Our true experience in Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park
As mentioned in our previous post on Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park, there were some great animal interactions and some events that added to the experience.
Our road trip with Cari went great until we got to our first campsite. It was beyond hot. I normally am not a complainer about weather, heat, or my basic needs when I am in a group. But it was freaking hot. It did not cool down at night which made for an uncomfortable camping experience. Max and I had the good idea to open the sides of our tent up to allow a cross breeze through, despite it feeling like a blowdryer on high heat was the relief we were seeking.
As we began to pass out from heat exhaustion, there was a constant buzzing in the tent. We turn on our headlamp to see that keeping the sides of the tent open was the exact wrong thing to do. More mosquitos than I can count have filled the tent and I have been listed as their entree because my legs are at 30 bites, minimum. We eventually get rid of all the buzzing bandits and realise this will be a hot night with no breeze. Oh well.
Little did we know this was the beginning to a hilarious/pitiful day.
Mata Mata Campsite
After getting a somewhat late start to the day, we head to Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park which is only 45 minutes away. Once we get registered, it is a 4 hour drive to our campsite of Mata Mata. Once we got to Mata Mata, it is the hottest part of the day (oppressively hot) so we decide to set up our tents and head to the campsite’s pool for the afternoon. During our time in the pool, it was evident that this pool was also the resident swallows’ drinking water. At one point, we counted 10 drinking water at the same time through skimming it. After a few hours of getting dive bombed with birds, we decided it was time to go.
Mata Mata is a campsite that is in a dried riverbed (in the summer). There is a small domestic animal fence that separates the campsite from the park/animals. We were on the same level as the animals which I found exciting! We placed our tents near the fence under a large tree.
A sunset game drive was in order and then it was time for dinner. As Max put on the FIRE to cook our dinner, Cari and I hear a soft buzzing. I’m terrified that it is more mosquitos to reek havoc on my body (by this time I was up to 45ish bites). Right where we so lovingly placed our tents was actually an underground bees nest. Max is allergic to bees so Cari and I sprung into action to move the tents. The only hiccup was the density of the dry desert ground. To stake the tents down in the first place, we had to beat them with a rock. This meant they were securely in the ground. In total, it took about 25 minutes to move the tents.
Problem solved… eventually.
Max began to cook our dinner over a raging fire so Cari and I took the time to reward ourselves with a beer while watching animals at the watering hole located directly next to our (new) campsite. Oryx and Wildebeest were drinking water while Jackals ripped apart a Wildebeest carcass nearby. As the sun began to fully set, lights turned on to illuminate the watering holes. It seemed as if the more the sun went away, the lights turned on, and the animals temperament became aggressive. At this point, the oryx were fighting and we could hear their ribbed horns hitting each other as if they were playing a washboard.
While we were game viewing, I realised that I was continuing to be eaten by mosquitos. Hiking pants and a hoodie was my chosen outfit for the over 100 degrees Fahrenheit/ 40 degrees Celsius. Only skin left showing were my hands…which quickly became the next thing on their menu.
During our dinner, Oryx kept up their fighting. At one point, some sprinted away- quicker than I had ever seen antelope run before. The three of us joked that maybe there were lions around and that is what scared them. Secretly, I was hoping there were lions because I LOVE BIG CATS.
At 10pm the campsite shut down all electricity so both the bathroom structure and the watering hole lights were gone. It quickly got pitch black at the campsite. We wrapped up dinner, put out our campfire, picked up our dishes, and tucked ourselves in our tents for the night. I entered the tent in my full cold weather getup so that I could change into my pajamas once the tent was checked for mosquitos. All was clear so I changed and immediately felt relief from wearing less clothing.
In Peru, I got a ton of mosquito bites and my legs swelled terribly. My calf got to the size of my thigh then so Max was worried about swelling this time as well. Max turned on the headlamp and simultaneously a Camel Spider scurried down Max’s leg and up the side of the tent. Max HATES spiders or bugs. I jump up with my recently removed hiking pants and try to squish this pest. Unfortunately we are sleeping on sleeping air pads so any attempt I make at squishing it is all in vein.
We begin yelling at Cari to bring the large flashlight over to check the tent for others. Cari is quickly over to our tent but in the five feet has busted her foot on one of our tent stakes. She arrives, limping, and shines the light into our tent. At this point I have the headlamp on my head, which attracts mosquitos that I did not believe to be in the tent. I turn to look at Max and at that moment, the headlamp catches another Camel Spider crawling down his arm. Max is now in full on panic and jumps up and down on the air pads. We have woken up the entire campsite at this point with the spectacle that is our tent.
