Botswana is a land locked country bordering on Zambia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Namibia and is just slightly smaller than the state of Texas. The Kalahari Desert, which is the world largest stretch of continuous sand, covers 85% of Botswana. However, in the northern part of this dusty, flat, featureless landscape lie the Okavango Delta, a wonder of lush greenery, reeds, and bushes. The Okavango River flows from Angola feeding into the delta, where 95% of the river disappears through evaporation and the remainder down a fault in the ground. The Okavango River is described as, “a river that never finds the ocean.” We certainly understand the high rate of evaporation as the temperature has consistently been in the high 40’s (Celsius).
Locals suggested we do not fly into a luxury game lodge but rather take a scenic flight over the delta and a boat trip through the channels and waterways of the swamp. We would experience and see the same and at a much lower cost. We were also advised not to drive north through Chobe National Park (south to north) because of poor road conditions making for an unpleasant drive. With this information, we planned our route through Botswana.Maun is a little village of stark contrast and contradictions and is the gateway to the Okavango Swamps, the Moremi, and Chobe Game Parks. Besides the modern buildings and fancy lodges are mud hut villages. Donkey carts, goats, and cattle share the roads with luxury 4X4 vehicles. The local tribal people in traditional dress wander amongst affluent European tourists. This is where we organized a flight so that we could experience the spectacle of the Delta from the air. A birds-eye view so to speak. We met our pilot Lutz, at the airport for an early morning flight over the Okavango Delta. It is the dry season so there is not much water in the delta and I was amazed to see little mud hut villages located amongst the watery channels below. Local fishing communities move in for the dry season to fish. When the wet season arrives, they leave and head for higher grounds. The villages are flooded and washed away. They return the next dry season and rebuild their villages. The flight over the delta gave us a view of the watery wonderland. It is a wilderness for anything that flies, floats or lives amongst the reeds. Elephants, giraffes, and antelopes wandered below. It is home to hundreds of species of birds many of which soared and flew below us. Okavango lived up to its reputation as being a wilderness paradise.
The campsites in Moremi Game Park are basic and to maintain the wilderness experience there are no fences around the campsites. It was an incredible experience to lie under the starry Africa skies with lions roaring and hippo grunting in the distance and knowing that there was nothing between them and us. Camping in lion, hyena, elephant, cheetah, and leopard country, I was nervous about wandering around especially as the roar of the lions sounded very close.
We spotted the lions, lazing under nearby trees. Looking quite content, one yawned before getting up and wandering down to the waters edge. In the water large crocodiles feasted on a dead hippo. The lion waded into the water and the crocodiles gave way to the lion for him to have his share. Lurking closely but not venturing towards the lion the hungry crocodiles watched and waited. We spent the morning watching this dance between the lions and crocodiles as they devoured the hippo. A very lucky chance encounter for us and Africa at its best.
Early the following morning Tom and I were packing up the car when a large baboon approached the Cruiser. Quickly grabbing all our belongings and throwing them into the car, we jumped in and closed the doors. Baboons can be aggressive especially if they are looking for food, not unlike a hungry bear. We watched as he approached and walk behind the car. “Can you see him?” I asked Tom. “No but he seems to be taking a long time behind the Cruiser, are you sure we got everything inside the car?”Hearing a ruckus behind the car Tom leapt out yelling and waving a large chased him away.“He has gotten into the toiletry box and taken the medication which he is eating,” shouted Tom. I then jumped and banging on the side of the cruiser began screaming at the baboon. He scampered off with medication in hand and I wondered how he would feel in a few hours. “This is Africa and shit happens” rang in my ears.
Before we leave the Magical Delta and Moremi game park we tale a leisurely boat trip through the maze of channels that make up the Okavango Delta. The bird life is spectacular and the mood serene and calming. However we get more than we bargained for as we come round a blind corner;
Our next stop was the small hamlet of Kasane on the banks of the Mighty Chobe River.
Springtime can be one of the best times to visit any wildlife park if one hopes to see the newborn. The game parks become a nursery of little ones. Wildlife visitors are known to amble through campsites and a wild yet friendly warthog and her baby wandered into our campsite. She insisted on wiping her dirty muddy snout on the back of my chair while the skittish baby squealed for her to return. He was delightful and was not sure what to make of the baby monkeys scampering around him. Watching the little warthog and the playful little monkeys learn about each other was a delight and had us howling with laugher. They were a riot and a hilarious sideshow.Warthogs are the only wild pig in Africa who digs for roots in the ground. Resting their front legs on their knees and bum in the air, they grovel with their snout and tusks in the ground for food. Although initially we had considered warthogs rather plain looking, we eventually fell in love with these engaging animals.
As we cruise down the Chobe river looking for elephants we hear the cries of the magnificent Fish Eagles all around us.
We hire a local game guide who takes us down the Chobe to look for elephants and other game.We gently glide into the middle of a large herd of Elephants who have walked over thirty miles to reach the refreshing and cool waters of the Chobe. In the middle is a tiny newborn. Under the protective watch of the matriarch it explores what it can do with its trunk in the shallows. It is a joy to witness.
After a refreshing and thirst quenching 30 minutes they all head back to the safety of the bush as quickly as possible.
Botswana has targeted “wealthy tourists” and has essentially made it too expensive and difficult for the ordinary people to explore the country. Game Lodges are often only accessible by plane and “self drive tourists” are not permitted to visit the lodges or drive around in the lodges’ concessions. Road conditions through the parks require skilled 4X4 driving and GPS knowledge. We were fortunate to have thee capabilities allowing us to explore this part of the world which is very special. Africa at its best.