Maun to Johannesburg

October 25, 2008 – Saturday – Maun, Botswana to Johannesburg, South Africa

I say goodbye to Victor and Ernst in Maun airport. Ernst’s connecting flight to Johannesburg doesn’t leave until tomorrow, so he will overnight in Maun. I give Victor a generous tip since he did such an outstanding job guiding us for the last 12 days.

When I check in for Air Namibia SW139 – Maun to Windhoek, they don’t want to check my bag since it is so small. Security isn’t concerned about liquids, so I take the bag aboard with me. The first officer hands everyone a meal tray as we board the Beech 1900D Airliner: Fruit juice, 2 little meat patties (cold), bottled water, dessert. It wasn’t bad – I eat most of mine while we wait on the ground, since the flight is delayed because ATC didn’t receive a flight plan! The first officer goes inside and files a flight plan, and we still depart on time, flying to Windhoek at 21,000′.

Flight map – Maun to Johannesburg via Windhoek

The in-transit waiting area at Windhoek Airport seems to be filled with mostly German speakers and South Africans speaking with that clipped English accent. I can’t get a wireless connection, but my cellphone seems to connect to the cellular network without a problem (as it did in Maun Airport). Windhoek Airport is very modern, clean, and well-run.

I encounter a very ignorant Afrikaner while lining up at the boarding gate at Windhoek Airport. He wanted to go first in line, so I invited him to go ahead of me. He then called me “a creep” by way of a thank you! Our Air Namibia SW712 – Windhoek – Johannesburg (Boeing 737-500) flight departs at 6:45pm. There are thunderstorms brewing as we board, with some light rain falling. The thunderstorms make the flight very choppy, but the Air Namibia cabin crew do a good job serving drinks and dinner.

Upon arrival in Johannesburg Airport, I don’t have to wait for luggage to appear on the carousel since I have my small bag and camera bag with me as carry-on luggage. I am diverted around South African immigration, so I end up moving through the airport rather quickly. I meet my driver as arranged by Thompsons Africa; we retrieve my big bag from storage, and we’re off to the Protea Waterfront Hotel. This hotel is located midway between Johannesburg and Pretoria, so it takes almost an hour to wind our way through rush hour traffic on the expressways. I find my notebook computer is still inside my big bag as I unpack it in the hotel room – thank goodness!

Tomorrow I start the South African Surprise tour, which is a bus tour driving from Johannesburg down the coast of South Africa to Cape Town.


Xigera Camp

Xigera Mokoro Trail Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana

October 23, 2008 – Thursday – We take a Noon flight to Xigera airstrip, and are met at the airstrip by the Xigera camp manager. He drives us a short distance to the launch point for the motorboat which will take us to Xigera Camp. The problem is the water level is so low, the boat driver has to gun it so we “fly” through the shallows. It is a thrilling trip!

There are no cots to sleep on at Xigera Camp, so we have to sleep on the floor of the tents with a foam pad under us. There are only short drop toilets (no flush). There are almost no mosquitoes at the camp, despite Victor warning us they would reappear here. The reason things are more “rustic” at this camp is because there are no roads into the camp. All camp fixtures and supplies have to be brought in by boat, and due to the shallow water, mokoros (dug out canoes) are the usual mode of transportation in this area of the Okavango Delta. We are staying at a tiny remote camp deep in the delta – some say this is the best water-based safari in Botswana.

JoeTourist: Xigera Camp &emdash; William poles a Mokoro carrying our camp supplies
William poles a Mokoro carrying our camp supplies

William is the local guide for this camp. He takes us on a walking safari at 5:30pm, and we see some Kudus. The camp staff setup a table in the savannah just outside camp, and serve us Sundowners. We have a wonderful lamb stew, rice & vegetables for dinner, and eat around the campfire. We don’t have a mosquito problem either night at this camp, probably due to the daytime heat and the evening breezes.

This area of the Okavango Delta is permanently flooded and is very picturesque, however there are fewer big game in this area. The game are harder to approach, since safaris in this area are either on foot or in a mokoro (dug out canoe). Without the use of safari vehicles, it is not easy to find or get close to the animals. This doesn’t really concern me, since our time in Linyanti Camp, Lechwe Island Camp, and the Chobe River boat cruise have fully satisfied me for observing and photographing African big game. However if you are booking safari tours in Botswana, be sure to include camps in other areas of the Okavango Delta where safari vehicles can be used.

