September 2012


Dear folks,

In this newsletter we take you to the Kalahari, explain why Tanzania is an excellent choice for an Africa trip and share some amazing photo's from Zimbabwe. We look forward to your comments!

Understanding the Kalahari

The Kalahari is a vast semi-desert (some 1,2 million km² in total) covering most of Botswana and eastern Namibia as well as the north-western parts of South Africa and southern Angola. Kalahari is a corruption of “Kgalagadi”, the name for one of the first (known) human cultures established in the region. The name appeals to the imagination but it is difficult to explain exactly what the Kalahari is. Seen from space it resembles an enormous saucer covered in sand – one of the oldest parts of the earth’s crust (about 3,5 billion years old). Today’s landscape is primarily determined by rainfall. And the rainfall is scarce, yet more than in a real desert (170-700mm annually), which makes life possible for Man and animal.

The Kalahari as a whole is surprisingly varied in climate, vegetation and landscape. Most characteristic is the wide open savannah, dotted with bushes and trees and dissected by dry riverbeds. The flat-topped acacia’s so typical of Africa are particularly impressive. Then there are the salt pans, sometimes muddy but mostly completely dry, filling up with water only once a year when the rains come. 

Most people don’t get to see the vast expanses of fine soft sand, dunes and hollows because these areas are virtually inaccessible. There are also wooded areas with mopane trees (always a favourite with elephants) and in the north-east the Kalahari borders on the wetter Okavango Delta. Africa’s oldest inhabitants, the San or Bushmen, have trekked around the Kalahari for hundreds of years, their territory continually decreasing in the face of the advancing pastoralist peoples and the mining activities (including diamonds) of the colonisers. There are still a few places in central and western Botswana and eastern Namibia where they continue to live more or less as traditional hunter-gatherers. 

The Kalahari is criss-crossed by a number of good tarred roads. The Kalahari Highway is well known but the roads from Nata to Maun, from Maun to the Caprivi Strip and from Maun to Windhoek are also good. If you like the open road and long distances through wide open spaces under a big sky then driving through the Kalahari is something for you. Once you leave the tar road you will need a 4x4, and some routes should only be attempted in convoy with all the necessary equipment, permits and supplies (food, water and fuel). 

The most important parks in the Kalahari are the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (straddling the border between South Africa and Botswana) and the less accessible Central Kalahari Game Reserve in the middle of Botswana (only for experienced 4x4 drivers). We recently revisited this park, inspecting the full length and breadth of the park, including most of the rest camps and it definitely remains a favourite of Out in Africa’s. It’s less busy than parts of Kruger National Park and most visitors come here looking for  the same thing: a quiet, authentic and remote bush experience in an ecosystem that is almost completely untouched. A true privilege.

One person who has no problem explaining the Kalahari is Professor Anna Rasa from Kalahari Trails. This little gem of a destination is situated on private land less than half an hour from the southern access gate to the park (Tweerivieren). The Prof and her assistant Andre run a basic guesthouse with various types of accommodation, including a remote bush camp. But that is not what makes Kalahari Trails unique. Prof is a world renowned scientist specializing in ethology (animal behaviour). She is best known for her work on mongoose and her contribution has been compared to those of famous woman ethologists of the same generation, most notably Jane Goodall (chimpanzees) and Dian Fossey (gorillas). With some organization beforehand, Prof is available to take you on a dune walk you will never forget. The Kalahari and its intricate ecosystem comes to life, particularly all the small beasties above and below the ground that we normally simply drive past while out on a game drive. The Prof has an amazing mix of scientific expertise and practical skills - most notably her expert tracking skills. Prof can read any spoor (track) in the sand, not just springbok, oryx, spring hare, rodents, birds, but also those of insects. Even the Bushman, surely amongst the world’s best trackers, cannot match her skill when it comes to tracking “goggo’s” (South African for insects and creepy crawlies). Prof has close contact with various Bushman nearby and when she expressed her surprise to them about this, they said (characteristically down-to-earth): “We don’t track anything we don’t eat”…


So when you think you are just out for a walk in the beautiful red dunes with the chance of seeing the odd antelope, she will stop and point out where a puffadder had come out of the ground, decided it was still too cold outside and returned underground again; or a highway for ants; spider dwelling;  beetle love-making; how the trees and shrubs adapt to the harsh conditions (and ravenous goggo’s). By reading the spoor she can tell you exactly what happened the previous night when the lone male springbok and the oryx crossed paths, or when the spring hare met the porcupine. A perfect place for the traveller who truly wants to learn more about his destination.


