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Trip Report: Amazing Botswana

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It's hard to believe I'm sitting her writing my trip report...how did such a long-awaited adventure to so quickly!? If you have visited Botswana, you will understand how easy it is to fall in love with this beautiful country and it's warm-hearted people. If you haven't visited, you should consider it. I won't begin with the SAA plane flight, because that might discourage anyone from actually travelling to Southern Africa. I believe the new Airbus has been discussed on a previous post by several people...and it wasn't pretty. Fortunately, the Air Botswana and charter flights were fine (except for the last charter flight which can best be described as, "fifteen minutes of sheer terror"...more on that later!) We flew JFK to Jo'burg and stayed at the lovely Grace Rosebank Hotel. It is always a pleasure to spend time at the Grace...just a beautiful place with impeccable service. The first stop in Botswana was Macatoo Camp, home to African Horseback Safari. It is a tented camp, with a lovely bathroom ensuite. The record flood waters created an enchanting setting...water everywhere. We spent most of the rides in the water; sometimes up to the horses chests. Galloping through the Okavango Delta on horseback is thrilling. Fortunately, we did not encounter any predators while on horseback and were able to ride along side elephant, giraffe, zebra and various antelopes (red lechwe, impala, kudu, duiker, reed buck, tsessebe and steenbok). If you like to ride, then this might just be the ultimate equestrian experience (outside of urging Smarty Jones down the stretch at Churchill Downs, I imagine). Several of the horses bore the scars of lion encounters and two of the guides had been attacked, but unscathed. It was a bit sobering listening to the 20 minute instructions on protocol for lion attacks during the ride, but we only saw lion tracks, not the real thing. Perhaps our best sighting was Prince Harry at the airstrip. He was coming to spend a week at Macatoo and we were leaving the day he arrived. We spent a few minutes talking with him and he was a very nice young man. He wanted a fast horse and I heard later that her took quite a fall on one of the gallops! We then went from horseback to mokoro at the water camp, Little Vumbura. Once again, the high waters made the setting remarkable. The six luxury tents are on a small island. We had several huge bull elephants pass through camp at various times, along with noisy hippo! I sometimes think the bull elephants are lonely and seem to seek out human companionship. Several times during past visits to South Africa, camps without elephant fencing end up with resident bulls who visit on regular schedules. Who really knows why? I know I'm guilty of anthropomorphism, but the camp elephants are always gentlemen and have allowed us to get very close to them. Whatever the reason for their visits, it certainly provides for entertainment in the bush! The game viewing at Little Vumbura was average. I think the prevalent waters allowed for widely dispersed game. The best we could manage was one very lethargic lion. Perhaps the highlights were the beautiful sable antelope, bat eared fox, spotted hyaena, Pel's Fishing Owl and caracal with baby. The final camp with Chitabe, which is just a spectacular camp. The luxury tents are set high up on teak platforms with teak walkways between tents and the dining areas. The staff was first-rate and the game was plentiful. We followed three different prides each day and managed to come upon a Cape Buffalo kill just after the lions brought it down. Now I know why I am a vegetarian!! The entire feeding process is amazing. The actually remove the stomach and cover it completely with tall grass to hide it from hyaena. As the poor buffalo got smaller and smaller, the four lions got fatter and fatter. The following day the lions were in the shade recovering in "food coma" and the vultures took over. Some of the other sighting were cheetah, honey badger, ostrich (in the midst of a crazy mating dance...zig zags and whirling!), African Wild Cat, Black-backed jackal, and Wild Dog! It was thrilling to watch wild dog during a hunt...they are lightening fast. This brings me to fifteen minutes of terror! I realize know how important it is to comply with the luggage weight limits. Our last tiny charter plane barely made lift off, as it was fully loaded with six passengers and their luggage. Clearly, some of the bags were WAY OVER the 26 pound limit and the poor little plane made a heroic effort to get airborne. I made several promises to God during that short flight! I'm really not sure if I can keep them!!

Well, I hope in some small way this brief trip report conveys the splendor of Botswana. It is a large country with about less than two million people. The views from the airplanes are nothing less than spectacular. It is truly one of the most enchanting, magical places on earth. The wonder of the Okavango Delta is far greater than my words can convey. Go and experience it. You will come away with a renewed sense of what things are really important. As many of you have said, you leave a part of your heart in Africa and it then calls you to return again and again.

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