Walter Smith: Botswana Travel Expert
After nine months of planning, and much anticipation, the day arrived for the departure of my wife, Liza and I, with five friends in tow, to Botswana, for the holiday of a lifetime. We flew courtesy of Air Botswana from Johannesburg to the north eastern corner of Botswana at Kasane on the Chobe River.
The flight took us over the Makgadikgadi Pans, the world's largest salt pans, before the splendour of the Chobe floodplains came into view for the first time. Scattered herds of elephant and large pods of hippo were visible from the air just before we landed.
At Kasane, after completing the customary immigration procedures, we were met by a Desert and Delta Safaris representative who transferred us to our first stop, the famous Chobe Game Lodge. It was here that Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor tied the knot for the second time some decades ago, and where we would stay for two nights.
Upon arrival at Chobe Game Lodge we were welcomed by our hostess Maggie, who was there to make sure we were comfortable and organize all our activities throughout our stay at the lodge. During the next two days we explored the area on game drives and boats guided by very knowledgeable guides.
I have special memories of being on the boat at sunset on the second evening: 'Chobe River - a herd of elephant was swimming across the river with the setting sun throwing brilliant golden light on them as they passed in front of us.
On the bank the babies provided fantastic entertainment as they played like mischievous children in the dust. I can now only imagine how impressive it must have been for Courteney Selous, a pioneer explorer, to have camped along this river at a time when there were no roads, vehicles, boats or leisure activities - but rather, hard walking and close encounters with the ancestors of the beautiful herd that we were witnessing.'
On the game drives we saw a great variety of animals ranging from kudu, sable antelope, impala, giraffe and baboon, to the shy Chobe bushbuck and the unique puku antelope which inhabit the floodplains of the Chobe. We also saw a herd of about 400 buffalo kicking up dust with the usual cattle egrets and oxpeckers in tow.
On the boat cruises we saw numerous hippopotamus, crocodile and water monitors. The birding was unbelievable. Mealtimes were a gastronomic experience!!! The first night's dinner was served under a starlit sky on the top terrace of the lodge.
There was a selection of starters, from Greek salads to butternut soup, main courses of Kingklip and lemon or herb butter sauces to grilled filet steak with pepper or mushroom sauce finished off with a selection of deserts.
Getting from one area to another in Botswana is an experience in itself. A variety of small aircraft are used from one airstrip to another. The views of the Botswana bush, dotted with perennial pans and linked by well trodden game paths, are spectacular from these low flying bush planes.
We could easily identify elephant, giraffe, lion and herds of buffalo from the air. Savute was a special experience. We saw two cheetahs that had killed, and were eating an ostrich. We saw leopard, lions, and elephant, but the highlight for me were the wild dog
'Savuti:. .. flashes of mottled, streamlined bodies chasing impala through the bush. ... moving fast. .... we lose them. .. there they are. .... on an impala kill.' As they were finishing up the carcass, a baboon came walking along and the entire pack jumped up and started chasing the baboon (a huge male).
The baboon jumped up into a dry tree and then retaliated by baring its teeth and barking, at which time the dogs all scattered in different directions. The dogs were all yelping and quickly re-grouped at the same time as the rest of the baboon troop arrived.
There was an orchestra of barks, yelps and screams that lasted for about ten minutes. This whole experience was overwhelming especially for Liza, who had never seen wild dogs before.
Our guide, Eddie, was so passionate about Savute that it rubbed off on everyone in the group. On one of the evenings, we were delightfully entertained by the Savute Safari Lodge Choir and could not stop singing 'beautiful a Savute' - And I shall never forget, beautiful a Savute!!!' for the rest of the trip.
It was extra special for me to observe Melisa, my darling little sister, very closely as she was introduced to a completely new world. She has never had the opportunity to travel with me and I think that she was quite overwhelmed with the information overload that came her way at stages through the trip. I also noticed that she has never been introduced to the wilderness in a manner that Botswana offers it to the visitor.She showed incredible interest in absolutely everything that crossed her path and by the time we arrived at Savute (day 3) she spent every possible free moment absorbing all the birds, plants, animals, sights and sounds that it had her exhausted by 08h30 at night. I gave her a bird book as a gift and if her eyes weren't 'oogling' at some feathered friend through the bino's, they were busy looking up facts and figures in the book. I know that this visit to Botswana was a life changing experience for her and it was beautiful watching it happen.
The Botswana sunsets are spectacular and we always made sure that we were in a special spot to absorb the golden glow as it turned to red and orange through shades of purple. These moments also gave us opportunity to take in the sounds of the birds finishing off their feeding frenzy before the curtain call that is the night. I loved these moments.
On our fifth day in Botswana we moved from Savute to the Xaxanaka area of Moremi where we spent the time exploring the Xaxanaka area whilst enjoying the wonderful facilities and accommodation at Camp Moremi.
We were all awed by the beauty of the Xaxanaka landscapes and natural forests. We also managed to increase the bird count substantially and have special memories of watching a small herd of red lechwe splashing through the shallow water at Dead Tree Island at sunset.
The three hour boat journey from Camp Moremi to Camp Okavango took us through the serpentine channels of the Okavango Delta - another truly sensational experience. Camp Okavango provided a range of activities from walks, boat trips, mokoro (dugout canoe) to a bit of fishing.
On the morning walk we had the opportunity to remove our shoes and splash through the floodplains between the islands. We all loved that freedom. The sunset mokoro trip was a highlight as well as the early morning tranquility of the fishing excursion on our last day.
The accommodation at all the lodges was first class and the hospitality and fine food that went with this, left everyone mind-blown. The perfect cherry on the top of a beautiful cake!! Our arrangements all went off like clock work and there was not a single hitch along the way.
As a result, I am convinced that there are seven very satisfied, if not close to speechless, people who have returned to their normal lives with the similar feeling that one has after waking up after a vivid and glorious dream. I am satisfied!!!!!!!