The Great Salty Yonder

I slowly navigate my ATV along a winding path, through coarse salt grass and lonely stands of palm trees. The sun is low in the sky and the desiccated landscape is bathed in that magical golden African light.

All of a sudden the path widens and I’m there on the edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans. I open the throttle on my machine and blast out across the great salt pans. The wind in my face tells me I’m moving fast but the lack of anything on the horizon makes it seem like I’m standing still—weird juxtaposition to be sure, but it’s about to get a whole lot weirder.

After about 20 minutes tearing across the pans I stop and turn off the engine and it hits me. Or rather it doesn’t, it’s amazing—I realize that for maybe the first time in my life I am hearing total silence. When the world’s volume gets turned way down you really are left alone with your thoughts. Your mind seems to shout at you (or maybe that’s just the voices in my head). I lay down on my back and look up, blood virtually roaring in my ears without anything to muffle it. Gradually I settle down and my mind clears. The sky fades from blue through impossible shades of pink and purple until it is a deep bruised black. Then the stars come out—if that’s not the greatest show on earth it’s certainly up there.

Although belting across the great nothing on an ATV is huge fun, the true appeal (for me anyway) is more existential than that. When I first got off my machine, I realized that I could see the horizon in every direction. That kind of view profoundly messes with your sense of perception and makes you feel rather small indeed. Then, lying in the darkness, you feel insignificant, strangely humbled and at peace, comfortable with the knowledge that this ancient landscape was here long before you and will endure long after you are gone.

When the cold started to get to me and I’d had all the navel gazing I could handle for one day, I hopped back on my ATV and drove back to Jack’s Camp for dinner and an Amarula around the fire. After all, there no reason self discovery need be an uncomfortable experience. Jack’s Camp and San Camp are the places to go for this kind of escape. They provide an oasis of comfort in this most forbidding of environments.

Dan Achber is a Trufflepig trip planner who sometimes wraps a tea towel around his head to imagine he’s back on the pans.

Lying in the darkness, you feel insignificant, strangely humbled and at peace, comfortable with the knowledge that this ancient landscape was here long before you and will endure long after you are gone.

Destination Details