Days 6-8 – Piper Pan to Passage Valley 80kms
Jon drove in front for the first part of our trip to Passarge Valley as he and Hillary knew the way. The road was sandy in parts, but generally the surface was like hard clay and it was a very pleasant drive. We stopped often to photograph birds and look at tracks on the road. Jon and Hillary both trained as Field Guides and Hillary, in particular, is something of an expert on animal tracks. It was interesting to have their input on fauna and flora that we didn’t know about and they in turn appreciated our knowledge of birds, so our relationship worked extremely well.
Just before the turn off to Tau Pan, Jon stopped to let us take the lead. At Piper Pan, on one of our many game drives, we had laughingly given rand values for each unusual animal that anyone spotted. For example, whoever saw a lion first would be paid R20,00 by each person in the party, R20,00 for a leopard and R15,00 for a cheetah. We were delighted when we had just taken up the lead on the way to Passarge and I spotted a big lion asleep under a Catophractes bush right next to the road. At last! I was in the money!
He didn’t let our ooh’s and aaah’s disturb him at all and merely lazily opened one eye to look at us before going back to sleep. Seeing this enormous lion actually gave me quite a laugh because whenever we stopped, Jon would jump out of his car, binoculars in hand, and come running up to us to find out what we had seen. Imagine if he was at Rob’s window and we pointed out a lion five meters behind him! The thought gave us the giggles for minutes afterwards. In all other game reserves we’ve been in, one isn’t allowed out of one’s car for this very reason. The Botswana game reserves are quite different as most campsites are not fenced off at all. One just has to be extremely careful and aware of the danger.
The trip to Passarge is only about 80 kms so we took our time and enjoyed the many sights. We passed a number of small pans on the way, some with little islands of trees in the middle of them. Game would often gather around the trees for shade and it appeared that there were more animals in this area than at Piper Pan. We came across a group of about fifteen giraffes quite near Passarge and when we stopped to photograph them they all turned and stared at us curiously. They looked perfect in this setting and we loved watching them amble gracefully from tree to tree.
Our campsite at Passarge Valley was an absolute treat. Situated on a slight elevation, it overlooked the pan and an island of trees. Once again we saw lots of giraffe and springbok. We were heartened by this, because lion and other predators only come to an area if there is an abundance of food. It certainly looked promising. There were no other campsites around so we knew we’d have the place all to ourselves. Passarge turned out to be our favourite spot on the whole trip. Not only was it in a beautiful situation, but we were blessed with our game viewing.
We left our camp early the next morning and headed back on the road towards Piper Pan. I was overjoyed when I spotted a male lion in the valley ahead and I urged Rob to speed up to where he was. On arrival we saw not one, but a pride of five lions at a kill that must have just happened. Luckily for us they were feasting on a gemsbok not two metres from the road, so we were able to take up a position right next to them and watch them for hours. What a magnificent spectacle and we had it all to ourselves!
The pride consisted of an adult male and three female lionesses, as well as a young cub of indeterminate sex, who had the cutest little face imaginable. We sat enthralled as they tucked into their meal, all the while encircled by at least six agitated black-backed jackals who were hoping to catch a piece of the action. The pride gorged themselves on all the delicacies that a carcass contains – we watched as they ate the liver, the tripe and the innards.
Eventually, completely stuffed and with faces painted with blood, they made their way across the road in front of us to sit replete under a thorn tree. They left one young lioness with the task of carrying what was left of the carcass to a safe spot under another nearby tree. Rob and I took dozens of photos as this spectacle unfolded before us, amazed at what we were seeing. Once the carcass was removed, one very nervous jackal rushed up and picked up the remains of the stomach, only to be chased by the rest of the pack who also wanted his prize. The young lioness had her work cut out guarding the carcass from the jackals and the vultures that circled overhead. Eventually she pulled it right into the bush and lay next to it, defying anyone to come near her.
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Having this incredible sighting of a lion feed, anything else we saw would have to be an anti-climax. We headed back to camp for the rest of the day, planning to return to the site later on to see if the pride was still there. By now my camera batteries were flat and Jon’s fridge battery was also dying, so Rob started the generator and we hitched up everything that needed recharging. The noise disturbed the ambiance somewhat, but at this stage recharging batteries was more of a priority than enjoying the silence of the bushveld!
Our camping fridges did a marvelous job and at no time did we ever have to suffer warm beers!. By deep freezing our meat beforehand, we were able to turn the fridges right down and keep them as freezers for at least three or four days into the trip. This enabled us to have gourmet meals the whole holiday. John loves cooking so he made us a scrumptious roast chicken and roast potatoes in his flat bottomed cast iron pot. When we weren’t having braais we were able to have paella, oxtail, lamb knuckle stew and even delicious campfire bread. “You have to eat the bread hot tonight,” Hillary said as she pulled the loaf out of the pot. “If we leave it until tomorrow morning you can use it as a stone for a catapult.” I had frozen three loaves of sliced bread which lasted us until we got to Maun, so we were able to have toast for breakfast every day. On one cool evening at Passarge we feasted on jaffles, washed down with gluwein. What a combination!
At about four p.m. we headed back to where we’d left the lions and were surprised and somewhat disappointed to see two vehicles parked watching them sitting under their thorn tree. Fortunately, the tourists didn’t stay long as they obviously had some distance to cover to get to their campsite, so once again we were left alone with ‘our lions’. The one female was lying asleep on her back with her legs in the air – her bloated belly pulled tight as a drum from what she had eaten earlier. The male lion stared at us as if to say “Haven’t you seen enough of me today?” and our cheeky little lion looked sleepily at us from behind his dad. There was no sign of the carcass or the jackals.
We eventually tore ourselves away from this special scene and headed back in the direction of our camp. As it was still quite light we drove further down the valley. By now I was driving and Jon and Rob were sitting on the roof of the car, beers in hand, directing operations from their lofty positions.
“Stop!” they shouted when they spotted two bat-eared foxes and a jackal. We also came across a Kori Bustard in the long grass that Rob wanted to photograph in flight. For this I had to walk towards the big bird so that Rob could capture it the moment it took to the air. With my muscles still in spasm I hobbled over to it and there were cries of delight as it flew off. This was to be the first of a number of attempts over the next few days to get a decent flying shot of a Kori Bustard.
Later on we headed back in the direction of the lions to see if they were still there. It was getting dark so Rob and I both shone spotlights into the veld on either side of the car as we drove along and Jon was also scanning the veld. Suddenly I saw two cheetahs walking along the road in front of us. This was amazing as it was the first time I’ve seen cheetahs in the wild. We managed to get quite close to them before they headed off into the grass and disappeared. Oh, and I had earned some more money for my good spotting! What was it – R20,00 for a cheetah?
The lion family was still sitting under their thorn tree, but as it was getting quite late we decided to head back to the camp. It had been the most exciting day of game viewing ever and I was sure I would be too pumped up to sleep that night. The Kalahari had certainly shared some if it’s glory with us and we were ever so grateful to have been so blessed that day.