Camping, canoes and cats: The twins tour Botswana
Having caught the African travel bug myself I thought it would be a good time to introduce my twin sister into the exciting adventures of safari-ing in Africa. For Lucy's first safari and first trip to Africa I threw her in at the deep end with a camping tour of Botswana with Wilderness Safaris. Although more than familiar with a tent myself, this was also my first trip to Botswana and I was really looking forward to the combination of wheels, walking and water when it came to animal viewing. Setting off at the start of October for a whistle stop tour of the Okavango Delta, Linyanti, The Chobe and onto Vic Falls in Zambia, we intended to see as much as possible on our 10 day tour.
During the trip we would explore the bustling wildlife of Botswana as well as experiencing the different levels of camps that Wilderness has to offer. From camping in small 3x3m tents with bucket showers and short drop toilets to luxury villas with running hot water and flush toilets, dependent on budget and expectations you can choose to immerse yourself in a true wilderness or save the rough and the wild for game drives. Wilderness is a great and ethical company, which has many camps throughout Africa and believes in sharing the fantastic sights they come across whilst working with local communities to protect the wilderness areas. At Wilderness they don't just believe in creating a holiday they want to create a journey that you will remember. As well as independent itineraries you can partake in a group tour, which is ideal for solo travellers and those who enjoy joining others on holiday and gives a wonderful array of contrasts in 7-10 days. Our tour consisted of just five of us and our magical guide Frances.
Starting in the Okavango Delta, we started our trip at Xigera Mokoro Trails Camp which is a small camp set on a remote island and a short boat drive away from Xigera Main Camp. The camp is only accessible for certain months of the year when the water is high enough. The bush camps are basic with low environmental impact however this does not jeopardise comfort or service. Whilst you feel as if you are camping in the middle of nowhere the camp has all the luxuries you could need during your stay: your own en-suite bathroom with hot bucket showers and short drop toilets, a bed on a sturdy frame and of course numerous delicious meals each day. It is a rare opportunity to immerse yourself into island life in the Okavango Delta and a perfect start to our trip life was easy and relaxed, taking mokoro rides through the Okavango Delta pausing to look at flowers, birds, frogs and elephants. This is a truly special time as away from the group your mokoro boat 'driver' will stop for whatever you wish - a special thanks to our mokoro driver, Solly, who stopped at numerous frogs and made us both crowns from water lilies or 'jewellery shopping with the princesses' as he called it. The quiet nature of the mokoro allowed us to view animals like hippos and elephants up close while they wallowed as well as many species of birds who were not scared away by the loud noise of an engine. A must for twitchers. Relaxing between mokoro trips you can watch the prolific bird life or see usually timid antelope up close. On our final day we had a visit from a breeding herd of elephants who felt so relaxed the youngest of the herd fell asleep next to our tent.
After the peace at Xigera we took a short flight, still within the Delta, to Banoka Bush Camp. Much to Lucy's delight, we were staying in cooler tented chalets with running hot water showers and flushing toilets, a plunge pools and a bar. Welcomed by Lyndsey, Mamma B and her team we were made to feel right at home. Banoka truly stood out as a camp no detail too small, no request too much. My sister is lactose intolerant which was, much to her surprise, catered for at all camps including the remote bush camps where delicious meals were prepared on hot stove camp fires. However, at Banoka, Lindsay made sure that all the staff knew who she (or I) was so they could shoo her away from any harmful food and bring her out a specially prepared dairy free meal. From cakes to bobotie there wasn't a meal she missed out on. Her only complaint was she couldn't eat it all herself. At Banoka we partook on game drives and, much to my delight, night drives where we could take a look at some of the smaller creatures that awoke after duck and game walks with an armed ranger we were able to saunter off from camp to look at the smaller flora and fauna and an inquisitive warthog. An exciting time for my sister who saw her first giraffe up close, a herd of buffalo, a pearl spotted owlet attempting to kill a rather large mouse in the dark and her first experience of a cat. It was a rather large, tough old male lion who seemed intent on calling right next to the car and next to Lucy. A male lion's call can be heard for around 10km so it was a beautiful, if loud, experience.
From Banoka we headed north to the Linyanti concession to Linyanti Adventurer Camp. By far my favourite camp, we enjoyed a large tent (back to bucket showers and short drop toilets) and an idyllic view of the water which forms a border between Botswana and Namibia. Expertly looked after by Connie, our resident bushman and culture expert, Xukonai and Douglas we needn't have left camp to see the wildlife. Twice coming back from a morning drive we spotted a rather attractive female lion resting near to our tent in the heat of the day. After reassuring Lucy we would be fine and didn't need to lock ourselves in the tent, the lioness was chased away by a passing herd of elephants which could all be seen from our shower which made washing entertaining. The second time she spotted Douglas and scarpered off, a reassurance to Lucy that she didn't like people. On our final afternoon just as we headed out on the search for lion, leopard and hyena, who we had spotted tracks for in the morning; we were called back by Douglas who had spotted the elusive wild dog chasing an impala into the water. A species that has eluded me for 4 years, I crossed my fingers they would hang around. Much to our luck the entire pack, including five puppies, were just round the corner resting. An incredible sighting we followed them watching them drink and wander off before having a stand-off with a herd of elephants who were very vocal at showing their disgust that they had run into them, trumpeting and kicking up dust to shoo them away. A truly special sighting and a special camp, Connie couldn't have made us feel more at home joining in with our jokes and making sure everyone had what they needed. On our last meal here a storm rolled in, much to our delight after some soaring temperatures we received a lightning storm and some well needed rain (seems to be a re-occurring theme on my safaris).
The penultimate leg of our trip involved a cruise along the Chobe River which was lovely and peaceful and which allowed us to see hippo, elephant and buffalo out of the water having swum to the safety of islands within the middle of the river. After our lunchtime cruise we nipped across the border into Zambia and onto the River Club - a grand lodge with our own huge luxury room with two bathrooms (running hot water and flush toilets) and views of the Zambezi River. Here we enjoyed a sunset river cruise and final supper with Frances before sadly waving him off before breakfast the next day.
The final activity of our trip was a tour of the Zambian side of Victoria Falls. Despite the relatively low levels of water (it can reach up to 500 million litres per minute flowing over the edge) the views were stunning. Our friendly guide TJ took us round helpfully telling us the history and showing us the best spots for photos. A beautiful end to a wonderful journey through Botswana. Finally we begrudgingly headed to Livingstone Airport ready for our flights home.
The journey with Wilderness was both exciting and entertaining. The presence of one guide throughout the journey was really welcomed. As many of you will know a guide can make or break a trip and landing a good one is essential. Frances, our guide quickly learnt what each of us were interested in be it the lion under the tree or the woodpecker on top of it he amazed us all with his skills and sense of humour. From hilarious tales of the rare elephant nest to intricate knowledge of any species we came across, including birds from a distance without binoculars. Having one guide throughout made us feel like our own little pack visiting extended family at each camp.
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