What everybody ought to know about Camping in the Kalahari – Part II

by Naomi on August 15, 2011

in Wildlife

Yellow-billed Kite taking off from a signpost at Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

Continued from What everybody ought to know about Camping in the Kalahari – Part I:

There is so much to share about this subject, especially with those who are unfamiliar with Africa and her wildlife. First off, let me say that going the self-drive, camping route (which this article is based on) has benefits beyond measure. I read some life skills advice in a magazine recently – that engaging in physical adventure and varying degrees of risk-taking (depending on your inherent propensity for this) is a powerful way to exercise courage and enhance other areas of your life, such as the emotional side.

Speaking of life skills, Martha Beck shares profound insight in her post Zero Attachment, Zero Anxiety: Insight from Martha. She suggests getting in touch with the feeling we have when watching a beautiful sunrise, to help steer away from yearning and grasping after goals. “You may experience awe and intense gratitude,” she writes, “but you will not be thunderstruck, amazed or hysterical. A sunrise is glorious, but it is normal.” The idea is to apply that feeling of normalcy to our dreams, encouraging them to simply materialize – rather than imagining that we must attract them, which implies a sense of separation.

This imagery transported me immediately to the African bush, and the countless sunrises we’ve watched from our tent, steaming coffee in hand, surrounded by sounds of the wildlife waking up and crisp, clean air filling our lungs. If you decide to take the plunge, here are some more tips that you may find useful:

Dave in the Okavango Delta, following the chainsaw incident...

• Pack a proper first aid kit, including antibiotics. We needed them once when Dave almost lost the end of his finger. Fortunately we had a surgeon friend on hand, but I’ll spare you the gory details.
• Check whether you’re allowed to gather firewood at your destination, and if so a mini-chainsaw is worth its weight in gold – as long you keep your fingers out of the way!
• Weapons may not be carried across the Botswana border, but a solid knife comes in really handy.
• You may not take meat across the border either, or various other checkpoints in the country, particularly when they have outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in their cattle. You could take a chance and pack some at the bottom of your fridge, but don’t say we said that, and don’t blame us if it’s confiscated. There are places along the main road where you can buy meat once there.
• Traveling in Africa would not be the same without a stash of biltong (unless you’re vegetarian). By all means buy sliced, but also include some whole pieces, so that you have a reason to use your knife 🙂
• Apply thought to your menu and pack your food with care, stuffing spare spaces with dish cloths or towels, so that you don’t end up with handfuls of broken biscuits, as the tracks are rough.
• A fridge/freezer is essential. Nothing refreshes better than an ice-cold drink in 40 degree heat. It adds a whole new meaning to the concept of gratitude.
• Plan your fridge/freezer strategy. For example, freeze meat and bread rolls and store fresh fruit and vegetables in a separate cooler box. This can be kept cold with frozen bottles of drinking water, which you can refill and refreeze as you drink them.
• A second, mini fridge is also useful, to keep drinks cold and have with you on game drives.
• Don’t wait for the last town en route to fill your water tanks, but do it in a place with reliable drinking water. We fill up at home, our clean water more than compensating for the extra towing weight.
• Try to minimise packaging waste when you plan food for your trip. It’s astonishing how much rubbish we can gather in a few days. Obviously don’t leave any there, but bring it back to civilization with you.
• Take strong rubbish bags as well as a rope to hoist them into a tree – out of the reach of potentially roving hyenas, especially at night.
• Pack things away when you go on game drives, just in case animals investigate your food supplies. Admittedly, this is a bigger concern in areas like the Okavango Delta, where there are lots of baboons.
• Make sure that your vehicle is fitted with a spare, deep-cycle battery for added peace of mind and extra charging power.
• Keep a fire extinguisher with you at all times. We’ve seen the burnt remains of vehicles before, and a friend had a close call when grass got stuck in his driveshaft and caught alight against the exhaust pipe.
• A grass catcher net fitted over the front of your engine could save it from overheating. This is particularly important on less-travelled roads, where the grass between the tracks has grown really tall.
• Determine and sort out your electrical requirements before you go, i.e. whether you need a generator and adaptor plugs for charging your fridge and photographic equipment, for example.
• If it suits you, minimise effort by selecting one camp site and setting up once. Then you can leave your trailer/rooftop tent or caravan and drive around at your leisure, exploring and game viewing.
• Always, always take a camera – or not. Being wildlife photographers we’re rather biased . . .

