Two guides demonstrate survival skills on the Bushman Walk from the Kalahari Plains Camp
Two guides demonstrate survival skills on the Bushman Walk from the Kalahari Plains Camp
Image: Deon de Villiers

Walking with bushmen at Kalahari Plains Camp in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Thump. Thuh-thump. Thump. Thump-thump-thump. Then silence.

The red-brown dust rises from the Kalahari as the two male giraffes size each other up. They're looking at each other, heads cocked. They're ready for action. The silent calm is short-lived.

They swing their heads again. Thump. The fight is back on.

Heads smack into the opponents' legs and rumps. The force is remarkable.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

It is a sound like no other, a deep, almost throbbing bass that shakes the early morning air. For 10 minutes, the two go at each other. It's nothing serious, we're told by our guide - just the giraffes sussing each other out.

As the fight ends in a truce, the two lope away with the herd.

Later, maybe in a few years, they'll battle again - this time for dominance.

We're in a game vehicle at the Kalahari Plains Camp as the scene unfolds. It's hot already, easily in the early 30°s, and the day is just breaking. That day it will climb at least another 10°.

Some days it gets even hotter. And in this dry heat the severity - and also the sheer beauty - of the Kalahari becomes clear.

It's the type of experience you want to share immediately. Instagram would go mad for it (I know because my video clip of the fight got more than 180 views in two days); Twitter and Facebook would lap it up.

But in the heart of the 52,800km² Central Kalahari Game Reserve, this is not an option.

Wilderness Safaris adopts a "disconnect to reconnect" policy. There is no cellphone network and no wifi. Your phone is nothing more than a camera.

It takes a while to adjust to this, truth be told, but that might be because my wife is eight months pregnant when we visit.

In reality, this is the best way to experience the environment. You don't want to be distracted.

In the Kalahari it's not about who you can tell. It's about being in the moment. It's about immersion.

Here, in the dusty Botswana desert, survival is priority. Water is scarce.

One of the only water sources is a manmade borehole in front of the camp. Everybody uses it: those fighting giraffes, hyenas, bat-eared fox families and the two dominant male lions, known as the Owen Boys, that call the area home.

This makes the watering hole as perfect a game-viewing spot as it is a picturesque backdrop for a dip in the salt-filtered camp pool and a good spot to take in a refreshing cocktail or a well deserved G&T. All three, especially as temperatures frequently soar into the 50°s, are a must.

As the evening approaches and the air begins to cool, that is the time to explore how the Bushmen native to the area survive. It might sound very touristy, but the "Bushman Walk" is a delightful offering at the camp.

It's worth braving the last of the afternoon sun for.

Led by Khanta Ganagohuduga - one of the funniest and most verbally and facially expressive men I've ever met - we leave camp and head into the desert.

We don't go too far, of course, given those lion brothers that prowl around. Ganagohuduga is joined by Xhayaha Xhwekhwe and Keeta Sego, all of whom tell beautiful stories beautifully.

They show us how to use a stick to dig into scorpion nests to extract poison for their arrows and how to set traps for birds (220 different species roost in the area) and small mammals for food.

They demonstrate the patient art of bow-and-arrow hunting; how to use ostrich eggs to carry water. It's a remarkable insight into life in one of the world's harshest environments.

The nearby camp stands in sheer luxurious contrast. Every dinner is beautifully prepared - no mean feat given the logistics of getting it out into the middle of nowhere, either by truck or by plane - and is served at family-style dining tables.

Each room is perfectly fitted, including with a yoga mat and weights, just in case you're into that sort of thing. I am, and one of the guides even goes for a run with me early one morning.

If that's not a sign of their "give-the-guests-what-they-want" ethos then I don't know what is.

All water is solar-heated and solar panels power almost all of the camp, as part of Wilderness's environmental sustainability goals. Because of this, it is pitch dark at night - a darkness in which you can truly immerse yourself by sleeping on the roof-level balcony.

And just to let you know you're in the wild, you can't leave the room between sunrise and sunset without a guide by your side - makes sense given the brown hyena, cheetah and those black-maned Owen Boys.

Anyway, you might want that guide near you - just in case you get head-butted by a giraffe.

The view from the sleepout balcony at Kalahari Plains Camp
The view from the sleepout balcony at Kalahari Plains Camp
Image: Mike Myers

A close encounter at Xigera Camp in the Okavango Delta

The trumpeting, ear-flapping and stomping of feet stop us dead in our tracks. Sebastian isn't happy.

Personally, I don't think we did anything wrong. Two other journos and I were merely swimming in the pool at Xigera Camp in the Okavango Delta. Surely this wouldn't be enough to piss off a young male elephant?

Apparently, it is.

Perhaps we should have known better. After all, we had been told he was one of two troublesome bulls who liked to spend time near the pool.

In fact, Sebastian, named for a previous guests' overly exuberant son, had broken the wooden boardwalk the day before we'd arrived.

Seb moved away without causing harm. It was an adrenaline-fuelled few seconds that underlined just how wild this area is - as if the leopard having a snooze on a branch wasn't enough of a clue.

Hippos, crocs, elephants and the occasional lion are all there, though they aren't as likely to harass you at the pool.

If you're in the delta, of course, the best way to experience it is on a mokoro, a traditional dug-out canoe.

It was peaceful, serene and quiet. I've very seldom felt so relaxed.

Tiny frogs on green reeds, miraculously spotted by our guide, and more than abundant birdlife just added to the vibe.

As we drifted through the waterways, we didn't piss off an elephant. And that's always a good thing.

A desolate scene in the private Linyati Wildlife Reserve
A desolate scene in the private Linyati Wildlife Reserve
Image: Matthew Savides

Gone to the (wild) dogs at DumaTau in the Linyati Wildlife Reserve

"We want to see wild dog."

It's a bold request, given that the species is one of the rarest in the world, with a estimated global population of around 6,600. But this was exactly what we asked for on the drive from the airstrip to the DumaTau Camp in the Linyanti Wildlife Reserve in the Okavango Delta - and in true Botswana style our wish was granted.

Our vehicle rumbled along as afternoon became evening. We didn't stop for much, and there was plenty to stop for, but the goal was to get to the watering hole the pack had last been seen at.

Eventually we got there. The pack was basking in the late sun. They put on a show not long after.

Did you know that wild dog make a chirping sound, pretty much like a loud household bird? And that they always - always - greet each other in the mornings and evenings before the day begins or before a hunt?

As we made our way back to camp - with explorer-themed tented rooms and a communal area overlooking a river - our hearts were full and our wish granted. A rare sighting of a leopard with a kill made it that much more spectacular.

Clearly, in the Delta, you get what you ask for - and even a bit extra.


PLAN YOUR TRIP

RATES

Kalahari Plains Camp is from R3,200 per person per night sharing until June 14 2017 and R3,500 from June 15 to December 10 2017 (excluding peak dates).

DumaTau Camp is from R4,950 per person per night. Xigera Camp costs from R4,200 per person per night.

Rates include accommodation, all meals, scheduled safari activities and local-brand drinks including beer and wine and bottled water.

Valid for African residents only.

Contact safari@wilderness.co.za to book or ask about joining their membership programme, which offers unique rates.

GETTING THERE

Air Botswana and SAA both fly to Maun. Flights start at R4,000 return. Wilderness Air flies from Maun to the camps for R2,189 per person one way. Flights between camps are the same price.

Savides was a guest of Wilderness Safaris


This article was originally published by the Sunday Times.
You can view the original article here.

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