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Mpayathutlwa Symphony

19 November 2019, Mabuasehube, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Botswana

 

The car drove up to the dune and then back down like a swing. Here and there were old trees, whose barks were covered in the sun’s reddish tones. The yellow grass shone on the orange sand.

"No, no, that's just a usual landscape! Don't think about falling in love with Mabua!”, I thought.

But I ate this barren, rough, and almost magical semi-desert with my eyes, I drank its silence as if it were water and I enjoyed every moment that I experienced. It was impossible not to fall in love with Mabuasehube or, shortly, Mabua.

 

Suddenly we came to a huge pan, a field embraced by dunes. A herd of over 80 wildebeests moved to the nearby water hole. We stood above and watched them like from a theatre box. This breathtaking view was a part of Mpayathutlwa campsite number one or Mpaya-1. In addition to the view, there was an A-frame (roof on stilts) that gave us shade during the day. A little further away was a toilet built like a fortress and a shower with a water basin. Around the shower stood a green wooden fence with a rectangular hole in it.

 

"The hole is there for you to see whether the shower is already occupied by a lion," explained Cedric, a Swiss who had arrived at Mpaya-1 with his friend, cameraman Rudi from Germany, two days before we did. I quickly imagined the lion’s yellow eyes and big nose in the fence hole and wondered what I would have done in such a moment…

The shower was over 20m away from the A-Frame. We were looking for a place to set up our tent and we found one in the shade of a tree that stood at the angle. There was a bird basin opposite the A-Frame.

"A brown hyena comes here to drink in the evenings between 10 and 11 pm," said Cedric and showed us a video where a hairy creature greedily drank the water. A black nose and striped paws beamed behind its owner’s long hair.

 

Before I came to Mabuasehube, I’ve never seen a brown hyena. On our first camping site, one showed up but disappeared so fast that I could not take a picture of it. I was glad! Today I could set up my trap camera opposite the bird basin and, with a little luck, take a desired shot of the “Brownie”!

 

We had a barbecue in the evening and I took some pictures of the stars. The clouds started gathering in the East from Gaborone, and lightning flashed across the sky. It had flashed the day before as well but since there hadn’t been any raindrop, I did not worry much about the thunderstorm, although it smelled pleasantly of rain.

In the evening we didn't close the windows of our tent as I was hoping to see our night guest through the window net. We were in the tent before 11 pm because I didn't want to miss the “Brownie“.

 

My partner Hans fell asleep right away. About 10 minutes passed when I heard slurping sounds - an animal was drinking! The trap camera flashed.

"Hans! Wake up! The hyena is there! ”I whispered excitedly. But at that moment I heard a low growl ...

"Is it …… though?" I pushed this thought aside.

Hans took the flashlight, opened the tent entrance a bit, and shone the direction of the bird basin. A huge male lion sat there with the basin between his paws and drank.

 

After the lion satisfied his thirst, he began to roar. If you’ve never heard a wild lion roar two meters away from you, I must tell you that it is very loud and very impressive. The lion, in his prime, beautiful and powerful, never loses a chance to claim the territory to all other animals by showing who is the boss out there. That massive roar gives you vibrations in the chest, neck, hair, and even in finger tips. You become hypnotised.

 

I sat there and didn't move. I probably wasn't breathing either. Suddenly there was a second roar and I realised that another lion was circling the tent and moving towards the basin.

 

Meanwhile, the storm was approaching. No thunder could be heard yet, but bolts of lightning flashed everywhere. The darkness between the flashes seemed even darker to me. It felt like a black hole interrupted with freeze frames of lions. Before they were on the right. Then on the left. Everything went black again. And now suddenly they were very close to us. A lion went to the tree next to our tent. It was their scratching post! How could I miss it? The next minute I heard his claws tear the bark. The lightning flashed again, and I saw his majestic silhouette with a magnificent mane and long tail. We were separated by only 1 mm of tent fabric and 1m air. Yes, he was the only king here.

