A short drive and an efficient border crossing (apart from the seemingly pointless foot and mouth check where we dipped our shoes into some muddy water) and we were in Botswana, a country the size of France, but with a population of just 2.2m.
The nation is known as one of the higher end safari destinations: it’s where Prince Harry and William like to do their animal watching.
Our first stop was Chobe National Park and a game drive in a 4X4. We had high hopes but it was incredible. Probably the best two hours of the trip so far.
We saw giraffes:
And so many elephants:
It was stunning seeing so many animals in the wild and so close up. I didn’t even need to use the zoom lens for a lot of the photos.
We followed this with a sunset boat cruise where we saw families of elephants cooling down in the river and playing in the mud:
As well as an impala hanging out with a buffalo and a croc:
And more hippos:
And finally a beautiful sunset:
Such an amazing first day of the tour.
The next day we had a long but scenic driving day (10 hours of getting to know the group) which brought us to a campsite near the Okavango Delta. It had hot showers, wifi and a pool which was a bonus (actually much nicer than the campsites we stayed in in the USA and Australia).
The next day we headed out on a two night tour into the delta, which is 16,000 sq km and is criss-crossed by small channels. The waterways are extremely narrow so the traditional mode of transport is a mokoro, which seats two and is propelled by a man with a pole (a ‘poler’).
The 90 minute journey to our camp was a peaceful cruise through the waterways, edged by reeds and water lilies. It was beautiful and like nothing we had ever seen before.
I was really looking forward to wild camping for the next two nights (after enjoying it in the USA and Australia) and our campsite did not disappoint. It was on an island in the delta under a big shady tree.
We spent the days chatting, reading, playing cards and cooling down in the ‘pool’:
And I tried my hand at poling – easy to get going but hard to turn – and got poled around by our group.
In the early evenings and mornings we did game walks where we saw an elephant and a dazzle of zebras (I’m still hoping to say I’ve seen a murder of crows or a business of ferrets). They looked incredible and the stripes made your eyes go funny if you looked at them for too long (that’s partly how they camouflage).
And then we did a beautiful sunset cruise:
We also came across a huge elephant skeleton, sections of which were spread across a large area. It looked light but was anything but.
In the evenings we cooked on the campfire, played games, drunk red wine and were treated to a performance by the polers telling traditional stories through song and dance:
On the way back, we stopped at a pool where hippos usually congregate. We waited a few minutes and then one popped up above the water about 20 metres away. He quickly disappeared and then popped up again five metres closer, and then again just ten metres away. They seemed unthreatening but the polers where spooked and we quickly glided out of there before they got even closer…Apparently they are one of the worlds most dangerous animals.
To top off our brilliant few days in Botswana, we did our first ever scenic flight in a tiny plane. After a short safety briefing, five of us squeezed in alongside the Irish pilot.
Inside it was more like Stu’s white Mini than an aircraft and when the engine started it sounded like a classic car. A bit of taxiing and we took off quickly (if a little shakily). Soon we were above the delta we had been camping in the previous day.
But seeing it from above was a whole new experience. You could really appreciate the vastness of it – it went on as far as the eye could see in all directions. And it was so green – green grass, green trees, green reeds.
We flew over countless rivers, channels and lakes. But the best bit was observing the wildlife from the sky. We saw elephants, hippos, zebras and giraffes.
The plane itself wasn’t that comfortable and after a while we all felt sick, not helped by the occasional gust of wind which knocked it around the sky.
Nevertheless it was an incredible experience and one that we wont forget in a hurry.
A brilliant five days in Botswana.
Next stop: Namibia