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From Desert to Delta

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When you make your decision to visit an African country like Botswana in Southern Africa, you are faced with a myriad of travel options. At the top of the scale is the fly-in-five-star-lodge experience (comfort at a price). The more adventurous way of doing it is to hop on an overland truck, with a whole bunch of other adrenalin junkies and party on (great, but not for those who value their privacy and the silence of the bush).

I decided to try something new, adventurous, private, safe and affordable – a guided, self-drive safari. I was not sure how on earth I would get this all in one package, but it turned out to be quite simple: you rent a 4-wheel drive vehicle (there are a number of rental companies available) and you link up with a credible 4X4 operator (such as Bhejane 4X4 Adventures).

Then, you let them do the rest for you – the navigation, tent pitching, cooking, interpretation, en route driver training …. Everything but changing nappies!

That’s the icing on the top. Now for the cake ……

"Bhejane" is the Zulu word for Black Rhino and this stems from the company’s owner, and our guide, Frank Carlisle who had his roots in Black Rhino conservation in KZN’s Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve.

Frank met us, and the other members of our safari party, in the town of Letlakane in Southern Botswana (we were given detailed instruction on the route, places to stay, border procedures, etc prior to departing). After a meet and greet, drivers’ briefing and handing out of two-way radios (one for each of our 8-vehicle convoy as our new bushveld ‘telegraph’) it was time to hit the dirt.

I soon realized how important the radios are as Frank used them to warn us of stray chickens, pigs, goats, cows and the ever present donkeys on the dusty roads. Two wonderful surprises awaited us – the vast, ghostly expanse of the world’s largest salt pan, the Makgadikgadi and the appearance, like a wonderful mirage, of our camp for the night – dome tents under giant baobabs and the camp kettle brewing on the fire alongside a pot of venison stew and home baked bread.

Our journey then took us north, alongside the Makgadikgadi Pans and on to the tourism capital of Botswana – Maun – for a restock and refuel stop. For those who wanted to, we had a privilege of opting for a fixed wing flight over the world’s largest inland delta – the Okavango. Seeing it glimmer from the air, was testament to its title, ‘The Jewel of Botswana’. This liquid wilderness is made even more profound by the fact that it is surrounded by the Kalahari Desert.

Once back down, it was time to explore the delta from terra firma as we headed for our camp on the western side of the Delta’s panhandle. This time, with our expectations already raised, it was no surprise to find that the ‘magicians’, Frank’s logistics team, were again ten steps ahead of us and we drove into a camp set up on the banks of one of the Okavango River’s main channels. Swamp Stop, suitably named, is nestled amongst a green carpet of floating papyrus.

The next day it was time to leave the dust and tyres and take to the water. We spent a day cruising papyrus lined canals, seeing the odd croc and hippo while serenaded by that haunting call of the Fish Eagle – Africa’s original sound track.

Our next port of call was on the banks of the Okavango River in the Caprivi Strip in north eastern Namibia. However, this was, after all, an adventure safari, so there was not to be a direct route. Rather, we snaked our way to the eerie Tsodilo Hills, Botswana’s highest point and home to over 4 000 original Bushman paintings. This humbling experience set the tone for the rest of our travels.

Ngepi Camp is unique. This was our home for three nights, with a day spent game viewing in the nearby Mohangu Game Reserve and a sundowner cruise down the mighty Okavango River. An entire half day can be spent exploring Ngepi Camp – and this is exactly what I did. There is the ‘toilet tour’ where you can sample the delights of toilets of every shape, size and panorama. There is the ‘loo with the view’, ‘the world’s longest drop’ and the ‘his and hers throne’. I also spent time relaxing in the ‘wacky’ swimming pool – a hippo and croc proof cage which floats in the Okavango River below majestic and ancient Jackalberry trees.

The last leg of our journey took us back into Botswana close to the town of Kasane where we camped for another three nights. A day was spent visiting the roaring Victoria Falls and some of our convoy added to the ‘roar’ as they leapt off the Victoria Falls bridge bungy platform with an elastic band tied to their ankles. Others in our convoy enjoyed bartering at the craft markets and many of us tasted the colonial delights of the renowned Victoria Falls Hotel.

On the last day of our adventure we climbed aboard a traditional safari vehicle and were privileged to see some of Africa’s best and biggest: the Chobe giants (those magnificent eles), two lion kills and a sleepy leopard padding along in the early morning sun. The grand finale was a sundowner cruise in the late afternoon which took us back into Chobe National Park. The sun set on our adventure as the elephants splashed nearby our boat - a typical pink, orange, red and multi-hued African sunset.

My only comment when saying farewell to Frank was, "When’s the next safari?"

• A River Sings •
• Central Kalahari •
• Southern Mozambique •
• Dignity in Flight •
• From Desert to Delta •
• Sudan white water •
• Ghosts of Marromeu •
• Gonarezhou •
• Mana Pools •
• Walkabout in Hwange •
• Okavango Delta Trip Report •
• Overland to Central Kafue Part 1 •
• Overland to Central Kafue Part 2 •
• Overland to Central Kafue Part 3 •

•  •

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