Part Two: Botswana


Our camp was located in the heart of the Selinda Spillway, a section of the Okavango Delta, located on the Northwestern border of Botswana and Namibia.  The setting was truly remote; the nearest civilization was over 60 km away, and there was no internet connection to the outside world.  Both Jeff and Jackie were initially unsettled by the lack of technology and inability to stay connected, but after a day or so, we all found a very comfortable routine.  We were actually more “connected” as we fell into the habit of reading, napping, and dare I say it, talking to one another!

The schedule of a safari is quite simple.  Awake at 5:45 and eat a light meal by the campfire.  Go explore for about four hours in the wilderness in a vehicle equipped to forge deep streams, drive through very tall grasses, and grind along uneven terrain.  Return at 11:00 for a proper brunch.  Retreat for siesta until High Tea at 4:00.  Then back into the wilderness until the darkness falls around 7:00.  Dinner at 8:00.  Drinks by the campfire.  Bed at 10:00.  Basically, you eat, then sit, then eat, then nap, then eat, then sit, then eat, then sleep!  This might explain why after three days I began to identify with the resident hippos!

Humongous hippos made a nightly pilgrimage from the waterway to the grassy ground just feet beyond our front porch.  Their distinctive deep grunts punctuated every evening just as the many birds’ cacophonous calls announced each new morning.  Two of my favorite birds were the beautifully photogenic Lilac Breasted Roller (see pic) and the distinctive Red Billed Hornbill and Yellow Billed Hornbill, referred to by the locals as the flying chili pepper and flying banana!  There was never a silent moment in the camp as we were serenaded with a constant symphony of sounds from the bush.

Jackie found the “concert” unnerving and announced that she was not staying.  “There are animals here that can kill me.  I don’t want to die!”  Our guide did not help matters by explaining that wildlife freely prowls under the cover of darkness.  While we were in camp, an elephant plundered through, barely squeezing past one of the tents and leaving trampled branches in its wake.  Hyenas created havoc in the kitchen after a naughty nocturnal prowl.  Jeff and I split up to bunk with each of the girls on the first night, but by the second one, Jackie had decided she could live with the grunts of the hippos, the chirp of the frogs, and the nocturnal thrashing of who knows what in the bushes!

The safari experience is very real here.  This was not a contained game reserve where animals are easily sighted and seem to pose for pictures.  Instead, it was a swath of over 320,000 acres of concession land granted by the government for conservation.  Each drive was unique, and we were never sure of what we would discover. One day, we drove over two hours to locate a “kill”.  A pride of lions had taken down a large cape buffalo the night before, and we watched the hungry lions feast, burying their heads greedily into the buffalo carcass.  Jackie sought refuge in the back of the jeep, worried the hungry lions would find her delicious as well!  Vigilant vultures perched patiently  above in the trees, lurking and waiting for their chance to pick at the remains.  Hyenas were not far off as we noted their tracks along the dirt pathways.

In contrast to this violent scene, we encountered a lazy pack of wild dogs during their afternoon siesta.  I particularly liked the one dog who flipped on to her back, feet suspended above, head lolling lazily — exactly the same pose Lucy strikes when most relaxed!

Not all animals were this relaxed by our presence, and we angered our share of wildlife who responded with threatening displays of ferocity.  When we surprised a herd of elephants, one young female with a baby was visibly agitated by our intrusion.  She started angrily flapping her ears and stomping her feet with purpose.  She then turned directly on us and fiercely trumpeted in anger.  We all sat motionless as our guide revved the engine in weak response to her strident trumpet and beat against the truck to detract the angry elephant.  The giant receded, and we gunned it out of harm’s way.

Despite many warnings to stay still and seated in the vehicle, Jeff moved about to better observe a pride of lions.  One feisty lioness got quite bothered by Jeff’s antics and came directly over to the vehicle, rubbing her powerful feline body along the side of the truck and locking her searing stare directly at Jeff.   She then retreated out of view behind the truck, trapping us between herself and another lion in front.  Our guide found an escape route, but both lions ran behind us briefly, making all our hearts pound furiously.  Jeff was rooted in his seat after that!

We ventured into the spillway water system to fish and observe the hippos more closely.  One hippo did not like us encroaching on his territory and flashed his huge jaws in threatening display.  I got nervous when another young male created a mini tidal wave by swimming furiously upon our arrival.  We quickly retreated to calmer waters.

Our camp was filled with an interesting assortment of people:  an Irish couple in their later years, English honeymooners, a Swedish family with children the same ages as Jackie and Katie, and a pair of wildlife photographers from Belgium.  Dinner conversations were fascinating as we dined al fresco on gourmet food cooked by a campfire and were serenaded by the lively chorus of chirping frogs in the reeds.

Our last evening ended with a surprise Bush Barbeque.  Our hosts built a campfire, hung lanterns in trees, and set up a long dining table in a clearing.  Baboons spied from the treetops and elephants crashed through the surrounding forest as we dined under the canopy of stars and were illuminated by a magnificent full moon that shone above like a chandelier in the sky.

Sounds idyllic, and yet…

Katie wasn’t feeling well and her sickness cast a bit of a pall over the impromptu celebration.  We thought it might be motion sickness from the bumpy safari trek.  Tea extracted from bitter ginger root was brought to settle her stomach, but the local remedy had the opposite effect.  We exited early, just in time for Katie to do her best Linda Blair imitation from the Exorcist – I half expected her head to do a 360 spin!  At least her violent outburst was short-lived and did not linger into morning.

By the last day, we had seen giraffes munch on trees, baboons frolic on branches, hippos wade in water, elephants march en masse, wildebeest stand guard, lions feast and prowl, warthogs wander, impala and kudu prance, guinea hen haphazardly hop, ostriches awkwardly run…

…only one animal eluded us, the leopard.  On our last drive, I was thrilled when our guide spotted fresh leopard tracks, but I assumed they would lead to a dead end.  As luck would have it, we encountered a female cub hidden in the tall grasses, seeking cover while her mother hunted.  It was remarkable to see how quickly these animals camouflage themselves.  We were lucky to catch several clear views of her in the clearing and were amazed at her grace and power.

Satisfied that we had “seen it all”, we hugged goodbye to the staff, left our home in the wild, and got ready for another day of flying.  We boarded a 14 seater and headed to Maun in the southern part Botswana.  We stopped once to pick up other passengers at other reserves.  The ride was bumpy and perilous once again, but we managed to make it to Maun where we boarded a proper plane to complete our journey to Johannesburg, South Africa.  We checked into a hotel at the airport and gratefully collapsed onto our beds to enjoy the modern amenities of bright electric lights, internet connection, and TV.

Ironically, it was in this international city of Jo-burg, ensconced in civilization, that we had our worst meal of the vacation.  When our dinner in the hotel restaurant arrived, it was so inedible that we sent it back to the kitchen and retired with empty stomachs.  We had fared better in the bush with only a campfire, basic pots and pans, and Franklin the guinea hen to provide eggs!  We nodded off quickly surrounded at last by the sound of silence.

The final journey to Mozambique awaited in the morning.

To be continued…


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