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WWhen you go tracking with the Kalahari San, you’ll find that they are deeply rooted in their ancient oral culture and in their symbiotic relationship with the animals, birds and plants of the Kalahari Desert. Stop, touch, taste, learn and listen – it’s an unforgettable experience.
Although the traditional Kalahari San way of life is fast disappearing, there are still places where their ancient culture flourishes. Experience this by going on a guided trail where San trackers share their stories, knowledge and skills.
Internationally renowned ethologist Professor Anne Rasa runs a simple, comfortable lodge in the Kalahari Trails Nature Reserve, just 35km from the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the first trans-border park in Africa, which stretches across the Kalahari Desert between South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.
Rasa was a pupil of the late San tracker, Vetpiet Kleinman, who was born in the park and whose skills were world-famous.
On an early morning or evening walk, she will interpret tracks and talk about the sand, rocks, plants, animals and birds. That night, after a hearty supper, you'll sit by a crackling fire and listen to Kalahari San stories as old as time.
In the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park itself, you can choose between the park's regular accommodation or the first fully catered luxury lodge, !Xaus (pronounced 'Kaus'). !Xaus means heart in the San dialect and symbolises the business relationship between the local San community and private enterprise, which gave birth to this striking, remote lodge.
Walk with some of the local Kalahari San and see where the well-known San artist, Vetkat Regopstaan Kruiper, whose paintings hang in the chalets, was laid to rest following a traditional burial ceremony.
Visit a local craft village, see San craftspeople at work, learn about medicinal plants and follow wildcat, jackal or aardvark spoor.
Your guides demonstrate how the San chew roots as a substitute for water and how they defend themselves against a lion by holding burning grass above their heads.
And at night, as the San say, you will hear the stars sing and maybe even hear a black-maned Kalahari lion's roar.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Kalahari Trails Nature Reserve
Tel: +27 (0)54 511 0900
Cell: + 27 (0)72 277 2377
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Tel: +27 (0)54 561 2000
Tel: +27 (0)21 701 7860
How to get here
The Kalahari Trails Nature Reserve and !Xaus Lodge in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park are accessible by road from Upington, which has air links with all major cities in South Africa. Upington is approximately 800km from Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Best time to visit
Winter (May to August), as it gets very, very hot in summer. If you visit in summer, most of your activities will be at sunrise before it gets hot, and just after sundown.
Roads to and from the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park are fine for 2-wheel-drive cars, but you'll need a 4X4 for some of the more remote camps and lodges in the park. If you stay at !Xaus, the lodge will collect you from the park's main road.
Length of stay
At least 3 nights, more if possible.
What to pack
Light clothes for the day, a warm jacket, scarf, beanie and gloves for early morning and evening – desert temperatures can drop to freezing at night. And don't forget plenty of sunscreen and a hat, even in winter.
Where to stay
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park has several rest camps offering camping sites, air-conditioned cottages and wooden chalets. !Xaus Lodge has air-conditioned luxury chalets in the depths of the desert.
What to eat
If you're self-catering, it's a good idea to stock up on food in Upington, although there is a shop for basics at the main Twee Rivieren camp in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. !Xaus supplies all food and drinks.
San crafts and curios, which are often sold at the roadside.