Botswana, A Pot Of Gold
The Botswana that I had known was the area just north of the Limpopo River that marks the border that divides Botswana and South Africa. Little did I know of what lay further north, the paradise of the Okavango Delta, the open plains and marshes of Savute and the glorious Chobe River that teems with the colossuses of the water world.
With my group of five including a fantastically intrepid 82 year old, frail in body but iron-willed in mind, we gathered in the small town of Maun at Riley’s hotel, caught in a time warp of old school charm. Hanging from a portion of the thatched roof of the open-air main building clung a colony of fruit bats, our first introduction to the wildlife of Botswana.
Once on the road the following day, driven in the Land Cruiser by our guide Patrick, we headed for the Moremi game reserve, and it wasn’t long before our first elephant thundered across the road.
Once in the reserve (and this did take all of 5 hours on a sand road of some impressive roller coaster bumps) we soon arrived at our tented camp – greeted by an open fire surrounded by awaiting camp chairs and the drinks table tinkling with gin and tonics an ice. Hurrah!
Our chef called GB was spectacularly brilliant. All our meals were cooked on coals and as one of our guests said ‘you would be lucky to eat this food in one of the best London restaurants!’
Our tents or more specifically our beds were incredibly comfortable but we were soon made to hop out of them before sunrise to the sound of the camp staff filling our water basins with hot water. Game viewing demands leaving the camp as the sun rises and our three days in Moremi were worth it.
The game sightings were out of this world, brilliantly spotted by Patrick. For example he heard the cracking of bones and the low growling of a male lion and sure enough quite some way off we found a pride of lions that had just pulled down a kudu buck. We remained with them for an hour with not one other vehicle in sight.
On another occasion Patrick heard the alarm calls of a flock of weavers in an acacia tree. Leaving the vehicle, he soon found a python hidden amongst the branches. With trepidation we followed him!
Camping takes you into the heart of Africa. As you lie in your tent and listen to the calls of lion and wild dogs in the not too far distance or look at the footmarks of the hyena in the camp at breakfast – it stirs the soul!
Our next three nights were spent at Kwai Lodge which is superb in its simplicity. A permanent lodge under canvas and thatch with connecting boardwalks. The game sploshing in the Delta, hippos, crocs, water buck, lechwe antelope and elephants was a sight to behold and we continuously chanted ‘you can never see enough elephants!’. We also saw lion and leopard and the rarest of sightings the Kwai African wild dogs! A highlight for me was a ‘mokoro’ ride on one of the water channels, our ‘pole man’ keeping a gimlet eye on the elephants and hippos nearby.
Scrubbed and clean we flew to Savute which took all of 20 minutes. We enjoyed another three nights of camping with the marvellous camp staff and cordon bleu chef GB. Savute has open plains and sure enough we spotted two cheetah. Summer temperatures were rising and next year we are planning Botswana in August to catch the milder temperatures.
Bidding Savute farewell we drove onto Kasane to Chobe River Lodge owned by our friend Guts Swanepoel. Guts has travelled with us to the Galapagos, Arctic and Antarctica and we had heard so much about the Chobe river. It surpassed our expectations! Nothing prepares you for its magnificence!
All our excursions were spent on the river and we were given professional cameras (and professional guidance) with the generous promise of taking home the memory card. We surprised ourselves with the photos we took but then of course how often do you find yourself a stone’s throw from a herd of 50 elephants and watch them swim across the Chobe, the babies holding onto their mothers’ tails for buoyancy! How often would you see a gathering of crocodiles feeding off a dead elephant or the jacana bird tripping across the water lily pads like a ballerina.
The Lodge was lovely and the staff delightful but we soon had to bid farewell and cross the border to Zimbabwe, our African Odyssey was coming to an end. We had one last night at the stunning Victoria Falls Hotel and a chance to see one of the greatest wonders of the world – the Victoria Falls! A rainbow streaked across the sky and we stood enchanted by Stanley Livingstone’s discovery. We knew there was a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow – Africa and that we would be back next year! August cannot come soon enough.