 

When he went back, I heard the sand crunching under his paws. I heard his breath and had a feeling that I could feel his fur with my skin, he was that close to me. It was a special moment of intimacy between him as the king and me as the guest in his realm, also an animal somehow. My senses were sharpened, my brain was switched off and I was floating in timelessness. I was afraid but even more, I was overwhelmed with admiration and respect.

 

"You can’t sleep?", I returned from my hypnotised state and saw Hans' eyes sparkling with happiness. Sleep?? I heard my heart racing.

"They don't do anything bad when people are in the tent," he continued. I thought, hopefully, the lion knows that too.

"And what if they do?" I thought, "Should I be the first one?" And how does it feel to be killed by lions? Our tent was so small that a lion wouldn’t fit in at all but even that wasn’t that reassuring.

 

I heard a roar from afar. Our duo replied. It was a lioness who also wanted to drink and joined the other two lions. Now there were three of them guarding our tent.

"Oh, I like Mabua!" I heard Hans saying.

 

The first drops fell on the tent. I touched the canvas. It was cold. There were three lions somewhere behind it. Three killing machines, big, heavy, and full of muscles, claws, and teeth. I listened but I couldn’t hear what our trio was doing.

 

The thunder exploded overhead, and the raindrops started hitting the tent more often. Our windows were only closed by the net, the cover was open, and the first drops fell inside. I pulled my legs away and tried to think of rain, and not of lions.

 

After an hour the inside of the tent was quite wet. Hans opened the zip and shone out with the flashlight. It was a dark black night, only the heavy rain was reflecting in the light. Nobody was there. Hans went out and closed the zip-down windows.

 

It was light when Hans woke me up, and I slept safer in the morning light. Although who knows when it is safe in the African bush?

 

"How was the night?" Cedric grinned all over his face. "Yes, they came by our tent, too!" He said, "but where could they be now?"

 

Cedric and Rudi went on a game drive to look for the lions. We examined our shower and found footprints of a leopard, they were stamped in the wet sand. He or she drank in the shower after the rain. The rainwater immediately seeped into the sand but stayed in the concrete tub.

In the previous year, it had rained very little and the drought made everything even more barren and harsh. A little rain hadn’t made a big difference.

 

In the evening the wind had changed and was now coming from the south-west, although it was still flashing towards Gaborone. The black, heavy clouds gathered from all sides. The wind got so strong that I was worried it would pull our tent away. Lightning danced across the sky above us and everything looked like Mpayathutlwa was a meeting place for gods and demons.

 

We fixed everything and immediately closed the windows of the tent. And there we were in total darkness. Suddenly the wind stopped, and silence fell. And this silence was like a pause before something special. Like when the audience in the concert hall falls silent as soon as the conductor raises his baton. Everyone is mesmerised in the expectation of a miracle. But the conductor is standing still and in this minute you think about life’s worth and its beautiful moments, you forget the worries or you clear your mind completely. Only the flow of life remains undisturbed. You can feel the time. This minute. Your existence. You are the time. And then the conductor makes a movement...

 

That’s when the sky fell and there was an explosion like a sonic boom. Lightning streaked through the closed windows. And then another drum roll of thunder cracked the air. It was as if the gates of hell were opened. "The devil's wedding," I thought. I felt the thunder with my whole body and I was in the middle of this boiling pot. I was a participant in this great play, this symphony of God and the Devil.

 

"Now you are experiencing a real Kalahari thunderstorm," I said to Hans.

"The lions were better," he replied quietly.

"No, the storm is better!" I stated excitedly. "Are you scared?" I added mockingly with a smile thinking about the night before.

The rain came down in buckets. It wasn't just rain, it was a real waterfall. I wondered if our tent could stand it.

"What is the average annual rainfall in Kalahari?" Hans asked me.

"About 350mm," I replied thinking that they all were coming down now.

 

I thought the lions wouldn’t appear during downpours and I was right, they weren't there. What kind of cat would go out in such weather? But when the thunderstorm stopped an hour or two before dawn, I heard the familiar sounds: "Urrrha, urrr, urr, ur, ur". The lioness from the previous day was back and she had her solo to include into nature’s symphony.

