The dry Tsodilo Hills in the northwest corner of Botswana were mined as long as a millennium ago for the glittering rock termed specularite. The mineral was ground into a dust, mixed with fat and rubbed into the hair so that it became what David Livingstone described as a glittering helmet. The main reason to go to the hills is to make a trekking expediton to some fascinating rock-art sites.
Transportation to Tsodilo Hills can be arranged at the safari camps found along the river south of Maun. The road to the hills contains deep sand in places and should only be attempted by drivers with four-wheel-drive vehicles and some experience in heavy sand conditions. The drive from Maun takes about two hours.
More than 3,500 rock paintings (some dating back from around AD 800 to 1300) have been discovered in the four Tsodilo Hills, which are named Female, Male, Child and Baby. The San name for the Tsodilo Hills is K'ao N!oma, which means "eyelids of the sunrise."
A !Kung (San) guide (the exclamation mark indicates a click sound) is needed to find the paintings. Many of the best examples are on the south end of the female hill and include colorful rhino, eland and giraffe, which can be seen with little or no climbing. Other paintings are more faded and appear simply as red blobs on the rock face.
Visits to some better-known rock-art sites, such as the so-called Van der Post panel, are more strenuous and require some climbing. Be sure to take along plenty of water on hikes because it can become very hot during the day, even if it is cool in the morning. And there are no safe springs in the hills to refill your canteen.
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