October 24, 2008 – Friday – We are up at 5:30am for an early morning Mokoro safari through the waterways. We see a large family of baboons playing around in a big tree near the shoreline; Red Lechwe antelope bounding through the water; Kudu watching us from the shoreline; and we see crocodile tracks on shore and hear some Hippopotamus a short distance away from our mokoros. We return to camp by 9:20am – the Sun is already high in the sky, and the daytime heat is building. We have Brunch at 10:30am, then it is time for a siesta as the midday heat takes hold (about 40°C in the shade). All our tents are located under the shade of trees, so we are reasonably comfortable as we rest.

JoeTourist: Xigera Camp &emdash; Resident black-faced monkey in the trees above our tents
Resident black-faced monkey in the trees above our tents

Botswanan men normally keep their hair close cropped, but one strikingly handsome young Mokoro poler has about 1cm long curls. I saw Victor tutoring him as he poled us through the channels, so he is obviously studying to be a guide. Most camp staff take their careers seriously, with many studying so they can apply for advancement opportunities. The operator of the camps we used in Botswana is Wilderness Safaris, which appear to offer local people well paid careers in eco-tourism.

Later in the afternoon, I spot some very cute resident monkeys in the trees above our tents. They play peek-a-boo with me and my video camera. The camp staff have done a wonderful job of keeping all the food out of the way, and not tempting the monkeys to come down from the tree canopy. We have no problems with the monkeys as a result. We go on another mokoro safari through the waterways between 5:30pm and 7pm, and see some birds, a very colourful Reed Frog, and some elephant bones on an adjacent island.

JoeTourist: Xigera Camp &emdash; Resting Giraffe
Resting Giraffe

October 25, 2008 – Saturday – We get up at 5:30am for one last early morning safari before we leave camp. This time we walk, and see two sets of Leopard tracks, Elephants in the distance, and some Impala on the savannah in the middle of the island we are located on.

We leave camp at 12 noon on the motor boat – once again zipping through the shallow delta water at full throttle. It is just as thrilling as our arrival trip! We spot a Giraffe sitting down in the bush and resting (a first), and we also watch brown-striped Zebras graze beside the Xigera airstrip before we board the last local flight we will take in Botswana – flying from Xigera to Maun.


Lechwe Island Camp

Lechwe Island Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana, Africa

October 20, 2008 – Monday – As we arrive at Lechwe Island Camp, in addition to offering us cool towels, the staff break out into a welcome song! This camp is located in the Moremi Game Reserve Private Concession, and is not as dry as the previous camp. The waterways seem endless as we drive around on safari. There are lots of water birds to see (ducks, geese, herons, wading birds).

October 21, 2008 – Tuesday – There was lightning and thunder just before dawn this morning, but no rain. On our safari this morning we spot a Leopard on the far side of a clearing. It was just sitting there looking at us, and then took off into the bush. Victor parked the Land Cruiser and took us on our first walking safari. He was packing a gun, and we were walking single file. Strict instructions from Victor: don’t wander off, and if an elephant charges, stand your ground. He tells us he has never had to fire his gun, and he only armed it once. After we were back in the vehicle, we also saw an Elephant carcass, a herd of Buffalo, and some Kudus leaping and bounding across a spillway. I am fascinated with a pair of Saddle-billed Storks – performing for us, as they land and take off again. They are huge water birds with bright orange beaks and beautiful black and white body colouring.

This evening I decide to observe the stars from in front of my tent, since this site is so dark. It must be 1,000 kilometres to the nearest town of any size. The Milky Way is virtually overhead and is a spectacular site. The Large Magellanic Cloud and the Small Magellanic Cloud are both visible with my unaided eye.

October 22, 2008 – Wednesday – On our safari this morning we spot an old female Elephant feeding in a clearing by herself. She appears to be near death – her ribs are showing and she has an indented forehead. Victor tells us she is alone because she can’t keep up with the herd. Apparently her molars will also be worn out, so she will have trouble digesting her food, which explains why she is so thin. Sad, but that’s life…and death.

Impala are normally very skittish – they don’t become adapted to safari vehicles like other game. Today a group of Impala were preoccupied with something other than us, so I took my best video of this animal (see below for the video). The effects of the Kalahari are never far from travellers to Botswana. Daytime heating can whip up strong, hot winds, especially in the afternoon. After lunch such a wind happened, so I washed a few clothes and hung them out – they were dry in an hour – just as fast as a clothes dryer!

