A Hemingway-style safari in Botswana
After touring Kruger National Park in South Africa, for a week, we arrived at Maun in Botswana on 9 November 2014, with great anticipation. Straight from the airport, we were taken in a safari vehicle to the African bush and our tented accommodation. We could not have wished for a better introduction to African wildlife because, before we even reached the camp, we were treated to a close view of a Leopard. The Leopard was completely oblivious of our presence and in the security of the safari truck, we were almost within touching distance from it. A little further, we came across a pack of Wild Dogs getting ready to hunt. And so, with such a start to the trip, we knew we were in for an exceptional time. From then on, the eight days that we spent camping by the Okavango Delta were out of this world and beyond our wildest expectations.
As always, there are highlights on every trip, but this one provided so many hair-rising and eye-popping moments that it would be impossible to prioritize. For some, it could be the numerous encounters with Lions. Almost every day, we came upon them and watched them as they got ready for a chase, rest in open terrain, lead the cubs to a safe place, or dig into their prey with their faces covered in blood. At night, we fell asleep with their roars echoing across the savannah and behind our tents. This would probably not be unusual elsewhere in Africa, but here in Botswana, one gets so close to them that it’s hard to believe that they are, after all, wild animals. On one occasion, a lioness, after feasting on a Buffalo for a while, decided to escape the scorching sun in the middle of the day, so walked towards the open safari vehicle and collapsed in its shadow (with passengers clinging to each other with fear!). On another occasion, the Lioness, while crossing a river to join the feasting lions on the other side of the river bank, was chased by a Hippo and a Crocodile. The defenseless Lioness was swimming for its life and, at one point, we thought she would not make it and fall victim of her pursuers. Such drama to unfold in front of our eyes!
We had numerous encounters with other mammals (29 species in all), but perhaps most memorable was our face to face encounter with a pack of 19 Wild Dogs involved in a hunt. We joined in their pursuit in our safari vehicle and holding tight to our seats, we drove speedily over the rough terrain and through thick bushes, witnessing the whole event! Seeing a Honey Badger (on two occasions) quickly moving amongst the bushes or a bull Elephant emerging from nowhere and crossing our path within touching distance from us (while we held our breaths) were some of many moments we will never forget!
The birdlife, needless to say, was astonishing, with the birds almost posing for us at every corner. But, the highlights perhaps included a food pass between a pair of the Ground Hornbills, a Darter catching a fish and flying away while struggling to hold it because of its enormous size, a feeding frenzy by Yellow-billed Storks and African Spoonbills in a small pool filled with trapped fish, three Pearl-spotted Owlet chicks cuddling together on a branch above our camp, an African Skimmer skimming the water surface in its usual manner a short distance from us, a close-up view of the most anticipated Lesser Jacana, and a Coppery-tailed Coucal collecting nest material and carrying it to its nest site over and over again, to name just a few. I must not forget about our visit to the biggest heronry of its kind in southern Africa, with hundreds of herons, egrets, African Darters, African Spoonbills, Yellow-billed Storks and Marabou Storks breeding side by side and bickering noisily. A spectacular sight!
A visit to Okavango would not be complete without a ride in a mokoro, traditional narrow boats used by locals to traverse the delta. Gliding silently on crystal clear waters filled with Water Lilies and colourful Mopani forest fringing the edges was incredibly scenic and memorable. We were able to approach some of the birds very closely, including several African Jacanas and Black Crakes, numerous species of egret, heron, stork, bee-eater and kingfisher, and an iconic Fish Eagle. Magic!
Our experience of the Okavango Delta was reinforced by the fact that we camped and, therefore, the contact with nature was personal and direct. Not even the comfort of a five-star hotel would replace the joy of getting up every morning to the sun rising above the horizon, hot water waiting for us in a camping sink, birds twittering in the trees above our open-air bathrooms and coffee served by the camp fire. The meals prepared by the staff were equivalent to a gourmet food with a wonderful selection of freshly-made salads, meat, fruit and even a cheese platter was served after every meal. We still don’t know how the cook managed to produce freshly made bread and buns every day! Our lunches and evening meals were complemented by a superb selection of wine, soft drinks and the famous Amarula on ice!
Our most rewarding, if not best encounter with wildlife, took place within the last hours in the Okavango area, when on the way to the airport we came across a young Leopard. There is nothing unusual about seeing a Leopard, but the sighting might rank a bit higher if the animal engages in infrequently seen behavior. And, indeed, we witnessed this mighty beast jumping across a stream, stretching it powerful body high in the air and revealing its every muscle and strength. It was the jump of the century and it couldn’t be a more rewarding moment to conclude our visit to the Okavango!
In retrospect, it was a fabulous tour, with great wildlife sightings, memorable experiences, gourmet food, fabulous company and superb facilities! I can’t wait to get back to such experiences of the African bush that Botswana offers!
For more pictures from the trip please look at the Gallery; for more details of the trip please go to the Tour Details; A Trip Report of the tour is also available.