So we have waxed lyrical about Mabua before and I will do so again. Part of the reason behind going via Gabarone was to get to a DWP office to try and get some camps in Mabua which is the east end of the Botswanan side of KTP. As it happened we rocked up on the 1 st of August, the day they open next years bookings for the KTP.
According to the little bookings clerk the camps in Polenswa and Rooiputs were sold out within 15 minutes of opening. The South Africans sure love those camps which are close to Nossob and the start of some of the circular trails. Anyway we managed to scrape together 5 nights in Mabua and Kaa to the north, probably reject camps but a foot in the door none the less. As the bookings were made on a piece of paper in pencil I begin to appreciate some of the challenges of booking Botswana wildlife. We set out next day with high hopes.
There is something about that corner of Botswana. It is a starkly beautiful Kalahari landscape. Clearly the land cannot sustain much as it is dry, which means large tracts are given over to the wildlife. Even outside the parks there are large tracts of conservancy, as rich, if not richer, in wildlife than the parks themselves which are largely unfenced. There is a unique character to the light which all the lovers of the Kalahari will be familiar with. Golden dusty light with overtones of orange red and purple at dusk and sunrise. It elevates even the most mundane subject to a heart stopping beauty. The smell of dust and trees and animals. Cold mornings and hot days. The sound of the birds and the wind. The sheer size, you can feel completely isolated from the outside world.
Mabua is a big park but the camps are few and far between which enhances the wilderness experience. Most of the time you cannot see other visitors from your camp. This time we were in high season and so relatively more people were out and about in the park and they travel in big posses of up to 4 or 5 cars caravans and trailers.
Still it does not really intrude on what we do. It seems many of these groups are there to prove they can conquer the wilderness and they move through at speed spending a night here and there before moving on and out. We like to sit and wait until we feel in tune with the place and its rhythms. A few like minded visitors also become familiar and friendly.
We started in a dry camp at Bosobogolo. No water and so no animals but beautifully remote. Stars like a canopy of jewels. Definitely no light pollution here. Next was Monamodi with a trickle of water in a leaky shower and birds galore drinking and enjoying the bounty. If in a dry camp a small bowl of water sunk in the ground quickly attracts little visitors and makes for great close up photography. There are 3 waterholes pumped in Mabua and this is where the majority of the game congregate.
Although unbooked we managed to secure another 5 nights at the overflow camp at Mpayathutlwa which is the most central and generally most productive pan especially for lion. Every night we went to sleep and awoke with the lions roaring. It makes rising before first light a bit nerve wracking even with all torches blazing. When the first lion roars at night bed becomes suddenly inviting. We were protected by our patented lion proof mosquito net which raised some eyebrows amongst our fellow travelers but really, they think their parachute material is any better? I thought not. A useful tip in Mabua is that even when full the guys at the gate will try and accommodate you in overflow sites of which there are 4 official ones. So leave some room to extend your stay if you can.
There are plenty of Springbok, Steenbok, Wildebeests, Red Hartebeeste and beautiful oryx with sleek coats. The jackals slink around and the brown hyena cautiously emerges at dusk. Bat eared foxes came out to forage like clockwork as the sun went down. In the heat of the day vultures throng the waterhole with Tawny and Batteleur Eagles.
The sand grouse provide a regular display of hundreds each morning preyed on by the Lanner , Amur, red footed falcons and greater kestrel. Sitting by the water at Leshogoloago we watched Cape Crows nail the red headed finches with deadly accuracy. One of the major draws here is the wealth of animal and bird interactions to be experienced. Even if ugly crows are the main event!