Southern Africa, Botswana

Kalahari Desert

Some placenames ring a bell in the traveller’s imagination, and the Kalahari is one of them, bringing to mind a vast, arid, mysterious wilderness. Which indeed it is, covering parts of South Africa, Namibia, and most of Botswana—with the exception of the lush Okavango Delta, in which the river of the same name, coursing south, frustrated in its watery impulse to find an outlet in the sea, seeps into the Kalahari. As photographer Frans Lanting has written, “The [Delta’s] very existence in the middle of the Kalahari is nothing short of miraculous . . . like a dream.” (That’s a miracle we delight in on Micato safaris to the Okavango, when we experience the desert and the Delta within a few steps of each other.)

The Kalahari’s 350,000 square miles—that’s well more than 6 New York states—range from traditionally sandy desert to sometimes dewy mountains (Namibia’s Brandenburg Mountain reaches a respectable 8,442 feet), though most of the Kalahari is made up of sandy, semi- to just-about-always arid savannah, dotted with hardy acacias and grasses, which support large populations of mammal and avian life, and, for seventy or so centuries, the San people, hunter-gatherers formerly called bushmen, whose story, and that of the Kalahari, is illuminatingly told in Dr. James Suzman’s wonderful book Affluence Without Abundance.

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