What a perfect ending! I realised that the Kalahari lions and the Kalahari thunderstorm are not that different after all.

 

When the sun showed its first rays, we came out of the tent. The whole Mpayathutlwa pan was full of water. Three kudus were moving through the pan and breaking their reflection in the water into thousands of diamonds that glittered in the sun. For them, they were the right, the real, the most expensive of all diamonds - water.

My heart filled with joy.

In two days the now flooded pan would become a huge green field. I thought of a springbok that didn’t survive those three days to experience this beautiful moment. But that's another story.

 

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On 8/19/2020 at 2:28 AM, ElenaH said:

Mpayathutlwa Symphony

19 November 2019, Mabuasehube, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Botswana

 

The car drove up to the dune and then back down like a swing. Here and there were old trees, whose barks were covered in the sun’s reddish tones. The yellow grass shone on the orange sand.

"No, no, that's just a usual landscape! Don't think about falling in love with Mabua!”, I thought.

But I ate this barren, rough, and almost magical semi-desert with my eyes, I drank its silence as if it were water and I enjoyed every moment that I experienced. It was impossible not to fall in love with Mabuasehube or, shortly, Mabua.

 

Suddenly we came to a huge pan, a field embraced by dunes. A herd of over 80 wildebeests moved to the nearby water hole. We stood above and watched them like from a theatre box. This breathtaking view was a part of Mpayathutlwa campsite number one or Mpaya-1. In addition to the view, there was an A-frame (roof on stilts) that gave us shade during the day. A little further away was a toilet built like a fortress and a shower with a water basin. Around the shower stood a green wooden fence with a rectangular hole in it.

 

"The hole is there for you to see whether the shower is already occupied by a lion," explained Cedric, a Swiss who had arrived at Mpaya-1 with his friend, cameraman Rudi from Germany, two days before we did. I quickly imagined the lion’s yellow eyes and big nose in the fence hole and wondered what I would have done in such a moment…

The shower was over 20m away from the A-Frame. We were looking for a place to set up our tent and we found one in the shade of a tree that stood at the angle. There was a bird basin opposite the A-Frame.

"A brown hyena comes here to drink in the evenings between 10 and 11 pm," said Cedric and showed us a video where a hairy creature greedily drank the water. A black nose and striped paws beamed behind its owner’s long hair.

 

Before I came to Mabuasehube, I’ve never seen a brown hyena. On our first camping site, one showed up but disappeared so fast that I could not take a picture of it. I was glad! Today I could set up my trap camera opposite the bird basin and, with a little luck, take a desired shot of the “Brownie”!

 

We had a barbecue in the evening and I took some pictures of the stars. The clouds started gathering in the East from Gaborone, and lightning flashed across the sky. It had flashed the day before as well but since there hadn’t been any raindrop, I did not worry much about the thunderstorm, although it smelled pleasantly of rain.

In the evening we didn't close the windows of our tent as I was hoping to see our night guest through the window net. We were in the tent before 11 pm because I didn't want to miss the “Brownie“.

 

My partner Hans fell asleep right away. About 10 minutes passed when I heard slurping sounds - an animal was drinking! The trap camera flashed.

"Hans! Wake up! The hyena is there! ”I whispered excitedly. But at that moment I heard a low growl ...

"Is it …… though?" I pushed this thought aside.

Hans took the flashlight, opened the tent entrance a bit, and shone the direction of the bird basin. A huge male lion sat there with the basin between his paws and drank.

 

After the lion satisfied his thirst, he began to roar. If you’ve never heard a wild lion roar two meters away from you, I must tell you that it is very loud and very impressive. The lion, in his prime, beautiful and powerful, never loses a chance to claim the territory to all other animals by showing who is the boss out there. That massive roar gives you vibrations in the chest, neck, hair, and even in finger tips. You become hypnotised.

 

I sat there and didn't move. I probably wasn't breathing either. Suddenly there was a second roar and I realised that another lion was circling the tent and moving towards the basin.

