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Botswana

The Delta, dust and donkeys

sunny 15 °C

From 26 July to 1 August, we spend six nights camping – yes, camping!! – our way across Botswana. Stops en route include Chobe National Park, the Okavango Delta, and the Kalahari. After our tremendous experience in Kenya, it has to be said that the safari element was a little disappointing, with the exception of our scenic flight over the Okavango Delta (more on that later!). The camping might have been more fun if it hadn’t been so cold, with temperatures hovering around freezing on several occasions. With temperatures in the mid thirties in the middle of the day, it was a contrast I wasn’t quite ready for! Luckily, we’d packed some cold weather gear for Tibet, so we didn’t (quite) freeze!

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Botswana is about the size of France or Texas, with a population of less than 2 million. Though it is widely referred to as one of Africa’s success stories, we didn’t see much evidence of this on our trip. Local folklore includes the fact that the residents of Maun opted for a glorious sports stadium that is used maybe half a dozen times a year, rather than a state-of-the-art hospital. And talking of hospitals, we did see one massive, brand-spanking-new hospital today just as we are driving out of Botswana that has been fully funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, but that is (according to our guide) waiting for enough qualified local staff before it can open. Botswana did, however, live up to its reputation as the dust bowl of Africa. We drove more than 2000 kilometers across the country; frankly it was quite dull, with only the occasional group of ostrich or cows doodling across the road to break the monotony. Tuck shops made from corrugated steel, interspersed with mostly round one-room houses ranging from straw and mud to concrete. Fences are a big thing here. Sometimes it wasn’t clear what exactly what was being fenced off, and even the most run-down of huts could have an almost military grade fence around it. On the other hand, we were able to sleep for several hours during the long drives, which partially made up for the cold, sleepless nights! While the national animal is the zebra, we think it should be the donkey as we saw far, far more of those during our time in country.

Of interest (at least to this serial soda drinker!), Botswana serves its soft drinks and beer in cans, not bottles like Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe. I missed my coke in a well-used, recycled glass bottle, but more importantly the difference on the landscape is palpable. Of course, we saw litter in the bottle countries, but not on the scale of the mountains of empty tins we saw in Botswana. So prolific are the tins that they are now incorporated into some buildings and we saw many examples of the round houses with walls of mud and empty aluminium tins!

Chobe was a highlight and – during our one brief game drive – we saw a herd of elephant drinking at a watering hole which deserves to be added to our list of best safari experiences. We also chanced upon our second leopard sleeping up a tree, which is always a privilege to see.

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After a journey into the Okavango in a traditional dug out wooden canoe or ‘mukoro’, we spent two nights camping in the Okavango Delta. Okavango is the largest in-land delta in the world formed by the annual flooding of Angola’s Cuando river, which results in a beautiful mosaic of channels and lagoons, and our camp was on one of the many ‘islands’ that result. A four hour walking safari can best be described as ‘crunchy’ as we marched over very dry grass or sand, and yielded a single sighting of an elephant and a few zebra. Nonetheless, it was interesting to learn a little about the flora and fauna (and countless pooh specimens – like fresh male giraffe dung!) and tracking from our local guide Sam, even if he did insist on referring to Palm trees as Plum trees….

As you would expect, Lloyd took to poling the mokoro immediately and was soon soaring about with ease. As for me, well I could pole in a perfect circle all day long, but couldn’t quite master staying in a straight line, much to the frustration of my local teacher (who I think was fearful I would be successful only in getting us both thrown in)!

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It wasn’t until we packed up our tents and were poled back to base camp in Maun that we were able to truly understand the scale of the Delta area. After a much needed shower, we went on a scenic flight over the Delta. I enjoyed the first ten minutes or so, but then succumbed to travel sickness – let’s just say that our young pilot was enjoying showcasing his sharp turn and swooping skills which left me a little worse for wear and clutching a sick bag for dear life by the time we landed. Lloyd was, of course, in his element and even spotted some lions! I didn’t see the lions, but stole glances of elephants, giraffe, zebra and hippos. Anyway, I’m glad we have some photos from the plane, as there’s no way I could do it justice in words.

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Wrapping up our Botswana experience, we spent our last night at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary where the black rhino remained elusive, but where we saw two more white rhino. After a pleasant evening around a campfire, and then an unpleasant night on the ground, we were pleased to be packing up the tents for the last time this morning, headed for Johannesburg where we will spend the night before flying to Cape Town tomorrow morning. We have already entered South Africa (another stamp in the passport!!) where we were welcomed by the immigration officer (that’s a trip first!) , and are looking forward to an extended shower and good meal tonight.

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Posted by jacquiedro 21:03 Archived in Botswana Tagged round_the_world

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