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A trip for the dogs...and kats! Atravelynn to San and Chitabe

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San Camp Aug 11-14
Chitabe Camp Aug 15-23

46 Pictures: http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=k8fpf01.9eyxov9&x=0&y=q1377h

First installment…

A smooth couple of flights on British Air from Chicago to London to Johannesburg, then a pleasant overnight at the Joburg Holiday Inn had me thinking that I would enjoy an uneventful arrival into San Camp in the Makgadikgadi Pans of the Kalahari.

But then I boarded Air Botswana. An initial hour delay, a landing in Kasane instead of my destination of Maun, a complete deboarding of the plane in Kasane, claiming and rechecking all bags (for those whose bags had not been lost), and another delay, all resulted in a very late arrival into Maun—too late for my charter to San Camp. So I became acquainted with Riley’s Cresta Hotel in Maun and can recommend it for a restful overnight and for the vegetarian pizza, but not for their chocolate cake.

How nice I was able to fly early the next day at 7:30, which meant by 8:30 I was coming in for a landing at the Jack’s/San airstrip. What struck me was the unending network of burrow holes that littered the landscape, but I saw only one little creature scurrying into its home. Who knows what it was but I’m saying I saw my first meerkat from the air! As we landed, the first of many Black Korhaans also landed next to the airstrip, undisturbed by the plane.

Guide Kaelo (excellent spotter, fountain of knowledge, wonderful conservationist, very kind, highly attentive, funny as all heck, and many other superlatives) was at the air strip to meet me and we headed to camp.

Upon arrival at camp I could see a few guests and three Bushmen (from the Ju/Was tribe of San people with the / being a clicking sound) just a few hundred feet from camp. I hopped out of the vehicle and joined the Bushman Walk in progress. They were stopped and watching the Bushmen dig out a scorpion from deep in the ground. When asked what they use the scorpion for the response was for nothing; they just dig them out for entertainment and let them go. It’s the Kalahari’s answer to Gameboy or Ipod. If the scorpion stings during this amusing game, special leaves must be eaten to induce vomiting to rid the body of poison. Neither leaves nor vomiting were required during our demo, thank goodness.

The Bushmen proceeded to show us medicinal plants and explain their life in the desert. As interesting as it was to learn about the Bushman way of life, just hearing them talk to one another with their five different clicking sounds (of which I could do two) was equally fascinating. They demonstrated their skills with their homemade weapons—spear, club, bow and arrow, and then let us try. Throughout our walk they kept reminding us, especially those straying in various directions, “There are many holes, follow the Bushmen!” They were referring to all those burrows I saw from the plane.

San Camp overlooks one of the largest pans in the area (whereas Jack’s is in a more wooded area) and each of San’s six tents has an expanse to itself. The simple tents were nicely decorated and had raised beds in accordance with the superstition that a Tokolosh, or supernatural bringer of bad medicine, cannot work its mischief if it the bed is elevated safely out of reach. Nor could any scorpions.

Meals are served in a sit down non-buffet manner and were excellent. Jack’s may have the reputation for luxury and fame, but I found the whole San atmosphere to be absolutely captivating. While Jack’s does possess electricity and running water (unlike San), it no longer has the edge in toilets, as San started enjoying ensuite flush loos as of April 2005.

The manager at the time was Cyrus, who also works at Jack’s. The staff goes back and forth as needed. Cyrus has a biology background, specializing in meerkats and could talk meerkats all night when prompted by guests. He was an absolute delight even when the subject was not meerkats.

Other activities at San, which are the exact activities as Jack’s, included day and night game drives, quad bike (ATV) riding, ancient artifact searching, and visiting the habituated meerkat colony, which I understand will be colonIES in the future.

Day drives produced kudu, ostrich, black backed jackals and a distant aardwolf that earned Kaelo an excellence in spotting award, in my opinion. Our vehicle stopped suddenly as Kaelo announced, “I saw two ears and then I didn’t.” An aardwolf was hunkering down in stubby brush about 30 meters away. A Black Korhaan was within inches of it, getting a better look. Kaelo maneuvered the vehicle and we used our binoculars to get our own better look. On night drives we saw many spring hare and another aardwolf at very close range so that its stripes were clear.

(Quad bikes and meerkats at San are next)

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