 

Meanwhile, the storm was approaching. No thunder could be heard yet, but bolts of lightning flashed everywhere. The darkness between the flashes seemed even darker to me. It felt like a black hole interrupted with freeze frames of lions. Before they were on the right. Then on the left. Everything went black again. And now suddenly they were very close to us. A lion went to the tree next to our tent. It was their scratching post! How could I miss it? The next minute I heard his claws tear the bark. The lightning flashed again, and I saw his majestic silhouette with a magnificent mane and long tail. We were separated by only 1 mm of tent fabric and 1m air. Yes, he was the only king here.

 

When he went back, I heard the sand crunching under his paws. I heard his breath and had a feeling that I could feel his fur with my skin, he was that close to me. It was a special moment of intimacy between him as the king and me as the guest in his realm, also an animal somehow. My senses were sharpened, my brain was switched off and I was floating in timelessness. I was afraid but even more, I was overwhelmed with admiration and respect.

 

"You can’t sleep?", I returned from my hypnotised state and saw Hans' eyes sparkling with happiness. Sleep?? I heard my heart racing.

"They don't do anything bad when people are in the tent," he continued. I thought, hopefully, the lion knows that too.

"And what if they do?" I thought, "Should I be the first one?" And how does it feel to be killed by lions? Our tent was so small that a lion wouldn’t fit in at all but even that wasn’t that reassuring.

 

I heard a roar from afar. Our duo replied. It was a lioness who also wanted to drink and joined the other two lions. Now there were three of them guarding our tent.

"Oh, I like Mabua!" I heard Hans saying.

 

The first drops fell on the tent. I touched the canvas. It was cold. There were three lions somewhere behind it. Three killing machines, big, heavy, and full of muscles, claws, and teeth. I listened but I couldn’t hear what our trio was doing.

 

The thunder exploded overhead, and the raindrops started hitting the tent more often. Our windows were only closed by the net, the cover was open, and the first drops fell inside. I pulled my legs away and tried to think of rain, and not of lions.

 

After an hour the inside of the tent was quite wet. Hans opened the zip and shone out with the flashlight. It was a dark black night, only the heavy rain was reflecting in the light. Nobody was there. Hans went out and closed the zip-down windows.

 

It was light when Hans woke me up, and I slept safer in the morning light. Although who knows when it is safe in the African bush?

 

"How was the night?" Cedric grinned all over his face. "Yes, they came by our tent, too!" He said, "but where could they be now?"

 

Cedric and Rudi went on a game drive to look for the lions. We examined our shower and found footprints of a leopard, they were stamped in the wet sand. He or she drank in the shower after the rain. The rainwater immediately seeped into the sand but stayed in the concrete tub.

In the previous year, it had rained very little and the drought made everything even more barren and harsh. A little rain hadn’t made a big difference.

 

In the evening the wind had changed and was now coming from the south-west, although it was still flashing towards Gaborone. The black, heavy clouds gathered from all sides. The wind got so strong that I was worried it would pull our tent away. Lightning danced across the sky above us and everything looked like Mpayathutlwa was a meeting place for gods and demons.

 

We fixed everything and immediately closed the windows of the tent. And there we were in total darkness. Suddenly the wind stopped, and silence fell. And this silence was like a pause before something special. Like when the audience in the concert hall falls silent as soon as the conductor raises his baton. Everyone is mesmerised in the expectation of a miracle. But the conductor is standing still and in this minute you think about life’s worth and its beautiful moments, you forget the worries or you clear your mind completely. Only the flow of life remains undisturbed. You can feel the time. This minute. Your existence. You are the time. And then the conductor makes a movement...

 

That’s when the sky fell and there was an explosion like a sonic boom. Lightning streaked through the closed windows. And then another drum roll of thunder cracked the air. It was as if the gates of hell were opened. "The devil's wedding," I thought. I felt the thunder with my whole body and I was in the middle of this boiling pot. I was a participant in this great play, this symphony of God and the Devil.

