4 – 10 August 2010, Botswana
From Windhoek, Namibia we pointed our overland truck east and drove 500 kilometers into Botswana, a landlocked country in the middle of southern Africa. Since gaining its independence from Britain in 1966 Botswana has emerged as one of Africa’s development success stories. Botswana is considered one of the least corrupt countries in Africa, with a growing economy based on mining and tourism.
We arrived at our campground and the next morning met a small group of San people, the indigenous hunter-gatherers of southern Africa. Although they now work on a farm affiliated with the camp, they’ve retained some of their culture and during an hour long walk they showed us plants used as part of their traditional medicine. After the walk we piled back into the truck and drove another 300 kilometers northwest to the Okavango Delta, the world’s largest inland delta. We left the truck behind and loaded our gear into traditional dugout canoes for an overnight trip into the delta.
The Okavango Delta is home to a rich variety of wildlife, and although we saw only a few elephants and a herd of zebra our time in the delta probably took us further into the wilderness than anywhere else in Africa. Our guides used long poles to push their canoes, choosing a route through the shallows to preclude attacks by hippos submerged and hidden in deeper waters. Hippos are herbivores, emerging from the water to eat grass at night, but are also one of the most dangerous animals in Africa and are known to attack without provocation. Our primitive island camp had no fences or boundaries, and there were no lights or vehicles to frighten the animals. Our guides were adamant that we not stray from the camp alone or leave our tents during the night. A group of three adventurers, including your fearless correspondent, ignored this advice and ventured from the campfire after hearing noises in the bush. We spent 30 minutes shining our headlamps in the direction of crashing tree branches and other unidentifiable noises before scurrying back to camp. We were probably hearing an elephant – during a guided walk the following morning we stepped around several massive piles of dung before coming across a lone bull.
Another long day of driving brought us to Chobe National Park. The next morning we woke before sunrise and set out for our first game drive, wrapped in our sleeping bags to stay warm in the open air safari vehicle. Chobe is particularly known for its population of 120,000 elephants, and as the sky brightened their impact on the park was obvious. Well-worn paths crisscrossed the landscape, many of the trees were stripped of leaves, and some smaller vegetation was trampled. During the morning game drive we saw many elephants as well as gazelle, giraffes, baboons, warthogs, and hippos. We spotted our first Cape buffalo, the fourth check mark on our list of Africa’s “Big Five”. Cape buffalo are ironically another of Africa’s most dangerous animals; for someone from The Dairy State the prospect of being charged and gored by a cow seems rather strange. The term Big Five was coined by white hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals to hunt in Africa. We’d seen elephants, rhinoceros, and lions in Namibia’s Etosha National Park. Only the leopard remained. After the game drive we returned to the camp for a few hours of rest, and then boarded a boat for game viewing from the Chobe River. We saw more of the same animals as in the morning, as well as crocodiles and many more hippos.
The next morning we once again pried ourselves out of bed before sunrise, ate a quick breakfast, and climbed into the truck for the drive to the Zambia border. The Okavango Delta was the highlight of our six days in Botswana. We didn’t see as many animals as in Etosha or Chobe, but the delta offered a wilder yet also more relaxing experience. During our game drives we peered out from the relative safety of a safari truck and sometimes had to jostle with other vehicles for the best viewing position. In the Okavango we glided along inches above the water and slept with only a thin layer of canvas between ourselves and the wilderness. We were alone, and after our campfire died down and we’d retired to our tents, the only sounds were of the unseen beasts roaming the bush.