An Adventure Across the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans
Wow. Where to begin? What an unforgettable 5 days I’ve just had out in the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Sure, I have been lucky enough to go on several safaris over the years but most of them involved climbing into the back of a game drive vehicle. I had certainly never experienced safari from horseback. Needless to say I was unbelievably excited at the prospect despite some nerves.
Once we had been welcomed with a steaming cup of tea – or refreshing G&T – and shown to our tents, we set off for our first evening ride. As we rode out for the first time across the vast landscape in that beautiful light of African dusk, a great sense of peace washed over me. I couldn’t help let out a huge sigh of satisfaction as I gazed around, grinning from ear to ear.
On our first ride we saw an elephant shaking a palm tree to get the palm fruits to drop. Bucket list – check!
We rode out to a sundowner spot where the horses were taken from us and we watched the sun go down, G&T in hand, and listened to the rare purity of absolute silence.
After a delicious breakfast we headed out at sunrise to explore the pans once more. Dawn and dusk – my favourite times of day in Africa.
We then returned for a well-deserved lunch and to shelter from the heat of the day by relaxing in the pool. That evening we took a game drive where we had the privilege of watching a brown hyena nursing her three cubs.
We set out for fly camp – for me there are few things more satisfying than getting from A to B by horseback so I couldn’t wait. Between long canters alongside wildebeest across the grasslands and weaving through the acacia scrub, we stopped off for a break at Chapman’s baobab – a tree so big and old that it was used by Livingstone when he crossed the pans in the 19th Century. You can still see their carvings on the tree.
Our lunch stop was really special. Not only had a feast been laid out for us but, what can only be described as, ‘the napper’s dream’ had been set up for an afternoon siesta under the trees.
The final stretch of our journey led us through the magical evening light to fly camp.
I challenge any shower to have a better view than that from an open top bucket shower.
This morning we had the treat of visiting these little guys – the meerkats. These meerkats are completely wild but have been habituated to the presence of humans so you can get surprisingly close, sometimes very close when they decide they’d like to use your head as a look out post!
On our way home we took the horses to the largest stretch of naturally made race surface in the world – the salt pan. Looking out across the vast nothingness and open space of white, well, we considered it would be rude not to take advantage. So we flew across, feeling the ultimate sense of freedom and grinning like lunatics.
Return to camp, dismount, lunch, shower, read, siesta, tea. It’s a hard life. And then we were back in the saddle and heading straight out into the sunset filled pan for more phenomenal riding and some serious kodak-moments.
As the sun fell we cantered through the dark, trusting the white reflective surface lit by the stars and following only the light of our next camp fire for direction. Riding in the dark under the vast sky of stars, with pan in every direction, you felt like you could be the only people in the world.
We enjoyed a delicious dinner, with coals from the fire under our chairs to keep snug, before sitting out round the camp fire and staring upwards at the sky. Some of the best nights are spent sleeping under the stars and this was one to remember. As I fell asleep I watched the bright orange moon rise on the horizon before I drifted off to be woken again by yet another beautiful sunrise.
Sunrise on the pans.
We then rode all the way back to Camp Kalahari where the adventure had begun.
In the afternoon we even managed to squeeze in a visit to the bushman who showed us how to make fire, find water and survive in the desert landscape. Their energy was amazing.
I walked away with a new appreciation for space and perspective. Whilst we may strive to continuously fill our lives with noise and activity; sometimes the best experiences and the best places on earth are the stillest and the most quiet.