JoeTourist: Lechwe Island Camp &emdash; One of a pride of four lions resting beside a water hole
One of a pride of four lions resting beside a water hole

We had a special treat on this afternoon’s safari. We came upon a pride of four lions resting beside a water hole. The sun was low in the sky, so we just stayed there and observed until the sun set. It was a magical experience.

As we returned to camp in the dark, we saw the eyes of a leopard off in the bush just outside camp. Victor also spotted a scorpion in the road as we were driving into camp, and stopped so we could get a photo. He wouldn’t let us out of the vehicle, because he said this particular scorpion is one of the most poisonous. There is no known anti-venom treatment. When I returned to my tent, there was a Preying Mantis hanging out on the frame of my wash basin – a big bug at about 3cm long!

JoeTourist: Lechwe Island Camp &emdash; Morning light over the spillway
Morning light over the spillway at Lechwe Island Camp

October 23, 2008 – Thursday – The morning light illuminates the spillway in front of my tent, making the scene look almost like a painting. Observing the Kudus and Impalas across the water with my binoculars makes the morning that much more sublime. We go on a short canoe trip up the spillway before leaving to catch our noon flight to Xigera Camp.

Botswana Safari Map
Botswana Safari Map

Linyanti Camp

Linyanti Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana

JoeTourist: Linyanti Camp &emdash; Female elephant and baby decide to cross the spillway in front of us
Female elephant and baby decide to cross the spillway in front of us

October 17, 2008 – Friday – As I lie in bed this evening, I hear Hippopotamus in the spillway just a few metres from my tent flap.I quickly learn that this vacation is not going to include the luxury of sleeping in. Early morning is the most productive time to go on safari, so we need to get up before the Sun rises and be ready to observe the animals as they start their morning activities.

Here is our routine for the three days we were at Linyanti Camp:

  • 5am wakeup
  • 5:30am breakfast
  • 6am -11am – Main Safari with a tea break mid-morning
  • Noon Lunch in camp
  • Siesta until 4pm – very hot part of the day (40°C in the shade)
  • 4pm Shower
  • 4:30pm-7:00pm – second Safari with a break
  • 7:30pm dinner

Linyanti Camp is on the border between the Savuti Spillway and the dry mopane woodland. My tent is only a few metres away from the Spillway, so I have a wonderful location to observe wildlife from as they move along and through the water. We have strict instructions from camp staff to not leave our tents without an escort. This is not a zoo – this is real life! The big game in particular can be very dangerous. Each tent has a short drop toilet en-suite for night-time use, so we don’t have to go wandering around the camp in the dark to find the toilet.

JoeTourist: Linyanti Camp &emdash; Victor and Ernst consult a wildlife guide while we stop for tea
Victor and Ernst consult a wildlife guide while we stop for tea

There are rules to follow while on safari as well. First rule: stay in the vehicle at all times. Second rule: be quiet and don’t move around! The only time we get out of the vehicle is for rest stops and tea time. Our guides pick a safe spot and keep a watch out for animal movement while we are stretching our legs or having a snack. We must not wander off out of sight. Big game animals don’t consider the safari vehicle a threat, and providing we appear to be part of the vehicle by being quiet and still, they are quite happy to let us get close to them. They obviously know the vehicle is there, but they just don’t care, especially once they are conditioned to having vehicles approach them.

Land Rovers rigged for safaris typically hold 9 passengers, and Land Cruisers hold 10-12 passengers depending on how they are configured. Since there was only Ernst and myself in a Land Cruiser, we could take advantage of moving from side to side, and having our photo gear bags open and beside us at all times. This was an ideal situation, since we never had anyone in the way of observing or photographing an animal. Victor and his side man were also able to cater to our every need, since they only had two people to deal with. Ernst and I were very pleased with this situation, and I think you will agree I managed to capture some very good photos and video as the safari progressed.

JoeTourist: Linyanti Camp &emdash; Wild Dogs lying in the shade after eating a kill
Wild Dogs lying in the shade after eating a kill

October 18, 2008 – Saturday – Our morning safari is very productive. First up are two male lions and a female resting under some bushes beside the Savuti Spillway. Shortly after that Victor receives a radio report of some Wild Dogs, however it is some distance away. Nonetheless, we drive to the spot and are rewarded with perhaps the wildlife highlight of the trip: 6 adult Wild Dogs and 7 pups. Victor tells us there are only 2,000 left in the whole of Botswana. We sit there about five metres away from the pack and just take our time. They obviously just finished devouring a fresh kill, because they are all lying on the ground in the shade of a big tree. They don’t bother chasing off the vultures from claiming a few of the scraps.

