One dirt-strip landing and a short, rocky drive later, the mirage suspicion lingered as I was escorted up a few stairs into the tented pavilions that formed the camp’s hub. Walls and ceilings were draped with softly faded cinnamon-colored paisley cotton. Mellow oriental rugs were scattered on polished teak floors. Spacious lounges flowed into each other, decorated in a safari style that harked back to East African colonial opulence. There was a library, a bar with an antique pool table and a well-stocked drinks chest, as well as a dining room with a long mahogany table that could easily seat a dozen. The walls were lined with natural history drawings, century-old photographs and engravings of long ago safari scenes. Display cases were filled with museum-quality local artifacts. It took a conscious effort to remind myself that I was in the Kalahari, and the 21st century.
The day’s activities were thoughtfully adapted to the experience of desert life. My guide, Super, was an easygoing 20-year veteran of the Kalahari whose name said it all. Under his competent guidance, sunrise found me quietly waiting for a community of meerkats to emerge from their multiple burrows. Although wild, these gregarious squirrel-sized mongooses were sufficiently habituated to humans to allow me to walk among them. I was able to closely observe the play of their young and their rituals as they set out on their daily foraging for insects, fruit and lizards. I had the pleasure to join Cobra, a Zu/’hoasi bushman elder, member of one of the oldest cultures on the planet, for a nature walk. I gaped at the sight of the Chapman’s baobab, a giant with a seven-pillar trunk 85 feet (25 meters) in diameter. One of the largest and oldest baobabs in Africa (estimated to be close to 4,000 years old), it is impressive not merely for its girth, but also for its historical significance. Several great 19th century explorers, including David Livingstone, used it as a landmark on their journeys across the Pans. Their initials can still be seen carved upon its rock-like bark.
The most unforgettable experience of my visit to Jack’s Camp was a sunset ride deep into the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans. Super led our small caravan of quad bikes (their balloon tires only skim the fragile crusty surface where heavier vehicles would sink) to what was truly the middle of nowhere. I reverently watched the copper sun slide from the cloudless sky behind the gleaming line of the horizon. With the rising moon, the surface of the Pan turned ghostly white. I lay down on my back and stared up. In this otherworldly space, unchanged for millennia, my eyes filled with countless stars, and my ears with the deepest silence I had ever known.
While the expert guiding staff ensured that I experienced to the fullest the unique wonders of the Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Park, my enjoyment of Jack’s Camp was exponentially increased by the exquisite comfort of the accommodations and the quality of service delivered by the friendly, polished household staff. This opinion appeared unanimously shared by the variety of guests I met at the camp. From the honeymooning couple from Norway to the Australian family with pre-teen children and the multi-national friends’ reunion, all declared themselves delighted to have chosen Jack’s Camp. As did I.
Class Of Accommodation Luxury wilderness camp
Communications Satellite phone was available for emergencies. Communications to the Unchartered Africa office were via shortwave radio. There was no mobile phone or Internet service in the area.
Handicapped Access No
Length Of Stay Three nights
Location In the Kalahari Desert of Botswana. Jack’s Camp overlooked the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans’ western basin, on the eastern side of the Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Park.
Owned-Managed The camp was owned and managed by Unchartered Africa Safari Co., a company owned and operated by Ralph Bousfield and Catherine Raphaely.
Power Lighting was by paraffin lamps throughout the camp. A diesel diesel-powered generator operated during the day to provide electricity for battery-powered cameras and computers. The charging station was in the main tent.
Size Secluded within a 20,000-acre (8,000-hectare) private concession the five-acre (two hectare) camp consisted of 10 guest tents capable of accommodating up to 20 guests. It employed a staff of 40 including six guides.
Transportation It was a one-hour flight by bush plane from Maun, the main gateway into Botswana’s safari areas. Flights were arranged through the camp with Flying Mission, who had exclusive landing rights to the Jack’s Camp airstrip. Jack’s Camp provided transportation to and from the airstrip. Getting around the Pans was either by land cruiser, quad bikes or on foot.
