Big B and Little B Go On Safari

Posted in Photography / Musings

Big B and Little B Go On Safari

This Kgalagadi trip was an experience for the books.

During a recent weekend away, I realised how special it is to go on holiday with family, especially with one’s children and grandchildren.

Butch’s greatest dream has always been to spend time with all our children, especially in the bush.  The invitation to Bertus and Anna to bring ten-month-old Liam, Butch’s youngest grandbaby, a look-alike, on a camping holiday to the Kalahari was quite calculated, and they fell for it! 

I trolled Anna’s question on Friends of the Kgalagadi, often flabbergasted at the answers she got to the question, “Would you take your ten-month-old baby on Safari?”  The hundreds of responses ranged from “it would be irresponsible” or "you're very brave" to "utter madness" and “go for it, Anna!”  Anna wasn’t about to be bullied or persuaded. She wanted good, positive tips from parents who’d done it.  

We were over the moon.  Liam’s arrival became the apex of our holiday. Every decision was based on his comfort, determined by his age and abilities.  We considered where he’d play, eat, sleep and how much time we’d spend with him in a vehicle, in the pool or in our campsite. 

Knowing the landscape at Nossob, where we’d made reservations, we started planning.  I said "He needs a lawn to play on" so I ordered some imitation lawn from Takealot.  Butch shook his head.  I didn’t budge. With all our ducks in a row we set off a week before them to set up camp and settle in. Once he arrived, he’d have our undivided attention. 

Like expectant parents, we watched and waited all morning, checking our watches, too afraid to move from our lookout point.  There was no need to fret, you’d think.  Of course, we did.  All our neighbours knew “die kroon prins kom kuier’, grandbaby was due to arrive.

Every time we spotted a Fortuner, we’d jump up excitedly.  They arrived at the appointed time. We set up their tent under the shady umbrella of an Acacia tree. The lawn was spread out and his Dad erected his Granny’s Gazebo, providing extra shade.  The daytime temperatures in the Kalahari can skyrocket the mercury.  His pink blowup swimming pool was inflated and filled. Next, his Grandpa attached the canvas swing (also Takealot) to an ancient branch. 

While all this activity was going on, Liam set off crawling down the road to meet the neighbours.  He relished his freedom after days strapped into his safety seat.  With sand between his toes, he crabbed off at breakneck speed. 

Liam’s routine took precedence. Under no circumstances were we to upset him or his parents.  Butch’s objective was to educate Bertus, a newbie, to camping in the wilds.  Secondly, to familiarise them with the Kgalagadi.  He hoped that they would be comfortable, relaxed and enthusiastic about experiencing the wildlife of the Kalahari.

Rainfall during the summer had been particularly good, and the 13-year drought had broken.  As far as the eye could see, grasses grew abundantly. The red dunes were green and gold. Verdant Acacia trees camouflaged birds and leopard taking shelter during hot daylight hours.  Unless one’s vehicle had a good ground clearing, sightings were limited and small game difficult to spot.  Birds were abundant and owls nesting raising their chicks were a highlight.

Liam took to all this like a duck to water and soon settled. We spent many amusing hours watching his antics.  He loved splashing around in his pool. He’d swing high and low before meals and crawled and climbed up his Grandpa’s leg, tugging fistfuls of his shorts to get Grandpa’s attention. Ants, centipedes and other critters fascinated him and at his age they all looked like tantalizing snacks!

Butch could not be happier.  He’d far rather go for walks perambulating his grandson than reading  his latest thriller, and he’d wake up early and listen for Liam’s first mewls and fret when he heard him whimpers after being put down for a nap.  

Anna and Bertus are the best parents this child could’ve had. They're not anxious or fussy. Like all new parents, chores and responsibilities are shared, and duties are performed effortlessly—a far cry from my experience as a parent in the eighties and nineties.  There's nothing more soothing than a mother singing to a child.  Sometimes I'd see silent tears rolling down Butch's cheeks while he listened to his daughter singing lullabies to a mesmerised Liam whose sobs quietened down as he was comforted and consoled.  Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is his favourite book and no matter how many times he hears the same story the effect is always the same.  His eyes become leaden, his fists would unfurl and soon-soon he's up there floating off with little star. These were precious moments.

