Making more or less a big loop of Botswana we breeze through the last few days of the safari throwing ourselves to as many corners of this surprisingly vast country as we can. Leaving Nxai pans we venture back east to Nata, near our first night in this car at Elephant Sands. Now we’re back with the innocence of wide eyes a little more wizened and with the almost-beards quite out of control, we’ve ventured into the wild and emerged looking more like caucasian versions of the famous Kalahari Bushmen than our previous selves. Planning to go to Kubu Island in the salt pans we have sadly had to abort mission as the road is apparently undrivable so it’s with only a slight regret that we pass it up and head to Nata bird sanctuary, far more befitting gentlemen of a certain age.
After a short stop in the tiny town of Gweta we’re pushing on to Nata, our poor car still going strong after what can only be described as a thorough thrashing. With a chorus of squeaks, grinds and moans that weren’t there before, from the car that is, we bobble along the veritable highway that is the dirt track into the bird sanctuary. We’ve been eyeing the grand salt pans of central Botswana on the map this whole trip but have been thwarted at every turn from seeing them, but no longer, we’re camped right beside them and now there’s no stopping us. This is a bird sanctuary but for me I’m most keen to see the pans, such a natural wonder can never be overlooked.
In a relatively small country that is so little known to much of the world Botswana boasts a diversity that few nations can come close to matching, the pans just another example. Ploughing along the bumpy road to the pan edge we are cast into the now common African scene of a never ending sea of flatness, a continent so rich in colour and vibrance painted upon a canvas of such refused feature. Our world is a combination of tusset green and off-white that stretches to the horizon, the sun a stinging governor in this dominion of repetition. Arriving at the pan edge we can see why we couldn’t make it to kubu Island, the salt pan has become an inland sea.
The merest haze ripples the nearest land on our horizon over the sea, the world is a water wonderland rubbing shoulders with the Kalahari desert or near enough, diversity and contrast exist so abundantly to belie the flatness of this land. Perched in a stilted hut made for bird watching we take in the rare opportunity to watch a Botswana sunset over a western ocean, this land locked country never ceases to deliver creative diversity it seems it shouldn’t be able to. This sea is usually a dry salt pan, the remnants of a long forgotten inland sea from millennia ago; the obstructionist rain seems to have delivered an upside for us, a window into what this land once was and rarely ever returns to being nowadays. I can’t help myself, I tromp out into the water; as far as I could be bothered walking the briny water rises little above my ankles in what seems to be an ever possible wade. So this is how Jesus walked on water, seems so simple and I’m probably not even a divine spirit; as the popular TV show says: myth busted. With my saintly miracle for the day done and dusted it’s back to the bird hut to soak up that other divine gift, a cold beer a little before beer time.
The flamingo’s and pelicans are a little too far out to get close to but Charlie finds plenty of birds still to marvel at, a crowned crane the winner for the day. For me though the grace of this place is in its clean vastness, unobstructed by tumult or design. Be it against the waters edge or at our campsite the vastness stretches on forever across the plains and even into the bright starry sky overhead, we’re not far from a major road but it’s easy to feel isolation in its purest form. Space is what we have, of body and mind, I’m not the meditating type but we don’t need to focus to gain a similar effect out here. A crackling campfire flickers under a tree on what feels like a polished smooth world with a population of two, we’re alone on an island with nowhere in sight. It’s the old riddle, if trapped on a desert island, what would you take? It was an unanswerable musing; with a glass of wine, a campfire and some food there’s two people alone on this world with no plans to set out and find any more. It could be a great philosophical epiphany but lets just call it Botswana for now.