There is something very special about the continent of Africa. The show I work on, The Amazing Race, has gone to nearly 20 African countries in the past 22 seasons and the diversity of geography and culture is like no other place on Earth.
This particular leg of the Race we went to Botswana, a landlocked country in Southern Africa that is 70% covered by the Kalahari Desert.
For this episode, we spent time at the Royal Tree Game Reserve outside the city of Maun. It's easy to feel at one with nature when you're sleeping in a wonderful tent under the stars on a private reserve on the banks of the Thamalakane River. The night sky is vast and mesmerizing; and due to the remote location we were in, every star and constellation in the Southern Hemisphere was clearly visible like tiny diamonds dancing across the sky.
Africa awakens your senses; the sights, sounds and smells are unique. This happens when you fly on a little bush plane, land and take that first step. It's something I look forward to when I return; it's welcoming and warm and there is something very pure about the experience. There is a silence and calm and you are instantly transported back in time.
At night at the safari camp there is such peace -- no sirens, car horns or radios blaring -- but what you do hear are the sounds of the animals around you -- like a lion walking by your tent! And hearing the sound of his roar for the first time can be a bit unnerving. In the morning, you'll see their tracks right outside your tent.
Botswana is home to The "Big 5" -- the lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. Seeing animals roaming unrestricted in their natural environment is a spectacle. Most of us are used to seeing them in cages in zoos. Here, you're in the cage -- your vehicle -- while they wander around freely; it's amazing. In fact, I always have to fight the urge to get out of my safari vehicle when I see an animal close by because they are so beautiful, you just want to get close. Obviously, they're wild animals and you should never do that, but it's hard not to feel a connection when there's so little separating us.
In many ways, Botswana is a country frozen in time. We had our contestants meet with the local bushmen and learn how they live their everyday lives. The things we take for granted are tasks they have to perform every day to survive -- from things as "simple" as starting a fire and getting water from a well to hunting for food.
What the bushmen can do in minutes took an hour or more for many of our contestants.
We take pride in the fact that the Race takes contestants and viewers to places they've never been, or even seen, before. In fact, most of the contestants had no idea where Botswana was. It's fascinating how the contestants and the African bushmen were awed by each other's cultural differences.
That's really what we strive to achieve with the show: treat viewers to a cultural experience, not just bombard them with tourist landmarks. We want the contestants -- and, by proxy, our viewers -- to really get a sense of what it's like to live in the places we travel to.