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The Kalahari desert is for me a strange place! I have heard from many of my South African photographic contemporaries that this is undoubtedly their favourite photographic haunt and so it is always with great expectation that I set out to explore this little known corner of Africa. Every time I arrive in the Kalagadi however, I have to say that I feel beyond disappointed, more like disillusioned...
The landscape looks both barren and bare, devoid of any noticeable or obvious photographic opportunities. Standing restlessly outside my tent on the first evening and staring into the vegetated dunes that seem too stretch on forever, without a living animal in sight, I half expect to see a ball of Texan tumbleweed come rolling past! The stones are white and the water in the shower is as soapy as dishwater. I feel like I am an alien visiting another planet and one where the geckos (not the dogs) do the barking! One where jackals rove in packs (and open fridges) and a planet where you find miniature falcons and weavers that build nests as big as houses!
There are many ecosystems in Africa, where when I arrive, I feel like I have arrived home. I know these places. I understand them and I know how to photograph them! The Kalahari however, remains a mystery to me and every time we meet, it is like we are ex-lovers, meeting after many years of absence. The introduction is always awkward, as the desert remains aloof, refusing to reveal her secrets! With my lens on the seat next to me and not pointed out the window, I drive deeper into the wilderness, remaining ever skeptical! I mean, how can you trust a place that gets so hot that you can bake an egg on your bonnet by day and lie in your tent shivering that same night?
By the second night, I begin to warm to the sound of the geckos that bark and I even go in search of them but they remain an enigma. I learn that although my body feels soapy in the shower, the soap is in fact gone. I sit by the fire with my fridge locked and looking up I see more stars than I have ever seen before and I wonder which one is planet earth? I lie snug in my tent, being lulled asleep by the gentle cooing of the Whitefaced Owlets. Although we are estranged lovers, the Kalahari and I begin slowly remembering one another and the good times we once shared.
By the third day, I have explored the ancient riverbed and I am beginning to hear the desert speak too me. I now know where the Cape Foxes are denning and I know of a particular twig where the Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters like to perch. I learn where and when the infuriatingly fast sandgrouse come in to drink. I also learn which Sociable Weaver nests are active and I even know in which Camelthorn tree an African Wild Cat lives. It’s as if the desert has remembered me and as she reveals one secret after another, my camera finds itself now permanently poised out the window.
What I perceived on my first night as a barren wasteland has become a photographic oasis! Even back in camp, I cannot put my camera down! I am unable to eat breakfast as photo opportunities beckon with a Southern Yellowbilled Hornbill gazing up at my muesli. Just as I am about to take the shot, a Kalahari Ground Squirrel steps into frame in the background. Holding the focus on my banana-billed subject I trip my shutter.
All too soon, I find myself sitting beside my campfire on my last night, wishing that I had more time. The desert and I have rekindled our romance. The barking geckos now sound like a heavenly choir and I would give anything to stay just one more night. If only the desert and I could remember one another so that when I return, we could pick up where we are leaving off….
Technical Details: Nikon D300 entry level DSLR, Nikkor 80-400mm, ISO 400, F8 and 1/350th,
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