Why Tanzania?

Let’s move thousands of kilometers north to Tanzania, in our opinion the best destination in East Africa. Why? First of all it’s a huge country with lots of space. In African countries there are inevitably areas where animal-human conflict occurs but Tanzania does quite well in this regard. There are vast areas dedicated to conservation, with the National Parks forming the core and the surrounding Conservation Areas an effective buffer (from both the animal and the human point of view).  

More importantly, the area designations are purely administrative - on paper only - and there are no fences around or between parks. Animals can roam freely and some migratory routes are still intact, the most famous one being the annual Migration of millions of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle. Although Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve is also a fantastic safari destination, it only forms a small part of the Serengeti/Mara ecosystem. The Tanzanian part (Serengeti) is much larger and yet there are not nearly as many game lodges as on the Kenyan side. Although the Serengeti does tend to get quite busy in high season, this still means less vehicles in a much larger area. 

Tanzania also has a fascinating population (very varied with over 100 tribes) who manage to live and work together peacefully and happily for the most part. It is very easy to combine an excellent safari with several interesting cultural visits to still authentic villages and communities. The village of Mto wa Mbu is famous for its cheerful guides who will take you around while “the locals” simply turn to greet you and then carry on with their daily routines. With no pushy vendors trying to hassle you, it’s a relief to be able to walk around as you would at home. This is a bustling community, and you may get the chance to visit a school, an irrigation project, a brewery, the Makonde wood carvers (originally from Mozambique) and a painters collective where you can buy the famous Tinga Tinga art directly from the artist. Very popular too - especially with older children - is going hunting with the waHadza of Lake Eyasi. This small tribe still follows its traditional hunter-gatherer life-style and speaks a click language that resembles (but appears to be unrelated to) the famous click languages of the Bushmen. 

In fact Tanzania is particularly suitable for older children. Our own kids observed that they were privileged to be able to experience things there that most teenagers only read about in text books… And we don’t just mean the wildlife. They saw how hunter-gatherers (Hadza), pastoralists (Masai), agricultural communities (many places), fishing communities (Lake Victoria), village craft people (Mto wa Mbu) and city folks (Arusha) all shared one small part of Tanzania. Where else do you find such diversity on one short trip? The active volcano at Lake Natron was an eye-opener too - their geography teacher certainly heard all about it… And after that they discovered the fascinating Swahili culture on the coast, giving extra depth to their understanding African history and the Muslim influence. 

Tanzania is close to the equator and the weather is good almost all year round. Even during the rainy season (March-May) you can go on safari. You don’t have to worry about getting stuck in the mud because most of our East African safari’s come with a private driver and safari vehicle and they will fix the problem with characteristic cheer. Hakuna Matata! Finally, Tanzania is the perfect destination for a combination of safari and beach. Sub-tropical Zanzibar with its white beaches and warm Indian ocean is especially popular. And if you want more exclusivity you can head for one of the smaller islands such as Pemba. So all in all, if you are wondering what country to visit in Africa, Tanzania remains an excellent choice.

Elephant loves dog

Here are some amazing shots from Zimbabwe, animal-animal interaction this time - elephants must surely be the most social and intelligent of the large mammals. The dog returns after his/her first initial shock. The elephant remains completely calm and lowers him/herself (even lying down completely) in order to communicate at eye level with the dog. And don't think the elephant is unable to get through this minimal fence. Both animals simply communicate with mutual respect.





If you are planning to travel to Africa, contact us!

Warm regards,
Ross Aitken and team


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