Botswana Travel story

Travelling with Atelier Africa Safaris, travel story:

Botswana: To the rhythm of the river

Although located in the middle of the Kalahari desert, the Okavango delta in Botswana
is home to a wide range of animal species due to annual flooding. That makes this area, declared
Unesco World Heritage in June 2014, one of the most unique safari sites in Africa.

Touch down in Botswana

Our departure from Kasane Airport was something amateurish, or should we say ‘pleasant’? Even though they try to achieve international standards, it doesn’t work. Perhaps because the metal detector plug was not plugged into the socket. With a plane that begs for turbulence, a twelve-seater Kodiak from the regional society Safari Link, piloted by a good-looking bush pilot in shorts, we fly at four hundred metres above the savannah. We are struck by the brown green and blue colour palette, the vast expanse and the unimaginable void; no roads, no settlements. The warning from our pilot for ‘some bumps’ was no joke, the toy airplane is buckling and shaking. Two stopovers and ninety minutes later we land on an unpaved, dusty track where the terminal is a wooden shed. Some joker painted ‘Terminal 5’ on the welcome plate. A few giraffes watch unmoved at a distance. Next to them, a moss-green Toyota Land Cruiser, our transfer to Okuti Camp, a nice spot along the Maunachira River, one of four lodges of the small-scale Ker & Downey chain. And they take that serious here. Maximum ten guests is the motto.

Reisvehaal Botswana - Okuti

No stress brother

Camp manager and joker Bujos, having the looks of an African Mathias Schoenaerts and a voice that keeps unwanted wild animals at a distance, leads the staff with natural authority and with a smile. “Our shop is the only store in a radius of 200 kilometers,” he explains. “And the chance that you need the umbrellas in the room is small. And as far as the alarm horn in your room is concerned, you only use it when there is an elephant in your room. In case he stands in front of it, you just take a photo.” Okuti was built ten years ago and has already been modernized. The unique location, the distinctive architecture (mosasa, a kind of oversized hut, but with five stars), and the small scale make it a unique place. Or as operator Ker & Downey likes to describe it: “A safari for connoisseurs.” After an excellent sandwich lunch with a Sauvignon blanc from the Cape, we meet Mozes and Solly, guide/track seeker and driver respectively.

The Moremi Game Reserve is the playground of Okuti, and what beautiful landscapes the domain contains. We see zebras, suspicious footprints of hippos (by far the most dangerous animals in the jungle) and a multitude of elephants. Near the off-road vehicle two impala’s are embarking on an impressive power meeting, in which they hit their antlers loudly against each other. And we spot giraffes and a lion family at a few water pools. “Botswana isn’t the ideal place to see the Big Five in a hurry,” Moses explains. “This is not a been there, done that destination, but a mysterious region where you just let nature work. This is the real Africa. “When the sun almost disappears, the Land Cruiser stops in an open plain and a sundowner is drunk while in the distance a hurdle of impala’s and baboons are watching us from the tall trees. All the sounds we absorb seem shrieks of primal happiness.

A natural treasury

In a part of the world that is known for its grand landscapes and wide panoramas, the Okavango delta manages to take it a step further and touch every traveller. With sixteen thousand square kilometres, Okavango is the world’s largest inland delta, a water rich forest area with countless canals and ribbon-like branches. An extreme ecosystem that originated in the deciduous forests of Angola, from where the water flows from the highlands of Botswana and spreads for months and finds a way to finally evaporate in the sand of the Kalahari desert. Nowhere is the water system connected to an ocean. The whole is a pleasant place of green and fertile plains, hundreds of kilometres long, a jumble of small rivers, crystal clear because a lot of sediment is deposited on the ground. The shape of the delta is often compared to a hand: the palm is the permanent swamp area and the fingers form watercourses. As home to more than five hundred different bird species, the basin is also called the Garden of Eden. An understatement, some travellers find. Because of the channel structure, it is also described as the ‘Venice of nature’.

Botswana

Privilige per sport plane

Forty-eight hours later we move to Kanana Camp, also a short stay from Ker & Downey, 25 minutes flying and located deeper in the south-western side of the delta. A female pilot, first name unknown and the age estimated at eighteen, does so with panache and bravura. In the VIP lounge – another one of those jokes – T-man and Doctor are waiting for us, our new guide and driver for the next two days. After a first safari trip, it becomes immediately clear: in the heart of the Okavango the nature experience is more intense and richer than in the margin of the delta. It is a fact, a difficult but inevitable choice for those who want to travel Okavango. Kanana Camp is located on one arm of the Xudum River. This time we stay in a kind of pile dwelling, finished with canvas. Luxury accommodations with sumptuous bed, colonial nostalgia with fans instead of modern air conditioning, including outdoor shower to afternoon tea or ice-cooled Windhoek lager. Even the most hardened city sparrow quickly gets used to this.

Cessna Botswana

Expensive but onforgettable

“Botswana, which recently celebrated its fifty years of independence, has been pursuing a sustainability policy for years,” explains T-man at the bush dinner in the evening. “The focus is on the high cost, low impact principle. The result is that we have acquired the status of class safari. The price tag fits the bill, because the only way is to attract less tourists who each pay more.” Thus, Botswana is not the first destination people think about when they want to go on a safari in Africa. Unlike more famous countries such as Kenya, Tanzania or South Africa, Botswana is still unspoilt and not overrun with tourists. Going for exclusive and expensive sounds elitist, but also has a deeper reason. “This perhaps controversial choice means that we do not squander our fragile biotopes on mass tourism,” says T-man. “Botswana is not an ordinary zoo, but a framework that gives you the chance to perceive animals in a responsible manner, as is impossible otherwise.”

Noiseless by canoe

Noiseless, the boatman Doctor pushes the mokoro, our canoe, through the reflecting water with his long stick. Meanwhile, we marvel at bright blue kingfishers, white spoonbills and dozens of other birds that we didn’t even know existed. Yes, ornithologists can check off a long list of bird species here every day. The canoe sways between high papyrus plants, elephant grass and water lilies. Now and then the water level appears to be just a little too low, and Doctor has to leave his gondolier position to give us a push. The scammer of hippos in the distance makes him beware. Because soon we will have to return to the camp by motorboat, and then suddenly emerging hippos will be the only obstacle. At home it would be annoying to have to get up so early. However, here it’s wonderful to sniff the scent of Africa in the blue morning twilight in a half tree trunk.

A trip by mokoro offers the possibility to view the delta from the water level, the attention focused on the small life. Originally the mokoros were made from old straight trees. But today they use canoes made of fiberglass, which is better for the environment. “The animals play an important role in the formation of the landscape,” explains Doctor on the way. “Hippos keep the marshes accessible with their large bodies. Elephants, with their seemingly disastrous eating habits – trees are eaten root and all – ensure an open landscape that provides food and space for birds, insects and numerous grasses. Termites, in turn, provide the basis for island formation with their hills.” As a dessert we moor under the trees where the pelicans stay in mating season. Hundreds are hanging around, making noise, winding themselves up for the intended partner.

Canoe Botswana

Waiting for the rain

The last evening of our four-day dinner we dine on the wooden walkway under a rich starry sky. In the distance rumbles a first thunderstorm. “Within a few weeks there will be regular rains,” says T-man, “and the level of the canals will rise by almost a metre in the long term. Until a second thunderclap, which suddenly seems much closer, scares us all. In the wilderness, the drama is never far away.