Way back in the1860’s, a traveller, explorer and artist by the name of Thomas Baines immortalized a cluster of gnarly old baobab trees, located on the edge of a remote salt pan, in a now rather famous water colour painting. Today the baobabs have barely changed, and are a popular tourist destination. Due to their remoteness, not too many people get to see them, as they are literally in the middle of nowhere.
We had spent a week in Central Kalahari Game Reserve in December, and decided to take the long route home via Nxai Pan National Park and overnighting at Baines Baobabs on New Years Eve. Departing from South Camp in Nxai Pans, we traversed a thick, sandy two track flanked by tall grass, meandering in a southerly direction.
Gradually the grass petered out to patchy scrub and the first smatterings of salt pan appeared. En-route to the trees, secretary birds suddenly rose into the air, scared off from the tractor rattle of the diesel engines. A lone warthog quenched its thirst at a small waterhole, a few elephant ambled in the distance followed by a gemsbok while European bee-eaters dipped and dived next to the car.
The terrain eventually gave way to vast open salt pans and a speck in the distance gave clues that we were nearing our destination. Approaching the cluster of baobabs from the back, the road wound around a rocky hill, upon which 7 ancient baobabs reached their branches heavenward. The 8th sadly had succumbed to old age and lay collapsed in a twisted heap of huge roots and branches nearby. Beyond stretched a huge expanse of salt pan.
Parking the cars in the shade, we climbed up the sloping ground to explore the millennia old trunks and branches. Sadly some heathens had opted to gauge their undying love into the trunks. I’ve never understood why anyone would want to deface such beauty in nature. Surprisingly the trees were quite close together considering they generally tend to grow in isolation. At the height of summer, the canopy was thick with leaves, providing a wide awning of shade, rather welcome given the intense heat coming off the pan.
After we’d explored the trees, climbed a few branches, frowned upon the graffiti and snapped off some pics, we climbed back into the car and took a direct track across the salt pan to the opposite island upon which awaited our campsite for the night. Rolling in at noon, the sun was at it’s highest and we were rather distressed to find that the one and only tree on this campsite had very few leaves and therefore offered little shade. However, when in the bush one must make a plan and learn to improvise, so out came the ground sheet and some guy ropes and after a brief McGyver moment, voila… shade!!
With temperatures up in the high 30’s, it was too hot to do much so the afternoon was spent flopped in a camp chair, bottles of cold water by the dozen and some reading material to while the time away. Dragonflies buzzed around us incessantly and even a small army of ants crawled out of their holes to form a neat line around the rim of my bottle top that was filled with water…. The dry terrain was too much for them too. In the baobab above us, a pair of yellow-billed kites called to each other, taking off occasionally to cool down in the sand nearby, crouching down in the sand and spreading their wings… then taking flight again back to their perch above us.
Back at camp, we threw a poitjie together and camera’s were prepped to catch the sunset. A lone jackal could be seen heading across the pan in the setting sun and the entire vista took on a beautiful pink, golden hue. The gorgeous light highlighting Baine’s Baobabs opposite us turned the trunks a rich brown, it really was beautiful.
The silence that evening was almost deafening. Not even a cricket chirped and we sat under the canopy of stars counting 11 satellites moving across the sky and I lost count of the stars after about a million. For some real soul searching, this is the place to do it. There are no words for the view of the heavens and the mystery that shrouds those baobabs will forever be unsolved. I truly hope they’ll still be there in another 100 years, surviving the seasons and guarding the equally ancient salt pans.