Botswana is a wonderful country to visit. We found the people here to be extremely friendly and welcoming (even the immigration officials were excellent ambassadors of their country, smiling and welcoming us to their country and eager for us to have a good time here). Unfortunately, we only had one week in beautiful Botswana, so we started our tour in Maun, which is the gateway to the Okavango Delta. Here, we took a flight over the delta and were wowed with the spectacular aerial vistas as well as having a bird’s eye view of herds of elephants, hippos, impalas, and giraffes…amazing. Next, we signed up for a 3 night Okavango Delta tour with our own mokoro and poler named Grace. She expertly poled us on the delta, steering clear of the hippos (first ones we have seen in the wild!), and gently lulling us to sleep as we approached our campsite. From the delta, our fantastic wildlife guides took us on foot safaris to get up close and personal with wildebeest, zebras, elephants, giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, and jackals. Reluctantly leaving Okavango, we headed towards Chobe National Park, where we boarded a boat and got waterfront views of phenomenal wildlife to include even more hippos, water buffaloes, elephants, crocodiles, monitor lizards and countless birds. Botswana is an animal lover’s paradise and we can’t wait to return for a repeat visit.
3 May: Our border crossing into Botswana was at the Mohembo border crossing. The Botswana immigration official was extremely friendly and accommodating, welcoming us into the country and bringing out complimentary Botswana photographic magazines as souvenirs. What an awesome reception into Botswana. We were all immediately impressed by the friendliness of the locals and felt that this was the friendliest border crossing so far on our travels through Africa. It was a long drive day, with Luke being super annoying by flirting his way down the entire line of single girls. It reminded us of the white tailed male bush bucks which gallivant their way around chasing the female bushbucks in a frenzy. It was quite the spectacle and loud music was not sufficient to drown him out. We bush camped just over the border and the time jumped ahead by an hour. It took Chris a bit to find a suitable bush camp site, and it was dark before we pulled over. Little did we realize but we were setting up our campsite in the path way of a local village! Dinner consisted of Thai green curry served over rice, and everyone was asleep in their tents at a decent hour.
4 May: Happy Birthday Lucky! Way to ring in the 30th. When everyone rolled sleepily out of their tents in the morning, it was a jolt to realize that mere meters away, grass and wooden huts surrounded our entire bush camp, with curious locals gathered around staring at our bright yellow truck. We decided that the morning poo had to be done while it was still a bit dark out, as there were way too many spectators once the sun rose. Before breakfast, we squeezed in an ab and pushup workout. Just before pulling out of camp, we gave all the lingering kids high fives and Robby taught them the classic armpit fart, which they practiced with delight. At 8 am, we were on the road and Robby and Lucky commenced with “Operation Separate” which was to split Mattie and Gin from sitting next to each other. The operation was successful, and the morning drive was uneventful until we hit a dirt road and thorny acacia tree thorns whipped into the truck and stole Gin and Becky’s head coverings. Scott and Damien ran off to help retrieve them and poor Scott received a thorn in his hand as a result of his efforts. After a quick lunch of egg salad sandwiches, we pulled into the town of Maun, which is the gateway to the Okavango Delta. We had about 3 hours of free time here, and ran around trying to get money exchanged (at a lousy rate of 6.2 to the US$ with a 4% commission). We were able to check email and great news, Franny delivered Gracie on 30 April after a mere 30 minutes of labor! And we found that Osama Bin Laden is dead. Great news all around and we spent the rest of our time in Maun trying to get some extra sunscreen for tomorrow’s 3 day Okavango Delta mokoro trip. Ten of us (us plus Luke, Dowelly, Ally, Matt, Sara, Sean, Lucky, and Damien) linked back at the truck at 3:45 pm as we had signed up for a flight over the delta. It was reasonably priced at $65 per person for a 5 pax plane and we had to bring our passports with us as this was considered a domestic flight at the Maun International Airport. Our 4:30 pm flight was amazing, and we saw lots of elephants, giraffes, hippos, impalas in addition to the amazing scenery of the delta laid out beneath us. Absolutely stunning and well worth the money! After picking up the rest of the group back in Maun at 5:30 pm, we drove directly to Situtunga Camp Site (just on the outskirts of the city), which is a lovely campsite run by ex-overlanders. After settling our bill for the activities ($65 for the flight and $140 for the 3 day Okavango Delta trip), we set up our tents and got ready for Lucky’s birthday festivities. Since Lucky had given us face paint to draw crazy designs on our faces, (naughty Luke had drawn a penis on Mel’s face and she was keen on getting her revenge), we had to first take showers to scrub ourselves clean, and ate enough dinner (sweet and sour chicken courtesy of Sean, Laura and Lydia) before pulling up a chair around the camp fire for a few drinks. Lucky was downing desert wine (seriously the sweetest stuff ever and he drank over 1 liter of it!) before declaring around 8:30 pm that he would be in bed before 9 pm. Not if we had anything to do with it! Kendra and Dowelly solved that dilemma by moving Lucky and Matt’s tent on the other side of the campsite, so that Lucky, in a highly inebriated state, would have absolutely no idea where his relocated tent was! Lars broke out Senegal Rum (thank God it’s the last bottle ever) and passed that around, followed by our bottle of coconut wine, which actually was quite pleasant. We had the newbies try out the Springbok Shots and poor Ichyo spilt hers on the table, causing the boys to try to suck it off the very dirty table. It was a great night getting to know our new truck passengers and what a great 30th birthday celebration for Lucky, who ended up staying past midnight in the end. Robby hit the sack around 11 pm and was joined by Lars and Dowelly who posed in some funny photos with him (poor Robby has no recollection of what happened). The next morning was a bit rough with Robby remembering absolutely nothing.
