We catch up with Botswana’s rock star guide Ralph Bousfield for a quick chat about life and style in the bush.
In safari circles, Ralph Bousfield is the ultimate influencer. The co-owner of Botswana-based Uncharted Africa Safari Co. is a fifth generation guide, known for his deep-rooted commitment to Africa’s wildlife and ecology, as well as the preservation of the native Bushmen culture in Botswana. His father, legendary crocodile hunter, adventurer and conservationist Jack Bousfield, brought wild imagination and creative vision to safari—a sense of the extraordinary that made a way of life into a lifestyle. After the senior Bousfield’s tragic death in a 1992 plane crash, Ralph spearheaded the building of Jack’s Camp in the Kalahari Desert’s striking Makgadikgadi Pans. The camp has gone on to influence the layered luxe of modern safari lodges—antique Persian rugs, starched white linens and the family’s collection of museum-worthy curios. Together with his partner, designer Caroline Hickman, Ralph Bousfield launched a safari-perfect apparel line in 2013, called Hickman & Bousfield. True to its creators, sumptuous but hard wearing natural fabrics distinguish the collection.
What are some of your most striking early memories of growing up in Botswana?
Being out on safari for months on end seeing extraordinary wildlife and wild places, but no people. It was truly a privilege, during the late 1960s and to mid-1970s. The wildebeest migration in the Kalahari where we lived was close to 2 million animals, let alone the springbok, zebra, oryx and hartebeest.
How do the culture, topography and wildlife of the country still inspire you today?
The people of Botswana hold traditional values yet they are modern and progressive. We are so lucky here. It is an enormous country almost the size of Texas, but with human population of about 2 million people. That leaves enormous places with open spaces for animals, people and one’s imagination to run wild. The wildness is real and the wild areas have always been wild—that is very evident when you visit.
How has it changed?
Since independence, Botswana has developed in a very positive way with emphasis on good governance, minimal corruption and care for the people and wildlife. With the inevitable organization, many wild areas have in turn become wilder.
If everything has a story, how do your treasured objects at Jack’s Camp and San Camp honor the generations?
They honor the generations because they’ve been collected by generations. It’s as simple as that.
Do you consider yourself a curator?
I guess in a way some people might call me one. I have a bunch of items that have been collected over generations. Some of the pieces have incredible history and a story to them. It may not be a museum for everyone but to my family and me, these are pieces we treasure.
How did your father influence you and your personal style?
My father taught me everything I know. He taught me how to hunt. He raised me in the bush, and taught me so much about the African wilderness. Without him I wouldn’t have such a rich understanding of the safari.
Speaking of your personal style, it’s amazing. How did you come to love certain fabrics, layered bracelets, cuffs, necklaces and pendants?
Some of the fabrics I’ve come to appreciate because they’re both practical for the safari, and fashionable. The bracelets, cuffs, necklaces and the pieces I wear are not just for aesthetic appeal—most of them are significant to me. Some of my bracelets are carved with shamanistic symbols.
Do you have a piece that is particularly special to you?
My black snake stone. My father never went anywhere without one. He carried it around his waist in a pouch. And it’s the same pouch I held on to in order to pull him out of the crash.
What are your favorite pieces from your line?
My favorite piece is my tailored khaki cotton moleskin bush jacket. I can wear it in the Kalahari as well as in the Marrakesh night clubs. It looks great, but in the bush it’s thick enough where it won’t get caught on thorns.
Travelers often go overboard with the idea of safari clothing and over-do it. What do people really need to bring with them?
It’s important to be practical. I’m a supporter of fashion, and I think it’s great travelers go crazy about dressing the part. But all the extra accessories just to “look good” are unnecessary. It’s important to dress comfortably and to be ready to embrace the adventure.