Meeting Botswana’s San Bushmen

For nearly 50,000 years, the San people, also known as Bushmen, have inhabited parts of southwestern Africa and lived off the land. Today, numbers are dwindling as their way of life is increasingly threatened by a modern world (and even more so by government reappropriation of their lands), but a small community of Bushmen people still reside in Botswana near Ghanzi and have tried to keep their fading traditions alive. We had the opportunity to visit these indigenous people and learn a bit about how they’ve made the Kalahari their home.

All the details: Bushman Walk

Cost: A 1-2 hour walk with the Bushmen and a traditional dance after dark is about $10 per person.

Getting there: It is possible to bus from Maun to Ghanzi (about 5 hours), but the easiest way to reach this area is to drive (3 hours from Maun).

Where to stay: Camp or stay in a (very basic) chalet at Ghanzi Trail Blazers (contact them for current prices).

Top tips: Bring some small change to tip the Bushmen after your walk. We were told it was “not expected”, but it felt incredibly expected..

Despite all of my hopes, my bed bug bites are still in full flare when I wake up in the tent this morning and, as much as I am trying to be positive, I swear there are a number of new bites that I didn’t have yesterday. We boiled all of our clothes in hot soapy water, rinsed them further in hot water, and hung them in the direct sun yesterday, though, so I’m hoping that the bugs themselves are dead and we are just discovering old bites. It was a rather uncomfortable sleep directly on our vinyl mattresses without any sheets last night, but it will have been well worth it if we can nip this bed bug problem right in the bud.

We get to enjoy a lovely sleep in this morning, getting up for an 8am breakfast and still having a few hours of free time to play cards and lounge around the bar with Nicole, Grace, and Di before eating an early lunch and departing camp around 1130am. The drive today is about 4 hours, but the afternoon sun has turned the bus into a Swedish sauna, so it drags by painfully and we are all dying by the time we hobble out at our camp near Ghanzi. Before there’s really time to do any cooling off, though, we have to lather up in sunscreen and put on shoes for our bushwalk.

The walk is led by a group of 5 traditional bushmen who, over the next hour, show us a number of plants they might use for various ailments, how they use ostrich eggs to store water, and how they start a fire to cook their dinner. They speak a beautiful clicking language, so a translator narrates for us in English as the bushmen pluck leaves off trees and nibble on bark, and they also wear amazing traditional clothing that does not look like it’s doing much shielding from the hot African sun. The oldest couple are probably more wrinkly than anyone I’ve ever seen in my life, but they are also amazingly strong and full of life for their age, smiling at us as they wave medicinal roots in the air. Even though they can’t understand us and we can’t understand them, it’s difficult not to have a kind of fascinated respect for their way of life.

Back at the camp, the heat hasn’t subsided much and everyone is completely drained of energy. To avoid another sauna situation, Cal and I wait to set up the tent until it’s already dark outside and instead go to the bar with Nicole to have several cold cans of Coke (at 10 pula each, it would be rude not to) before going back for a delicious braai dinner at 730pm. I enjoy a much-needed cold shower and then quickly put up the tent by headlamp, falling asleep the second my head hits the pillow.

Read more about my travels through Botswana