decided to go to Pilanesberg National Park, which is a reserve three hours away from Johannesburg and has the Big 5. Despite our mini adventure getting there (they tell you not to drive at night for a reason), it was a great experience and a great first run! (And you’ll be able to read about all of it and see photos of what we saw shortly!)

Yes, we did finally leave Jo’burg, but not till mid the next week, and not before another hiccup had to be taken care of. That’s coming up in the next post!

Southern Africa Itinerary-to-be

We’re in Africa!!  And as we get ready to start our adventure, I thought it’d be fun to post our “itinerary-to-be” for the trip.

The last time I did this was for my Southeast Asia trip, where I opted for the “one beach, one city, one other” plan for each country to get the most experience for what time and money I had.

But southern Africa has a lot of quintessential “others” (like sand dunes!)(and snorkelling!)(and safaris!), so I’ve organized our possible “must-sees” and “want-to-sees” under different names: wildlife, beaches, adrenaline, and landscapes. Quintessential “must-sees” will catch anything else.

South Africa

We weren’t planning on spending much time in SA just so we could concentrate on more out-in-the-wild independent 4×4 time, but it seems plans might be changing:

Landscape: Cape Town – This was always on the docket, because of Table Mountain and because of this view:

Table Mountain Cableway
Table Mountain Cableway by Paul Scott
Wildlife: Kruger National Park, probably the most famous of all the wildlife reserves. We were going to ignore it, but were told we’d be crazy to, and also, that it’s one of the more convenient ways to get from Mozambique back into the country.

Namibia

Namibia was Moreno’s primary focus for the trip, and it seems to have the most to offer from our list of “priorities”…

Namibia - Dunas Sossusvlei by Rui Ornelas
Namibia – Dunas. Sossusvlei by Rui Ornelas
Wildlife:  Etosha National Park, one of the world’s greatest for wildlife viewing, including lions, elephants…you name it.

Beach: Skeleton Coast – Not quite a beach, but an exciting coastline of rolling fog and scattered shipwrecks.

Adrenaline: Swakopmund, known as the adrenaline-capital, to try some sand boarding!

Landscape: Fish River Canyon for a five day hike in the valley of this astounding gash in the earth.

Quintessential: Sossusvlei sand dunes, towering 300 meters over the surrounding roads.

Zambia

Crossing Luangwa River by Geoff Gallice
Crossing Luangwa River by Geoff Gallice

Wildlife: South Luangwa National Park for the highest quality guides in the country and one of the best park experiences in Africa  .

Adrenaline: Victoria Falls – Bungee jumping here has been on my bucket list for years!

Zimbabwe

Victoria Falls - Zimbabwe Side by Steve Jurvetson
Victoria Falls – Zimbabwe Side by Steve Jurvetson
Quintessential: Great Zimbabwe, the medieval city of ancient Africa.

Wildlife: Mana Pools National Park, “Africa’s only park (with lions) that allows unguided walking safaris.” (LP) I suppose this also fits under adrenaline.

Adrenaline: Canoeing down the Zambezi River for some game viewing.

Malawi

Village facing lake malawi by hiroo yamagata
Village facing lake malawi by hiroo yamagata
Wildlife: Majete Wildlife Reserve for some possible black rhino spotting, as well as for the lions, recently reintroduced into Malawi parks. 

Beach: Lake Malawi – We’ll definitely be stopping on Africa’s third largest lake for some snorkelling, kayaking and beach-bumming, whether on the main shore, the Chizmulu or Likoma islands, or Nkahata Bay.

Landscape: Mt. Mulanje, the highest point in Malawi standing at 3000 meters, with most summits reachable without technical climbing.

Mozambique

Once we decided to expand our trip from just Namibia, Mozambique’s beaches became my primary focus.

Ilha de Inhaca, Maputo, Mozambique by Paulo Miranda
Ilha de Inhaca, Maputo, Mozambique by Paulo Miranda

Beach: Mozambique is made for beach getaways, so we’ll likely be beach-bumming all the way down the coast. That said, Quirimbas Archipelago with its white sands and translucent turquoise waters looks absolutely idyllic.

Adrenaline: I’d like to try my hand at surfing again, and Moreno loves his diving, so we’ll likely be stopping at Ponta Malongane and Tofinho for a mix of some surfing/snorkeling/diving/yoga-ing/hammocking fun.