Camping in the Kalahari

January 13, 2008 - Kalahari, Botswana

The next morning we loaded up the truck and drove to and crossed the border into Botswana.  It took a little longer than expected as one of the girls (Katherine) from the tour realized, just  as we were about to cross the border, that she did not have her passport.  After some calling around she found out she had left it behind in Swakopmund which meant she would have to wait until they sent her the passport before she could cross.  It was obviously very stressful for her and the rest of the group wondered if we were all going to be held back.  In the end Katherine and her travel partner (Mia) stayed back in a 'motel' (that some people considered suspect) on the Namibia side of the border. The rest of the group crossed into Botswana. Katherine and Mia would meet up with us again in a couple of days.

Most of the day was spent driving to our first campsite. For the next 9 days the truck (not a bus as instructed by the group) would be our home.  The truck was fairly comfortable and four of us (Mark, Terry, Dave and I) took a set of four facing seats with a table in between so we could easily interact and play cards.  We reached the campsite early evening where we learned about and began our camping experience. Below is a description of our daily camping routine.

It was important that we reached our campsite before dark so we had time to set up our tents and prepare for sleep. Dave and I were impressed by the campsite facilities in Africa. Most of the campsites contained the key amenities - toilets, showers, a bar and if lucky a pool. The campsites were kept fairly clean and even more so than the ones we would have seen in Canada. 

Tent Set-up
On our first night the group explained and demonstrated the tent set-up process.  The whole process took approx. 20 minutes.  It started with each pair finding a spot on the campsite to pitch the tent.  Preferably something level and dry (this was difficult as it rained almost everyday).  Next each pair grabbed their tent from the truck and started set-up.  There was a very efficient way of assembling the tent and if done correctly only took 5 minutes.  Finally each pair grabbed their mattresses for inside the tent.  Given these were at the top of the truck, usually a volunteer (one of the guys) would climb to the top of the truck and throw down the mattresses. During this entire process you only hoped it didn't rain (both during set-up and tear-down) as it made things a lot messier.  Though the tent set-up process was fairly easy, Mark, Terry, Dave and I counted down the number of set-ups and tear-downs we had left throughout the tour :)

Meal Prep and Clean-Up
Meal preparation was led by our cook Jeffrey, however, as part of "participation camping" everyone was expected to help out.  Each day two people were designated to help Jeffrey prepare the meals that day as well as manage the clean-up afterwards.  The only task the designated members were not responsible for were the individual members' dishes and cutlery. Rather each group member was responsible for washing his/her own dishes.  For washing, two tubs of water were set up and all dishes were washed in these tubs.  Dave and I questioned the overall cleanliness of the prep and clean-up process.  During prep there were a lot of bugs around, both on our food and on our dishes.  During clean-up we used the same water for all the dishes.  Moreover, when we were in the Okavango Delta, we used the marsh water for cooking and washing.  How we avoided getting sick during the camping tour is beyond us! In fact, the first time Dave's stomach was upset was after a day in a posh hotel in Jo'burg. 

We had three meals a day, however, breakfasts and lunches were fairly simple.  Breakfast was usually early, around 6 or 7am and Jeffrey would lay out dry foods including cereal, bread, spreads, etc.  Then for lunch, it was basically the same everyday - sandwiches.  Jeffrey and the two volunteers for the day helped prepare the spread and each of the members would make his/her own sandwich.  Dave and I were glad to have fresh vegetables again (yes, even Dave).  Dinners were a bit more elaborate but still simple. By the time we reached the campsite, set up our tents and prepared dinner it was usually around 8pm.  I was the only vegetarian on the trip but Jeffrey ensured I always had something good and healthy to eat!

