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DARCIE'S TRAVEL REVIEW

Botswana November 2009

Delta Camp BotswanaDelta Camp BotswanaDelta Camp tree housePainted Reed FrogPels Fishing OwlMapula LodgeMapula LodgeMeno a KwenaMeno A KwenaSankuyo Bush CampLion at Sankuyo Bush CampPom Pom Camp

Victoria Falls, The Okavango Delta, and the Kalahari Desert

Somewhere between October and November, the rains return to southern Africa and the animals begin their migration to return to areas that could not sustain life in the dry season. The dry season, ironically enough, is the time for the floods from Angola to spread across the Okavango Delta; concentrating thirsty widlife within its water-abundant marshlands.

I arrived in Botswana on October 28th; in time to enjoy the sweltering heat --yes, I said enjoy (It was snowing when I left home). October offers the lowest water levels on the Zambezi River for the wildest white water rafting of the season, and although the wildlife had already begun to disperse from the Delta, the game viewing was fantastic. Each night offered a melodic chorus of thunderstorms, hippos, and frogs after a hot day of clear skies.

From the four-person propeller plane, I had a bird's eye view of the Okavango Delta as Elephant, hippo, giraffe, and zebra dotted the landscape. I touched down at Delta Camp and was greeted by my guide, TK, who led me on a walk to the lodge. My accommodation was a tree house overlooking the river. I lived with the birds for two nights, preferring the tranquility of my hammock to the comfort of my beautiful open-air room. All amenities were available with their own Swiss Family Robinson-style flair.

Mokoros allow visitors to feel completely immersed in the surrounding environment as the plants pass alongside the boat and birds immerge from their hiding places in the tall grass. TK did all the work, the poor man, pushing us both through the grasses and water with a long pole in the November heat. We encountered impala, zebra, giraffe, hippo, red lechwe, wildebeest, elephant, and many other herbivores and birds. When I expressed interest in birds, TK customized my experience to search for the very elusive Pels Fishing Owl, an endangered species and an animal that many guides claim to have seen once or twice in their life. We walked through the grasses, TK carrying our ice box of cold drinks with his eyes on the trees. He had heard the owl days before, and sure enough he found it--a ginger-colored owl with enormous, scornful black eyes. We watched it for a long while and then left before it became agitated to make sure it would feel safe to return to the spot. That night, I heard a leopard calling into the darkness, claiming its territory.

My next stop was Mapula Lodge, located a short plane flight from Delta Camp. This lodge is set within a 12,000 hectare private concession where the game roams freely and game drives cover great distances across the magnificently beautiful landscapes to find them. I spent one afternoon sitting on the veranda connected to my room and listening to the Fishing Eagles calling out as they hunted throughout the day. Highlights of the game viewing included a herd of Sable Antelope, large herds of elephant, and a Tawny Eagle having dinner at the expense of a Francolin.

After Mapula Lodge, I visited Meno a Kwena, meaning "Tooth of the Crocodile," as it was called because of the crocodile skulls that were found there after the river dried up. The landscape has changed this year, though, and what once was a barren landscape has become a large river for the first time in fifty years. It is still very much a desert landscape despite the river's return and is acclaimed for its access to viewing the zebra migration, but now has also become a favorite hang-out for elephant. This has not dispelled the zebra but rather created a more year-round attraction that does not rely as heavily on the migration alone. From the lodge, perched atop a precipice, visitors have front-row seats to the migration as well as elephants playing in the river all day long. The accommodations are spread in large tents with day beds and covered open areas to relax and enjoy the private view of the river. Although the camp offers game drives, overnight camping in the salt pans, and ATV rides, the atmosphere is so relaxing that most people come just to sit on the cliff side and absorb the beauty of the area.

My next stop was Sankuyo Bush Camp, a rustic camp that offers good chances of seeing wild dogs. Just two months before my arrival, a pack of wild dogs took down an impala in the lodge's common area right in front of guests. The evenings were filled with a chorus of cicadas in the mopane forest and hyenas laughing and most likely begging for scraps from a leopard kill according to my guide. There were many week-old impalas and many pregnant females. It was the season for it, and within a few weeks of each other the impalas synchronize their labor with the others in the herd, but we were actually fortunate enough to witness an impala giving birth. The baby's feet stuck out ouf her as she wandered into the trees to find a private place to lie down. The following day, we came upon a week-old impala skeleton that was almost completely stripped clean by the vultures. I did not witness a kill on this trip, but my two days at Sankuyo were a reminder of life's fragility. On my final morning, I was woken up by my guide, inviting me to skip breakfast and look for the lion roaring in the distance. We didn't go far before spotting the older male. He relaxed in the morning shade after a long night and didn't think twice about us as we watched him nodding off to sleep. It was a wonderful ending to my time at Sankuyo.

My last stop was Pom Pom Camp, a beautiful spot in the Delta that offers game drives, mokoro, walking safaris, and fishing. The camp is a favorite hang-out for elephant, hippo, and a troop of baboons who decided that they should share my front porch with me. The camp's warnings of interaction with the wildlife are not to be underestimated, and on several occasions I was unable to walk to/from my tent because an elephant was in the way. I shared my game drive vehicle with a group from Germany, who said that they saw a leopard within their first fifteen minues on their first game drive at Pom Pom. Our evening game drive included many curious giraffe and a good sized water monitor lizard. Dinner was served with everyone at one large table and we spent the evening around the campfire before retiring to our tents. I enjoyed one final outdoor shower before departing on a final game drive in search of my leopard whose prints were everywhere but remained hidden until my plane arrived. I suppose I can use this as an excuse to return to this magical world---this place that has captivated my heart beyond words.

Click Here to Read Part I - Zambia and Victoria Falls

Click Here to view more pictures of Darcie's trip

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