It began with Jack Bousfield, explorer extraordinaire
When the late explorer Jack Bousfield asked what lay in the Makgadikgadi of Botswana he was told ‘Nothing-only idiots go there.’ “fine,” he said, “ that’s the place for me.” Go there, and it’s at once glaringly obvious that the ‘idiots’ were on point because the nothing that captivated Jack is in reality a beguiling shifting wilderness with a raw beauty that impacts to the core.
The Makgadikgadi Pans
Welcome to the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park in Northeastern Botswana, home to an immense salt pan, the sandy remnant of a super lake that stands today as a bleached crusty flatland during the dry months. Come November and December though, seasonal rains begin to fall and the crisp terrain is transformed into a watery haven for a multitude of creatures including vast herds of zebra that begin their annual pilgrimage from the Boteti River across the pans, lured by its mineral-rich grasses. After the Serengeti, this is the world’s second largest terrestrial migration and one of the best places to observe part of it is from Jack’s Camp, a premier lodge named after its original founder Jack Bousfield and settled on the edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans in the Kalahari. It is undoubtedly one of the continent’s most evocative safari properties.
A safari with a difference – the perfect disconnect
Aside from its intriguing locale though, expert guides curate experiences that go beyond a typical safari where the demand to see bucket-list animals is usually accompanied by claustrophobic crowd clutter. Jack’s is the antithesis of all that and blissfully remote, where wifi is a dirty word and guests embrace the rare opportunity to truly disconnect digitally, pull back the pace and be in the moment.
A dusty drive and then…
The drive to Jack’s Camp is a long and dusty one. And then Jack’s materialises on the shimmering horizon, heralded by skinny molokwane palms reaching into the milky blue African sky and instantly, all is forgiven. Designed Bedouin-style and splendidly decorated with campaign furniture, kelims, antiques and African art, Jack’s is an authentic 1940’s throwback to the safari camps of yesteryear. Sidewalls and ceilings are draped in plush fabrics in hues of sienna and burnt umber, inspired by the colour of old leather hunting aprons. The main tent – the Mess – sets the scene, an airy nucleus that houses a billiard room and bar (with a superb wine list), lounge-come-library and the spacious dining area with its assemblage of artefacts, fossils and heirlooms, a small-scale museum of cherished items collected over time by the Bousfield family. This is a storied camp like none other.
Jack’s location within a one-million acre private reserve in the Makgadikgadi showcases its surroundings in spectacular fashion. Game drives offer a close encounter all year round with desert-adapted species like springbok, steenbok, elephant, brown hyaena, oryx, the Kalahari lion and cheetah.
The meerkat moment
Fifteen minutes from camp is the wild meerkat colony, a gang of inquisitive little critters that, in a split second, will scramble up the back of your jacket and use your head as a lookout post. Natural Selection and Uncharted Africa, owners of Jack’s Camp, have been pioneering this meerkat habituation project over the past decade and being able to engage with the suricates in their natural habitat is the stuff of dreams. Note that no touching is allowed – they are there to be observed only, and of course to be hosted on your hat!
Another stunning outing on the activity menu is a cool canter out on the plains with the horses from nearby Camp Kalahari. Quad biking into the Ntwetwe Pan is exciting – cruising in convoy, faces wrapped Arabian style against the onslaught of dust as you head out across the blanched sands to get a true sense of the scale of the Salt Pans that cumulatively cover an area the size of Switzerland. Over a customary G&T and delicious snacks procured miraculously by the brilliant guide Ruh, you get to learn more about the topography and backstory to the ancient environment.
Laze at the pool
For the lazier among us, herd gazing from the comfort of a chaise in the sleek swimming pool pavilion, the only one in Africa, is an enticingly decadent option, especially when it involves a glass of chilled chardonnay.
Night time brings its own wonder. After an elegant dinner d’hôte style, the stars start to twinkle and the warm air carries the nocturnal conversations that will stir your heart – the grunt of a lion or the warning bark of an impala.
Jack’s Camp is safari seduction at its ultimate best, where every opportunity is made to showcase the magnificence of the region while simultaneously keeping an eye on conservation and ethical tourism. It’s an antidote to all that’s wrong in the world, the perfect ‘nothing’. Pula!
Find your perfect Botswana trip here: www.naturalselection.travel
The original version of the article is in the November 2018 issue of SLOW magazine, the official guest magazine for SLOW and SLOW IN THE CITY, the exclusive business lounges operated by British Airways Comair in partnership with FNB Private Clients and RMB Private Bank.
* I was hosted on this trip by Natural Selection Travel – all opinions are my own