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Botswana 2011


VeeR
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Part One - Getting to Maun

 

This was such a different kind of trip for me. I don’t know when it began to feel like a farewell tour, but in the final days before take off a bittersweet sadness crept up on me and settled like an old sweater across my shoulders. I shouldn’t have felt this way. I could always plan another trip. But there it was, the shadow of melancholy followed me around and somehow made its way into my duffle bag.

 

Our flights to Johannesburg were seamless. Yet, somehow I knew our bags wouldn’t make it with us. I had even packed extra clothes in my carry-on and urged Eric to do the same. That he didn’t, really didn’t surprise me. Always the optimist he waited long after the last bag had made it out of the shoot and continued to watch as orphaned bags made one, two, three trips around the carousel. Our next stop was the British Airways lost luggage desk. Our luggage wasn’t lost, it was simply still in Los Angeles. With a claim ticket and a promise that we would be reunited with our goods in Maun the next day we headed over to Air Botswana to check in for our connecting flight.

 

Landing in Maun has always felt like coming home. I love this town. But my feelings of joy were tempered with feelings of relief. We were really here. Time to shake off the blues I told myself. The melancholy was left behind in my duffle in Los Angeles where I hoped it was dying from neglect.

 

As winter was approaching, the sun was at an angle and while warm, didn’t burn with the intensity I had expected as I waited outside the airport. I saw Geoffrey running from the Children in the Wilderness office across the street and up the short driveway. He enveloped me in a hug and I listened as his words of welcome washed over me like healing balm. In the background I could hear others speaking, the music of Setswana.

 

Our days in Maun have a dream like quality. I attribute it to jet lag which seemed to hit harder this time. I avoided naps, but felt constantly sleepy. The hippo outside our window seemed to sense my time confusion and would begin his lovelorn bellows at 2:30 in the morning. A car alarm joined in the noise one night. What a wild combination!

 

We made our usual stops, Nando’s, Bon Arrivee for lunch. We tried Riley’s twice for dinner - I think we’re done with Riley’s for dinner. As wonderful as their buffet breakfast is, the dinners are lackluster. We had sweet visits with dear friends. Geoffrey as always enthusiastic about his work with the children and excited about his upcoming marriage. Lesh just excited about life in general. Amanda, always charming. She and Eric had a great con-fab about dyes as she was trying new things at Sibanda’s. And then there’s Nick, who helped find out what air plane we were to grab on Saturday.

 

Our duffles arrived the day after we did. One day from Los Angeles to Maun. I am considering packing myself in luggage next time and saving a day of travel. But I would probably get lost too!

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Part Two - On to Planet Baobab and the Ntwetwe Pans

 

 

 

Planet Baobab is just outrageous. Huge baobabs dotted the property, dwarfing everything around them. I felt like I’d been dropped into a movie set, yet nothing seemed staged. Who ever masterminded the design obviously had a lot of fun doing it. Our rondavel was painted with hearts and the theme inside was hearts also. Country hearts, African hearts, a honeymoon house, except for the twin beds set on cement platforms at opposite sides of the the room. This actually worked out well as it was warm and having my own bed for the night kept things a little cooler.

 

We went on a short bush walk to a watering hole and watched the almost full moon rise during sundowners. We were treated to a comet streaking across the sky, sprinkling magic dust in its wake. We were taken back to the lodge through a secret back gate which opened near the largest of the baobabs. How insignificant I felt next to these ancient ones.

 

The next day we headed out to the Ntwetwe Pans, via Chapman’s Baobab and the lovely village of Gweta. Tall trees provided shade in the early afternoon sun. Shurbs cut the dust of the roadway. Plots were swept and neat, people waved. Donkeys were actually being used to pull drays and not left to wander into the streets. I mentioned how pretty the village was and Dabona, our guide thanked me. It was his home town and he had well earned pride in his village.

 

The village gave way to pretty ranches, with thatched roofed buildings clustered around central areas. The farms were surrounded and divided by mopane forest. The grass was still tall and green, the cattle glossy and fat. Calves still suckled. In fact, Dabona told us that the livestock in this area was not used for dairy production as the grass flavored the milk, so the babies had a longer time at mother’s teat leading to stronger and healthier herds.

 

The cattle ranches gave way to fields of maize and sorghum. The farms here farther apart as we got farther from the village. The homes a bit more meager. As the crops gave way to more wild country we would see an occasional shack, home for herdboys who tended the goats and sheep which competed for the road.