Our late afternoon safari isn’t so productive, since we get stuck in the Kalahari sand. Victor radios for the service crew to rescue us, so we are on our way in less than an hour.

October 19, 2008 – Sunday – We park beside the Savuti Spillway and watch a female Elephant and her baby cross the water toward us. She is very wary of us, and takes her time before they both make a final dash for the shore and vanish into the cover. We also see Giraffe twice: once early in the morning as they are feeding on tree leaves, and again in the late afternoon as they are returning from the spillway. After we return to camp, some Elephants wander through the camp while we are resting in our tents.

October 20, 2008 – MondayLinyanti Camp to Lechwe Island Camp – We had some rain last night which lasted about 20 minutes – enough to see some splatters in the sand, but not enough to do any good. I hear some Hippopotamus in front of my tent this morning, and take a photo through the tent flap. You don’t want to go outside and risk a confrontation, since Hippos can easily outrun humans, and they have a nasty attitude.

JoeTourist: Linyanti Camp &emdash; Aerial view of the Okavango Delta - dry area near Linyanti Camp

We leave for the next camp this morning. The closest airstrip is built in the delta and is flooded out, so we have to drive to an alternate airstrip. This takes all morning, so we make a safari out of it; stopping for morning tea and lunch along the way. The flight is delayed an hour, so we must spend the time waiting in the afternoon heat.

Being a private pilot, I love traveling in small aircraft. We were transferred between camps three times in small aircraft on this trip. I think my aerial photos of the Okavango Delta really show the beauty of the area. Although it is bone dry as we drive over the Kalahari sand while on safari, the water from the delta area nourishes the vegetation, and provides a biodiversity that rarely occurs elsewhere in Africa.


Shackleton’s Lodge to Linyanti Camp

October 17, 2008 – Friday – Shackeltons Lodge, Zambia to Linyanti Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana

Botswana Safari Map
Botswana Safari Map

We are up at 6am, since it will be a long day of traveling.I spot a Kingfisher on the Zambezi at dawn just outside my veranda. We have a full English breakfast at Shackletons this morning and then we are on our way. We turn at Kazungula and arrive at the Zambian side of the Zambezi River crossing. We get our Zambian exit visa, say goodbye to our driver Jacob, and then catch a private launch across the river to Botswana.

The Kazungula vehicle ferry also crosses the Zambezi, however one of the two ferries is out of service, so trucks are waiting up to two weeks to cross the river in either direction. The two governments plan to build a bridge some day.

First stop is a Chobe River boat cruise. We spend the next few hours motoring slowly along the Chobe River and see lots of wildlife. Lunch and snacks are included, so it is a very pleasant start to the day. The Chobe River is on the border between Botswana, Zambia and Namibia. Since the boat is covered and only has the two of us on it. Ernst and I are kept very busy taking both still photos and video. The game are quite close, and the boat provides a reasonably steady platform for photography. I don’t forget to use my binoculars as well – the extra magnification and image stabilization make animal observation very rewarding.

The Chobe River boat cruise is one way, so at the end we transfer to our Land Cruiser to continue the journey to Lynanti Camp. Originally we were scheduled to fly to Linyanti Camp, and then drive from Linyanti to Lechwe Camp, but due to flooding in the Okavango Delta, the road from Linyanti to Lechwe is impassable, so those arrangements are now reversed.

Linyanti Camp is a very long 170km drive from Kasane in our Jeep Land Cruiser. After clearing Botswana customs at 1:30pm, we are on the road all afternoon, arriving at Linyanti Camp at 6pm. It is a punishing ride through a highway made of soft sand, however along the way there are lots of game to see: African Fish Eagles, Lilac Breasted Rollers, Giraffes, Buffalo, Warthogs, and Zebras. Just before we arrive at the camp, we see three female lions resting beside the shoreline at sunset. One female is older and thinner and the other two are younger. They all seem to be fat and happy, and they don’t bat an eye as we pull right up to them in our Land Cruiser.

Drinks and dinner are waiting for us when we arrive in Linyanti Camp after dark, thanks to the camp staff. As I lie in bed this evening, I hear Hippopotamus in the spillway just a few metres from my tent flap.