5 May: It was an early morning (6 am) rise which was tough to do after partying with Lucky last night. Even though we had packed the majority of our gear last night, there was still plenty of last minute scrambling to be done, laundry to be turned in (45 Pula for a large bag), and tents to be torn down before our 7 am pickup. It was tough trying to remember the vital stuff, but by 7:25 am, our new ride was loaded down with our gear and we were on our way towards the delta. Thankfully, our sleeping bag was within reach, as it was absolutely freezing on our early morning ride out. We snuggled next to each other with poor Marie sandwiched in the middle, but at least we were warm. At 10:30 am, we finally reached the drop off point, having traversed on some very rough, swampy terrain to get here. It appeared to be pure chaos, with polers, guides and mokoros lining the waterfront competing for passengers. We were picked up by Grace, who was to be our mokoro poler. She grabbed our thermarests to line the base of her brand new fiberglass mokoro, before grabbing our gear and situating us comfortably on the dugout canoe. She poled us easily along the waterways, and it was an extremely comfortable and relaxing ride until we reached a point where a hippo was surfacing menacingly close to us. Our first glimpse of a hippo in the wild, but warnings of hippos being the #1 killer in Africa came to mind, and we didn’t relax entirely until our mokoro was safely beyond the hippo pool. After a 90 minute ride, we reached our Okavango Delta campsite, and we lugged our gear to a clearing to set up our tent. Since it was already past noon by the time everyone arrived and organized their gear, we had lunch immediately, and were grateful when the lead guide, Charles, briefed us that we could have a siesta until 4 pm, at which time there was the option of taking an afternoon guided walk through the delta. Our group of 23 was split into 4 more manageable groups and our guide ended up being Charles. Despite his limp, we found him to be an excellent guide who was extremely knowledgeable in the flora and fauna around us. On our 2 ½ hour walk, we came across zebras, elephants, giraffes, yawning hippos, and a kingfisher diving to catch fish…it was very cool and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Charles explained the massive holes located at the base of several termite mounds (created by hungry anteaters, and the abandoned holes and tunnels are used by other animals such as warthogs, jackals, etc as a burrow). Other interesting tidbits of knowledge included nests being built on the western side of trees due to the prevailing winds coming in from the east, and the flat ground sections of grassy terrain sought after by antelope or wildebeest as it serves as an ideal place to sleep while an alert lookout keeps an eye out for any predators lurking in the dark. He pointed out countless tracks (leopard, hippo, elephant, giraffe, etc) and showed us a jackal turd which had lots of mice hair in it and looked like biltong! However, the highlight of our day was the pool of hippos which were “yawning” with large, gaped mouths at us repeatedly. It was an amazing walk and we reluctantly returned to camp at dusk, enjoying a nice sunset before dinner of bangers and mash (thanks to Damien, Robby and Matt). Everyone was still a bit tuckered out after last night’s partying so it was an early night for all.