 

"Now you are experiencing a real Kalahari thunderstorm," I said to Hans.

"The lions were better," he replied quietly.

"No, the storm is better!" I stated excitedly. "Are you scared?" I added mockingly with a smile thinking about the night before.

The rain came down in buckets. It wasn't just rain, it was a real waterfall. I wondered if our tent could stand it.

"What is the average annual rainfall in Kalahari?" Hans asked me.

"About 350mm," I replied thinking that they all were coming down now.

 

I thought the lions wouldn’t appear during downpours and I was right, they weren't there. What kind of cat would go out in such weather? But when the thunderstorm stopped an hour or two before dawn, I heard the familiar sounds: "Urrrha, urrr, urr, ur, ur". The lioness from the previous day was back and she had her solo to include into nature’s symphony.

What a perfect ending! I realised that the Kalahari lions and the Kalahari thunderstorm are not that different after all.

 

When the sun showed its first rays, we came out of the tent. The whole Mpayathutlwa pan was full of water. Three kudus were moving through the pan and breaking their reflection in the water into thousands of diamonds that glittered in the sun. For them, they were the right, the real, the most expensive of all diamonds - water.

My heart filled with joy.

In two days the now flooded pan would become a huge green field. I thought of a springbok that didn’t survive those three days to experience this beautiful moment. But that's another story.

 

Very nice written and enjoyable to read, thanks.

Amazing place, can't wait to back.......

 

Did you record the roaring lions in night?

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@JPS, no, unfortunately I didn't record the roar! :-( and I regret it. They were very close and loud and I was scared ;-) We always take a ground tent to be close to nature but sometimes it is too close ;-)

But you inspired me with your films and  I ordered a Rode Video-Mic and will try to film again. Now I have Nikon z7 and it looks like it will be easier to film as it was before. Are you recording the tone to external recorder or to the camera?

Of course, there are better microphones. But we are heading to Zambia an Friday and only Rode shall arrive in time. What Mic are you using? By the way greetings to your wife, she did a great job! Really! 

I probably need to include some photos in that report. But I tried to write artistically and as we know if you read a book and then see a film then you often say: "The film is good! But the book was better."  And I deliberately didn't include photos to let the reader to imagine, to visualise the situation. I think the photos would have spoiled it, they are not so good as the memories.

To produce a good film as you do takes a lot of time and preparations. The film can be 10 minutes but the work behind is just tremendous. 

 

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3 hours ago, ElenaH said:

@JPS, no, unfortunately I didn't record the roar! :-( and I regret it. They were very close and loud and I was scared ;-) We always take a ground tent to be close to nature but sometimes it is too close ;-)

But you inspired me with your films and  I ordered a Rode Video-Mic and will try to film again. Now I have Nikon z7 and it looks like it will be easier to film as it was before. Are you recording the tone to external recorder or to the camera?

Of course, there are better microphones. But we are heading to Zambia an Friday and only Rode shall arrive in time. What Mic are you using? By the way greetings to your wife, she did a great job! Really! 

I probably need to include some photos in that report. But I tried to write artistically and as we know if you read a book and then see a film then you often say: "The film is good! But the book was better."  And I deliberately didn't include photos to let the reader to imagine, to visualise the situation. I think the photos would have spoiled it, they are not so good as the memories.

To produce a good film as you do takes a lot of time and preparations. The film can be 10 minutes but the work behind is just tremendous. 

 

Hi Elena,
I also use a red mic pro, but not always connected, so sometimes we also use the microphone of the camera itself. I always record directly on the camera.
Yes, it will take some time to create the video clip and figure out what to use. There is so much material to choose from.

 

Writing a story that is also interesting to read is not easy, I can't. I am more of a technically boring writer and it is difficult for me to write passionately so that it also remains interesting to read.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Many thanks @ElenaH. I enjoyed your writing a lot, it really felt I was there also. Lovely experience to have lions is camp, yes frightening, but still priceless. I'm sure the memories will last forever.

I have been in Mabua once and totally loved it, it is one of the places I need to go back to.

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