Author: Jeffrey W. S.
Date of Trip: August 2008
I have very recently returned from a three-week photo safari to Botswana in Africa. Prior to departing, I had read and spoke to individuals who told me this trip would be a life changing experience. I can articulate that rather than being a life altering experience it was more akin to a reaffirmation of my own beliefs in the people of Africa and the challenge of preserving the ecology and environmental issues that are facing our society. It was awe inspiring, the beauty of the land, the kindness and gentleness of the people who live there and yes of course the animals that I saw.
I thought to myself this past Saturday last night when I was gazing at the full moon the last time I saw a full moon I was tracking a leopard with a rifle-bearing guide near the Linyantia area of Botswana.
The trip far exceeded my expectations and was simply fantastic! I have to resort to the tired cliché of words cannot begin to describe the gratification I received from making that trip. I went alone and upon arrival in Johannesburg, where I spent the first night resting from the long plane ride (eighteen hours). I departed the next morning on a small plane to the town of Mahn in Botswana, a remote area in the southern part of the country, where I caught an even smaller plane and flew to another remote area and then, took another plane (the planes kept getting smaller and smaller) to a tiny airstrip carved out of the wild, hundreds of miles from any structures where I met my guide and the other eight people on the tour. The others were all of European descent. (Prior to the trip, I was informed that my limit on luggage was twenty-five pounds and after seeing the size of the planes, I understood why. There was not “checked-baggage, it was all carry on, thrown in the back of the plane). We were isolated and did not see a single vehicle or other people aside from the camp help for the next seventeen days. We were awakened at 5:30 a.m. each day and had a campfire going with hot coffee and cereals, breads prior to leaving our tented camp. We went on game drives twice daily, from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. Then a rest from the heat as the animals are not active during the heat of the day. We went back out again at four p.m. and sometimes stayed until after dark. Our mode of transportation was Land Rovers, canoes dug out from the local trees and walking! We had lions, elephants, leopards and other assorted animals walking around our tents each night. Every morning when we woke up there were animal tracks everywhere in camp, even around our tents! (After dinner each night we were escorted to our tents by our guides and warned not to leave our tents at night, I did not have to be warned twice!). We could hear various animals including elephants and hippos wandering around our tents all night long.
I should add that our tents were very comfortable, canvas stretched on wooden frames and powered by solar light and even hot showers. The style of accommodation takes you back to the long-gone era of Africa’s exploration – on this Safari. Flowing linen of heavy, pure cottons, beds surrounded by netting, brass bucket showers and basins, separate flushing toilets and shower areas all add to the atmosphere, while luxury comforts and amenities were available, including a bush laundry service done by the camp staff. Quite a contrast to the remote area we were in.
Our mode of transportation included open Land Rover type vehicles and two person dugout canoes, manned by a guide who stood up and used a long pole to push us through the waters. I was fortunate enough to see all the major species of animals, including lions, leopards, hundreds and hundreds of elephants, hippos, and rhinos. Often times we came within ten feet of these animals.
We spent the first three days in the Okavango Delta, which represents survival at the other extreme: abundant water, sunlight and soil combine to form a paradise bursting with life. The contrast becomes amazingly clear as we move from desert to delta, from dry sand to water world. Hundreds of species of birds and many land animals. A true water camp, it represents the essence of the Delta, with year-round mokoro (dug out canoes) safaris as well as island bush walks. We traveled using water canals created by the wanderings of the resident hippos.
Our next stop was again by private airplane to fly to the private Linyanti Concession; flying low for over an hour and able to spot vast herds of elephants and other animals below us. Upon arrival we drove to our private Explorer campsite, which was elegantly set up under massive African ebony and knobthorn acacia trees overlooking panoramic vistas of the Linyanti Swamps, we could see the elephants drinking from the river while sitting at the campfire.
The landscape changes from the Okavango’s floodplains to savannah habitat with sweeping views, creating a paradise for a high diversity of wildlife and bird species. The first afternoon activity concentrates on exposure to different plains game, such as roan and sable antelope and their predators, the lion and leopard – with the endangered wild dog as an incredible bonus. I loved watching the huge giraffes poking their long necks through the trees to get a view of us.
Activities included game drives in the private northern sector of the Concession, exploring a range of habitats, from riverbanks to scrub and forest, which reveal a myriad of game en route to slake their thirst from the river. The seldom seen sitatunga can also be spotted in the waterways.
There is also a game drive to a private clearing for lunch, then a siesta in hammocks and an afternoon canoe trip – all before taking an evening drive back to camp! We canoe on the Linyanti River for an amazing close-up view of the elephant herds.
To complete the experience, on the third day in this camp we enjoy a full activity to the Savuti Channel, with lunch at a private hide overlooking a waterhole. The spectacular zebra migration moves between Linyanti and the Savuti Marsh through this area, as well as an impressive diversity of mammals, including large elephant herds. This day is specifically tailored to enjoy the seasonal and migratory movements of wildlife within the Linyanti and Savuti systems.
After a short morning drive and breakfast, we departed once again by light aircraft to the northern Chobe region. This area is famous for its vast herds of elephants and other unique species such as the elusive puku and Chobe bushbuck that move to the river in the hottest hours of the day. Upon arrival, we enjoyed a boat cruise in a catamaran-style shaded boat. We stayed in this camp for four days. Each day was a new adventure highlighted on the final evening by tracking a large leopard that was visiting our camp each night. After four hours of tracking we finally caught sight of the leopard and were able to observe for over two hours, the tracking experience was well worth it!
We departed Botswana and enter Zambia by way of the Kazangula border, a point where the four countries of Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia meet, to stay at Sussi & Chuma, in Livingstone.
The next day we enjoyed a guided tour of the Victoria Falls, one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World. At 1708 meters wide, it is the largest curtain of water in the world and drops more than 100 meters into the sheer Zambezi Gorge. We then transferred back to Livingstone Airport then back to Johannesburg to bid farewell to the adventure.
With the exception of three days I stayed the entire time in Botswana, did not visit any of the national parks such as Kruger National Park…my opinion is that one would not be able to experience the “real” Africa by visiting a National Park and staying at a resort hotel. I spoke to several people who had visited Kruger and as an example, someone told me that they spotted a lion one afternoon and within fifteen minutes 15 vehicles had surrounded the lion all loaded with picture taking tourists.
I plan to return to Africa in 2010, and just like the title of the movie “I Dream of Africa” regularly, if you have the opportunity I would recommend, no make that urge, you to go. If anyone is interested in additional information about this trip, they may contact me directly.
My next big trip is a seventeen-day hiking trip to the Andes Mountains in Peru, which will take place in June. We pass through this world only once and my philosophy is to enjoy it while we can.