Welcome back! After a couple of weeks off blogging, we are back to it hurray! Last time our trip had ended in Zambia, the African capital of extreme outdoor activities, where the thrill seekers amongst our group had their fill of adrenaline. This week we head to Botswana, the home of the Okavango Delta for some more safari adventures, but this time of a different kind.
We travel through Kasane, the gateway to Chobe National Park and set up our bush camp (wild camp) at Elephant Sands. Chobe is the third largest park in Botswana with the Kalahari being the largest followed by Gemsbok. Chobe is however the most diverse and has the largest concentration of wildlife. It is home to elephant, lion, buffalo, hippo and abundant birdlife, including the famous African fish eagle. We get back into safari mode and take an open vehicle game drive in the national park. During the game drive we see a recently killed elephant which was being pecked at by vultures. It turned into a bit of a science lesson with us asking lots of questions about death and circle of life in the natural world.
The Chobe River is a major watering spot for animals and we saw a wide variety of wildlife bathing and drinking in its waters including hippos and elephants. During the safari we also saw families of giraffe, sable and buffalo. The flood plains are the only place in Botswana where the puku antelope can be seen and when the river floods masses of birds flock to the area including spoonbills, ibis, various species of stork and other waterfowl.
After our land safari, we leave Elephant Sands and travel towards Maun where we spend 2 nights bush camping on the banks of the Okavango Delta, where we are looked after and supported by the Tswana Polers. The Tswana men were our safari guides during the day with the women of their families preparing the food and making things that they needed such as weaved fishing nets and bags etc that we could also buy from them. We wake at dawn to find fresh poo outside our tent- hippos have walked right past us during the night. We are taught to identify animals by their poo and how to track them out in the wild and more importantly how to keep ourselves safe should we have a close encounter. Talking about poo, we also have to poo out in the wild whilst bush camping. We prepare our own bush toilet by digging a deep hole in the ground behind some bushes some distance from the water so as to not risk polluting it. At the ‘entrance’ to the bush toilet we leave the spade and toilet rolls. If the spade is missing, we know someone is “on the toilet” and so we wait until they return. Sarah and I would tag team toileting. One of us would “keep watch” whilst the other “went”. We didn’t really have a plan for what would happen if a wild animal appeared whilst one of us was toileting. I think it would’ve been a case of scream loudly with everyone having to fend for themselves and hope for the best! It was extremely scary and I don’t think I’ve ever felt more vulnerable than when squatting over that hole out in the wild, hearing wild animals roar in the distance and rummage through the bushes nearer by. It certainly helped speed things up. I don’t think any of the guys lingered too long either reading newspapers or whatever else guys normally do on the toilet!?
The highlight of visiting Botswana for me, was seeing and experiencing the Okavango Delta. The Delta is a natural wetland spreading over 1.6million hectares and offers a perfect habitat for the many species of wildlife that roam freely there. The Okavango River rises in Cuito, Angola (to the north) and flows south, dividing repeatedly after crossing into Botswana to form an intricate floodplain of channels. Where deltas usually end at the sea, the Okavango is the only delta in the world that empties onto open land, flooding the Savanna. All in this part of the world is dependent on the water of the Okavango, plants, animals and humans alike. In 2014 it became the 1000th UNESCO world heritage site. We go on a water safari on the Delta, travelling by mokoro (dugout canoe) amongst the giant lily pads and tall grasses in search of resident wildlife. We reach a large open area of water where hippos have congregated. The other mokoros stay amongst the reeds to watch them at a safe distance. Our guide however thought we would enjoy getting closer and took us out towards the middle of the open water to see them. I was already stressed out however as there was a giant spider in the front of the canoe by my legs and I was trying not to freak out in case we fell into the water where we would then have to deal with much bigger more dangerous creatures- the hippos. Hippos are considered the most dangerous large land mammal in the world. They can become extremely aggressive when defending their territory or protecting their young and kill an estimated 500 people each year out in the wild, more than lions or elephants. They are pretty scary up close too! With large sharp teeth and weighing up to 2750kg, they can easily chomp or crush you to death! One hippo became very interested in us. It poked its eyes out of the water to take a look at us before disappearing beneath the surface. It then came out again but this time much closer. It did this repeatedly and it felt like something out of the movie Scream where the murderer walks ever so slowly towards you but somehow always catches you! We managed to retreat back into the reeds just in time and I got rid of the spider from the mokoro, who went on to walk on the water of the Delta!? I hate spiders! We then found a much quieter spot where we could relax and calmly watch the sunset.
Sarah and I were super classy as always and took a carton of red wine to drink whilst watching the sunset. It was needed after the stress caused by that spider and those hippos!
