I was attracted by Botswana in September 2009 after seeing a “Close to Nature” ad to African countries from a Swiss company that organize tours for small groups of maximum 8 persons with local guides and staff. Having seen on a map the country’s various zones ranging from bush to desert to water landscape and the massive Okavango Delta, I embarked on my third trip to Africa.
Botswana is a flat, landlocked country in southern Africa, where the Kalahari Desert meets African rivers, and forests and wetland sprout amongst grasslands and savannas. We met our guide Johann in Windhoek, the capital and largest city of Namibia. For three weeks, he led seven Swiss participants and our organiser Monika plus 3 local staff who catered to the group and drove a heavy truck with our tents, kitchen equipment, food, fuel, and tools of all sorts etc.
Patient, efficient and responsive, Johann was a model person and guide, ensuring that we had the most amazing three weeks safari experience. He was an excellent driver of our strong Japanese safari car and shared his love, knowledge and respect of the wildlife, natural wilderness and its resources, from the smallest animal to bushes, trees and water.
Botswana offers a great infrastructure for ‘tented’ safari experiences, from precise maps, clean and good size sites for our tents, to firewood for our young and attractive female cook named Grace who struggled to rebuild her outdoor kitchen every 2-3 days. She never failed to offer delicious food with a smile, lighted lanterns and a warm campfire when we arrived hungry and thirsty at day’s end. Our tents were built by two boys - Daniel and Molefi – who made our beds, distributed the luggage, and set up a functioning toilet and bush shower with hot water.
Experiencing the natural wilderness with wild animals so close was unbelievable. We could hear the sounds of the wild at night while lying in our comfortable camping beds with only the solid fabric of our tents between us.
From day one, Johann taught us to go out of the tents carefully in the morning and to distinguish the footprints of camp visitors - lions, hyenas, badgers, etc - during the night.
We had a short stay with a San pygmy family and they showed us their talent in finding water and food in the middle of nowhere, using plants for healing health problems, and hunting small animals with handmade spears. I had many questions but getting answers were complicated. The San, also known as Bushmen, have lived as hunters and gatherers for over 20,000 years and believe that their years of living in harmony with the environment prove that their ways are ecologically sustainable. Since 1997, Human Rights organizations expressed huge concern when the Botswana government forcibly moved them to resettlement camps that offers them no chance to live off the land and some fear that the traditional Bushman culture has been reserved for tourists. The following days, we camped under giant baobab trees that provided some shade in the old Kalahari desert where it reached 40Celcius between 11:00am and 3:00 pm and was surprisingly cold at night. There was a great game to observe in Botswana – an abundance of elephants, giraffes, hippo, buffalo, zebra and wildebeest; the common lion and hyena; the occasional leopard, cheetah and wild dog; and the rare rhino. There was an incredible biodiversity of birds with the most spectacular colours and melodious cries. We watched the amazing sunrise before 6:00am while sitting on a stone hill with cups of hot tea.
We then visited Lekhubu, Moremi, Savute and Chobe parks, each day full of new sightings and sometimes rarely seen animals which Johan’s eagle-eyes spotted and showed us with endless patience. When a pangolin crossed slowly over the sandy piste some meters in front of our truck, we jumped out to see a strange looking animal, an “artichoke with legs which is also known as a scaly anteater”.
Our last stop was the Chobe National Park, the most biologically diverse with one of the greatest concentrations of game in all of Africa. We stayed at the most amazing camp on a small peninsula in the huge Okavango Delta. It was such a contrast to the Kalahari desert, with its four ecosystems and animal inhabitants.
The Chobe Riverfront’s shallow floodplains have buffaloes, hippos, antelopes or warthogs grazing and shore forests have baboons, elephants and impalas in residence and hundreds of bird species. The Savuti March is favoured by zebras, buffaloes, wildebeest, antelopes and giraffes after the rainy season which makes the grass sprout. The Linyanti swamp has a tropical character with large rain and lead wood trees favoured by Zebras, elephants, kudus, lions and hyenas from June to August. The area around Nogatsaa and Tchinga grow dense mopane, combretum and miombo trees that provide shade to antelopes, elephants, lions and leopards. It was overwhelming!
I flew home looking forward to showing my many wonderful pictures and sharing my Africa with my family.