 

We saw the top of Chapman’s baobab long before we reached it. I was in awe as we stood in the face of history. The bark of the Seven Sisters’ trunks was like a finely tanned leather. People long ago left their marks - the dates - 1868, 1932...then the more recent carvings...I guess a hundred plus years makes the difference between history and graffiti. The hole in one of the trunks that had been used as a traveler’s mail box was now home for a thriving hive of bees. Goats and sheep used the shade as a resting place before the headed back to a nearby homestead.

 

Back on the road, the seemingly endless high desert landscape spread out on all sides. An occasional ostrich would race the vehicle. Sable and oryx grazed on distant plains.

The Ntwetwe pans teased us with a sliver of white shimmering just along the horizon.

This seemed to go on forever. Then just when I settled down to a ‘we’ll get there when we get there’ attitude, the scrub grass ended and we were on the edge of the pans.

 

I gasped as we made our way down a small embankment to the beach of the Ntwetwe Pans. . I looked to the right and followed the horizon all the way around. A perfect 180 of nothing. But this nothingness filled my heart.

 

We traveled along tire tracks, the only marks in the sand. There were no other prints of man nor animal. We were headed to the middle of no where. With each kilometer I felt my lungs expanding, I wanted to fling my arms out and feel it all. At one point the grasslands behind us sank below the horizon and there was nothing in front of us or to either side. We were in the physical definition of eternity.

 

Eventually a single small structure appeared on the horizon. Some distance from it I saw something red and a line of sticks in the stand, reaching for the sky. It was camp!

So simple, a table, four chairs, a cooking fire and a boma fire. We were home for the evening.

 

I kicked off my shoes and slowly paced the area. There was a light dusting of sand, just enough to soften my steps. Under that, the ground was firm. What had seemed to be pure white from the vehicle was really white with several shades of grey mottling the earth. A recent rain storm had quenched the thirsty desert and the ground was clinging to the last bits of moisture.

 

Then there was a moment, when everything just stopped, movement, voices, the wind. A complete absence of sound and I could hear the thumping of my own pulse in my ears. It was then I flung my arms out to embrace the universe.

 

I thought nothing could top my first sunset at the Pans, or my first night out under the African sky. But after a good night’s sleep I awoke before dawn feeling rested for the first time in nearly a week. The moon was low and large in the west, orange as a pumpkin. The milky way blanketed the sky in brilliant whiteness. I counted three satellites and felt very lucky when the second comet of this trip appeared. I looked to the East and saw three planets. Venus, Jupiter and Saturn were joined briefly by Mercury before the first nuanced glow of sunrise began to lighten the horizon. In this predawn black and white world I could almost see the very air change color as the sun began casting a rosy glow to everything. For a brief moment even the sands glowed.

 

I threw my melancholy to the winds and let the joy of place take hold. If this was my farewell tour I planned to soak it up, eat it up, grab it in both arms and give it a mighty hug. I was in Africa!

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Edited by VeeR
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What a beautiful start.

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This is wonderful reading. What I am really enjoying is the descriptions of the journey to the game viewing areas. Rarely do I see reports with descriptions of the villages and farmlands in Botswana, it is an eye opener for me.

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What did I tell you about Planet Baobab and the Pans? I'm so glad that you enjoyed it all. Now you understand,

 

Vee, why I must go back each year. I'm loving your report and can't wait for the next episode.

 

 

Your sister on this side of the 'pond', Jan

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Great stuff, Vee. I love Planet Baobab, even as just as a stopover.

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Alex The Lion

Great start.....pictures please :)

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Game Warden

"I second that emotion"...

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A poetic post, I can't wait to read more. How very very wonderful.

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Great start.....pictures please :)

 

I second that. Wait, I see Matt's reply... I third that!

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I have tried and failed miserably to upload the photos I've put on the Gallery here. So if you don't mind, I'll just direct you there. Pretty obvious which gallery it is.

 

By the way - the pictures are up for Part Three of my journey - a part I have only one word for ----MEERKATS

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Great start Vee. I want more!

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I put up a couple pictures of Gweta in my gallery here. Thanks all for your patience.

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Botswana - Part Four

 

I say Part Four as part three was just my photos of the meerkats....onward....and a week late...

