Approximately 30 kms from the Nxai Pan National Park entrance, Baines’ Baobabs are a highlight for any visitor travelling this area of Botswana. Seven huge, gnarled baobab trees, named after the 19th century explorer Thomas Baines, are situated on a promontory or island overlooking and surrounded by the white, crusty Kudiakam Pan. Baines stood here over a hundred years ago and painted this otherworldly scene. It has essentially remained unchanged.
Thomas Baines was an explorer, artist, naturalist and cartographer. He and fellow explorer James Chapman travelled through this area during their two-year journey from Namibia to Victoria Falls (1861-63). They travelled in horse-drawn wagons and on foot, accompanied and led at different times by Hottentots, damaras (a tribe from Namibia) and San. They encountered numerous difficulties, including the harshness of the desert, thirst, hunger, illness, and more than once, desertion by their guides, who made off with their supplies.
Despite all this, Baines’ account of the journey is filled with appreciation of the beauty of africa. ‘I confess,’ he wrote, ‘I can never quite get over the feeling that the wonderful products of nature are objects to be admired rather than destroyed; and this, I am afraid, sometimes keeps me looking at a buck when i ought to be minding my hindsights.’
Baines’ painting of the small island of baobabs shows covered wagons, people tending their horses, and a huge baobab bursting with leaves. ‘We walked forward to the big tree, the Mowana at Mamu ka Hoorie, and found the country much improved,’ Baines wrote of the gloriously shaded area. Baines’ diaries, sketches, drawings and paintings provide fascinating first-hand documentation of that most Africa. Decisive era in the history of Southern Africa.