Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) recently hosted the annual Botswana Tourism Trade Exhibition (BTTE) in Kasane with a refreshing and superb panache. BTO which was set up by the Government of Botswana to market and promote Botswana as a premier tourist destination had invited a few selected international and local media on a pre-tour of some of the country’s various tourism destinations.
The entourage consisted of Kate Wills from Guardian UK/ Gracia, Emma Ledger from The Independent, Matthew Phillips from Lonely Planet also from the UK while on the local front, Botswana was well represented by Sakaeyo Janie of RB2, Phaphani Masalila of Gabz FM, Thobo Motlhoka of Sunday Standard and Botswana’s leading online publication #BotswanaUnplugged.
We were scheduled to do five stops before finally settling in Kasane – Botswana’s tourism hub – where BTTE took place. Our itinerary took us on a whirlwind of experiences among them camp Kalahari in Makgadikgadi/Ntwetwe pans, Xaranna, Xudum in the Okavango Delta, Kingspool camp and Savuti. Travelling to the Makgadikgadi pans is always an intriguing albeit inspirational experience. For me, there’s nothing as amazing as the vast wilderness. When word from the BTO arrived that we will be flying to Maun first, I knew then that this was going to be an incredible journey altogether.
This for me was truly refreshing as often times I dread the long and winding roads within the vastness of our land, so traveling by air was a welcome move. We arrived safely in Maun where we were joined by Matt and a few hours later we connected to our destination on the Major Blue Air chartered flight where we met our tour guide, Bart Vandepitte alias Madala.
This man is truly informed beyond measure. As a 58-year-old Belgian with two Master’s Degrees under his belt, Madala as he’s affectionately called came to Botswana in 1990 to continue his tourism related career, having first cut his teeth in tourism at the mere age of 13 years. Soon after we arrived, we were greeted with the worst devastating news every journalist dreads – there was no cellular network or Wi-Fi. How can life even be possible without the two, well let’s just say we managed and forgot about the outside world as we indulged in what nature has to offer.
The uncharted Africa concession consist of three camps but our booking was done for camp Kalahari, which is in the biggest concession in the country at about 3000 kilometre squares of land. Apparently the Makgadikgadi/Ntwetwe pans are the second largest in the world after Bolivia and are said to be on the verge of being listed under the UNESCO World heritage sites.
Because the Basarwa tribe are the first people of the pans, plans have been made for them to remain part of the tourism and cultural exchange to all the visiting tourists. We settled down and got to experience their ways of life which included the spiritual-oriented Basarwa trance dance and walk. During this time, we learnt how they prepare their fire without the modernized apparatus as well as learning about the various plantations significant to their livelihoods.
For our crew, this was such an eye-opener as we witnessed all their God-given talents play and unravel right before our eyes. We were perplexed as to how they got to figure out which plants were safe or not. This tribe is truly special. Another interesting feature was us sitting down around the fire to share a smoke pipe which we were told accelerated one’s thinking ability. See, this is where you just do what you’re told without any follow up questions.
Up next was the synchronised dance – at unmindful of what was happening to my crew; we got to realize that some of us were already feeling dizzy from the Basarwa’s flaming spirits. A shocker to everyone was when the Basarwa traditional doctor had to demonstrate that he is the honcho of prophesies when he revealed everything some of my colleagues did in the last 24 hours. It was truly riveting, as the traditional doctor bared all, warts and all.
After all the magic spell had waned off, the gifted doctor also revealed that he could sense that the kings of the jungle (lions) were lurking somewhere nearby, and as such advised that his troops finish up the dance assembly. They all complied and we all went our separate ways. Astonishingly so, at night we could all hear a lion’s roar so near and close to our camp. The traditional doctor’s connections with his ancestors is quite a fortune to witness and we were all blown away.
The following day was quite relaxed as we took turns riding quadbikes and speeding across the enormous pans at 40km/h where a zeal of zebras looked on untroubled. We also learnt that the zebra will get pregnant for 365 days (like a whole year); give birth and get pregnant again three weeks later. What! Our entourage under the guidance of Vandepitte drove to Jack’s Camp otherwise referred to as the celebrities’ camp simply because many Hollywood stars including also former president of the U.S. George Bush once spent their holiday at this particular camp.
Quite interesting is the fact that all of the tour guides I have met here have mastered the art of isolating themselves from the social community norms. To prove our speculation, Jack’s Camp manager, Charles Meares told us that his retirement will probably be a house by the riverbank.
But what about his family, are they all accustomed to their living styles? “For us this is where we find peace of mind. City lights and the hustle and bustle of life in the city has its own people. We actually meet and make better connections far better than many people in the cities thus why I am planning my retirement with ambitions,” he laughed. Jack’s Camp which opened its doors in 1993 is one of the six privately owned camps with a museum. The museum consists of the evolution of animals as well as their significance.
Furthermore, different skulls of all the 47 different species found in their area are displayed here together with a vivid and detailed lifestyle of the Basarwa. It costs around P16 000 (an estimated US$1550) per night which includes a game drive and an assortment of drinks of one’s choice. Designed to suit the 1940s style of living, every furniture can be folded up and be moved from tents; these include beds and tables among others. The camp also has a gift shop where several artefacts and clothing are sold. There’s also a pool overlooking the pans where once can take a refreshing deep while watching the different wild animals. As they say, experience is always the best teacher; so do yourself a favour and click on the link below www.unchartedafrica.com