Seeking Solitude in the Central Kalahari

Storm passing over Passarge Valley

We drove for 250km through Botswana at first on tar road, but after 100km we turned off onto a 2 track dirt road, we wouldn’t see tar for 5 days.  With each additional kilometer we were heading deeper into the remote vastness of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.  Had we packed enough fuel, water and food?  We felt confident planning it out, but now after 5 plus hours to get to our first campsite and only seeing 1 other vehicle we might have second guessed ourselves if we weren’t simply entranced by the massive remote wilderness we had entered.

Our first night Eli and I camped in Passarge Valley.  When we arrived that night we relished our newfound solitude.  We had passed the only other campsites on the way in at 40 and 20km away respectively.  Compare to other campsites where you are rubbing elbows with others while washing up at the camp sinks or chatting up people while setting up camp.  In Passarge we had the whole valley to ourselves.  No fences around the campsite, no bathroom (except for a toilet seat on a hole in the ground) and no showers (except for a bucket hoisted up on a pulley).  The best part by far though was no other people to distract you from nature.

Storm passes over Sunday Pan

The fun of camping for me is the do-it-yourself mentality and also getting back in-sync with nature’s schedule (i.e. being mindful of the sun and moon’s movements).  One can get these experiences in their backyard, but after so many camping experiences I’ve always wanted to find the more unique locales.  Being out in CKGR brings all the joy of backyard camping and adds on little things like not having basic amenities available, extreme solitude, and of course, the option of lions in your camp.

Lion tracks in the sand just next to our campsite in Passarge Valley

I had heard stories of lions and other predators in your camp before and always of hoped it happened at a convenient time as opposed to while making dinner for example.  Our second morning as we headed out, sure enough, we saw lion tracks in the sand over our truck's tracks.  Two sets of huge tracks led directly from our camp out towards the main road.  No telling when they came through as we heard nothing that night.  I’m not sure if I was more excited to see the tracks or concern that we had two huge male lions wandering around our camp without making a sound.

Looking for Deception

That day we drove out of Passarge and made our way to Deception Valley.  Eli was especially excited to visit Deception as it was the main encampment for the Owens Researchers in the eighties where they explored the park for many years and wrote Cry of the Kalahari following their time there.  Deception Valley did not disappoint.  The huge open plains within the main part of the valley held some of the largest herds of springbok we had ever seen.  In addition, were tons of Oryx, Ostrich, and many other herbivores.  Perfect food choices for a predator.  We enjoyed the expansiveness [sB1] of driving around Deception and Sunday Pan and only saw a couple other vehicles containing no doubt other like-minded adventure seekers.  We saw so few vehicles that when we did spot someone both cars would stop for a moment and have a chat about their animal sightings, the general awesomeness of the park or to trade supplies.  Our last day as we were driving out of the park a group of four guys in a rental 4x4 covered top to bottom in mud had proposed to trade us some wine and cash in exchange for some of our fuel.  We had 3 full jerry cans so we agreed as we were heading out that day, but were a little concerned as the guys said they were extremely low on fuel and had another 4-5 days in the park.  For reference, we only spent 4 nights in the park and used over 100 liters of fuel and traveled 1100km!  I hope they made it through okay, although based on their wine supply I’m sure they did just fine.

While the Deception campsite was nowhere as quaint as the Passarge site, we did enjoy the proximity to both Sunday Pan and Deception Valley.  We had neighbors next to our campsite, but the sites were spaced far enough apart to still feel alone and the amenities were still of the same spartan nature. 

Lions in the bushes

One day going on a tip from park rangers we came across, we headed to Sunday Pan in search of what was described as “some lions in the bushes.”  We both laughed when the guys told us that, because Sunday Pan is huge!  And of course all there is, is bushes.  Regardless, it was the only tip we had, so we headed there.  With Eli’s eagle eye spotting he eyed the top of a lioness’ ear amongst the grasses and under some bushes no less!  As we settled in to watch, not one but six lionesses emerged from the bushes and made their way to the road where they proceeded to lay about for the next day and a half.  We watched the lionesses that morning, returned that evening and even came back the next morning on our way out of the park to check in.  Sure enough, they had only moved about 50 meters or so in the 2 days.  With so many opportunities to take photos we both got some nice shots especially in the evening when they all perked up and appeared interested to hunt, but unfortunately never did.

Group of 6 lionesses in Sunday Pan

Other animal sightings included a great encounter with an adult female cheetah, two sets of male lions, lots of bat-eared foxes (sightings everyday), many birds of prey including various eagles and falcons and, as I mentioned before, impressively large herds of herbivores.  The animal sightings were really amazing and almost every sighting we had to ourselves which made the peaceful solitude of the wilderness even more special.

Long Road Home

After 5 days in the park we had to start the 250km track back to Ghanzi.  While our fears of running out of resources was passed we had used up just about all our water on the last day which could have put us in a bind should we have gotten stuck on the way out.  In any case, after we traded the fuel for the wine we headed out and after about 6 hours made it to Ghanzi and had the most refreshing shower.  While the bucket shower was enticing at the campsites, the fear of using all the water overrode that notion.  We made it out unscathed and with lots of photos, stories and experiences.  However, returning to civilization that night we realized we need to bring more water next time for showers - we smelled.

Botswana Driving Video

A self driving safari in Africa involves a lot of driving.  On our trip to Botswana driving between parks, campsites and actual safaris we racked up something like 3000km over 14 days.  Eli and I both had GoPros with suction cup mounts so we filmed as much of the exciting stuff as we could while in Moremi Game Reserve and Nxai Pans.  I think we ended up with something like 60-70GB of footage and that was all compressed video footage!

The really fun things to video was the 4x4 technical driving which Eli did the most of since I had little 4x4 experience (by the end of the trip though I think I got the hang of it).  Most of our footage was driving through countless water crossings and mud holes but we also got some really nice footage just cruising through some really epic scenery and a few animal sightings.  Enjoy!