Of all the places I have been in Botswana, the destination that has been the most exhilarating for me has been the Okavango Delta. Simply looking at the pictures I took there makes me want to drop everything and go again. The Delta is a natural wild ecosystem supported by the Okavango river that regularly floods the area every year. This water and area supports a wide range of wild animals that are one of Botswana’s biggest tourist attractions. Now this may not sound groundbreaking given that Botswana (and Africa) has a plethora of places one could camp and see animals, even I was particularly nonchalant about this trip. After all, how much fun could camping in the bush during winter possibly be?
The journey there was exhausting to put it mildly. I, together with a group of exchange students I was chaperoning, traveled 10 hours from Gaborone to Maun on a hired bus. 10 hours on a luxury coach is awful, let alone 10 hours in a small weirdly designed minibus. There’s a special place in hell for the designer of the Mercedes minibus, the seats were extremely uncomfortable!
We arrived at our lodge in Maun just after sunset and were welcomed by two guides from Safari Life Africa. Various Safari companies offer mobile camping around the Delta which is a flexible and comfortable way to experience the environment. One of the frequented areas of the Delta is Khwai community area which borders the Moremi game reserve located on the eastern side of the Delta. Along with our 2 guides came 2 safari trucks, tents, food, drinks, ablution facilities and a campsite staff of 3.
The following day, we had a lovely breakfast and gathered our belongings to get ready for our trip into the bush.
Our guides told us the drive would be a casual 3 hours though they neglected to mention that at 60km/h sitting in the back of a safari truck feels like you’re in a formula 1 car. The cold wind was trying to rip the skin off our faces throughout the first hour. We were so thankful when we reached the dust road desperate for relief from the wind because the guide would have to slow down. However, we were then acquainted with the discomfort of the uneven ridged dust road and bounced around for another hour.
When we finally entered the game reserve area the ride became pleasant because we occasionally stopped to see passing animals. Over the course of the drive the landscape had changed drastically, going from a tame somewhat organised countryside to a wild distressed bush. I suddenly felt like a sardine in an ocean. Some trees stood tall, others were broken and mangled – the work of elephants no doubt, the grass grew with no restrain and the animals roamed carelessly across the road apathetic to our presence.
The campsite area looked much like a page out of a wildlife magazine. Two massive trees shaded our tents and a beautifully set long camping table waited to accommodate us for lunch. We greeted our campsite staff and began to sort ourselves out.
Tents had to be allocated, bags offloaded, campsite living guidelines dictated and our 4 day schedule outlined. We were to wake up at 5:30am, have breakfast by the camp fire, after which a 5 hour morning game drive would commence at 6:30am. Being winter, mornings were very cold so blankets would be provided for the drive. During the drive, a random picturesque location was chosen by the guide for mid morning tea and snacks.
Upon returning to the campsite just before midday, lunch would be served. After lunch, warm water would be provided for those who wished to take a quick shower under the hot afternoon sun. One could also spend some time reading or taking a nap or simply lazing in the sun enjoying the peace and quiet of the environment. There is no phone network in the area (aside from specific spots known by the guides) and charging facilities for electronic devices were to be used sparingly.
After high tea at 3:30pm, we’d embark on another game drive which would end around 7pm. The evening part of the drive was an opportunity to spot some nocturnal animals that were just starting their night. The best part of the afternoon drive was stopping for sundowners by one of the many river channels while the sun set. When returning to the campsite, we’d be greeted with a fire and served dinner about 30 minutes later. Spending the evening by the fire sharing stories and sipping a bottle of cider, beer or a cup of tea/coffee became the perfect way to end the day.
In part 2 of the post I will share some of our escapades in the bush including watching an elephant fart, learning how to steer a mokoro and witnessing a picturesque watering hole scene. Stay tuned….!