By Mary-Frances W.
After reading Tauck Traveler Reviews of our Botswana, South Africa & Zambia tour, I was intrigued to learn more about the experience of a stay in a bush camp. I spoke with a camp representative visiting our Tauck office and consulted with a tour leader familiar with this new-for-2013 tour…
The journey begins in Livingstone, Zambia… heads inland to Botswana for two different bush camp experiences… and ends in Cape Town, South Africa. Here’s what you can expect on a three-night stay at Camp Kalahari.
After your flight to Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Pans, you’ll find yourself in an area so flat and arid that you may suspect you’ve arrived squarely in the middle of nowhere. Once the site of a gigantic lake, the waters here evaporated thousands of years ago leaving behind a series of individual “pans” – naturally formed depressions in the surface of the Earth.
These are the world’s largest pans, void of vegetation and covered with a salty clay crust for most of the year. On their fringes, lie grasslands and shrubby savanna; further out, the vast Kalahari Desert covers much of Botswana’s land surface.
What can you do in the “middle of nowhere”?
- Discover the pans’ unique natural environment. Expect stretches of vast emptiness, brilliant blue skies and utter quiet. On game drives you’ll learn about the area’s flora, bird life and the few small animals (aardvarks, porcupines, badgers – and the elusive brown hyena) able to survive in this harsh landscape.
- Visit “Chapman’s Baobab.” Several-thousand years old, this gigantic tree is named after the South African explorer, James Chapman, who camped in the area in 1861. Baobabs store massive amounts of water in their stems during rainy seasons, enabling them to survive in landscapes where little else thrives. At some 80+ feet in diameter at its base, Chapman’s Baobab is famed as a navigational point for southern Africa’s early explorers; many left inscriptions behind on its base.
- Go on a walking safari with Zu/’hoasi Bushmen, whose ancestry here traces back tens of thousands of years; they are living links to history and deeply connected to the surrounding nature. You’ll see the desert through their eyes and learn about life in this barren environment: how plants are used to make rope and hunting bows, how ordinary plants are used for culinary and medicinal purposes, how to cook with the most basic of equipment… and the unique “click” sounds of their language.
- Visit a local meerkat clan. These slender members of the mongoose family stand erect on two hind legs and live in tightknit communities that are highly social. On your early morning visit, you’ll find them emerging from their burrows, warming themselves in the sun before setting out to look for breakfast.You can expect the meerkats to be nonplussed by your presence as they see you as just another mammal – unlike the birds who are their natural predators… Which is why you’ll find a meerkat sentry or two, always on the watch. Although not tame, their endearing movements: foraging, grooming, playing, teaching their young – and perhaps using your limbs or head as a prop – are sure to entertain.
- Go “quad biking” on a four-wheel all-terrain vehicle across the pans’ lunar-like landscape. This is a dry season activity (April to October), when there’s no danger of getting stuck in wet earth and the pans are more resistant to damage. Riding across the pans in the late afternoon, you’ll stop to watch the sun silently set, putting on a spectacular show of changing colors across the curved profile of the Earth.
- Enjoy a 3-night stay at Camp Kalahari:
- A typical day looks like this: Breakfast at camp, activities, lunch back at camp, siesta time (during the heat of the day when the animals aren’t out; you can relax by the pool; lounge in the thatched-roof library; relax around an open fire, or indulge in an afternoon nap), afternoon tea (help yourself), more activities and dinner. Meals are always served and reportedly amongst the best of the trip.
- Your tented room is simple but charming and includes a four-poster bed, cotton bedding, Moroccan kilims, and an en suite bathroom that offers a flushing loo and hot showers. Lighting is by paraffin lantern only: there’s no electricity, no air-conditioning, no cell phones and no WiFi. But not to worry, your electronic devices can be recharged using the camp’s solar-powered charging station.
- Star gazing. The night sky is clear, teeming with stars and seemingly endless – as if strewn with glitter. If waking early, you may even see the moon set and the sun rise simultaneously – a fantastic experience overall.