Jack's Camp was the original camp on the pans. When all the other safari operators in Botswana focused on game and the Delta, Jack's dared to offer something totally different – and succeeded in style.
A bushcamp was originally started in this area as early as the 1960s, by the late Jack Bousfield. After his tragic death in an aircraft accident, his son, Ralph Bousfield, started to build a camp for visitors here which first opened in 1993. It's set in sparse forest of real fan palms, in grasslands on the edge of Ntwetwe Pan, overlooking Makgadikgadi Pans National Park.
Jack's has eight tents, and it prides itself on 'traditional East African 40s safari style'. This means it's very comfortable, with first-class attention to detail, but doesn't have indoor plumbing or electricity. It is not a 'super-luxurious lodge' by any means. Jack's green tents are classic Meru-style and furnished in keeping with the theme. Inside six of the tents have twin beds with individual canopies, while the other two have four-poster double beds, all with down pillows and duvets, and high-quality linens. Outside at the front is a shiny copper washing bowl, to which hot water is delivered in the morning or on request. Each tent has a private toilet and shower, set back a little from the tent (but en-suite facilities are planned for 2003). The showers are bucket showers, to which water is delivered on request, and the toilets (in a concession to pampered modern guests) flush. At night, lighting is by paraffin lamp – much more magical than electricity!
Jacks has a central 'mess tent' – which is really a series of grand canvas pavilions. The interior is lined with amber printed cotton, whilst the green of the outside blends with the surrounding bush. This is really a canvas field museum, sheltering an eclectic selection of items (mostly local) including various stone tools, fossils of extinct mega-fauna (like giant zebra), prints, maps, historical etchings, and a fair size collection of beadwork made by Bushman.
There's also a drinks tent, a library tent, a centralised dining tent and a separate tea tent, its floor scattered with a mass of Persian rugs and cushions, where tea and delicious cakes are usually served before the afternoon activities.
The activities here vary with the season. When it's dry, from around May to December, there's likely to be very little game around. That's fine, as it's not the focus of a trip here. Instead you'll explore the pans in 4WDs, on individual quad bikes and on foot, often with a San tracker. These trips will concentrate on the area's smaller wildlife, and also its history and archaeology – often including a visit to the baobabs in the area, and a part of the pan where old Stone-Age flint axe- and arrow-heads can be just picked up off the surface. (Quite rightly, my guide insisted that they were also to be left there by us!)
When it's wet, from around January to April, the pans can become quagmires. It's often not possible to use the quad bikes, and the 4WD drives tend to stick to the grasslands on the edges of the pans. However, then there is a much greater density of wildlife around, with many migrant birds and, if you're lucky, large herds of plains game.
Amongst all the camps that I know in Africa, Jack's Camp stands out for its unique style of guiding. Anyone can find you a herd of elephants in Moremi, but to find fascination in a barren salt pan requires a lot more skill. Jack's usually use a mixture of very capable resident guides from Botswana, plus a handful of zoology and biology graduates who come here to combine a few years guiding with a PhD specialising on some of the local wildlife. Wits comment that these are often British, Oxbridge and good-looking – but this can often mean an informed and very intelligent level of discussion.
As the camp is outside the national park, night drives are possible – when there's often more wildlife around than during the day. Recently, thanks to the lion research that's been done from here, sightings of lion have increased hugely. Also in the last few years they've had a zoologist based here, Glyn Maud, who has been researching brown hyenas. He has habituated one clan to vehicles, which has enabled Jack's to virtually guarantee sightings of these very shy creatures to interested visitors. Though they occur widely, you'd be very, very lucky to see brown hyena elsewhere!