Botswana: Sand and Stars

After our early walk around the island, we hopped back onto the boat, absorbing the tranquility of the lagoons and narrow, papyrus-fringed waterways of the Okavango Delta.

We bid farewell to the Delta and boarded our plane for our next adventure…..the Kalahari Desert and Makgadikgadi Pans. San Camp, our home for the next two nights, which sits right on the edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans, offered a tranquil atmosphere and incredible feeling of infinite space.

The Makgadikgadi Pans is the largest salt pan in the world, and is all that remains of what was once a lake that dried up several thousand years ago. The massive lake once covered an area larger than Switzerland.

As I sat on my verandah soaking up the beautiful view of the endless salt pans, I felt as though I could see forever! The feeling of timelessness here is so powerful, and impossible for me to put into words.

The Makgadikgadi Pans and Kalahari provide a style of safari very different from the Okavango Delta and Chobe areas of Botswana.

Both dry season and wet season visits to the Makgadikgadi Pans are recommended in order to witness the dramatic appearance of the pans at their driest, when they appear hauntingly beautiful in their desolation. Once the rains arrive around November, the ecosystem transforms as migrating herds of wildebeest and zebra, along with their predators, flock here.

Activities here include quad biking, horseback riding, gameviewing drives, walks with the San Bushmen, and my favorite, a visit to the Kalahari’s most fascinating inhabitants, the Meerkats.

The Meerkats in this area have become so used to people that they have become habituated and actually sit in people’s laps and even climb on top of their heads in order to get a better view as they watch for birds of prey, such as hawks and eagles.

We spent about an hour with these adorable creatures as they scurried around digging for scorpions and insects while they chattered, squealed and chirped to each other. They often stood on their rear legs as they gazed alertly over the African plains. I was determined to have one climb up on my head and asked the guide there if he could help.

As we followed them, he would say “sit here,” then after they showed no interest in me, he would say “get up,” then “sit here, “ this went on for a while until suddenly one ran right up my arm and sat on my head. I could have spent all day with the Meerkats, but the sun was getting very hot and they were starting to go back underground to escape the heat.

Later that afternoon, we spent some time walking with the San Bushmen, who shared their traditional hunting and food-gathering skills with us. It amazed me how anyone could survive in such a harsh environment, using their ancient knowledge of plants, animal behavior and survival skills.

We left the San Bushmen and I thought we were headed back to San Camp for dinner. To our surprise, we found ourselves in the middle of the pans for a traditional African sundowner. Members of the staff placed lanterns on the ground to light a pathway to the chairs surrounding a welcoming fire.

Everyone gathered to warm themselves while the camp staff served drinks and hors d’oeuvres, talking about the excitement of the day, while taking in the magnificent view and celebrating another spectacular sunset.

Before the sun set, Ralph asked us all to walk in separate directions, find a spot to sit, and take in the moment in quiet reflection. As I sat listening to the sounds of pure silence, the sky turned black and the stars appeared like glistening diamonds. There is nothing more beautiful than a clear African night sky, and I never wanted these precious moments to end.

The week went by so quickly, but I had one more stop on my agenda before I departed Botswana for South Africa.

I had the pleasure of taking a horseback safari with David Foot from Ride Botswana.

Riding safaris are an extremely popular and exciting way to experience Africa’s incredible scenery and wildlife, and little compares to the thrill of cantering alongside graceful giraffe or galloping amongst zebra.

Ride Botswana offers short half-day rides from camp; however, serious equestrians can choose from specialist horse riding safaris lasting days or weeks, fly-camping out under the stars and riding up to six hours in the saddle.

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