Kgalagadi in full bloom, getting there..

Desert scenes: Kgalagadi in full bloom PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES
Desert scenes: Kgalagadi in full bloom PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES

The journey to experience this alluring bloom of the desert was long but so fulfilling. It starts in Morwa on Boxing Day. We take the A1 Road, colloquially called Sir Ketumile Masire Highway (SKMH), heading north (opposite direction of the desert).

Just after Malotwane before Mosaditshwene in the early hours of Sunday, Bakgatla are deep and lost in their tradition: the annual Christmas Dikhwaere, the choral festivals that go through the night and day. I make a mental note that one day I should attend one of these now that I am a Kgatleng resident.

We exit the SKMH on to A14 via my home village Serowe – the village that used to be famed for its architecture. We called it ‘Ko Dithoeng’, from those shiny metal cones on the thatched rooftops of the rondavel huts that are not there anymore. Although there is always that nostalgic feeling driving into this once beloved village, it feels different now. The nostalgia is slowly fading away and the more recent memories are the BPF’s yellow and black Eseng Mo Go Kgosikgolo T-shirts. The memory of the proud old timers in khaki shirts and Victorian helmet hats is being replaced by the politically split morafe, sad and angry at how the government of the day is allegedly treating their Kgosikgolo. But we are not here to stay.


We continue with the A14 road, through Paje, Khama Rhino Sanctuary, Malatswai and Mmashoro. This is one of the country’s well-built roads and it has survived the heavy machines heading to the Orapa and Letlhakane mines. Despite all the great travel memories I have had in Letlhakane, I always have this unpleasant feeling about the village, probably due to its high rape and abuse incidents. But Letlhakane is the only place in Botswana with an ultra-size white statue of Jesus Christ – and looks like even He can’t stop the heinous crimes of this place.

We take a left turn onto the B300 road that goes through Mokoboxane, Mopipi, Mmadikola, Rakops, Khumaga and Motlopi. This is one of my favourite roads to drive through especially the 140km stretch between Mokoboxane and Khumaga. During the rainy season, the dark clouds (maruapula is still my favourite photographic subject) approach from the flat plains and sometimes collide with a sandstorm of white blinding white dust from the Makgadikgadi Pans. The area is a paradise for us landscape photographers. You get everything from terrifying storms, to picturesque cowboys with their cattle moving in single file heading to the river to drink or grazing from the lush green grass on the vast plains. The defiant trees that withstood the harsh environment, the dead leadwood that road constructors spared, an occasional lone wild fan palm tree, the small, dotted huts, Boteti River mouth, the fulfilling emptiness of the mighty pans to the amazing sunsets. I always come with a great picture from a drive through here. But I wouldn’t want to live here because of the sandstorms and I have an awful feeling that one day, the mighty lake that is said to have been here might just return and drown everything.


We cross the Boteti River at Motlopi where it is flooded. The last season’s flood did not reach Lake Xau, but there are good waters through Makgadikgadi National Park that brought a magnificent Zebra migration in winter.

Along the A3 road, a rainstorm (‘ya masubelele’ that President Mokgweetsi Masisi wished upon the nation) welcomes us to Ngamiland at Makalamabedi Gate. Our first night stop is Maun. The main reason why we are in Maun is to fetch a proper vehicle equipped for the Kgalagadi roads. And also meet our travelling duo, CEDA Ambassador Sonny Serite and his wife.

A day after Boxing Day, we are now in the fully equipped Toyota GD6 hired from Bushtrackers. We have left our jalopy in Maun and the Serites are in their branded Ke Mogaka ka CEDA Isuzu D-MAX. These are the vehicles that will take us through some of the country’s wild and unspoilt roads. Kgalagadi used to demand only the toughest vehicles. Although now there is smooth tarred road all the way to Bokpits, the ‘main event’ of our travel route is the Kalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP) transect from Mabuasehube to Two Rivers. This transect has been a dream route and kept being deferred due to a number of misfortunes. I have had two unsuccessful attempts to cross the KTP and this time I was as determined as ever.

We leave Maun early morning, the Serites are driving ahead. The morning light shines beautifully on the green Camel Thorn trees along the Maun-Sehithwa section of the A3 road. Our playlist inside the vehicle features some new trending music, mostly Amapiano and Makhadzi (I believe she is her own genre). And my co-driver, with her beautiful flowing dress, jams to the piano beats and sings along to Makhadzi’s Tshivenda hits.

We stock up with some camping groceries, meat, water and drinks at Gantsi. Gantsi prides itself as the “home of the best beef” and it is indeed. This is probably some of the best organic beef in the world, and it is the cheapest. From Gantsi we exit the A3 Road into the A2, the iconic Trans Kalahari Highway at Mamuno turn-off, the locals call the T-junction ‘ko 44’ because it is 44km to Gantsi. We pass the Basarwa at Lone Tree selling their aphrodisiac concoctions. They claim these are more potent than the Dibete ones, even though not many customers are coming to testify.

