Botswana: The Kalahari
I get asked the same questions all the time. You can probably guess them yourself pretty accurately …
What’s the weirdest thing you ever ate?
What’s the worst thing you ever ate?
Does your family eat such an adventurous diet?
Do you ever get sick on the road?
Do you really do all that stuff yourself, jump off mountains, swim with sharks, eat rotted foods, or is it ever faked?
And so on …But until I flew into Xai Xai, in the Aha Hills of Botswana and was greeted with boundless enthusiasm and grace by Ralph Bousfield, I never had a good answer to the question “what’s the greatest trip you have ever taken, the one trip above all others that continues to thrill you just to think back on it?”
I had flown into South Africa and over-nighted at an airport hotel after a grueling 22 hours of flying. The next morning I flew to Maun, Botswana, arguably the busiest hub for small planes in the Southern Hemisphere. It is here that small 4-seaters from all around the Kalahari come to pick up their charges, eager and fresh-faced for the trip of a lifetime. I was greeted by a bush pilot, who threw my bags in the back of his plane, secured them with a seatbelt, threw me into the co-pilot seat and took off across the Okavango Delta for the grass airfield in Xai Xai. We had a flight plan, but were on our own schedule so the pilot obliged me each time I asked him to take it down and circle massive herds of elephants, grazing giraffes, water buffalo splashing in the muddy drinking holes, farm house clusters of grass buildings and so on. The Delta teems with the greatest concentration of wild animals on the continent and I was glued to the window for the 2-hour flight. We landed, greeted by the entire village for whom an airplane is still a rare sight and met Ralph. Ralph’s family came to Botswana over 100 years ago and his father was the most famous Great White Hunter of his era, still holding the record for crocodile kills in the Guinness Book of World Records. Ralph’s dad, Jack, saw the forest for the trees way before everyone else and hung up his rifle in his prime, deciding that preservation and education was what was needed most in Botswana and devoted the rest of his life to that end, and Ralph has continued the tradition, running a company called Uncharted Africa, the finest outfitter I have ever had the experience of travelling with. Ralph drove us an hour across the desert (hard-pack scrub growth thorns, head-high bush and red clay dirt, no sand in sight) to our base camp and we unpacked in a hurry. I was greeted by all the members of Ralph’s team who didn’t come out to the airfield to say hi and the rest of our production unit, and we raced off to meet the family group of 22 tribes-people who are San, the legendary bushmen of the Kalahari.
We slept in tents each night, going to sleep to the sounds of leopards and baboons prowling outside our tent (really), the trills of night flying birds and the and singing of the San. We woke each morning before dawn, ate hurriedly and walked the 400 yards to the cluster of grass huts that the San live in. We started our day with them as soon as time allowed and we ended our day at sunset each night by wishing them good evening and they to us, as we headed exhausted back to our campsite to wash up, eat dinner and pass out, rising again to begin fresh the next day.
In this show we were faithful to the documentary process in that we include almost every little taste of our adventure with you, and not only was this the most exciting and revelatory travel experience of my life, I think it is the finest hour of television I have ever been associated with. I don’t want to ruin a minute of it for you but suffice to say when you are getting an archery lesson at sunset from an 80-year-old shaman using a bow and arrow set he made for you an hour earlier and a black mamba snake (one of the world’s deadliest predators of any species) attacks the camp and you get to bring that kind of action to bear in your show, well, things are looking pretty good from an entertainment standpoint.
You really have to see this program for yourself.
Africa has been my favorite travel destination for the last few years now, the adventures and experiences I have had in Morocco, Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Sudan and Algeria both making our TV shows and as a civilian are among my fondest and most thrilling memories. Botswana now stands atop my list of all-time fave locales to travel to and I cant wait to see my friend Ralph again. I can’t say enough about Uncharted Africa and the people of Xai Xai and the tribes of the Aha Hills.
PS. The answers to the first set of Q’s is roasted porcupine skin, 14-day-old stinky tofu at Dai’s House of Unique Stink in Taipei (the 2-day-old stuff on the street vended from small carts is delicious), no, no and finally … of course I do it all, if you see it, it’s real, and we never ever stage or fake anything.