Day 11 – let the desert adventure begin!
On day eleven we were up early again and dashed through breakfast to leave as early as possible for the big drive ahead of us.
Driving was much the same as the previous day. Napping off and on as the semi desert landscape rolled by; red earth and scrubby grasses and the odd tree dotted here and there. The landscape often looks a lot like central Australia and I kept expecting to see a kangaroo bounding along at any moment!
We were scheduled to meet our transfer to the !Xaus desert lodge at 3pm and Misheck wanted to give us lots of time to get through the park in case we saw some good game. So we all piled out at a grocery store and stocked up on water and snacks so we could eat while he drove. Hit the ATM again too just in case we couldn’t pay with credit card at the camp.
At the entrance to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier park, we all had our passports stamped for exit out of South Africa. I found it odd that we had technically left South Africa without formally entering any other country! I guess we were in no man’s land!
Drove about 60k into the park to meet our transfer and saw our first real game along the way. Some of what we saw: gemsbok(oryx), springbok,wildebeest, bustard, warthog, steenbok, and ostrich. The Kgalagadi is only a semi-desert as it gets enough rainfall to sustain a fair amount of scrubby vegetation. Still, game is pretty scarce and they have built some man made water holes to entice the animals within viewing distance. We didn’t have super high expectations of game in this park so we were pretty excited with what we were seeing already!
Met up with our transfer and we all piled into two 4×4 trucks with open sides and canvas tops. Each truck had three seats across and three rows of seats. Seat belts existed but some of them could be dug out from under the seats and some of them couldn’t.
The driver told us he had 91 dunes to go over on the way to the lodge. Some of these he needed some speed to get over and some had sharp turns before and after. The road was just two worn tracks in the desert sand. He said when I say “hang on!” You grab your cameras and HANG ON! We set off for camp in good spirits.
WHAT a ride!! We ripped through the desert stopping occasionally to view some animal or another on the way. There were grins all round as we bumped and bucked our way across the dunes. Jess was yelling woo hooooo at intervals. It was an absolute blast!! We were all in a great mood and grinning from ear to ear when we arrived at the lodge.
!Xaus lodge is literally in the middle of nowhere. It is a collection of small chalets connected by raised walkways with about a waist high fence along the edges. It sits above a salt pan with a 3km circumference. They have drilled a borehole that supplies salty mineral filled water to the lodge and it must be desalinated before it can be used for drinking or cooking. They provide a small well lit fresh water hole at the edge of the pan to entice the scarce wildlife into view.
We were greeted by a lovely Afrikaans couple who gave us wet washcloths to wash the dust off us, a cold drink, and fed us some nuts and game meat to take the edge off before dinner. They gave us a rundown on the two main rules of the lodge:
1) always ALWAYS close the gates. Predators roam the area and often come right up to and under the walkways and decks. They showed us the arm of their leather couch that had been eaten by a hyena when one guest left a gate open!
2) watch the kids closely – the resident leopard can leap the fences and likes to drink from the small swimming pool! She’s been OK so far, but let’s not tempt her!
We were then shown to our rooms – ours was the absolute farthest away at the very end of the walkway. We were told we could go out on our deck at night but keep the main gates closed. The porter casually mentioned the hyena tracks inches from the side of our deck.
A word about this deck of ours – it’s only a couple feet off the ground. If that. There is a railing, but there are gaps between the poles big enough for me to climb through easily should I choose to do so. In contrast, the walkways were fenced in with an actual strong metal mesh. A lion or hyena could easily easily jump through. We are the last chalet in the row- beyond our deck is desert. For miles and miles. Lights go out at ten sharp. But feel free to stargaze…
The room itself was gorgeous! There was one big bed for us with a dividing wall in between our bed and two singles for kids. The bathroom was big and we had our own hot water heater. Unlimited hot salty water for showers – weirdest shower ever!!
They gave us a propane heater for the chilly evenings, a battery powered lantern for when the lights went out, and they provided a turn down service (which I suspect included candy… Not that I ever saw any of it!) and put a thermos full of hot water in every room for tea and coffee. They also put out some printouts of local legends ever time they cleaned the rooms – very cool touch.
We headed back to the main lodge for dinner and spotted a brown hyena at the watering hole almost immediately. We watched the spectacular sunset, ate dinner, and then headed off for a night game drive.
It was COLD. They provided blankets and we had jackets on but as we hit the lower lying areas between the dunes you could feel an immediate temperature drop. We saw a few animals: African wildcat, steenbok, spring hare, owls, jackal, etc. mostly it was just fun to rip around the desert at night and laugh at Grant for only bringing a light fleece.
Back at the lodge we headed back to our room for showers before the lights went out at ten. Then we headed to our deck for some spectacular stargazing. Absolutely unreal stars. Jess was barely keeping her eyes open so she headed into bed (I was secretly happy to get her off the deck!) Grant and I stayed for a little longer listening to the night sounds of the desert and looking at the stars. Finally called it a night – needed to be up early for the bushman walk the following morning.