Year Open-Renovated The site was established in the 1960’s as a basic camp by Jack Bousfield, the father of the current owner and the camp’s namesake. It was expanded in 1992 and fully refurbished in 2003.
On both sides of the dining tent wide hallways led to circular pavilions. The galleries were lined with tall glassed-in display cases filled with artifacts of the desert, and bookcases that held a collection of volumes on Southern Africa fauna, flora and natural history. The pavilion to the right of the main tent was the lounge. It was furnished with an antique bar chest and a matching trunk that concealed a refrigerator, and a billiard table. A large display case was home to a mounted aardvark. Green canvas director chairs were lined around the walls. The pavilion to the left of the dining tent housed the library, where a number of comfortable folding armchairs and couches upholstered in crimson velvet and leather invited visitors to settle in. Against the back wall, a display case held a mounted full-grown lioness. The entire front of both pavilions was open to a view of the Pan, with. Each had a swinging daybed hanging from the ceiling. These made lovely lounging spot to enjoy the sights and sounds of the desert. Throughout the common areas, clusters of antique photographs, natural history drawings and etchings decorated the walls. At night, the entire space was bathed in the romantic glow of paraffin lanterns.
Room My 470 square-foot (44 square-meter) tent, Number One, matched the classic safari décor of the common areas , from faded rose cotton-lined walls to oriental rugs on polished teak flooring underfoot. Antique furnishings included twin four-poster beds with rose and taupe scalloped canopies and cool high-count cotton bedding. The beds occupied the back of the tent on either side of a zippered partition leading to the bathroom. Butler’s trays served as bedside tables. An exotic wood trunk and a bench covered in white and red flowered chintz outlined the foot of the beds. The trunk served as base for a glass display case holding small desert artifacts. At the front of the tent, a folding armchair upholstered in cinnabar velvet, a brass tray on a stand and a carved wooden footstool formed an inviting sitting area. A similar armchair covered in taupe damask provided seating for a desk set against the left wall. The desk held a mirrored triptych to double as a dressing table. There was a tall bureau against the left wall. Framed safari etchings, and brass and pottery bowls completed the décor. The front-zippered entrance of the tent opened onto a private veranda where a period wrought iron lounge chair with tan leather cushions and two green canvas director chairs offered a lovely harbor to while away the scorching hours of the afternoon and contemplate the rugged Pan scenery.
All meals, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages were included, as were all daily game viewing and desert activities.
Pool The 13 x 30-foot (four by nine meter) swimming pool was startlingly chilly under its tented roof. It sat in the center of a wooden deck surrounded with padded lounge chairs arranged to overlook the bush. For a warmer dip, a separate plunge pool at the far end of the property offered an open sky vantage point to contemplate the shimmering stillness of the Pans.
Game I sighted included: aardvark, African wildcat, black-backed jackal, bat-eared fox, meerkat, yellow mongoose, ground squirrel, steenbok, springbok, blue wildebeest, zebra, kudu, oryx. Birds included: black korhaan, blacksmith plover, tawny eagle, rufous-napped lark, ostrich, greater kestrel, Bradfield’s hornbill, grey hornbill, lappet-faced vulture, white-backed vulture, pied crow, Marshall eagle, ant-eating chat, pale chanting goshawk, Namaqua sandgrouse, red-billed stilt, spoonbill stork.
Date Of Last Visit October 2009
Reviewers Article and photographs by Josette King
Service Excellent. Every member of the staff was unfailingly friendly, attentive and always available to fulfill my requests. Food service had the elegance of a posh urban establishment. My tent was serviced twice daily.
Would You Stay There Again? Yes
- Unchartered Africa Safari Co
- Post Net Suite 260
- Private Bag X31
- Saxonwold, 2132
- Johannesburg, South Africa
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- +27(0)82 575 5076
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