Gemsbuck herd - Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

Now for a final tip: If you’re not a snake handler, DON’T PLAY WITH SNAKES! Here’s Dave demonstrating what not to do, unless you already have a well-developed propensity for risk taking 😀
(I shot this in the Waterberg, SA – hence the stream which you won’t find in the Central Kalahari.)

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

JamieDedes August 15, 2011 at 4:18 pm

This is fabulous, Naomi. Wonderful guidelines and I love the vid of Dave and the snake. Don’t know a thing about them except that when we lived in Humbolt County (California, rugged country, redwoods et al), the rattlers would leave us little parcels of shed skin and the garden snake, Strip, made for a nice little friend. In New York, where I grew up, there are no indigenous snakes!

Is that your lovely voice in the background?


Naomi August 15, 2011 at 8:29 pm

How cool that you had Strip for a friend, Jamie! Dave would thoroughly approve. That rugged country sounds enchanting.

Yes, it’s my voice. Thank you for so generously calling it lovely! All I hear is inherent stress, highlighted by calling Dave “David”, which is extremely rare and only his mother does otherwise 😀


nrhatch August 16, 2011 at 12:02 am

We saw a snake crossing the road yesterday ~ significantly shorter and less rotund than the one “David” was handling. I showed the video to BFF ~ he said it looked like Dave knew what he was doing.

Your voice IS lovely! Beautiful camera work too.

Note to self: The only thing we need to know about camping in the Kalahari is to hire you and Dave as our guides.


Naomi August 16, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Aw, thanks Nancy, you’re a darling…and a trip together would be brilliant!

Dave isn’t specifically trained in snake handling, but is familiar with them and well informed from years in the bush. His completely relaxed demeanour (unlike mine ;-)) is probably the first priority in handling them safely.


[email protected] August 16, 2011 at 5:15 am

I squealed just as much through this viewing! Dave is such a male peep! Thoroughly enjoyed this, Naomi.


Naomi August 16, 2011 at 12:21 pm

LOL…so glad you enjoyed, Amy, and kept me company! I’ll pass on your compliment to Dave 😉


Kate Shrewsday August 16, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Each post is such a romp right now, Naomi. It is my little vicarious piece of action as I sit here at my keyboard in the UK. Stunning pics as usual, great tips(one day I will use them) and peerless snakery.


Naomi August 16, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Thanks for your great comment, Kate – also from Dave 😀 We’ll keep on encouraging that trip of yours!


Tess The Bold Life August 17, 2011 at 6:45 am

Hi Naomi,
Love this! Beautiful advice, awesome adventure and interesting concept. I’m headin’ over to check out Martha’s article. Makes sense to me.


Naomi August 17, 2011 at 8:00 am

Thanks a ton, Tess! I appreciate you hopping over from that stunning blog of yours 🙂


sideview August 18, 2011 at 6:42 pm

how wonderful, you almost make me want to be adventurous!


Naomi August 18, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Oh good! We’ll keep on trying, Sidey 😀


Tokeloshe August 20, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Great post and photos.
Chainsaw OUCH!


Naomi August 21, 2011 at 7:21 am

LOL…definitely OUCH! Thanks, Tok 😀


nrhatch September 11, 2011 at 4:58 am
Naomi September 21, 2011 at 10:38 am

How FABULOUS…thank you Nancy & Nancy! It’s awesome to discover another writer who is featuring Cape Town in her novel. I LOVE IT!


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