Jim Freeman
4 minute read
23 Oct 2018
12:16 pm

Meerkats and crumpet at Jack’s Camp

Jim Freeman

Jim Freeman heads to Botswana to take stock of its meerkats and merlot, while failing to outrun social media's grip.

Better without Wi-Fi: Jack's Camp in Botswana

There is something to be said for wearing a meerkat on your head. Apart from the fact that you will probably pee-off the don’thandle-wild-animals fascist liberals, you’ll be doing good service to the suricate species which – in my honest opinion – is an equally worthwhile contribution to the cause of humankind.

Don’t get me wrong, I lurrrv fascist liberals (especially with a slice of lemon and a pinch of salt), primarily because – I suspect I share this sentiment with Jeremy Clarkson – they afford me endless entertainment.Wind them up by drinking a beer at breakfast, and who needs YouTube for the rest of the day? This is not so much a rant at the Foxtrot Limas (or, if you’re offended by military jargon, the French Letters) of the world but by our need to be “connected” wherever we go.

I was in Botswana the other day and found myself in one of Africa’s ultimate safari camps. There I met a rather fine New Englander with whom I established immediate rapport because his preferred beverage at breakfast was a specific South African pinotage. This (and breakfast) he enjoyed in the camp’s WiFi hotspot.

The problem is, he never strayed from there for the duration of his four-day visit to one of Africa’s wildlife paradises. I am no social media junkie: in fact, I kinda limit myself to “Go on home British soldiers, go on home” (Google it if you have to!) comments on Facebook but

I think this damn Yankee could have done with having a meerkat parking off on his noggin. Two days before meeting this fine fellow, my group of journalist colleagues had been at Jack’s Camp, one of the sub-continent’s iconic “glamps”.

We arrived at lunchtime and were told that after high tea we’d be going to visit the “Meerkat man” and then quad-bike across the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans (or at least a portion of them since the entire area is about half the size of Holland … and just as flat). Since we were there at the end of September, it was already rather warm (October in Botswana is known as “suicide month”) so most of us almost immediately hived off to the swimming pool.

Under canvas and thus in permanent shade, the pool is known as the coldest in the country. Some of my colleagues were attacked by ruthless gins and tonic but I, being made of sterner stuff, beat off a merlot (with some aplomb, I might add).

High tea is something I’ve known from my youngest days in Scotland but, nay never, have I experienced it in all its colonial glory as I did at Jack’s Camp. I’ve always enjoyed crumpet but here – not far from Maun – I was spoiled for choice. Hot, cold, sweet or savoury; it was a feast fit for a pasha. Tea having been eaten rather than drunk, we waddled off to the game-viewing vehicle and drove in search of meerkats.

One of the most popular attractions at Jack’s is an elderly local who has spent the last decade inveigling himself with a colony with the little beasties. In the process, they’ve become habituated to humans, rather than being tamed by them.

One of the characteristics of Botswana is that there is a preponderance of things that eat other living things. Meerkats, the largest of which is – when standing on its hind legs – about the size of a bottle of gin, are somewhere near the bottom of the food chain and this makes them very attractive to the non-vegan members of the animal kingdom.

This specific meerkat colony lives in a very flat stretch of terrain and the sentinels-on-duty would have a pretty hard time of it were it not for people. They use us as observation posts against predators and Instagram-mers.

The punchline, though, for this anti-social media diatribe came a few hours later and it was uttered as a superb piece of dry wit from one of my colleagues. We’d spent a couple of hours “quadding” across the pans and stopped, after dark, in the middle of nowhere.

Our hosts had built a fire. Dusty and parched, we dismounted and my colleague immediately turned to our guide: “What’s the WiFi password?”, he asked.

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