Mind-Boggling Botswana!

Well, in our wildest dreams, we never imagined having as much fun in Botswana as we had during the past week.  It was a real highlight of our trip, and a place we can’t wait to return to.  We visited two camps — Jack’s and Stanley’s — and loved each.  There’s just no doubt that Africa is a great place for our family, and we’re having a ball here.

Like Namibia, Botswana is a relatively unpopulated country in southern Africa (1.8 million total population).  It’s a land-locked country, with few agricultural resources.  But Botswana has lots of mineral resources, including diamonds, and has been investing aggressively in its future.  It’s a terrific country, safe, with lots of nice people, and great wildlife viewing.

Makgadi-kgadi Salt Pans

Botswana -- Jack's 149 We started our stay in Botswana at Jack’s camp, in the Makgadi-kgadi Salt Pans.  The area is fairly dry and flat, with its main feature being a huge salt pan (or flat) that stretches for hundreds of kilometers.  The area is physically attractive, although it’s main draw is the wildlife and the local bushmen.

Botswana -- Jack's 427 We saw some great wildlife at Jack’s, including the Aardwolf, the Bat-eared Fox, African Elephants, Zebra, the Cape Porcupine (see Gibson’s report on this interesting creature), and the fascinating Meerkat.  We also picked up a number of new bird species here, as well as a Kalahari Tent Tortoise.  This area was so rich in wildlife that each hour brought a new surprise.

Botswana -- Jack's 108 While at Jack’s we also went out with three local bushmen, including the legendary “Cobra.”  It was great to meet them, learn about their culture, see first-hand some of their survival skills, and explore the local area with Africa’s original inhabitants, a culture that goes back as far in history as any around the world.

Botswana -- Jack's 227 Our highlight at Jack’s was a great experience with wild Meerkats.  If you’ve seen Lion King, you know about Meerkats.  They are fascinating animals, about the size of a house cat, with a tight sense of community and endlessly cute.  We walked among a Meerkat cluster here, and this may be the only place in the world where you can get this close to an elusive animal.  All of us wanted to figure out a way to have a Meerkat as a pet next year, but suspect they’ll all stay right here in Botswana.

Botswana -- Jack's 337 We also went out one night on ATV’s and explored the salt flats at sunset.  We stopped at a remote spot, watched the sun come down and the fabulous Southern Hemisphere stars rise.  We took some blankets and laid down on the salt flats, and really didn’t want to leave.  This time of year, though, there is enough moisture in the pans that animals occasionally cross at night.  But during the dry season, you can sleep under the stars there, which would be a fabulous experience.

Okavango Delta

Botswana -- Stanley's 055 We then spent three days exploring the Okavango Delta, one of Botswana’s top attractions.  This place is flat out unreal when it comes to wildlife.  We saw so many great things here, and loved the location, the camp, and the wildlife.  It’s much wetter than the other places we’ve visited so far, with many water crossings, dense forest, all attracting a different type of wildlife. 

Botswana -- Stanley's 277 While at Stanley’s, we saw a large number of new birds (37 new species after almost two weeks in the wild, including the Bateleur Eagle on the right), as well as some great reptiles (the Rock Monitor Lizard, the Flap-necked Chameleon, and the Striped Skaapsteker snake), the Painted Reed Frog, and several great mammals, including a look at a Hippo, and great looks at the African Bush Baby (an adorable tiny primate), the Impala, close views of the African Elephant, and many encounters with Giraffes (including one on the side of our air landing strip!!).

Botswana -- Stanley's 078 Our highlight, though, was a chance encounter early one morning with a waking Leopard, perched on a tree limb.  We watched the Leopard up close for about ten minutes, when it decided to come down the tree — right before our eyes!  We followed the Leopard’s path down the tree, by our vehicle, and along the road behind us.  It was totally amazing!

Botswana -- Stanley's 173 We spent a morning with an elephant researcher, who had moved to Botswana from Oregon twenty years ago, and now spends every waking hour caring for a set of three semi-wild elephants.  We learned a ton (well, 5-6 tons, to be precise) about elephants from him, and got to spend some time with these very smart animals.  They have such a great social structure, including a collaborative approach to raising their young.  By the end of the morning, we felt like we had become great friends with these three massive animals.

Botswana -- Stanley's 357 And we spent another morning out on canoes in the Okavango Delta.  We got some great close-up views of the local frogs, as well as getting a chance to explore a very peaceful and beautiful location in this part of the world.  We had mixed feelings about having a chance encounter with a hippo on this outing, but didn’t come across any.  That said, some wild elephants crossed behind us while we were out, and we were glad to keep our distance from them!

We left Botswana feeling like we had just spent a week in one of the world’s most amazing places.  It is so beautiful, so preserved, and so exciting that it was tempting to just call off the rest of our trip and spend the next seven weeks in Botswana!

Leave a Reply