I love spending a night out on the salt pans, it’s an out of this world experience. Nothing really seems real. Imagine spinning around and around and around and the view simply not changing at all. All you can see is a white expanse of nothingness. This is what it is like out on Makgadikgadi Pan in Botswana and at night this is stark.
The first time I spent a night out on Makgadikgadi Pan is still a fresh memory.
Travelling to Makgadikgadi Pan
We travelled in two vehicles – I was in the one behind and I learnt from this mistake for the future. The dust from the vehicle in front often prevented me from keeping my eyes open.
But I could still see the odd ground squirrel scampering for cover. And I also saw two lone jackals searching for something tasty to eat in the harsh environment. An eagle circled the sky, waiting for some hapless creature to succumb to the searing heat bouncing off the white sand. The vegetation began to diminish until there was little more than grass, grass which was yellow and with little hope of surviving into the next month.
Another way to get to Makgadikgadi Pan is by quad bike. There are great quad biking excursions on the pans and again you can spend the night. It is up to you which way you want to get there. But prepared to get very very dusty this way!
The horizon expanded even more, if that was at all possible. I am sure that I could see the curvature of the earth. The sky was full of wispy zebra (horse) tail clouds galloping across the sky, it would be a perfect night. And then the salt pan filled my vision. A vast sea of white, flat as a pancake and exceptionally difficult to ascertain how far you could see. There was nothing to gauge distance on it at all. This was once a lake and had dried up leaving behind a superficial maze of enormous curling salt flakes. More like chocolate curls. We drove out onto the pan and into ‘nowhere’, where we stopped for the night.
‘Nowhere’ was our planned destination; there were a few logs left behind from a previous visit and these were lit along with more firewood from the truck. A toilet was dug, a hole in the middle of ‘nowhere’, and an awning erected around it. Not much to hide behind here! By now the fire was blazing and the aroma of sizzling steak being grilled over the braai made me drool like Homer Simpson. Contentedly I watched the sun sink into the horizon – the sun seemed to be larger, brighter and redder than I had ever seen before.
Sleeping out under the stars
Tents are not needed here. It is one of the few wild places in southern Africa where you can sleep out under the stars without the fear of an unwanted slithery guest in your sleeping bag. Or the fear of an attack from an opportunistic scavenging animal. Only a roll mat and your torch is needed.
So after supper, I picked up my sleeping kit and marched out into the void of Makgadikgadi Pan. Well, marched was not really the word I would have used, more like tentatively walked into nowhere worrying that I would come across something scary. I felt rather vulnerable as the light of the fire diminished to a small spec. Why was I doing it I hear you ask?
Well why not? It is not often you get the chance to sleep literally in the middle of nowhere. To have the peace and tranquility of Africa wrapped around you, and with the knowledge that you are safe. It takes a bit of guts as it is the fear of the unknown that ties you to the fire, but once this tie is stretched, or even broken, it is a remarkable experience. I had a great nights sleep that night, although I have to admit I was a bit twitchy to begin with. Silence is deafening. When was the last time you slept and only heard your own breathing? However, looking up was a spectacle to behold. There are no lights for miles and miles, only the small glow of the fire which was far away. I watched the stars move slowly across the sky and satellites chasing each other. It was magical. Pin pricks of light in a canvas of rich dark blue, it was out of this world.