My long-awaited trip to Botswana provided me with a myriad of experiences which I had only dreamt of. This is not a diary or day by day report; it is a mixture of the experiences I encountered and the emotions they evoked. Every day was spent making memories for me to recall when I’m too old to travel.
The light in Botswana is incredible. Mornings start with a gentle move from a misty darkness, through to a golden glow before the sun washes everything into much paler colours. The sunsets are incredibly fast and the hour before the sun goes down, really is the golden hour. Most evenings were spent watching the sunset, in the middle of the bush, sipping a “sundowner”. Apart from the sound of an elephant trying to tear down a palm tree (he failed), there is a contented silence.
The wildlife is incredible. The traditional scene of zebra and wildebeest together comes to life and you can see the dependency on each other for safety from predators.
I hoped I would find Honey Badger on this trip and I wasn’t disappointed. One raced across the road in front of us and I wondered if I could claim to have really seen it? But later on, as we sat in our safari vehicles, we watched a pair working hard to flush something out to eat. The female did most of the work and we quickly noticed a flaw in their strategy. Instead of one watching one of the holes, whilst the other watched the second hole, they both peered in the same hole, leaving one unguarded. Nevertheless, their patience was rewarded and a small rodent sprung out of the hole. All the male had to do, was catch it and dinner was served. He missed!
The Giant Porcupines were amazing, we stood alongside four of them as they munched on vegetable and salad scraps. There was a deafening rattle when they shook their quills and photographs in the spotlight made them look like spectacular fireworks.
A ride in a Makoro in an Okavango dug-out canoe, to reach our lodge from an airstrip was curtailed a little due to a male hippo. We also had to take a detour to avoid the buffalo – this became known as the ‘buffalo bypass’. It was incredible to arrive in this manner, but leaving a lodge on foot was even more emotional. Saying goodbye to the lovely staff who looked after us so well and wandering off into the bush felt like a real African adventure!
The hippopotamus is a much-feared African mammal and we had to avoid a few male adolescent hippos who had been expelled from their herd. They did not greet us with a smile! However, on many nights, I was lulled to sleep by the sound of an adult hippo gently grazing directly outside my room. Seeing piles (I am sure there is a collective name of hippos, but they really do congregate in piles) slumbering in the mud and the rivers during the day, waking up to yawn widely or take a passing blow at a member of the herd who got too close, became the norm.
We saw so many elephants it was impossible to count them. Some of them with young, all of them happy to go about their business and ignore our presence apart from a curious look or outstretched trunk to see if we smelt OK. The giraffes were poised and elegant, even when they broke into a run they managed to look as if they were super models on the cat walk.
We were treated to spectacular views of lions, both in the bush and around our camp. One evening we found a lioness and three cubs happily eating a kudu outside one of the rooms. That night was blissfully disturbed by the sound of lions munching, jackals screaming and a hippo ignoring them all and grazing under my window. The next morning, as I wandered down the three steps from my room, I came face to face with a lioness. I remembered the instructions – don’t run, stand firm and I compromised with a “good morning, how lovely to see you” whilst I slowly and carefully backed away. Once “safely” in my room I felt immensely privileged to be so close to such majestic animals and spent my time photographing her three cubs staring in at me until the guides came along to “rescue” me.
Leopards always capture my imagination and I was overjoyed to watch one pose under a bush before giving us a disdainful look and wandering off like a diva! Later that day we captured the iconic photo of a Leopard in a tree, lying across a branch with one relaxed leg dangling.
On our last evening, after a lovely meal, there was a huge roar by a male lion! We all jumped and then remembered we were experienced African travellers and settled back in our chairs. The cry from the local guides “Finished – we need to go.” We assumed “go” meant retreat to a “safer” place. How wrong! “Go” meant jump into the safari vehicles, do some extreme off-roading, crashing through the bush to find the male lion! We did! My first male Kalahari Lion in the Kalahari Desert, sitting under a bush, looking straight at me!
I haven’t mentioned many, if any, birds. The bird life is superb and I did surprise myself at how many I could name when looking at my photos. Pel’s Fishing Owl was my favourite and the Lilac Breasted Roller was a favourite of many others, beautiful in flight and very obliging at sitting still for a photo.
How do I sum up this holiday? It was a trip of a lifetime where experiences created memories which will remain with me. I loved showering outside under the African sky listening to the animals. I loved falling asleep to the sound of a hippo. I loved taking detours to let elephants through. I loved the peace of a Makoro journey. I am grateful to the animals and birds of Chobe, Kwai River, the Okavango Delta and the Kalahari Desert for allowing me into their world to watch and wonder. Words do not do it justice.
If you would like to join Speyside Wildlife in next time Botswana please contact us on 01479 812498 to let us know. In April 2020 Roy will be guiding our holiday in Tanzania. You can read all the holiday details and book online. For further inspiration and to learn more about Tanzania and the Serengeti, catch up with the new BBC series of the same name on iPlayer – perfectly capturing the beauty and drama of this top wildlife destination.