Camping in the Kalahari
I'm not much for roughing it, but an opportunity to camp in the Kalahari Desert of Botswana was irresistable. Even to me.
But it ain't easy, especially in these days of Covid craziness, to get from Indiana to the hot Kalahari sands on the other side of the globe.
We flew from Indianapolis to Atlanta, then boarded a big Delta jet for a 15-hour non-stop flight to Johannesburg, South Africa's ORTambo Airport.
We've done this same flight a few times before. The plane has always been completely full, everyone packed in like sardines, mostly excited tourists (us included!) heading out on safari vacations. This trip, however, was very different as this jumbo aircraft only had about 40 people on it. Kim and I each had an entire row to ourselves, which made it super-nice as we could stretch out and get a little sleep on the very long flight.
When we arrived at Johannesburg, it was virtually empty. This is the main central area of this modern airport and when arriving on other trips it's always been jam-packed with hundreds of people milling around. That white barricade in the back is usually crammed with oodles of tour operators holding up namecards to greet people coming off the planes. Arriving passengers are pushing and shoving, trying to connect with their guides...it is normally CRAZY down there!
Not so this time. As we all know, Covid has been devastating to the travel industry, and seeing this airport so empty was jaw-dropping. This time Tambo was eerily quiet with just a handful of people hanging around. There were 2 sign-holders...and neither of them had our names on them. After waiting around for about 15 minutes and even trying to call someone, we determined we were on our own from here. My biggest challenge at that point was keeping my man patient and calm, not an easy task after an already-long day of travel.
We arrived about 4:30 pm. and knew we had to get another Covid test before we could fly on to Botswana the following day. Thankfully, we kind of knew our way around Tambo and someone told us where the Covid testing site was inside the airport. We drug our luggage there only to discover that they were getting ready to close for the day and weren't doing any more tests. I begged and pleaded our case to the nice receptionist, she made a couple of phone calls...we got our Covid tests done and she got a generous tip. Since it takes several hours to get the results, we had already planned to spend the night at the adjoining hotel before flying on to Botswana the next day.
Thankfully, we awoke to emails with our negative test results. We breathed a huge sigh of relief and headed to the gate to catch our flight to Maun, Botswana.
Again...it is rare to even be able to find a seat at these gates. We have always had to stand along with hundreds of others. But this time...it was truly a little spooky....
We made our way onto the Safari Airlink plane for the 90-minute flight to Maun, Botswana. Brooks, our private guide for the next 2 weeks, would be waiting for us there. We were so anxious to see Brooks...not only to reunite with an old friend but also to put all the travel responsibilities on his shoulders. That's what we're paying him for, right?!
As promised, Brooks was at the airport to greet us. I think he was almost as happy to see us as we were to see him! Not only has Covid wreaked havoc with his income since guiding is his full-time job (besides being a freelance guide for other companies, Brooks also runs his own safari business, Africa Quest), Covid also took the life of Brooks's beloved wife just a few months ago, leaving him to raise his 3 children alone. After this pandemic has turned his life upside down, Brooks needed this trip even more than we did. Getting back into the bush and surrounding ourselves with God's creation was exactly what we all needed!
We loaded our stuff into the bush plane. Next stop: the Kalahari Desert.
Wait! What's with all the green?? Can this be the Kalahari???
In September 2016, Kim and I spent several days in the Kalahari. It was exactly as you would picture the desert...brown and sandy/dusty, all the trees looked dead, not a green leaf in sight. We had a nice time, but didn't see much wildlife and decided then that we wouldn't go back to the Kalahari.
Brooks convinced us otherwise. On a later trip, he told us we had just gone to the Kalahari the wrong time of year, that we must go back during their summer/rainy season, in December or January (since Botswana is in the southern hemisphere, their seasons are opposite ours). He showed us spectacular photos he had taken in the Kalahari that past summer, one of which was published in a nature magazine, and we were convinced.
We had booked our trip for January 2021. And then...you know the broken-record...Covid spoiled our plans. So we postponed it until this past January 2022. And wow, we just couldn't get over all the GREEN! Impossible to believe this was the same area, just a different time of year.
Our bush plane landed on this fancy airstrip and our Kalahari adventure was about to begin!
Brian Gibson, the owner of Capture Africa, was there at the airstrip to greet us and take us to our campsite. Like Brooks, he is thrilled to get back to doing what he loves! We were his first campers in a very long time, and he went out of his way to give us an extraordinary experience. If you want to camp in Botswana, Brian is your man!
Definitely NOT the Kalahari that we remembered...
Our first wildlife...a springbok racing ahead of us down the sandy road...
Our campsite was set up in Deception Valley, inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
A bathroom break at the reserve entrance....
Oodles of huge centipedes everywhere. That is a standard-size brick behind it! One big bug!!!
I couldn't help but thinking that I hoped they would not like our tent...
Water! Something we did not see our last trip to the Kalahari.
But even during the rainy season, water is scarce and the most valuable and treasured natural resource of all.
We were thrilled to see a group of oryx right by the road.
We've seen oryx before, but never very many. And I have very few oryx photos and no good ones.
Until this trip. Before we left the Kalahari, we would see thousands of oryx! They were everywhere!
And giraffes! Around every corner...
...and as far as the eye can see!
The one animal we mostly saw on our last Kalahari safari was wildebeest. We did see some here and there, mixed in with the oryx herds.
Our Deception Valley welcoming committees...both animal...
This group of 5 camp staff took care of our every need.
In case you're wondering, it was more like "glamping." But definitely more rustic than we're used to.
A touch of luxury in the desert. Those colorful wraps are called kikoys and can be used/worn in multiple ways. But in the Kalahari summertime they are known as "African air conditioners"...soak them in water and lay over your hot body for a cooling effect.
Our in-tent loo sink. Just to the left of it is a pump-flush toilet and a shower.
I should have taken a photo of the shower. It looks normal on the inside (as "normal" as a shower can look inside a canvas tent), but outside the tent the water supply is a reservoir filled with water heated over a fire and carried by buckets to fill it up. When we wanted to take a shower, we told the staff and one of the men filled up our shower. We used it sparingly but it certainly fulfilled its duty.
Wash basins outside the tent, where Kim shaved. There was hot water supplied in the pitcher.
Looking from our tent porch toward the rest of the camp.
Always watching for dangerous wildlife along that pathway...
Every evening a campfire...Kim, Brooks, and Brian...
Table for 4, please!
Napkin art at every meal...oryx horns were very appropriate!
This lady was our cook and she was amazing!!!
Each morning we had breakfast before dawn, so we could get to the valley by sunrise. Then we'd come back for lunch around noon, rest for a couple of hours, tea time at 4 pm. (I love that British tradition!) before our evening game drive until dark, then we'd have dinner together.
She was always creating edible masterpieces, just for us, just like this crocodile bread. And wow...her homemade breads were outta-this-world!!
After two long, and sometimes stressful, days of travel we had finally arrived.
And the destination was worth it!
No light pollution here! No photo can capture how stunning the African night sky is with its gazillion stars like lights coming through a giant strainer in the sky.
Nothing on earth compares to sleeping under that canopy in complete silence except for the distant roaring of lions and chattering of baboons. Completely off-the-grid and immersed in true unspoiled wilderness, miles and miles away from civilization.
I'm so glad we decided to experience...
...camping in the Kalahari.