Mariska Ford (December 2013)
“Makgadikgadi? I asked what was out there, and they said ‘Nothing-only idiots go there.’ I thought fine, that’s the place for me.”
Jack Bousfield, 1963
It was indeed this quote by the famous hunter, adventurer and safari operator, Jack Bousfield that convinced us to plan the most memorable breakaway imaginable.
A Saturday in June marked the beginning of our journey. We travelled 1000 km from Pretoria, South Africa via Francistown and Nata in Botswana to arrive just in time to experience sunset at Planet Baobab.
The architecture reminded us of a well-planned meeting between Antonia Gaudi and the Kalahari Bushmen. Lanterns in the yellow grass mark the pathway to the different sleeping and ablution facilities.
We chose an authentic Bushman hut as our accommodation. Dung floors, gas lanterns and wooden beds covered with mosquito nets were all perfect ingredients for a very romantic setting. A distant choir of African voices coloured the night and we drifted away into a tranquil African dream.
The next day was one I will never forget. After a very informative bush walk and a cool St Louis beer in the funkiest pub in the Kalahari, we embarked on our journey to the pans (affectionately known as the Kalahari Surf Club. We arrived at the brim of Ntetwe Pan where our 4×4 quad bikes were standing ready for us. Every rider was issued a turban that was wrapped around your head to prevent the dust from creeping in. We resembled a Tuareg caravan in the Sahara on our 4×4 ‘camels’ with turbans and all.
Once our wheels hit the boundless salt pans of the Makgadikgadi, the nothingness consumed us bit by bit. We passed quite a few animal carcasses and the mere thought of anything living on these dry salt pans blew my mind. After about two hours of traversing the pan network on quad bikes, we arrived at Room 27. From a distance we saw the first man made structure for miles; a table, six chairs, six bedrolls, a bush basin and a ‘long drop’ a few yards away.
Room 27 is situated somewhere in the middle of Ntetwe Pan, the bigger of the two Makgadikgadi pans. As far as the eye can see, in all directions, there is only white, salty, barren earth. No birdsong or even a mosquito or fly to interrupt the frequency of silence. The only sounds are the ones in your head.
We washed the dirt from our faces and sat down to view the most spectacular sunset ever. There is nothing to break the natural horizon and the perfect round sun seems to be swallowed up by the white earth. Each one of us took a walk into the nothingness and placed ourselves onto the barren earth to be confronted by silence. It was mind blowing.
Our guide prepared a true bush barbeque on a big fire, but the conversation was not the usual ‘braaivleis talk’. It felt as if every word you utter is recorded somewhere in the galaxy of stars above you. Never in my entire life have I experienced the Milky Way reaching from horizon to horizon. What looked like a cloud was in fact a multitude of stars decorating the heavens. The moon reflecting on the white pan illuminated the surroundings and it was so bright that no additional lights were necessary. Our bedrolls were extremely comfortable and warm, making the night under the stars unforgettable. All the voices in my head went to rest, but the sound of silence remained.
We woke up to another spectacular sunrise, with the cool clean air reflecting all the colours of the rainbow. After coffee and muffins we headed back to the brim of the pans where our talented guide treated us to a scenic drive through the bush surrounding the pans. It is difficult to imagine that Makgadikgadi was once an abundant habitat that supported humans and their livestock. It is said that it represents the largest system of pans in the world, but now it is only a relic of what once was one of the biggest inland lakes Africa has ever seen.
Funkiest pub in the Kalahari
After a hot shower, we met in the bush pub to debrief. Someone in our party got hold of a baobab fruit and we were told that the white pulp covering the seed is refreshing and nutritious. While sucking on a baobab seed, my mouth recognized the contour. It was the shape of a heart. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate design.
The ghostly arms of the ancient baobab trees waved good-bye and a scene from the Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery crossed my mind.
“Perhaps you will ask me., ‘Why there are no other drawings in this book as magnificent and impressive as this drawing of the baobab?’ The reply is simple. I have tried. When I made the drawing of the baobab I was carried beyond myself by the inspiring force of urgent necessity.