The Kalahari gives freely. Days 5,6,7: Mata Mata & Torgos Lodge

We veto the idea of a dawn drive today. The children are tired after their very late night drive and so we decide to make a slower start even though we know we’re unlikely to see much as it warms up. The sightings of genet, African wildcat, bat-eared foxes and a magnificent spotted Eagle owl are enough to see us through til sunset, I figure.

People in the camp are friendly and we particularly enjoy talking to two photographers who have set up camp next to us. They are landscape specialists and travel far and wide every year to take spectacular photographs which are then published in a coffee table book; just something they do for themselves and as a legacy to leave their children. I enjoy talking to them and their interest in the children is both genuine and heartwarming. The boys are fascinated by the bread they bake over the coals each evening. The friends promise them a freshly baked slice with cheese and honey later.

Late morning bacon and eggs are thrown onto the grill along with various types of boerewors and sweet potato baked in foil, served hollowed out with lashings of butter. An after brunch slump sets in and I admit to feeling less of the romance of the bush and more of the drudgery of camp domestics. Seems a lot of time is taken up with cooking, washing up, tidying away and making up flasks and lunch or snack boxes when there are six people to feed.

We drive out late afternoon and enjoy the sunset at one of the waterholes.  My oldest son drives us back and it’s touch-and-go as to whether we’ll make the gate in time, but all’s well that ends well.

Hubby and I are making lists as to what could we do differently to make things more low maintenance and less time intensive…..staying in a lodge would be the obvious solution I say, but then pretend to be joking when I see the look on my husband’s face. I can’t help but lust after the camp set-up next to us where two dome tents are set up neatly next to each other, nicely lined up next to a neat little 4 x 4 with two silver lockboxes on top, no washing in site, no rucked up ground mats, no thousands of bags piled on top of and under campbeds. Oh well, we may not look good but at least we’re comfortable, super warm, well fed and prepared for anything from a snake bite to a flash flood. And on the positive, I am learning to let go (a little!) and reacquainting myself with relishing the imperfect.

The next day the boys wake up looking like they have spent the night rolling in a dust bath. But more than once fellow campers tell me how nice it is to see children who can play, really play, without a mobile or electronic device in sight. They make roads in the dust for their small die cast cars, and spend a good hour constructing the scenery around a waterhole (a puddle under a tap) for the plastic lion, zebra, elephant, giraffe and tiger (yes the only tiger in Africa!) which I found on the dusty bottom shelf in the small camp shop.

We see seven giraffe silhouetted against the setting sun during our end of day drive, along with teams of wildebeest, a few red hartebeest and lots of Springbok and Gemsbok.  Later the full moon is so bright that we are able to abandon headlamps and torches when to walk around the campsite. I smile politely as the third person since our journey started tells me what a pretty little girl I have (that would be my youngest son with his mop of hair and big brown eyes.).

Torgos Lodge

Packing up camp the next day turns out to be a pretty seamless operation. Despite the fact that we are travelling with too much ‘katunda’, everyone seems to have slipped into just getting the job done and we are able to leave camp mid-morning. We sail through the Namibian border post and are at Torgos Lodge within half-an-hour. The lodge is a small family-run business on a working sheep farm and it’s the ‘rest stop ‘ we’re looking for. Although the camping has been fun, it’s full-on, busy all the time and I haven’t so much as read a page out of one of the many books I brought along. Everyone is very pleased to have some time to ‘just chill’. The big ones retire to their tented chalets with books and the little ones start to plough furrows into the dust and hunt for bugs. Being out of the park means we can set up the bespoke rooftop seat which hubby has built for the children, complete with padded seats, mini seat belts and canvas bags for their binoculars and guide books.

Later we set out on a sunset drive along the riverbed and the boys are thrilled when we come across a Gemsbok carcass, bloody innards still wet on the desert sand. The breeze strokes the top of the white blond grass up against the red dunes as we drive back, the wind in our hair and the sky blushing at the brazen sun. I think about how a family is made up of all these tiny moments sewn together. Over time each child will have their own version of this trip in their memory bank. Parts of it will grow and others will fade as the experience mixes with new experiences, relationships and every day life. But the fact that it happened, that we were all here together at this time will be irrefutable and it is in the reminiscing together in the future over the years that the Kalahari magic will be created again and again.

The rest of our time at Torgos is spent walking, reading and picnicking in the dunes. The little ones make friends with some children of a similar age and, despite a language barrier, the five make up a merry posse of explorers patrolling the perimeter of the waterhole. At sunset, the children help to bottlefeed the hanslammers (orphaned or rejected lambs) and one two-week old Gemsbok (Oryx) which is being hand-reared. The Kalahari’s gifts are simple and uncomplicated and beautiful.

Tomorrow we’re off to Xaus Lodge, a lodge run privately in partnership with the Khomani San and Mier community; our last two nights in the Kglalagadi.