 

Last night while I watched the full moon make its grand entrance in the eastern sky, I realized that the last time I saw the moon in the phase was at Kalahari Plains. How could it be that a full moon cycle had passed? To be cliche - where has the time gone? We have only one more round of larium left which will put us at four weeks out of Africa. But that’s not until next week so I won’t jump ahead of myself.

 

But during my last full moon I remember laying in bed in camp, the screen wall allowed a moonlit view of the pan in front of the camp. Even the bushes outside the room were moonlit and casting shadows. And from somewhere beyond that screen came the not so distant call of a lion. Its muted roar pulling out into the night, and a reply from his brother. A tug of roars as they patrolled their territory, blanketing the area with machismo.

 

These were the same two lions we had seen on our afternoon drive. We found them napping in the shade of an acacia tree and stayed around to watch them stretch and yawn, working hard to come out of their heat induced slumber. They took the easy road most of the way towards camp, then disappeared in the bush.

 

Our second afternoon in camp was the most memorable. We had elected to do the Bushman Walk with a young man from Xade. His name was Xhara. Actually he had duel names. During the walk he was Xhara, and that is what he replied to. When in camp uniform he was PG. Under either name he was someone I would have liked to get to know better.

 

We gathered in the late afternoon. The sun had disappeared and in the horizon the clouds were mottled black and grey. It felt as though the clouds were pressing on the earth, condensing the air, pressing everything tighter to the earth, steaming air hugs. At the same time the tall yellow grasses seemed to quiver in anticipation and reach just every so slightly toward to ominous sky.

 

We took a path which skirted the outer edges of camp, following Xhara and marveling at his quick pace. The path was wide enough for us to walk two abreast. We stopped a small clearing for a bit of an education on medicinal plants. It seemed that everything around us was useful! We began our walk again on a narrowing path, single file, the tall grasses and bushes bushing our arms and legs. Another stop, I wonder if these are planned for us soft-bellied tourists to catch our breath and suck off our water bottles. Xhara had no problem with a brisk pace, even as he walked barefoot over ant hills and limbs from acacia trees.

 

We left the brandy berry tree, still sucking on the fruit and headed straight into the grass. No trail here,(though Xhara knew exactly where he was going of course) I felt a bit of the adventurer and tried to imagine doing this for real. The black clouds were pouring across the sky now, marking their journey with a wake of lightening and thunder. The air was atingle with ozone and tasted metallic. A roar of thunder then a mighty cooling wind swept through as we made it to another stop near an acacia tree.

 

After the firemaking demonstration - yes done with two sticks, even though the air was damp and slow, heavy drops of rain began to pockmark the earth, we restarted our trek. Suddenly Xhara halted, his eyes large, he put his finger to his lips and motioned us to stay low. We cautiously crept along after him. Joker that he was, he pointed out the extremely rare Shiny and Clean Landy. But the joke was on him, as he was facing us, out from behind a bush came a Steenbok who studied us all, particularly Xhara before mincing off into the brush.

 

That night in deference to the sky show provided by Mother Nature we ate by oil lamplight. The centerpiece of the meal were the Kalahari Truffles that Xhara had found for us. Winds swept through the camp, cooling us all. Back in our tent we were sure we were getting a deluge, and got up to move the armchair and our bags away from the great screen wall. We were surprised the next morning by two things. The first was the ground wasn’t all that wet. What we thought was rain was the wind playing games with the purple pod terminilia next our tent.

 

The second surprise came as the sun hit the sand in front of our deck. The strong odor of cat. Under the cover of the wind, one the male lions had patrolled the area and scent marked our tent.

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The second surprise came as the sun hit the sand in front of our deck. The strong odor of cat. Under the cover of the wind, one the male lions had patrolled the area and scent marked our tent.

 

So you did get rain! :lol:

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Laughing here Jochen. Yes we did get the rain - of the more exciting kind. I have to say - despite the odor it was pretty damn terrific to know we had been just that close in a natural encounter.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Part Five - Banoka Camp

 

I first fell in love with Botswana at a little camp called Wilderness Tented Camp. It was not the first stop on my safari with OAT, but it was my most memorable.

 

This trip I was able to get near WTC as Wilderness Safaris had opened a camp in the Khwai Concession, called Banoka. In fact the two camps share some facilities like the mekoro and motorboats, and call each other sister-camps.

