"Makgadikgadi? I asked what was out there, and they said 'Nothing - only idiots go there.' I thought fine, that's the place for me." - Jack Bousfield 1989.
The Makgadikgadi. The largest expanse of 'nothingness' on earth, an area the size of Switzerland clearly visible from outer-space, devoid of anything but salt and shimmering horizon. A vast relic of Africa's largest body of water and a hitherto unknown cradle of earliest man's genesis.
Infernal mirages warp reality into twisted parodies during the heat of the dry season and with the coming of the rains, life-giving water seeps into the pans, stimulating an annual pulse of life. The baking soda void is transformed into one of Africa's most fecund ecosystems. Unbelievable numbers of migratory birds flock to the pans and the grasslands swarm with a living mantle of zebra and wildebeest, participants in the second biggest animal migration on the African continent.
Jack's Camp itself - the accommodation, the staff and their informal but rapt attention to life's finer pleasures - is probably the closest a traveller can get to an authentic British safari of yesteryear, an experience that was available only to a privileged few.
Guests are accommodated in ten large Meru-style tents set into a palm grove, with en suite bathrooms, indoor and outdoor showers. The sumptuous tents are uniquely designed and decorated to reflect the height of Victoriana. Deep red silk-screened textiles line the walls and ceilings of each tent, and are reflected in the gleaming wooden floors. Rosewood armchairs with plush velvet seat cushions, teak campaign chests, Bukhara Rugs, and canopied beds complete the antique ambiance. Although at first the Victorian excess appears anathema to the stark environment of the Kalahari, it actually provides a soft and welcome compliment.
Common areas at Jack's are similarly dramatic, with polished wooden floors and opulent furnishings. The library tent suggests a gentleman's club, with countless curios collected from the desert, natural history books and a pool table. The tea tent is a vision of luxurious elegance, layered with Persian rugs and kilem cushions. Emerge from this seductive haven revived and refreshed for your next activity.
There is a tented sitting room where "Kalahari Koolers" are served after the morning activity and where cocktail hour is held in the evening. Dinner is served in the elegant "mess tent". The table is always splendidly set - draped in damask with bone handled silver cutlery and floods of lantern and candlelight. The innovative cuisine is a fitting complement to the ambiance.
A few miles away, San Camp (sister camp to Jack's) gazes across the vast expanses of the Makgadikgadi Pans. San is a white canvas creation which, when lit by evening candlelight, becomes a vision of gold. The 1940's safari theme is the same as at Jacks, although the atmosphere is less Victorian and more "Lawrence of Arabia." This intimate camp accommodates a maximum of 12 guests in large billowing tents, with bucket showers, flush loos, four-poster beds, mosquito net canopies, percale sheets, and paraffin lamps, creating an oasis of civilization in the harsh desert landscape.
The emphasis at Jack's Camp is on an holistic ecological understanding of the Pans and the surrounding Kalahari Desert. Creative, informal, and intellectual, the Jack's Camp experience is a unique interpretative and exploratory adventure that will leave you with a sense of fulfillment and achievement. In the words of world-renowned chef Jacques Pepin: "This is the proverbial middle of nowhere, nothing but salt and stars, atmosphere and silence, from horizon to horizon. It's a place that shifts your axis forever."
Activities are plentiful and varied. From fascinating nature walks with a bushman tracker, to educational nature drives with your highly qualified guide, paleaontological discussions and star-gazing in the middle of the pans, to quad-biking safaris across the pans. A unique highlight at Jack's Camp is the opportunity to interact at very close quarters with a clan of wild but habituated 'meerkats'. The guides at Jack's (most of whom are biology or zoology graduates) are a real strength. Described as "part boffin, part adventurer, part Hemingway and not a little mad", they all share one thing: an almost fanatical love of, and interest in, the unique natural wonder that is the Makgadikgadi.
This is a place of wonderful and unforgettable surprises, and nobody should expect to visit Jack's Camp and return with the same perspective on the world.
Jack's Camp was the first permanent camp to be established in the Kalahari Desert. Before its establishment, as the earlier quote from Jack Bousfield suggests, very little value was placed on the great Makgadikgadi Pans; in fact, very little was even known about them. Following pioneering research, first by Jack and Ralph Bousfield and later by guides at the camp, a series of interesting discoveries subsequently caught the attention of the scientific community, and awareness of and concern for the Pans has increased significantly. As well as generating revenue for Botswana's Department of Wildlife, and creating jobs for local villagers, Jack's Camp has been at the forefront of establishing the ecological and paleaontological value of the Makgadikgadi Pans, and is the research base for various projects studying subjects as diverse as meerkats, brown hyenas, and climate change. In an effort to stop the habitat degradation caused by ill-adapted and highly destructive cattle and goats, Jack's Camp is also involved in a long term project with surrounding communities and district officials to have these domestic intruders removed from the delicate Kalahari eco-system adjoining the great Pans.
For more information about Jacks Camp call toll-free: 888.227.8311
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