When was the last time you were out of cell phone and internet connections for more than a day or two? This was the first time for me in many years, and the total time was over six days. Most of the NatGeo Expeditioners had withdrawal for the first 24 hours, but as the reality settled in, the next several days were surprisingly delightful. The only use of a mobile device was photo-taking. No emails, no meeting alerts, and no phone calls to interrupt the immersion into the outback of Africa.
Chapter One – Kalahari – Tau Pan Camp
A “pan” is a large salt-flat area devoid of plant life due to the soil conditions. We camped near one of these pans in the Kalahari desert/game reserve region, about 40 minute flight in a Cessna Caravan from Maun, almost directly south of the third largest city in Botswana. To make the trip in a land vehicle would have taken 6-7 hours due to distance and road conditions.
One expects to see the famous animals of the Kalahari and in this sense we were not disappointed. But one of the most interesting experiences was the two hour walk in the bush with a San tribesman by the name of Volta. Volta showed us how to look for water in the desert by finding a special plant with a large buried tuber that is shredded and squeezed to yield life-saving water.
The language is utterly fascinating with the clicks and whistle sounds. English is said to have 32 sounds; the language spoken by the Khoisan people has 142 sounds. Embedded is a short video that will illustrate the spoken language, where Voti says the word for “spear” in his language.
Volta gave a demonstration of making fire with only pieces of wood twirled into one another, and how to ensnare animals with a handmade trap for food. A couple of hours with this skilled tracker convinced me of the creativity and resilience of humanity in a harsh environment.
With the life-giving rains only a few days away, animals were drawn to the water hole located only two hundred meters from the camp. We could spot jackals, lions, and many birds that came there to get relief from the heat (up to 105 F. during the day we were there).
The heat and dryness of the day gave way to stunning sunsets and a brilliant sky of stars in utter silence.