 

This part of the trip I call the Hour and Twenty minute trip. Our flight from Kalahari Plains was an hour and twenty minutes and the drive from the air strip to the camp was an hour and twenty minutes.

 

We landed in the tail end of a downpour. The air strip looked incredibly muddy as we began to touchdown. Add to the mud, one misguided impala who darted across the strip at the last minute and you have one pilot playing motocross. Mud flew up and over the plane as he successfully avoided the air strip interloper. An exciting beginning to our next few days at Banoka.

 

The rain abated, leaving the area cool with the crisp scent of wet mopane and bruised sage. We donned ponchos and had our first game drive on the way to camp. The road was lined with mopanes, their leaves shining and full. When I was last here, Botswana was in full drought and these trees weren’t much more than scrawny sticks. Now they provided a canopy with occasional fat drops of collected rain splatting on my head and bouncing off the vehicle bonnet.

 

Rogers stopped to point out wild dog tracks. Like a conspirator he whispered “They saw the two males this morning. But it looks like the female has left the den and is with them now. Let’s follow” The trip went quickly as we followed the tracks down the road. We never caught up to the dogs, but the adventure had begun.

 

The road felt familiar in that same but different kind of way. Rogers paused on our trek long enough to point out a bridge over a channel. “When you were here last, you would have made that crossing in the water. That is the bridge to WTC” As we past the bridge and continued down the path I remembered being in that crowded vehicle and the dry, dusty conditions. Then I simply fell back into the enjoyment of the wet and the green and just the three of us in the Landy.

 

I had that deja vu feeling most of the time we were at Banoka. Many of the trails criss cross with drives made of WTC guests.

 

Banoka Camp has ten tents - two of them family tents. Thusly the lounge, decks and dining room are fairly large to accommodate that many people. It was so new, I could almost smell the fresh sawn wood. The entire lounge area opened to a flood plain, with a good sized lediba right off the dining room. This lagoon had its own family of hippos who played peek-a-boo at the water’s edge at sunset, and lolled and dipped in the water during the height of the day. No raised platforms here, our morning game became track spotting. And if we found no tracks, we made our own. Eric can make a mighty mean baboon track. One morning we did find hyena tracks near the lounge.

 

We had arrived too late for the afternoon games, so satisfied ourselves with sundowner on the deck of the lounge. Then dinner and an early night back in our tent.

 

The next morning we headed out and surfed the Delta Sand road. At first the wildlife seemed shy and stayed far from the roads. Elephants played hide and seek among the taller mopanes, so we could only see the trunk of one here, the tail of another there.

 

The first dazzle of zebras hugged the tree line and allowed the dappled morning light to turn them into a wavy optical illusion. A lone giraffe challenged our road space and posed for photos.

 

Dog and hyena tracks teased us.

 

Then a sudden stop and a fast and furious conversation between our guide, Onks and the community guide, Don. I heard “tau”, looked over the side of the Landy and saw the tracks. The game was on!

 

While I had taken on the philosophy of “We shall see what we shall see” for game drives, the thought of lions always gives me more than a little thrill.

 

After a couple of false starts, we turned off the main dirt road and followed an overgrown trail to a termite mound crowned with a small acacia. In the shade of that acacia stretched out in contented sleep was a lioness. We barely had time to register our good fortune when two heads popped up from behind her - four month old cubs.

About fifteen feet to the left a golden mound lifted his head and shook his tossled mane.

We had ourselves a little family.

 

The cubs tumbling, stretched and yawned. One lunged to attack a very dangerous, lion eating stick and after subduing it proudly drug it to his mother. As we made way for another vehicle we were treated to another male who was hidden between the termite mound and some low hanging branches.

 

It was deja vu all over again on the ride back to camp. It is the same kind of sage, the same mopane, the same acacia, the same elephant dung as other camps, but it all smells sweeter here. Its like meeting up with a first love, only with none of the bitter and only the sweet.

 

Our last morning in camp we were able to go by WTC on our way to the airstrip. Back to that place of first love. Just like going home again, everything seemed a little smaller, but it was this coziness that had encircled me like a warm hug. The boma was now under water and water gently lapped near the decks of the tents. The only thing that was bigger than my memory was the bush in front of the loo with the view.

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Lovely trip report, Vee! Keep it coming!

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Barefoot over anthills, now that's a walking safari guide!

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