Botswana Trip Report – August 2009
To begin, Los Angeles to Johannesburg is a very long trip and exhausting as it was I was so excited to be back in Africa I didn’t even care! I had previously been to Tanzania and Kenya for the Great Migration and loved every minute of it. I knew this trip would be very different…another great adventure to be savored and remembered.
We overnighted in JBerg and then flew to Maun to begin our trip in the Okavango Delta at Xigera. I traveled with my best friend who had shared the previous trip with me. This camp was truly luxurious with raised walkways to our tent. It was more like a luxury hotel with electricity, full bath and both an indoor and outdoor shower. Everything in this camp was first class and the staff were marvelous and friendly. Upon arrival we were greeted not only by the staff but a group of baboons who ran through the camp playing and screeching. There were also very cute vervet monkeys who scampered along the walkways and decks. We shared this trip with two couples...one from New Zealand and the other from New York. They were delightful company and we considered ourselves fortunate to have such great safari mates.
On our first game drive we were rewarded with giraffe, a baby hyena and several elephants bumping their heads against palm trees to knock lose the seed pods. This game drive was very entertaining….then on to our first sundowner at the end of the runway and the first of many beautiful sunsets.
Following a great dinner we retired to our tent to rest and prepare for our first big day in Botswana. No sooner did we have the lights out when we heard crunching outside the tent. We jumped up and ran to the back deck where the shower was to find a very large (they’re all large) elephant pulling up greenery that grew along side the tent. He was so close we could have touched him. It was exciting, scary and altogether amazing. We stood and watched him for several minutes before he wandered off . What an introduction to the Okavango Delta.
Our first full day took us in a boat to the hippo pool. It was a treat to see so many hippo but it was a little nerve wracking to be so close to them ….a mixture of awe and fear but it didn’t stop me from taking pictures. Our guide got a call from another boat and we were taken to the bank where three lionesses were hunting. It was the middle of the day so I was very surprised to see lions hunting in the heat of the day. We never did get to see if they were successful but it was great to be so close. Everything we saw in Botswana was up close and personal and I loved that there are no crowds of people or boats or other land rovers on the game drives. It was almost as if we had the whole country to ourselves.
The next day was another morning boat trip with an exciting near-miss hippo encounter. He went right under the boat. Good thing it happened so fast I didn’t have time to really understand what was happening or I may have had a heart attack…I have a healthy fear of hippos. I know they are vegetarians but I wasn’t anxious to be a new taste treat. We also went right over an 8 foot croc.
One of the things that surprised me (although it shouldn’t have) was the number and variety of birds. I can’t even begin to list them but my favorites were the Carmine Bee Eaters and the Lilac Breasted Roller. Two of our safari mates were avid bird watchers and counted over 250 species new to them by the end of the trip!
Although the number of animals didn’t begin to compare to what we saw at the migration in Kenya it was still a feast for the eyes with lewchee, kudu, antelope, warthogs, zebra, giraffe, buffalo, elephants and more hippo than I really needed. Our camp staff had arranged an outdoor lunch for us on one of the islands. The food was wonderful and we were thoroughly entered by a very large troop of baboon playing in the trees and running through the water. Following lunch we headed back to camp to regroup and have tea then went out again in a mokoro. Very peaceful and relaxing and we actually went to another little island and got to see the very rare Pels Owl. Obviously, our birding couple was beside themselves with joy!
The following morning we bid a sad farewell to Xigera and were taken to the airport (OK, the dirt runway in the bush) to fly to our next destination…camp Motswiri on the Selinda Spillway. This was a quaint little camp with only six tents. Much more informal that the last place but still very nice and it felt closer to the “real” Botawana than the previous place. It was much hotter here and the terrain was mopane woods (that means short scrubby trees with thorns that slam against you as you drive past at high speeds). The game here was very sparse so the excitement factor was lower but the staff made up for it with interesting activities. We took a canoe trip down the spillway and ran into elephants (not literally…they were on the bank and we were in the water) but I didn’t believe they would hesitate to join us there if we did anything they didn’t like!
After dinner the camp guide rushed us to the landrover and drove back to the air strip to show us a beautiful big male lion sleeping on the runway. We asked how he knew the lion was there and he said, “well, he called me” meaning he heard the low roar (it carries five miles) and could tell where it was coming from so we got up close and personal with this beautiful creature.
