If someone told you to fly half way around the world and spend thousands of dollars to look at nothing, to see emptiness, you might think they are crazy. You would probably even tell them so. But, I have experienced the nothingness and felt the emptiness and it was one of the most incredible moments of my life.
This is the experience of being in the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, thought to mean the driest of the dry, but often referred to also as the “The Great Big Nothing”. It lies in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. It used to be a great big sea millions of years ago, but now it is a vast, flat expanse the size of Switzerland. It is one of the only places on earth where you can see the horizon 360 degrees around yourself. Wherever you stand you can feel as if you are the centre point, but, simultaneously, as an insignificant dot in something far beyond yourself.
My first experience there was on my way driving to Jack’s Camp with my guide and another passenger. It was about 7:00 p.m. and the sun had just dipped below the horizon leaving the most brilliant streaks of pink sky I have ever seen. The crescent moon was lying on its back in an increasingly darkening and starry night. There are so many more stars to see in the southern hemisphere, especially in the bush, where the absence of pollution and artificial light do not block them out. There are so many, in fact, that it creates an illusion of a blanket and you can actually see the roundness of the earth.
My guide stopped the car and had me and my companion start at the same point and walk in opposite directions for about 100 meters or so. But, unlike an Old West gun draw, we were not told to turn around and face each other, but to lie down and look up. The only person you confront out there is yourself and it is an awakening of your entire being. The most hardened cynic would be hard pressed not to feel something out there in this singing emptiness. You are alone in the most fulfilling way. Despite knowing that there were two other people out there with me at the same time sharing the same stunning moment, I was out there on my own as were they. Oh, although, I was also sharing the Pan that night with wild Zebra who trotted ever so close by me, which only added to the thrill.
I would not doubt that most people’s description of the Makgadikgadi Pans would sound remarkably similar, but there is a distinct individuality to the experience of it too. Speaking with someone who has been out there you can share the shared and respect the secret. I sensed that even if I were lying next to my deepest of soul mates, I could never feel closer and farther away from that person at the same time. I could reach out and hold someone’s hand for the physical connection, but it is essentially about you without a trace of self absorption. I became excited at the thought of bringing friends and family out to the Pans so that they too could have their very own moment; something they will remember forever – moments of inspiration to be drawn on in the grayer days of life.
I am unbelievably privileged to know I will get to visit the Pans many more times as I am now living in the area. Indeed, I was out there two more times in my first week and they were just as amazing as the first. I have gone out to play, doing handstands and cartwheels, to snap pictures, and to think. My imagination is triggered, my creativity stimulated, my thoughts and ideas bubble over with enthusiasm, yet my mind is calm. Basically, it is a kick ass natural high. I can’t imagine the Pans would ever not bring all this on each and every time.
At the utmost though – The Makgadigadi Pans offer clarity of the purest kind. Somewhere as special as the Pans cannot exist everywhere, but they can be for everyone. It takes some effort, time and dedication to get out here, but it is absolutely worth it. The Pans are a demolisher of doubt; a cure for confusion. Going back to my first experience out in the Pans, it was my second day in Botswana and my first night in the Botswana bush. I was starting a new job, a new career, a new life as the Front of House Manager in a safari camp. In my first week I had moments of trepidation, thinking, “˜what have I gotten myself into?!?!’ I had moments of shock and panic. But, each time I was out there I knew I had made the right decision. I was happy. I was following my dreams. I was living in Africa. As my guide said to me that first night, without an ounce of desperate conviction, “Africa is home”.