When away camping in the bush, each campsite becomes a transient home from home. Why we feel more at home at some campsites than at others is hard to say.

Camping may attract people because it is a more affordable option or because it is an outdoor experience where campers feel closer to nature.  For others camping can be a kind of a hobby with a focus on acquiring state-of-the-art gear. Some online camping forums host discussions where people swop tips on expensive gear, which may seem arcane to outsiders content with less equipment.

One of the Kori campsites, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

Our camp at one of the four Kori campsites at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve

When it comes to camping, I am drawn to places where camping is the only option and where camping best fits in with our desire to feel more immersed in nature.  The Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana offers campsites (and no hutted accommodation) to visitors. The rustic campsites are far apart from each other, and some individual campsites are kilometres away from each other. Facilities are basic or non-existent, and visitors have to be self-sufficient regarding water, vehicle fuel and firewood (which may not be collected in the park).  No water at all is available at campsites (only non-drinking brackish borehole water is available at the gate) and no vehicle fuel is obtainable in the park. When we last visited the park, the nearest available fuel, although not always available even there, was at a village (Rakops) about 50 kilometres from the main (Matswere) gate into the reserve. The road between the village and the reserve is slow to traverse. The road includes stretches of deep sand, and in the rainy season, notable for sudden dramatic rain storms, deep patches of mud can be treacherous.

Road after rain into the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

We missed the concealed detour off to the right just before the first patch of water in the photo above. We had assumed that a vehicle ahead had gone through it. We nearly got into trouble but managed to precariously plough through the water and mud. It was only later that we found we had lost the front number plate in the process

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve in the heart of Botswana is a unique place to visit. Established in 1961, it is the second largest nature reserve in the world. It covers an area of 52,800 km² (20,400 square miles) and is part of the vast sandy Kalahari Basin. The area contains expanses of open grasslands, semi-arid shrub savanna and scrub, acacia tree islands, sand ridges and dunes, ancient fossil river beds, enormous salt pans and many smaller pans and depressions that seasonally retain water after heavy rains.

This is a view from just below our Kori campsite

Moon rising at campsite in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

The moon rising above the trees surrounding our camp on our visit in April 2016

Campfire at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

The campfire not only cooks supper. It also provides a focal point as darkness falls – home is where the hearth is

Locked down at home during this Covid-19 pandemic, I have been thinking about connotations of home – what makes one feel at home?  Is home an actual place, the dwelling or region where one lives, or is it more a place in one’s heart, a location of sentiment or nostalgia? Is home a permanent place or building or is it something one takes along or finds on the road? And what of exile – for those in exile or where home is not a place of safety is “home” always a place of longing?

Being at home during the current lockdown instead of being away on our previously planned holiday, I revisit in my mind the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and our trips there in 2012 and 2016, and I find it is a place that has made a home in my memory and imagination. Each campsite that we stayed at had a special atmosphere where is seemed that the sand, wind and sunshine had removed the presence of previous visitors, as happened too after our brief presence. We were but transitory there, but its effect on us has been permanent.

Leopard Pan campsite at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

The solitary campsite near Leopard Pan

Some small animals and birds have become habituated to the presence of human visitors at the campsites, and they have made themselves quite at home in these places – some literally so, building their nests or making their burrows at the camps.

Ground squirrels at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

These Cape (or South African) ground squirrels foraging on plants on the edge of our Kori campsite had ventured forth from their nearby burrows

Swallow-tailed bee-eater at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

A little more wary than other campsite visitors, this swallow-tailed bee-eater perches on a nearby tree from where it hawks insects

Red-headed finch at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

Red-headed finches also hung around the campsite

Violet-eared waxbill at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

The colourful violet-eared waxbills were also occasional visitors

Broad-tailed whyday at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

Making itself at home, a male broad-tailed paradise whydah sporting his breeding plumage

Shaft-tailed whydah at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

Shaft-tailed whydas were frequent visitors to the Kori campsite

Cape Starling at the the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

A visiting Cape starling, showing off its glossy plumage against the sand

African red-eyed bulbul at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

An inquisitive African red-eyed bulbul observing us in our camp

Leopard Pan campsite at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

At the single campsite near Leopard Pan, we camped alone in the shade of the lovely purple-pod Terminalia trees that provide nesting sites for white-browed sparrow-weavers. The industriousness and chattiness of these birds helped us feel right at home