6 May: It was an early rise this morning with wakeup at 5:30 am and breakfast at 6 am. By 6:30 am, we were split into our four groups for our nature walk through the delta. Instead of staying on one side of the river, Charles gave us the option of taking off our shoes and wading across to the other side. We took him up on the offer and were rewarded with elephants (2 bull bachelors that got within 100 meters of us), zebra, antelope, jackal, hippo, wildebeest, and crocodile. Charles was fantastic, patiently explaining and sharing tips with us. It was a great 4 hour walk and we were back to the campsite just before 11 am. Lunch consisted of tuna sandwiches, and folks relaxed on the grass mats chatting, playing cards or simply chilling the day away. After lunch, we joined a group to wade in a nearby watering hole (claimed to be crocodile and hippo free by our guides) and everyone posed with mokoros and water lilies. At around 4 pm, we headed back out on our mokoros for a sunset cruise. Everyone had planned ahead for the “booze cruise”, and armed with our favorite beverages, enjoyed a relaxed outing to watch as the sunset over the Okavango Delta. It was dark when we returned, and Luke’s cook group (Luke, Lars and Ally) made a vegetable stew with butternut squash. Damien had gone fishing earlier in the day and he fried up his catch of 4 fish, sharing it with the group. It appeared that Sean really enjoyed the fish as he dug in with gusto. After dinner, it was song and dance time with our polers/guides singing traditional Botswana songs followed by our medley group attempting to sing “American Pie”, “Summer of ’69”, and “Rudolph”. The evening culminated in a congo line and the hokey pokey before everyone gathered round and sang “I shall never forget beautiful xxxx”. It was good fun and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves thoroughly. Dowelly’s guide, Heaven, split his pants after drinking a bit too much wine and after we had retired to our tents, he came aknocking for a bit more wine. We were semi comatose so we ignored his request.
7 May: We had a 6:30 am walk so it was another early morning rise. We ended up having one large group on the walk as several members of our group opted to sleep in and the low number of participants didn’t warrant 4 distinct groups. Our guide was Heaven and we ended up seeing elephants, zebras, wildebeests, jackal, warthog and a hippo on our last walk around beautiful Okavango Delta. We were back to camp at 8 am and had to hurriedly pack down for our mokoro ride back to the drop off point. After thanking Grace for her mokoro poling skills and giving Marie our tip money for a group tip, we were herded back into the truck for our long ride back into Maun. We pulled back into our campsite where everyone was happy to see Nala after being away from her for these past few days. After hurriedly reorganizing our lockers, we drove back to Maun for lunch and cook group shopping, having only 1 hour 20 minutes to accomplish everything. It was a tight schedule, but luckily we found an excellent Chinese restaurant, the Wine n’ Dine, where we ordered beef and noodles and beef fried rice for lunch while Becky’s cook group (Ichyo and Marie and Becky) went to the nearby Chippies to grab dinner, breakfast and luncheon material. By 3 pm, we were all back on the truck and Chris drove us in the direction of Chobe, our destination tomorrow. Our truck was stopped for a veterinarian checkpoint for meat and dairy products, and all of us had to tramp off the truck to sanitize our shoes for foot and mouth disease. We ended up bush camping off road and Becky’s cook group made soy mince (Chakalaka flavored) spaghetti Bolognese, served up with garlic bread. The fire was roaring so the bread was on the crusty side, but it appeared to go down well. Temperatures during the night plummeted and it was a freezing cold night to contend with.
8 May: Happy Birthday Laura (now 19 years old). It was a frigid morning so everyone supplemented their breakfast with cans of baked beans. We were on the road by 7:30 am and everyone was bundled up in their snivel gear. A huge elephant with jagged tusks was right by the roadside and we were all amazed that it was so close to the road. Even though we buzzed for a photo stop, Chris kept on going as he recognized that it was in an agitated state. We passed by massive fields of blooming sunflowers whose splashed of bright yellow livened up the countryside considerably. Lunch was leftover spaghetti and salad sandwiches, and since we were running low of time, Nancy pre-collect our Chobe River cruise money (210 Pula each). Robby was debating whether it was going to be worthwhile and had briefly considered opting out, but was convinced it was one of Botswana’s highlights. We drove onward towards Chobe and pulled into Thebe Safari Lodge where we were given a section to erect our tents. Nancy informed us that the cruise was departing at 3 pm sharp, so we had 40 minutes to hastily prepare for our afternoon excursion. Only Damien, Anna and Melissa opted out of the trip, but everyone else came armed with beverages and cameras. The Chobe River Cruise was indeed a highlight and we ended up seeing loads of elephants, crocodiles, monitor lizards, hippos, impalas, fish eagles, kingfishers, and water buffalo. What an amazing trip and such good value for the money spent (US$35 for a 3 hour tour). Everyone raved about the baby elephant accompanied by her mother to the river’s edge, giving us a prime view of these majestic animals. After returning to camp, we took hot water showers and cook group 8 (Katherine, Gin and Scott) made noodle bar for dinner. Our campsite was visited by munching elephants (accompanied by a baby elephant) and it was a great night. The birthday celebrations for Laura were a bit subdued, with a group hitting the bar at 9:30 pm for a quick one.
9 May: After breakfast, we departed Chobe and drove only 10 minutes to hit the Zimbabwean Kazungula Road border post.