Beyond the gray plains of shingle, in the north-west side of South Africa, the ground slightly tilts, to reveal one of the ageless artworks of nature: an ancient sea of sand having to color of a baked apricot, which seems to spread on endless terrain – the Kalahari Desert.
This is Kalahari, a vast territory on the African plateau – the longest area of continuous sand, uninterrupted by rocky or pebble areas, as her sister, Sahara.
Unreal in his vastness, prehistoric as structure and culture, the Kalahari Desert covers almost all Botswana and continues west to Namibia, passing through Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe on her way.
The people that live here call the Kalahari Desert – kgalagodi, which means “wilderness” – a region so vast, impenetrable and ancient that still hides secrets of civilizations long gone. The sands in Kalahari Desert are home and hunting territory of some of the most ancient populations on the globe, like the bosimani(bushmen) or San tribes, which even by today still live as they did 25,000 years ago. Their amazing accommodation to the burning heat, lack of water and food insufficiency in Kalahari Desert helped them survive roughest periods of time, when other people would have certainly perished.
Even if in the present there are no more than a few thousand bosimani(bushmen) left in the Kalahari Desert, their ancestors left behind numerous paintings inside the caves and on the rocks in Kalahari Desert.
In the caves and on the cliffs of the Tsolido Hills, in the north-western extremity of the Kalahari Desert, no less than 2750 drawing in 200 different places can be seen. The drawings vary from simple geometric forms to various groups of people and animals.
The majority of the bosimani(bushmen) lived in the south side of the Kalahari Desert, where four runways belonging to drained ancient river, Molopo, Kuruman, Nassah and Auab wind on their way to their sandy tomb near Orange River. Through this sad valleys in Kalahari, water flows only during years with exceptionally abundant rains.
Around the ghost runways, nature sculpted sinuous dunes, colored in bronze and red by the iron oxides in the Kalahari sand. In this stifling environment, mongooses and den animals get out during daylight only to feed, always paying attention to an eventual attack of a prey bird or a cobra. Oryx antelopes, Damaliscus and other species related, graze on stripes of grass found between the dunes in the Kalahari Desert, where during summer temperatures often exceed 50 degrees.
Kalahari Desert is one of the most eloquent example of the force that fire, wind and sand have when together. Almost 65 million years ago, massive lava floods covered the central area of South Africa, including the Kalahari area. This wavy sea of lava, sometimes 8 km deep, formed high cliffs and deep valleys.
Later on, 50 million years ago, the mixed action of wind and rains leveled the rough terrain, flattening the mountains and filling the valleys with argil and small rocks. Eventually, the high quantities of sand brought by wind from the coastal regions gave birth to the flat multicolored terrains that we see today – the Kalahari Desert, having a surface as big as the one of South Africa.
The aridity of Kalahari Desert is determined by the cold oceanic air current Benguela, which moves from Antarctica to the western shore of Africa. Frozen water chills the dominant winds, forbidding them to absorb enough moisture for rains.
During dry season, in august and September, Kalahari lacks water almost completely, giving birth to an intense battle for survival.
The bosiman(bushmen) in the southern and central areas of the Kalahari Desert dig in the river runways in the search for water, and, if they find any, they deposit it in ostrich eggshells.
When they eventually run out of this water source, the people in the Kalahari Desert extract the water from the digested food in the stomachs of the antelopes they captured. The tsamma melons also consist a source of water for the people in the Kalahari Desert, the bosimans(bushmen) eating up to 3 kg’s per day. In case of any rain, the tribes in Kalahari use reeds to drink the water found in tree hollows and rock holes.
Despite the aridity, Kalahari Desert is home to a vast diversity of animals: 46 species of mammals with bigger dimensions than jackals live in the vast flat desert of Kalahari.
Less than a century ago, hoards of South African gas having a effectives estimated between 50,000 and a couple millions, were migrating the Kalahari Desert. A hoard could spread on a distance of 210 km, with a line of 21 km wide, destroyed crops and walked on people and animals on it’s way.
Big groups of animals march even today in the Kalahari Desert, along the drained Auab and Nassab rivers, throwing golden dust into the air. Lions stalk them hidden waiting for night to come so that they can start hunting. The oryx, a massive antelope, can survive without ever drinking water, thanks to a natural breathing “machine”, which constantly controls her body temperature.
In the heat of the day, the fast breath of the animal determines a quick going in and out the air, which passes through a delicate recipe of blood vessels, this way chilling the blood that enters the brain. From time to time, the body temperature raises, this way eliminating the need to sweat, keeping water inside.