We felt like cool characters in an action film as we jumped in and out of whirling helicopters, plied wide lagoons aboard swift speedboats, careened across the Kalahari on quad bikes with our heads turbaned like modern Laurence of Arabias, glided exotically along papyrus and water lily filled channels in dugout canoes, drove Land Rovers through large bodies of water in the Delta, and perched high atop elephant backs in search of lion on the savannah. It seemed like only a matter of time before James Bond himself would appear.
Indeed, there are so many reasons to love Botswana and our days in the Okavango Delta hit every single one of them.
Amazingly, the Delta is an immense wetland within a huge desert. And the Delta’s water is so clear that it’s possible to see all the way to the white Kalahari sands at the bottom. That is, if the view isn’t obscured by masses of pink water lily blossoms.
The trick to a fabulous Botswana safari is to include the right mix of water and land based camps, offering both seasonal and permanent water, plus activities by mokoros (dugout canoes), speedboats, land vehicles and even on foot. Helicopters and elephants, of course, push the experience over the top—we loved that!
Our stay at Vumbura Plains spoiled us from the start. Seasonal high water made it virtually impossible to drive, necessitating most jaunts via helicopter. Piloted, no less, by the beautiful Tilani…she of the long tanned limbs, sassy haircut and green eyes. Before Vumbura, she flew choppers for the Johannesburg police, tracking car thieves from the air. Wow.
Our first game drive was equally thrilling. We encountered a pack of three male lions “hunting” another group of lions encroaching on their territory—behavior so exceptional that even our guide was agog. These were lions with a mission!
They paced swiftly and soundlessly with noses to the ground, stalking, sniffing, spraying and tasting the air through half-opened, bared-teeth grimaces. We followed them for many miles before they disappeared into thick bush. As far as we know, they never found the marauding newcomers. (And we were relieved!)
A different kind of thrill? Elephant-back safaris at Vumbura’s famous sister, Abu Camp, in the western Delta. Cruising comfortably atop the largest animal in Africa while exploring a pristine wilderness threaded by crystal waters is utterly indescribable. Even more amazing is the chance to interact with the elephants. We learned their names, whispered in their ears as we walked and posed for photos with them at the end. Sasha and Tristan were in heaven, and we adults were mighty tickled too.
Yes, we’ve flown, driven, rode, helicoptered and speedboated. But my favorite form of transportation, above all, has been the mokoro dugout canoe. Being softly “poled” along papyrus and reed lined lagoons, channels, floodplains and waterways is absolutely dreamy.
The tranquility and peacefulness of a mokoro is extraordinary and the perspective —sitting so low on the water—is dramatic. Then there’s that wonderful watery scent that fills the senses and helps the eye take in the small details that often go unnoticed. On some days, all we saw was water lilies and tiny painted reed frogs. On other days, groups of red lechwe leaped through the shallow water, herds of elephants with baby calves waded along the shore, and raptors soared overhead. Imagine!
Botswana is one of Africa’s greatest success stories. It has exceptional wildlife conservation practices, one of the fastest growing economies in the world, an impressive track record of good governance, a stable middle class, high quality low volume tourism, and a forward thinking president.
And with that, we’ll sign off from Botswana where a Motswana citizen speaks the Setswana language to their fellow Batswana countrymen. Got that?