White-browed sparrow-weaver at its nest at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

At home in the entrance to its seemingly messy but ingenious nest is a white-browned sparrow-weaver at the Leopard Pan campsite. Each nest has two entrances, but one is sealed off to confuse predators

Doing the washing and facilities at the Leopard Pan campsite at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

Me, washing some clothes being as frugal as possible with water, at the Leopard Pan campsite. Behind me is the shower shelter and to the right of that is the enclosure for the long-drop toilet

Because our 2016 stay in the park was for three weeks, we were heavily laden with the water and fuel required to last us for this time. Our water was carefully rationed and our bucket washes limited us to one litre of water per daily wash, with a bit extra on hair-washing days. We did not have enough water to take advantage of the shower bucket that can be seen hanging up in the shower shelter.

Crimson-breasted shrike at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

Very active and generally secretive and so difficult to photograph are the brilliant crimson-breasted shrikes, regular visitors at many of the campsites in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Passarge Valley campsite at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

Me preparing lunch at one of the three Passarge Valley campsites, where each of the campsites are 18 km apart

On both our visits, we camped at the third Passarge Valley campsite, which is elevated on a ridge above the valley from where one has a great view of the sunset. The shade trees add to its homely feel and the trees provide places to hang pots and other bits and pieces.

Any rubbish that cannot be burned in the fire, we collect in a bag to take out with us when we leave. While camping we hang the secured bag from a rope high in a tree out of reach of animals. There are no monkeys or baboons in such arid regions.

Homemade travel bags

I took this photo as a bit of a joke as I thought it looked a bit “out of Africa-ish” – but actually I am very proud of these bags, which I made myself. I am a reluctant sewer and learnt how to make these bags from bloggers who generously share their expertise on the Internet. These bags, easily stashed in the vehicle, contain our clothing for our three-week stay in the park. The mat is to try to keep sand out of the bags and clothing

Washing basics at campsite in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

Not aesthetically pleasing but helping us to feel at home is the convenience of small table holding a basin containing water for hand washing and a cake of soap. A pot of drinking water and a mug is also at hand. As it rained the previous night we were able to collect rainwater using a tarpaulin, hence the buckets. Note the trusty spade – used for the fire place and also for digging toilet holes. Toilet paper is burned before the hole is covered over

Sunset viewed from Passarge Valley campsite at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

A gorgeous sunset seen from our Passarge Valley campsite

Perhaps our favourite camp where we felt most at home is in the splendid solitude of the Phokoje campsite. Amenities comprise a lone tree and a washing area that is just a concrete slab. The long-drop toilet was filled to the brim with rubbish bags left behind by selfish tourists. But one does not go to the Central Kalahari for bathroom facilities!

Lone tree at Phokoje campsite at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

 Camping under the lone tree at Phokoje campsite. Our trusty roof-top tent means that our sleeping area is away from the sand and the thorns. Phokoje means ‘jackal’ and in fact we did see black-backed jackals in the area

Phokoje campsite at sunset at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

Getting ready to cook supper at Phokoje campsite as the last of the sunset colours the sky

The campsite nearest to Phokoje is 30 km away. Camping there at night is perhaps the furthest we have been spent time away from other humans. The sense of remoteness was profound and the intense silence was broken only by the grunting and roaring of a pride of lions, and the velvety darkness was punctuated only by stars. While there we felt perfectly safe. The animals, even visiting birds during the day time, did not seem to be habituated to humans, with the exception of a Cape eagle-owl that landed near our fireplace at supper time, approaching us impatiently and apparently expecting a handout despite the fact that we are vegetarian.

Male lion in morning sunlight near the Phokoje campsite at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

Early the following morning we went for a drive and from the vehicle we saw this black-maned lion who was magnificently uninterested in our proximity

Black-backed jackal at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

A black-backed jackal after which Phokoje camp takes its name. How privileged we were to get to experience feeling at home while visiting the actual home of so many wild creatures

By the way, I composed this post using the block editor for the first time – something I have been meaning to do for ages. It has some useful features, but a lack of flexibility within a block will take adjusting too. I wonder how other bloggers have found it?

Posted by Carol