Now inside the Kgalagadi District, we turn right at Kang, heading to Hukuntsi. Before reaching Hukuntsi there are some firewood sellers by the roadside and so since we are heading to a Game Reserve where visitors are not allowed to fetch firewood, we stock up to prepare for those evening fires at the campsite. Hukuntsi is our last fuel stop. The next fuel station will be in Nossop in the middle of KTP operated by the South Africans. Jerry cans get filled up with diesel. As we leave Hukuntsi to Lokgwabe, the last settlement before the park, we make sure that we have enough supplies to live in the desert for five days. This is very crucial because KTP, especially the Mabuasehube route, is less travelled and so visitors must be well equipped and ready for extra days that could happen due to some misfortunes.

Just after leaving Lokgwabe, on the gravel road, my vehicle feels hard to control. It keeps swerving sideways. Something must be wrong. As I stop to investigate my suspicions come true; the rear right wheel has busted to smithereens. For a little while I was just pulling the rim on the gravel. If I did not have some better wheel handling we could have swerved into the bush or something worse. I call Sonny on the radio (we had walkie-talkies for such incidents) and he makes a U-turn to come and help.

The changing of wheel is not a tough job but there could be complications. I have had bad experience with those and so I got worried. This time the Gods of Travel stand by me and it is all smooth. While the women are gathering the wild berries on the roadside, Sonny and I swiftly complete the job. Now I am without a spare tyre and we have not even entered the park.

Mpayathutwa Campsite PIC. THALEFANG CHARLES
Mpayathutwa Campsite PIC. THALEFANG CHARLES

We make it to Mabuasehube Gate just before sunset. The Park officials say they are happy to see Batswana travellers for a change. They report that their visitors are mainly foreigners. They also give us good news, saying there have been recent lion sightings at Mapayathutwa where we are going to camp. From the Gate House the narrow Park roads are very confusing and luckily, we have Guru Maps application ready for such. I key in Mapayathutwa Campsite 01 on the application and the technology navigates us through narrow pathways in the Kgalagadi shrubs.

Mapayathutwa Campsite is overlooking the Pan where it gets its name from. We start with the campfire and the women prepare dinner. Sonny and I pitch roof tents, our shelter for the night. It is a starry night and time to grab a drink and do some night photography before we chill around the campfire. Mrs Serite’s main wish is to see the big black-maned lion. So through the night we listen hard for any roars. Nothing.

I am up early in the morning to listen some more. The desert dawn chorus is on, and the sun rises beautifully over the pan. I move around campsite looking for any spoors from the night visitors. Nothing big. I love the feeling of waking up early in the wilderness. All my senses pop up and get fully engaged. I hear more. I smell more. See more. Feel more. My taste buds get thorough and even the ‘gut feelings’ get activated. It is a feeling that every human should experience occasionally.

After breaking camp, we start our KTP transect, via Bosobogolo and Motlopi Campsites. This is the main event. A travel experience that has been so elusive in my collections of Botswana’s ultimate experiences.

We have come during the amazing time of the desert, just after the rains that were preceded by the raging wildfires. So the desert is now renewed with fresh plants. I have never seen the Kgalagadi like this. Blooming in a medley of bright colours. The Devils’ Thorn (mosetho), Wild Sesame (Sesamum triphyllum), Wild Cucumber, Eland’s Pea (Senna italica) as well as some little plants that I know from my herdboy days like Salt of the tortoise (letswai la khudu) are all flowering.

The anticipated tough sand that we have heard about on travel blogs is not there. It seems like the roads have compacted the sand and made the roads a pleasure to drive through. I love every minute of it.

Matopi Campsite, one of the remotest campsites in the country (it is literally in the middle of nowhere), is our night stop and where I will begin my birthday. In the morning we discover that a stretch of scenic sand dunes, some red others red, start just after Matopi Campsite. And driving here, going up and down the dunes is pure fun.

Through the beautiful scenery we spot a coalition of seven cheetahs. I have never seen anything like this. This must be the KTP birthday present. Just as I pick my camera, the fast cats all bolt out and run away. It appears because of less traffic, most animals along Bosobogolo-Nossop road are very skittish.

On the trail: Lions along the Unions End Road PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES
On the trail: Lions along the Unions End Road PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES

We finally reach Nossop where we fill up and the Serites gets me a birthday present of the KTP cap from the souvenir shop. We then proceed north on the Unions End Road going to Polentswa. Along the way, we spot three female lions on the road. Mrs Serite is happy for the lions but without a big black-maned, the sighting is not perfect enough. At Polentswa, a short drive before setting out camp, we spot two female lions. Still no big black-maned male. Still not perfect enough.

Polentswa is located on red tall sand dune overlooking the pan littered with Gemsboks, springboks, Red hartebeest, Welder beast, and black-backed jackals. During a beautiful sunset I pop the Champagne I got from the Serites (complete with Champagne glasses) to celebrate my birthday. It is a very special moment and I promise Mrs Serite that she will get her black-maned male lion the following day. I have a way to unlock lions, sometimes.

Heading down to Two Rivers on the Union’s End Road, I deliver on the promise as the three lions that we met the previous day, suddenly appear with Mrs Serite’s biggest wish, the big black-maned desert king.

Sleeping king: Black Maned Kgalagadi lion PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES
Sleeping king: Black Maned Kgalagadi lion PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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