In the evenings the Tswana Poler’s families prepared food for us and we all sat together eating and sharing stories about this magical place. We turned the mokoros upside down and used them as tables. We sang and danced around the campfire feeling completely lost in the world but oh so content and at peace. Once in bed, we could hear the sounds of the wild African nightlife which was the perfect rhythmic and mesmerising lullaby needed to get us off to sleep.
Once our time in the Delta came to and end, we left Maun and made our way via Ghanzi, which skirts the Kalahari Desert to the Border of Namibia. There, we met the San people also known as Bushmen; indigenous people of Southern Africa who have lived in this area for tens of thousands of years. They are largely hunter-gatherer peoples that are well known for their profound connection to the earth and natural world. We go on a guided bush walk (walking safari) for a cultural experience and insight into these ancient people’s way of life. We learn how they work with nature and manage the renewable resources found in their natural surroundings without damaging the fragile balance of this ecosystem – something we could all learn from. One of the great things about travelling with Acacia Africa is that the tours we go on provide the local people with a sustainable source of income which helps protect their culture and way of life as well as being an eco friendly way of travelling. It always felt like us being there was making a positive difference to the lives of local people and wildlife. During our bush walk we come across all kinds of wildlife, my favourites being the giraffes, especially the babies!! I felt very vulnerable walking in the wilderness of Africa, but the Bushmen kept us safe and taught us to regulate our emotions as “animals can sense fear”. We needed to manage our behaviour and emotions in order to complete the walk successfully and safely. An extreme example of equine therapy perhaps? With all the exposure to wildlife during my travels in Africa (particularly spiders) I was certainly learning ways of managing my fears and anxieties better.
We also visited the Khama Rhino sanctuary, a community based wildlife project covering 8585 hectares of the Kalahari. It was established in 1992 with the aims of supporting the protection of rhinos, restoring the area which had previously been full of wildlife to its previous natural state and providing economic benefits to the local community through eco tourism and the sustainable use of natural resources. It is now home to 30 white and 4 black rhino as well as over 30 other species including the African rock Python and over 230 species of birds. We went on a game drive through the sanctuary where we saw loads of rhinos, up close. They seemed to me such peaceful creatures. It was incredible to see the size of some of their horns, knowing that these were something they would and could be killed for. The animals within the sanctuary are protected from poachers through regular anti-poaching patrols carried out by rangers and the Botswana Defense Force. The money we spent there supported rhino breeding which has helped bring back rhino species from the brink of extinction. They have relocated a total of 16 rhinos across the country from a founder population of just 4! The long term goal of the sanctuary is to let rhinos safely breed naturally within its borders and reintroduce them into their wild, natural habitat.
Following a busy few days out in the wild and learning and playing an important part in protecting local cultures and wildlife, we head to our next camp for quite a different experience. Our overland group splits off at this point. Most of those in our group are continuing to Cape Town in South Africa where amongst other incredible experiences, they can opt in for a cage dive with Great White Sharks! Then they travel onto Namibia where they get to sand board!! Sarah and I had run out of money by this stage and were unable to change our flights to be able to continue on the trip, something we were both gutted about and really regret now. We said a very sad goodbye to our squad- we’d all become so close and felt like family. Our hearts broke a little bit and we cried.
When one thing ends however, another begins and we joined a new tour heading towards Johannesburg. We have 1 last night in Botswana at Camp Itumela with our new crew and as it was one of the girl’s birthdays,, of course we had to party! The bar men were incredible fun and got us doing “animal shots” where we had to act like the animal they named and find a way to drink our shots hands free. My fav and the funniest was definitely the croc-shot. Most of us rolled about on the floor like idiots and grabbed the shot with our mouths- it was a sight to behold! Sarah and I know how to get a party going, having been on the halls committee at university together planning freshers week and other student events, so we rustled up a storm of a night! The bar men loved us saying they had never had so many people dancing there before. We found some random wigs we decided to wear, made friends with an inflatable kangaroo, danced on the bar like something out of Coyote Ugly and danced salsa until the sun came up.
Still wide awake and full of energy, Sarah and I took down our tent, having not slept in it that night and boarded our truck for our final long distance journey from Botswana to Johannesburg in South Africa. We made the most of the journey by napping, after which the hangover from hell kicked in. Being stuck on an overland truck whilst hungover, on what felt like an endless drive was not fun, but we survived. Come back next week for the final Chapter of our wild camping adventures in South Africa where we learn about Nelson Mandela and the experience of black people in the country during the apartheid.
To read the previous blogs in this series follow the links below;
Chapter 1– Kenyan safaris and the circle of life.
Chapter 2– Safaris in the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater and reflecting on Zanzibar’s dark history.
Chapter 3– Going wild at Lake Malawi.
Chapter 4– Zambia, the African capital of extreme outdoor activities.
Chapter 6- Coming soon!
If you’re interested in booking this or a similar trip with Acacia Africa, check out their web page here.