It’s not until you start flying over the vast panorama of nothing that you fully realise the remoteness and vastness of the African bush. We touched down at Jack’s camp, a collection of luxury tents set up by the legendary crocodile hunter Jack Bousfield, in the 70s which lie on the edge of the Makgadikgadi Salt pans.
We were met by Chaba, who had swapped a suit and tie and office in the Botswana Ministry of Agriculture for dreadlocks, safari gear and a permanent grin. What a great guy. His scientific background gave him an insight into animal behaviour that was both informative and infectious.
We stayed at San Camp, a short drive from Jack’s. Large mosquito-proof tents built on polished wooden platforms. Four-poster beds, rugs on the floor, a huge wooden flushing loo, power shower, fluffy towels and bottles of smelly things. Meals around a table set for 12, Bushmen artefacts in showcases behind. Delicious food, fresh bread every day and a bar of formidable variety.
An unforgettable morning spent with a small group of habituated meerkats as they emerged from their burrows, using our shoulders or heads as lookout vantage points. An afternoon with the indigenous Kalahari bushmen learning just a little of how they survive in such a hostile wilderness and then it was off on quad bikes across the salt pans following a single set of tyre marks. The odd ostrich, a few birds, but otherwise nothing to see, but the exhilaration was infectious. It is not for everyone. Thumbs got tired, we got very, very dusty and it was a long day. A perfect lunch of salad nicoise emerged from a cool box and at around 3pm we arrived at what is termed the Lost Island of Baobabs. (Did you know Baobabs are a succulent and not a tree?). Bedrolls with two hot water bottles were laid out under the stars, a bucket shower open to the wilds behind a tree and a long drop loo. Dinner under the stars on a white tablecloth and once again delicious food and fresh bread, produced from an open fire. As we lay in bed looking up at the vast canopy of stars above there were whispered discussions as to whether the call in the distance had been lion or ostrich. To the untrained ear, it could have been either…
Back to San Camp for a night, clothes washed and pressed within 24 hours (they needed it!) and a flight to Moremi game reserve where a mobile tented camp had been set up for us. Smaller tents but with proper beds, showers and yet again flushing loos (how do they do it in the middle of nowhere?), hyenas walking through the camp at night and lions calling. This is the real safari as it used to be. Why would anyone want to stay within the confines of a lodge where you are isolated from the raw reality of the bush? I wonder if it will last or will the pressure of fussy tourists confine the experience to the history books. I hope not.