A Kgalagadi doorstep safari

Story and photos by Louise de Waal

My morning coffee is a sacred ritual and time for contemplation. Sitting with a steaming mug overlooking the large heart-shaped pan in front of !Xaus Lodge is heavenly. I watch this seemingly desolate and empty landscape with its sparsely vegetated red dunes. These arid environments intrigue me. On closer inspection they never are what they seem.

baleni salt makers

Even the lodge’s close surroundings are witness to the many plants and animals that have made this harsh environment their home through adaption. Plants with tiny leaves to reduce transpiration, burrowing animals to avoid the blistering hot sun and seeds that lie in wait for germination as soon as the first rains arrive.

 

Several Barn owls have made their home here, living in the nooks and crannies of the chalets and dining room roof. These mostly nocturnal birds rest during the day on the rafts and glance inquisitively down at my lens.

baleni salt makers
baleni salt makers

Looking at their heart-shaped faces, you wonder whether they were the origin of the lodge’s name rather than the pan (Xaus means “heart” in Nama language).

baleni salt
baleni salt
baleni salt

This gorgeous African wild cat decided the lodge provides a save environment for her litter of two kittens and they all made a daily appearance. Wild cat kittens mature quickly. They start hunting at 12 weeks, are independent by 5 months and reach sexual maturity around 11 months. Looking at mummy’s size, colouring and markings, it comes as no surprise that these cats are the ancestors of our domestic kitties.

baleni salt
baleni salt makers

A Kgalagadi safari is not just about the lion kill or the herds of Wildebeest and Oryx, finding the rare, entertaining or exquisite on the lodge’s doorstep makes any stay special. Whether it’s the call of a pair of Yellow-billed hornbills waking you in the morning or a little desert mouse trying to nibble your toe during sundowners, these are the treasures of any doorstep safari.

!Xaus means ‘heart’ in the Nama language and was proposed as a name for the lodge by a group of visiting Bushmen and confirmed by the representative bodies of both the ‡Khomani San and Mier communities. Significantly, the lodge’s name, ‘!Xaus’, symbolises the healing of relationships, the restoration of dignity and the aspirations of these communities, who after many years of deprivation are now owners of the lodge and the land on which it is situated.

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