The Kalahari desert covers about 70% of the land in this southern African country providing amazing vistas and a great variety of wildlife. Travelers are attracted by the opportunity to see big game including lions, hippopotamus and elephants as well as a variety of aquatic birds.
Most travelers arrive at the Gabarone airport in the south east part of the country, on the border with South Africa or come in by road on overland excursions. The former British colony has a strong economy based on tourism, diamond mining and manufacturing. English is one of two official language along with Tswana.
Okavango Delta, “the world’s largest inland delta”
Not an easy area to reach, the Okavango delta in northwest Botswana is worth the effort to visit because of the concentration of wildlife on land and water. The delta is dotted with small islands that provide dry ground for humans and animals.On walks we saw many hippos and elephants as well as a whole lot of birds. In fact, you couldn’t turn around without another group of hippos keeping an eye on us and we on them!The highlight of our trip to Botswana was an excursion by Mokoro canoe, a traditional craft that carried us deep into the delta where there are no roads. The overland tour company we used, Nomad, contracted with the Okavango Polers Trust to take us to an overnight camp on an island in the delta. The Trust is made up of locals and all of the money stays in the community.While the canoes are not longer made of wood (they are now fiberglass) everything else about the experience was authentic.We floated for several hours, two passengers to a canoe, reclining our bodies below the water line. Our pole man moved us along by leaning his entire weight on a long wooden stick and pushing off of the bottom of the delta. We were surrounded by tall reeds and water lilies floating on three or four feet of water.
We came eye to eye with groups of hippos and one of the animals, apparently uncomfortable with our nearness, charged us in the water. They are a lot quicker than you might imagine and our pole men never moved so fast to get out of the way. We got such a rush from the experience and we could only imagine the level of adrenaline in our pole men as they pushed us out of danger. Most people don’t know this, but hippos are considered the most aggressive animal in Africa and kill more humans than all of the others.
We set up tents on the island, made dinner over a camp fire and someone dug a bush toilet. After an evening of star gazing, most people went to bed pretty early. With all of the snoring going on, I was surprised to hear that many people, including our guide George, heard lions nearby that night. What they heard was a sawing noise which, we were told, is the sound lions make at night.
The next day we visited a village but the local tribesman who acted as our guide had never done this before and had no idea what travelers wanted to see. We ended up at the “place where the dead people are staying” where we photographed cows walking through the cemetery.
Chobe National Park
Also in northwest Botswana, Chobe is just as famous for its concentrations of wildlife as is the Okavanga Delta. The Chobe river attracts elephants, hippos, water monitors (look like huge iguanas), crocodiles and many of the 450 bird species living in the national park.We saw a few baboons which had already become our favorite primates after our month of working on a baboon preserve in South Africa. Funnily enough, this made us the experts in our group. At least we were able to interpret what the monkeys were on about.On a late afternoon cruise on the Zambezi River (which eventually flows over Victoria Falls), we saw reptiles and birds including cranes, egrets, storks and herons.A large group of buffalos lived on the river banks separate from their herd and would stay there until they died. Apparently, they do this so that they don’t slow down the younger members of the herd in their hunt for food and survival. It was like a old-age home for old buffalos — but at least it was their own choice when they went there!Our overland truck took us to a campground that night where we enjoyed the first showers and regular toilet facilities of several days.
Sometimes the humans provided the most entertainment as a bunch of young twenty-somethings preened and prettied themselves for the usual mating rituals. Whether or not there was any mating going on, there certainly was a lot of work in trying to make it happen. Where else do you see young women fixing their hair, putting on make up and pretty little dresses — at a bush camp?!?
Chobe National Park offers camping facilities at Ihaha, Savuti and Linyanti. Four-wheel vehicles are needed to cross the park as the dirt roads are pretty rough. The nearest towns are Maun and Kasane, the last places to get food, drink and gas.
The names of the currency are the local dialect words for rain (dollar) and raindrops (cents). This poetic way of expressing the costs of things illuminates the importance of both rain and money for survival in the African country.
Nomad Tours is the overland company we used to travel in Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe: http://www.nomadtours.co.za/index.html
Republic of Botswana: Africa.