The drive east of Maun is easy enough on a good, straight road almost void of traffic. Our travel planner sends us on a track which quickly turns worse, and after struggling forward, we decide to return to the main road, and find the main gate of Nxai Pan National Park right besides the road. The track to the second gate is sandy. We take a track to the right when we are halfway, and after seeing zebra, giraffe and gemsbok, we arrive at the borders of Kudiakam Pan. We drive through the shallow water and park next to enormous baobabs, more than 1000 years old: the Baines' Baobabs. When I switch off the engine, we are surrounded by silence. Thomas Baines, once part of the Livingstone expedition, painted these baobabs in the late 19th century, and the impressive trees are almost identical more than a century and a half later. On our way back, we see two elephants in the distance, spraying earth over their bodies. Back on the sandy road north, we get stuck in the sand, deflate the tyre pressure, use the metal racks, and get out quite easily before an enormous elephant turns up on the road just metres away. We observe, go in reverse, and kill the engine which eventually calms the elephant. When we reach our camping spot, we have to unfold the tent on the roof of the car in darkness.
We are up early next morning, driving around the ancient lakebed, always on the lookout for game. The herds of wildebeest and zebra are easy to spot and impossible to miss. Elegant giraffes move graciously through the flat landscape. We are getting better at spotting the often colourful birds. Fortunately, the tracks are reasonably easy to drive, and there are not many other cars, making it easier to look around and scan the environment. When we drive to the east of the park, the track is covered in high grass: apparently, not many come here. When we get close to the elephant pools, we indeed see an elephant having a fun time in a muddy pool next to the track. He kneels, he stirs the mud with his foreleg, he sprays the muddy water over his body to cool down. It is one of the highlights of our visit: we just sit and watch the elephant having his afternoon bath, until it moves way on one of the many elephant trails. A little further west, we spot an elephant immediately to our right; he is startled and trumpets while we drive on. Later in the afternoon, we spend some time at one of the many pools, where wildebeest and springboks walk by. There are so many waterholes in the park that waiting at water is no guarantee of actually seeing wildlife, so we move on.
Just before the sun starts to sink behind the horizon, I see flashlights and realize something is going on. Indeed: when we reach the waterhole, we see four lionesses relaxing at the banks of the pool. The other vehicles leave when the lionesses move away, but we stay a while, and watch as the lionesses walk out of the other side of the bushes. Even though we have been searching for them for two days, they do not seem to care about our presence. Then, two elephants come to the waterhole, and we watch in silence and awe as the giants take their time to drink and wash until it is too dark to see them. It is a magical spectacle, and we are intensely happy when we drive back to our camping spot. After a morning drive the next day, we prepare a last lunch. Just after leaving the gate behind, we see a couple of elephants in the waterhole, and end up spending more than an hour watching as one after the other elephant in all sizes come to drink, wash, and play. One of the enormous males walks just behind our car, which makes us realize again how big these elephants really are. The drive back to the main gate does not bring any sightings of animals, but we have plenty of beautiful memories to take with us from our exploration of Nxai Pan.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
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