During his waking hours, we’d go for game drives, stopping at water holes to enjoy wildebeest quenching their thirst or a Bateleur swooping in for his midday drink.  The Namaqua Sandgrouse always fascinate.  Did you know they drink daily and fly up to 80km to reach water every day?  This tidbit and many more I found in Faansie’s Bird Book, a fully-fledged field guide for kids!  It’s all the rage now, and everyone, young and old, has one by Faansie Peacock.  Liam loved the skittish, Namaqua doves and twittering red-billed Queleas as they swooped down in swarms from swaying branches to drink at the water’s edge.

Bertus and Anna spotted numerous sightings of the cats.  I seem to recall they saw cheetah, lions (of course) and leopard.  They did see Bat-eared fox; we didn’t. Once Anna's spotter's eye focussed there was no stopping her. 

One of the comments on Anna’s thread was, “Beware! The baby’s cries will attract predators, namely lion. ” Ridiculous. And it didn’t happen.  Scorpions were another concern. Anna fastidiously zipped their tent.  It was highly unlikely that any critter could enter that tent. 

Temperatures were still very high.  A small camping “air conditioner” was installed next to his camping cot, and the soothing cool air washed over him sending  him off to a peaceful sleep every night.  A thunderstorm in the Kalahari is a special occurrence and always celebrated.  We had a cloud burst and a thunderstorm during the night, and this didn’t even phase the young lad.  Torrential rains flooded out the neighbours and drenched everything in their tent.  Liam slept unperturbed  through it all.

Understandably once he was put down, Bertus and Anna could relax, put their feet up and enjoy a perfect African night with sounds of barking geckos, lions roaring and cicadas in the trees.  The soft woo-hoo of the Spotted Eagle owls were comforting and one we're sure Liam will recognise as he grows up.

We shared kitchen duties, and their three meals were a treat. What's more, I have new recipes in my arsenal waiting to impress. Thai bowls, vegetarian offerings and a new Banting Mince and cabbage pot.   I salivate just thinking about it.

They might forget the experience, and on a scale of 1-10, the week with us might not tip the rankings, but it was a highlight never to be forgotten or surpassed for us.  One day when we’re old and buggered, this experience will stand out for us.  We’ve got to know little Liam with all his quirks, his hilarious antics and strong will.   Anna and Bertus put up with our eccentricities and allowed us all the time and space to enjoy their baby unconditionally. 

Butch and I took him for walks; we cuddled him and cradled him; we played, laughed and romped in the sand.  New Knee stood his ground, affording Butch a pain-free experience, one he’s not enjoyed for decades.

We sincerely hope this safari will be Liam’s first of many African adventures. However, we realise, he will not remember much. But he’s been exposed to the smell of rain on dry grass and red sand, he's heard rolling thunder and seen flashes of lightning. In his dreams he might've heard a roar or growl, all these memories will be stashed away in his subconscious and,  who knows, one day when he’s older, these memories might resurface like Deja vu, and he’ll know his Grandpa Oupa Butch took him there.  We certainly were privileged to have this opportunity. We felt quite lost as we waved the Fortuner goodbye when their hols ended.

Some of my best memories are of my visits with my Grandmama, Oupa and Ouma.  We hope we’ve sown the seeds to some fond memories for this little one too.  We must never underestimate the importance of these occasions. Every time I spend time with Butch’s granddaughter, she reminisces and reminds me of our promise to return to Prince Albert, where we camped when she was two bricks and a ticky high.  She has not forgotten.  We hope things will return to normal allowing us to spend time with Anna-Louise, Ellen, Neil, Danny, Isla, and Liam.  Oh, and what about the bun in the oven?  We can’t wait to introduce her to some camping capers! 

Anna's post and some random responses.  Just goes to show how effective forums are, you get all sorts of views, which ones you take to heart depends on you entirely.