OK, so it’s day three in Motswiri and still very few animals…actually, no animals. This morning’s game drive turned up several dangerous tree branches that had to be hacked off with a machete and one large spider web (sans spider). We had a short meeting in the bush and decided the whole thing was pointless and voted to go back to camp to relax and read. The camp manager felt so bad he offered to take us on a boat trip down the Selinda Spillway in late afternoon and stop for the sundowner along the way. Most of us were up for that but the two guys stayed behind. So, we four ladies were off to a water adventure supplied so graciously by Peter. The water levels were low as it was September and everything was beginning to dry up. We started off well enough but soon got stuck on a sand bar and Peter had to clear the props. This happened several times and at one point he had to jump out of the boat and drag us off the sand bar, clean the props and go on. It was fairly obvious we weren’t going to find a spot to beach the boat as everything near land was swampy and filled with reeds. The sun was sinking and we got another beautiful sunset (no animals yet) so we had a short sundowner in the boat and began the trip back. Once again, snagged on a sand bar and Peter jumped in the water and began towing us back to deeper water. Unfortunately, he stepped in a large hole (up to his chest) before getting us back on track. This was a bit funny but I felt sorry for him. Now it was getting pretty dark and we were out in the water (hippo channel was all I could think of) and Peter’s phone was wet and unusable, he had no weapon and could not see the sand bars in the channel. I admit, I was getting a bit concerned…we had seen elephants on shore the day before but he reassured us there were no crocs or hippos in this area. Well, long story short (well, not very short) after about 15 minutes we saw the lights of the camp ahead and around the bend. I was never happier to be home. The rest of the staff was waiting for us and helped us out of the boat and to shore in the almost pitch dark. What an adventure.
The next day the camp guide offered a walking tour but it was so hot my friend and I decided to just skip it and relax and pack as we were leaving that afternoon. The night before I heard an elephant behind our tent so decided to go look for prints to see how close he had been. Well, not only was he close…he was still there. I don’t know which one of us was more surprised. I went back into the tent to get my camera and camcorder. He cooperated fully and I got some great really close pictures. I was fairly bold and kept getting closer to fully experience this magnificent animal and he seemed ok with it for awhile. Then he raised his trunk, flapped his ears and took a step towards me. I was already within 20 feet of this guy so I knew this was his warning I was getting into his space and backed off. My little heart was pounding but I was very happy I got to have this personal moment!
We packed up and headed to the airstrip. We got a cowboy pilot this time and he dipped low over the spillway to show us the elephants crossing and playing in the water. It was wonderful. Our next stop was Linyanti Tented Camp and it was a beautiful place right on the water. The downside was it was a big buggy but we lighted coils and used spray and it was fine. We prepared to go on a short game drive before dinner but there was an elephant in the path out of the camp and he decided we weren’t going anywhere. There were so many elephants in this area they were like ants at a picnic. They walked through the camp, surrounded our vehicle several time and continually blocked the road. On one night drive we had one trumpet and begin go chase us….yeah…THAT was exciting!
Overall I loved this camp. The staff was so wonderful we all felt we had reunited with long lost friends and the food was great as well. One night they set up an entire dinner in the bush. The only problem was there were several lions in the area so we had to stay very close to the fire pits. Unfortunately, we never got to see them…oh, maybe that was a good thing.
Our safari was ending but we had one more exciting stop…Victoria Falls. We had a very special ending to the trip on the way to the airport our guide got a call from another vehicle who had spotted a leopard. After some driving around asking for more directions our driver found the spot. There he was in a tree right above us. What a beautiful animal. We could only spend a little time there as we had a flight to catch but…what aa perfect ending to our safari! We proceeded on to the airport for our flight to Livingston. It turned out to be a very small plane…only the pilot and three passengers. As it turned out, this was perfect beause our pilot flew us very low over the falls. Even though it was September, due to the high rainfall that year the falls were magnificent. We could certainly see where the name, “The Smoke That Thunders” came from. We were taken to yet another fabulous tented camp (Toka Leya) and had time for a boat trip down the Chobe river where we were lucky enough to witness an elephant family crossing the river. It was pretty deep so the baby elephants had to be helped across by Moms and Aunts and held up by their trunks. I even got a picture of only heads and some small trunks held up out of the water. That was a very special moment.
On the final day of our trip we took a walking tour of the falls and got in a little shopping before it was time to ready ourselves for departure. My love for Africa continues to grow and I'm sure I will be back. I hope you have enjoyed my trip report and I apologize for the length of this post...I just can't stop talking about Africa.
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Botswana Trip Report – August 2009