Cari remains cool, calm, and collected through this and helps sort out our next moves. If there are two Camel Spiders in the tent, there could be more. Max and I leave the tent with our essential belongings (with Cari’s help to think logically) and head to the truck to sleep. Our safe place, our tent, has been claimed by pests for the night and that makes us sad. Though Cari is in another tent, it is only a 2 person tent and the thought of 3 people in it while the temperature remains this high sounds like hell.
Max and I make our way to the truck and try to organise ourselves and cuddle in for the night. The large flashlight can be seen violently being waved inside Cari’s tent. I could only assume that she was vehemently searching for creatures in her safe space as well. Because of the mosquitos that won’t quit, we cannot have the windows open at all in the truck. This means that with every passing minute, the temperature climbs even more. Max and I completely meltdown. I think between the heat, the uncomfortable sleeping space, and the adrenaline from the spider situation- we are just plain pitiful. Our conversation goes from:
“Why are we here in this stupid truck?” to “Why aren’t we living a normal life living in a house in the suburbs with children and a mortgage?”
Quarter life crisis hits at a terrible moment.
We are both miserable and crying at this point and Max sacrifices himself and asks me to go sleep with Cari. I went after much debate and joined her. Once I got in the tent, I told her of the desperate situation that is the heat in the truck and we decide that we can try to fit all three of us in the two person tent. Instead of sleeping two longitudinally, we fit three latitudinally. Our heads are touching one side and our knees are touching the other. All three get settled in and we admit that our bond will be closer after this trip because of the shared chaos. The three of us eventually drift off to sleep.
At roughly 2:00am we are all awoken at the same exact moment by two lions doing their territorial bellow. Cari and I are facing each other while sleeping on our sides and our eyes open at the same time, “Oh my goodness, they are close.”
**It should be noted that I hate bodily functions and hate talking about my bodily functions. But it is a pivotal part of this story and adds to the chaos.**
The flight, fight, or freeze response is a real thing. When the lions began, it ignited our responses. Max and Cari completely froze. I had unfortunately had the opposite response. I felt the need to run, but also that I needed to use the bathroom. Like urgently needed to use the bathroom. Like I needed to drop weight and run as fast as possible. This is unfortunate when you are in such close, hot quarters with two other people. This is also unfortunate when you are camping, there are lions nearby, and the bathroom structure is far/has no electricity.
At this moment, I weigh my two options: go to the BATHROOM in the tent or I risk going to the bathroom structure with lions around. The thought of sacrificing the only usable tent was too much to bear so I went to quietly to the bathroom structure. I had accidentally worn Maxwell’s glasses so my vision in the dark was even more skewed. In my nightgown, Chaco sandals, Max’s glasses, and a headlamp I refused to turn on for fear of shining a spotlight on the Lion’s meal- I went to the bathroom. Quite the look.
After making it safely to the structure (I jogged), my bodily functions were immediately relieved but since the campsite had turned off electricity, I used the headlamp in the restroom. All of the mosquitos I had previously been avoiding definitely found me. I sat in the bathroom for awhile and waited until the lions were quiet before heading back outside. Eventually, they quieted down and I made it to the tent to see that Cari and Max were still frozen statues.
The three of us hunkered down and continued to wait out the sounds, but then the sounds escalated. We began to hear a scuffle that turned into a serious fight. Paws moving quickly, roaring, and violence. About 10 minutes of this and then it was done.
After they left, a huge gust of wind blew through the campsite. This blew sand into our tent which stuck to our sweaty selves. This wind also reignited our campfire that we had cooked dinner on. Embers flew towards the lion fence and it was imperative that we put out the fire. The Kalahari Desert is a tinderbox and I did not want to be the cause of any fires! Max ventured out and poured water over the fire to thoroughly extinguish it.
The three of us eventually fell asleep or passed out from heat exhaustion.
When we woke up in the morning (3 hours later), another camper drew our attention to the fence. There was a dead adolescent male lion laying next to the fence. The two males that had been making all the noise killed the smaller lion during the scuffle we heard. Super sad, but it was awesome to see the lion that close. But what was scary is how large this adolescent was… if he was this big, how big was the other two?
We left the Mata Mata Campsite having had a crazy experience and a chaotic 12 hours. I felt bad for our friend Cari who had been there along with us through the chaos, the mess, and meltdowns.
Though we did not end up seeing all of the animals she had wanted to see during her time in the park, we came out of this experience valuing animal experience quality over quantity.
In summary, yes we will camp again. Will we go to the desert in summer? No. Will we check our tent for spiders? Yes. Will we stop adventuring so we can get a mortgage/ have kids/ live in the suburbs? Not any time soon.