There was a crackle on the radio. “What time will you be back?” asked a somewhat harassed camp manager.
“Soon, soon” was the reply from Ralph.
I looked at my watch. It was just gone 3 pm and only then did I realise the camp manager was asking us in for breakfast and had been for the last few hours. Breakfast, lunch or dinner for that matter, was the furthest from my mind. Who was thinking of food when we were with one of Africa’s finest guides, our appetites being fed by the constant flow of stories and information about this magnificent country they call Botswana.
Ralph Bousfield is renowned for being one of, if not the leading Safari guide in Botswana. My safari with Ralph did not have the most auspicious of beginnings, in that I was taken aback by the traffic of light aircraft at the airstrip. I was starting to feel that this may not be the private, exclusive, once in a lifetime safari I was promised. How wrong I was. Bags fastened onto the roof of our land cruiser, we left behind the bustle, making our way through the beautiful Moremi Reserve, away from the crowds and into a world of our very own.
Arriving into camp my heart soared. This is how a safari camp should be. An atmospheric mess tent area, campfire and sleeping tents which provide you with a comfortable bed to sleep in, a bucket shower and loo. Spending two nights here was truly incredible. There were too many wonderful game viewing sightings to choose my favourite – the lions roaring for territory, the male zebras fighting for business rights, the herd of elephants calmly going about their business or the biggest leopard I have ever sighted sat in a tree watching us, watching her.
On my last night in the Moremi we set off by boat, zig-zagging through the waterways, seeing birds, massive crocodiles and the elusive sitatunga. We stopped for lunch in the clear shallows, not on the boat but in the waters of the Okavango Delta. Sat back on safari chairs with toes in the water, I soon, against my better judgement, found myself swimming. For me, the mark of a great safari is one in which you find yourself outside your comfort zone without ever realising that you have made such a transgression.
Could it get any better?
Yes. Fly camping on our very own private island. Set up with nothing more than mosquito nets, a bedroll and duvet. Our simple camp was short of ordinary. That night sleeping under that stars will go down as one of my best nights sleep. Exposed, vulnerable, yet at peace.
The next day, the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans provided a stark contrast. One of the largest salt-pans in the world, the Makgadikgadi resembles a lunar landscape. Remote. Inhospitable. Yet the sense of space and openness was so uplifting. Yes, there are lots of places from where you can enjoy the stars but there is nowhere quite like San Camp, creating moments, unexpected and untamed.
On my last morning at San Camp I was introduced to the Kalahari Meerkats. So very small yet so very human. It was incredible to watch these small furry creatures going about their morning rituals. Front paws poised to their chest, they would chatter away to friends and family, then suddenly stop to gaze alertly over the Kalahari, invariably using me, as the highest point around, to survey their surrounds. I was only too happy to cease spectating them and oblige in joining surveillance efforts.
I have been fortunate enough to have travelled throughout Africa but my time with the meerkats has to be one of my most personal and precious experiences. I am certain from their wide-eyed interaction and meerkat chatter that they, like me, are fascinated by this land.