Kgale Hill in Gaborone
Climbing to the top of Kgale Hill in Gaborone, the capital city of Botswana - who could have imagined that it would not only provide me with a fantastic view but also allow me to witness Botswana's playful Baboons in their natural habitat.
I got up around 9am, missed breakfast - looked out the window and saw a blue sky. Beneath the beautiful sky I could see clearly Kgale Hill - Gaborone’s central and towering landmark. Today’s the day to throw caution to the wind, maybe I’ll get stalked by a leopard or run into the baboons who have until now eluded me. The weather’s perfect and Botswana is smiling at me, I’m off.
[Kgale Hill from hotel window]
I took two small bottles of water, the essential camera and drove in the general direction of the hill. The websites all said that there are three tracks of differing degrees of difficulty which get you to the top, although none of them had any maps. It’s not like it is Everest - barely 2/100 of its size. Surely it can’t be that hard?
The drive down only took 10 minutes. As I got closer, it became evident that it was going to be hard to find any tracks. None of them were marked, so it looked as though I was going to have to chance it and make my own path. I found this winding dirt track heading towards the hill but because of the rain yesterday the road was a bit muddy and without a 4WD I was only asking for trouble. I parked the car and decided to make the rest of the trip on foot.
[Looking up at the foot of the hill]
Still no sign of the three tracks, of course they could be anywhere and it would have been quite easy to miss them in the bush. After a few minutes I found something which looked like a path. I pushed onwards. Some of the trees were really sharp, others wanted to stick to me when I brushed up against them - one even borrowed my hat.
The path wound its way through the dense vegetation, sometimes I thought there was no path anymore and my eyes were just playing tricks with me. I kept telling myself, track or no track, my mission is to get to the top. Eventually I did lose the track when the bush gave way to rocks and boulders, sticking out into the air at imaginative angles.
[I was prepared to scale rocks with my flip-flops - a hiker’s best friend]
It was starting to get hot and my breathing increased to match my perspiration. At the half way point I could already see a picturesque and general outline of Gaborone.
[Really cool looking tree - with roots splattered around a rock]
After another 15 minutes and a few boulders to scale I was on top. Nothing to it I thought. I don’t think it took me more than 25 to 30 mins to get to the top. I stood there looking around in all directions. Sat on the rocks and listened to the sounds of Africa
[The very loud bugs]
For a moment there I thought that I’d heard human voices in the distance but that must have been just my imagination.
Looking around the surrounding area I could see my hotel, The Grand Palm, the centre of parliament, the dam as well as the surrounding towns. Further out, other little hills (not dissimilar from Kgale) dotted the horizon as far as I could see.
[Looking out onto the dam]
[View towards the hotel]
I drank some water and was getting ready to walk down, when suddenly, I heard something which at first sounded like a dog, then it blended with the African air and became more of a wild grunt.
Living in the cities, we’ve forgotten to use some of our senses - I think the biggest losers are hearing as well as instinct. Here, because I couldn’t see anything through the thick bush, all my senses came to life. My ears were trying to pick out the individual sounds and make sense of them. Was an animal coming closer to me? Hell, I don’t even have a pocket knife on me. What am I going to do against two inch teeth - club it to death with my tiny camera?
It didn’t take long before my instincts kicked in, the hart rate jumped up a few beats and I headed for high ground, found the tallest rock I could find and climbed to the top. This was going to be the easiest place to defend - if it ever came to that. I sat there frozen, still searching for evidence and a direction of where the sounds were coming from.
[Perched on top of my safe rock]
Silence.... It’s amazing how quickly your brain and ears adjust to filtering out all the little sounds which previously were so numerous - now my brain was tuning into that one single important one. Danger.
As I listened, out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a shadow move in the distance. I saw it again. Yes, it’s moving.
My eyes fixated on it some 100 meters away. It moved again. Other shadows followed. Finally I realised that they were the Baboons I’d heard about. Ha! - I knew I could track them down, or was it the other way round? I sat there on the tall rock watching their movements, witnessing they playful nature, taking pictures and absorbing the experience.
It was so exhilarating to see them in their own environment, in the wild and to be within 100m. After 20 minutes they started to move off into the distance. I started to make my way down to the car.
Whilst descending the hill my mind was wondering; what exactly is the protocol if you find yourself face to face with a Baboon. Do I lay down on the ground play dead as I would with a bear, shout loudly and wave my arms around, pretend to be submissive and look away? I don’t have any experience with animals on this continent.
The trip down was quick but I was cautious to keep my wits about me. My eyes searching out for movement in the bush, my ears picking up the smallest of sounds and my stomach clenched ready to run. Ok, so the Baboons I’ve seen, what of that leopard? Is he going to be as timid as the baboons and stay away, or will he want to sample some fresh white meat?
When I got to the car I noticed another group of baboons sitting close by. I got in and drove nearer so that I could take a closer picture. Some ran away, others stayed around - curious of the guy in the little white car.
It truly was a fantastic day. I haven’t felt so raw, exposed and in the moment since cycling through Kyrgyzstan (where I almost lost my head to drunk man wielding a sickle). It was truly amazing, and right in the centre of Gaborone.
This story was published in The Voice - One of Botswana's leading newspapers