Sleeping in the tents obviously took some getting used to - not sleeping in a bed and getting accustomed to the sounds of the creatures outside. Basically once the tent was set up we needed  to ensure the inside tent covers were closed to prevent mosquitoes from getting in.  When it rained, we needed to make sure both the inside and outside covers were closed. Often times it would start raining in the middle of the night and we would have get up and close the outside coverings...and when I say we, I really mean Dave (probably no surprise :))

Our first real activity of interest on the tour happened the morning on our second day. We woke-up early to meet a tribe of traditional San Bushmen. Led by the elder male, they walked us out into the bush to explain, through a translating guide, how they lived off the land using natural ingredients from plants and trees (leaves, roots, fruits and bark) to gain nourishment and treat ailments. They took turns identifying (sometimes very small plants that led to very large roots) and digging them up teaching us what that specific ingredient was used for - ranging from treating PMS, increasing fertility and a recipe that induced an abortion. They demonstrated how they were able to extract liquid from one of the plants for water and use another one as lathering soap to wash. The small elderly man (he doesn't even know his own age) re-enacted how they hunt game. He was very excited and animated and although we didn't understand anything he was saying, his actions were very humourous. Even the other Bushmen were laughing at him as he threw his spear and then frantically ran in a zig zag pattern to his make-believe kill. One of the last demonstrations was them making fire using sticks. They then used the flame to light something that they all took turns smoking. This was probably their favourite demonstration as I think they were all getting high. After the walk was over we were told that the lifestyle of the Bushmen was in jeopardy of becoming a thing of the past. The younger generations of the Bushmen were starting to become aware and wanting a more modern way of life.

After we visited with the Bushmen, we packed up our things and drove to Maun - the closest town  outside the Okavango Delta.  We spent the afternoon in town, picking up items we would later need for the "bush camping" in the Delta.  Dave and I spent a lot of this time on the internet trying to post our first few entries of the blog.  Of course things took longer than expected so Dave and I decided to stay in Maun a little longer to make use of the internet while the others 
returned to the campsite.

Namita wanted to leave town before it got dark but I was anxious to finally get the first entries of our journal posted. We told the group that we would be back at camp in time for dinner which was at 8pm. It was taking longer than expected but we finally signed off at 7:40. At this point it was starting to get dark. We left the internet place to get a taxi. A Taxi experience in Africa can be a little different than one in downtown Toronto. Many taxi drivers were yelling at us as we walked in front of the Shop Rite. We chose a middle-aged, friendly looking man to be the one to take us home. After brief negotiation (taxis don't have meters) we were on our way out of town but before we got too far our driver stopped at a gas station to put a small amount of gas into the tank - presumably just enough to make it to the camp grounds and back. The driver assumed we were American. He proceeded to tell us that he often listens to English news and that he was following the presidential pre-election in the U.S., in particular Obama as he is of Kenyan descent. This led us to a discussion regarding the current unrest in Kenya. The driver briefed us on the situation and told us about all the difficulties in Kenya. He then said 'I thank and praise my parents for raising me in this country'. I found this statement rather amazing considering he was talking about Botswana, a poor African country with the highest rate of AIDS in the world. At that moment I wondered how many Canadians say that on a regular basis. I know I certainly don't do it enough. 

The drive along the dark highway was slow. There is often livestock standing in the middle of the road and they sometimes need a little coaxing with the honk of the horn to get out of the way. We finally reached the very rough, dirt road turn-off to the campsite. As soon as the driver made the turn, without a word to us, he stopped the car and jumped out, which was quite a surprise to Namita and I. We quickly realized that he was in need of relieving himself in a bush.

The driver had told us he knew exactly where he was going as he had been to the camp grounds many times, however, after driving the very dark, rough and at some points washed out dirt roads for longer than we should have been, we realized we were lost. At one point the roads were so rough (we were on a truck only section and we were in a sedan) and the clearance on the car was so low that we could feel the road with our feet through the floor of the car.

After turning around a few times, the driver kept saying that he now knew where he was going. It was pitch black, we hadn't come across anyone on these roads and there was a real danger of us getting stuck. Although holding it together, Namita was getting very concerned and nervous with the situation and from time to time would say 'I think we should go back to the main road and call our guide for directions'. The driver eventually found his way to the gate. There was first   some confusion with the security of the camp grounds but they let us in and we finally reached our site. The group was essentially done eating by this time but Jeffrey cooked us some burgers for dinner.


Dave, Namita and Mark on the truck
Playing texas hold'em on the truck
Boabob Bar

1 Comment

Cliff Kearns:
February 4, 2008
Great Bushmen shots Dave. They look like the real thing. Watchout for those alligators. Cliff
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