Sunday, August 25, 2013

Into the Wild (Botswana Edition, Part 1)

Botswana is considered the absolute mecca when it comes to viewing wildlife. It's often on the top of safari travelers' lists because you're nearly guaranteed to see lions, leopards and other predators along with hundreds of elephants and plains game like antelope, wildebeest and smaller animals.

In Botswana, the Okavango Delta is considered the best place for experiencing wildlife. The Delta is a unique ecosystem where rains from the mountains of southern Angola move down through Namibia and into the Okavango River, flooding into the desert in Botswana and creating the Okavango Delta. It's the biggest oasis on the planet, and the only place in the world where the floods start in the desert and end in the desert - the water runs out before it reaches the ocean.

Because of the huge quantities of water in the Okavango Delta, animals from hundreds of miles away migrate to the region during the dry season for easy access to waterholes and abundant foods. Reaching the Okavango Delta has been one of our main goals on this trip, and we were blown away by how many animals we saw in Botswana.

We entered Botswana from Namibia on the Western side of the Delta and spent a few nights at Guma Lagoon. Getting there proved to be a challenge - we had to drive through deep sand and a small lagoon to arrive at the camp site. It didn't help that our GPS pointed us one way, the signs on the route pointed a different way, and these boys told us an entirely different way.

Highway robbers - these boys wouldn't tell us the way to our next camp site until we gave them our chips, and even after that, the road they pointed us to was completely flooded over.

It was great to stay put for a few days in a row and not have to collapse the tent. We enjoyed time going for leisurely walks, reading, lying in the sun and we spent an afternoon (unsuccessfully) fishing on the lagoon.

Sunset on Guma Lagoon

After a few days of R&R at Guma Lagoon, we made our way to Maun, one of Botswana's larger towns and the epicenter of the safari action going into the Okavango Delta. Our first stop was the Toyota Service Center - our LandCruiser kept refusing to turn off, even when we took the keys out of the ignition. We'd gotten good at stalling the car to get the engine to shut down, but thought it should be looked at and needed to have our 10K kilometer service done anyway.

Once in Maun, we started researching places to visit and potential campsites for Moremi Game Reserve. Before we came to Botswana, we had been told that it was impossible to book a campsite as they had all been pre-booked for months in advance. We had been told that each camp site holds one or two spots for people who show up last minute, so our plan was to simply show up at a campsite at 4 or 5 in the afternoon and ask for a space. At that point, the camp is required to give you a spot as you're not allowed to drive through the national park and wilderness areas at night. We were surprised and delighted to find out that we were able to book a few nights in Moremi Game Reserve and one in Savuti Camp - both very wild places where you're guaranteed to see a lot of game.

We had a few days before our newly booked camping reservations in Moremi, so we decided to do some true bush camping in the Okavango Delta and signed up for a 2 night canoe camping trip out in the wild.

The morning we departed we were loaded into a huge military type truck which was, for some unknown reason, named Roberta.

Roberta, our post-war ride to the mokoro boat launch

After a 90 minute drive through the mostly sand roads, we arrived at a small village where the mokoro boats (traditional wooden canoes) were waiting. Each mokoro is operated by a professional poler, who has likely been navigating through the Okavango Delta in a small wooden canoe for most of their life. 

Mokoro ride in the Okavango Delta
After a few hours of poling through the tall grasses of the Okavango (and avoiding hippos, crocs and elephants when we came across them!), we arrived at our campsite. Our guide, Gideon, informed us that the primary activities during our two nights and three days would be relaxing and bush walks. He wasn't kidding. We did a 4 hour bush walk each day, and pretty much spent the rest of the day hanging out, reading, and taking spins out in the delta trying to learn to navigate the mokoro as gracefully as the experienced polers.

On one of our bush walks, we spotted a huge herd of giraffe - we counted a total of 73 in all. They are seriously impressive when you see them from a vehicle, but it's quite another thing to be on the ground looking up at them. There was also a large group of zebra together with the giraffe - apparently the zebra rely on the giraffe to be their eyes in the thick bush, spotting predators from a distance.

Two young male giraffes fighting over access to females

Part of the 70+ giraffe herd we spotted while on a bush walk

Watching the moon on a bush walk
Running zebra on our bush walk

One evening our guide took us out for a sunset ride - not a bad view!

Okavango Delta sunset

Please know we are doing our best to keep this blog updated but connections are very slow and hard to find. Plus, we're just trying to enjoy our time in the bush without being on the computer too much! We promise we'll continue to share stories about our adventures as often as we can.


  1. Sounds absolutely amazing and fun! I cannot believe how much you've done and seen! Now hurry up and get done with all of those African animals so you can get back to your Portlandian peeps! WE MISS YOU!

  2. What an amazing adventure you two are having. So glad to have an update, I check every Monday for them. Can't wait to hear more. Enjoy!!!

  3. Hey Guys, have been reading your blog & quite envious of it. My gal & I are retiring in 12-18 months & planning a tour for 2015-16. You guys make it seem all so wonderful. It all sounds like an absloute fantastic adventure.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Dirk, Altanta GA.

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