This week I was beyond lucky to get to visit Jack’s Camp in the Makgadikgadi Pans, Botswana. I’ve always wanted to go to the Kalahari Desert and to this particular lodge so when the opportunity came up, I was like yes yes yes.
Even though it’s in the middle of nowhere.
I flew with a friend from Johannesburg to Maun, a teeny little gateway airport in Botswana. I had 5 kgs of luggage, she had 25. My 5 kgs were summer frocks and sunblock, her 25 were camera equipment.
We picked up a hired car, 4 x 4, and hit the road. Most people get to Jack’s by light aircraft but we were on a road trip. Also, a kind of budget.
‘Get on the A3 and turn right at the Aardvark,’ we were told.
An Aardvark is an anteater. And it was kinda hard to look for a sign with an anteater on it, especially as we were driving while dodging potholes, ostrich, steenbok and the occasional elephant.
But we found the Aardvark. It’s impossible to miss, this huge quirky sculpture on the side of the road. We turned right as instructed, picked up the guide who was going to lead us into Jack’s and started feeling very excited.
The area is astonishing. It’s flat, an unbelievable never ending wide open space with enormous salt pans, odd groves of giant palm trees, tons of zebra and wildebeest, a jackal here and there and pure rugged beauty.
If you don’t have a guide or a good sense of direction, you’re in trouble. There are no markings, the roads are thick sand or salt and it’s totally isolated.
You see Jack’s just two minutes before you get there. A flash of red velvet. A glimmer of silver. A pop of a champagne cork. A beautiful tent. And then another. And another…
And these are not ordinary tents. Jack’s is about decadence, luxury, sink-in couches and indulgence. It’s about Persian carpets and antique beds, exquisite fabrics and ancient skulls and the most astonishing food and views and a swimming pool that’s in its own open sided tent with a pink roof and red daybeds and oh god, animals too.
We were a little late arriving and so the evening activity had already begun.
‘Take five minutes,’ the camp manager told us, ‘and then we’ll take you to meet your game ranger. They’ve found lion and you won’t want to miss that.’
We didn’t skip a beat.
‘We don’t need to go out tonight. Thank you. Tomorrow will be fine.’
I was already testing out the green velvet couch and my travel partner was on the red couch. I moved to the daybed, she moved to the bar, we both moved to the swimming pool, the sun started setting, everything turned pink and rosy and two lions walked past and honestly, this is why I have always wanted to go to Jack’s Camp.
Neither of us have ever seen such magnificence. Ever. It’s not just about the glamour. It’s about the nothingness. The desolation. The sense of history, of a different world, of Kalahari bushmen and of an area that millions of years ago was under water. Of salt pans where today, brown hyena and black maned lion roam.
Where once there were crocodiles.
Jack Bousfield was a professional crocodile hunter, a larger than life character. During his travels and hunting expeditions he set up camp under the acacia trees with his wife. They chose to stay, forever. And Jack’s was created.
Bousfield sadly died in an aircraft accident in 1992 – I think they told us it was one of many aircraft accidents – and his son Ralph took over the running of the lodge. There is no hunting anymore. And Ralph and his partner Caroline have created something quite extraordinary.
The activities include walks with the local San people, quad biking on the salt pans, hanging out with meerkat which are adorable and they come sit on your head and use you as a look out point, tracking lion when they’re around, looking at skies that are filled with a billion stars and ja, just eating and soaking it all in and being silent.
It’s incredibly quiet out there.
We had champagne every morning, skinny dipped when all the other guests went off for their siestas, spent time with the guides who are brilliant, had more champagne mid afternoon, took naps in the 45 degree heat, looked out in awe at the enormous herds of zebra and wildebeest, kept our distance from the lions under the nearby tree and had dinner one night under the stars in the middle of an enormous pan.
It was the most incredible experience. The luxury, the people, the divine teas but more than anything, a world that is totally different to any I’ve ever experienced before.
We were more relaxed on our drive home. We stopped twice. Once to pay a traffic fine for speeding, CAN YOU BELIEVE IT in the middle of nowhere, and once because of a road sign.
The sign was for a local village, Makalamabedi, a name I have never forgotten. Twenty years ago in Botswana I was in a light aircraft accident. Our pilot got lost and couldn’t find a runway and it was a bit of a mess but we crash landed on a grassy strip in Makalamabedi.
We were all fine and rescued and it was very dramatic and here it was. Makalamabedi. For a minute I felt a bit like the great Jack Bousfield, also an adventurer and explorer except he created this beautiful lodge and left an amazing legacy and got to know all about the San people and hunted crocodiles and I’m never going to hunt a crocodile.
But I am hopefully going to have many more adventures. In many more amazing places.
You were seriously the best place I’ve been to.