Beauty and the beasts in Botswana

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - AI­DAN HART­LEY

As a boy camp­ing with my fa­ther on sa­faris deep in the African bush, there were no tents; we just slept by the fire like cow­boys in the open un­der the con­stel­la­tions. Supper was sweet tea and bil­tong and we used a tin bucket for a shower. When it rained we sim­ply moved un­der­neath our parked Land Rover. One morn­ing we woke to find tracks cir­cling us, where a big lion had come close enough to blow on our toes as we slept.

That old Africa rubbed off on me and I still like sa­faris to be the real thing — un­der can­vas, by the camp­fire, gin, tall tales, fresh air and car­pet-creep­ing be­tween tents. Sa­fari is an art and it’s for real peo­ple, not celebri­ties climb­ing Kil­i­man­jaro. For me, watch­ing a dung bee­tle at its Sisyphean task or the scent of wait-a-bit thorn blos­soms (which some Africans say is a medicine for heartache) or the squawk of a go-away bird in the heat of the day — th­ese are en­coun­ters I’d swap for a herd of ele­phants (although I like ele­phants too).

If you agree with me, then go on a proper sa­fari — not a canned sa­fari. Head to Botswana, which is 98 per cent mel­low, the Africa of Alexander McCall Smith, demo­cratic, well-run, just two mil­lion peo­ple,

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