News from the Bush
“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small - And in return, life - and travel - leaves marks on you."
- Anthony Bourdain
Cheetah Chase (Not for Sensitive Viewers)
Naboisho Camp - Kenya (December 2017)
Mombo Camp - Botswana (October 2017)
End of Year Herd Report
Great Migration Tracker - Tanzania (December 2017)
A Thrilling Dog Chase
Vumbura Plains Camp - Botswana (April 2018)
May in Botswana
I love May in Botswana, it's a transitional month when the warm, green summer season turns to the cold, dry start of winter. Temperatures are ideal at 60-80f, there is a green background for photography, shoulder season rates apply, and there are even fewer travelers than peak season in this already low volume safari destination.
My journey through northern Botswana began in a Cessna plane headed southeast of the Okavango Delta into the Makgadikgadi Pan. The Pan is an immense ancient lake dried to a stark white color. It’s known for hosting migrating zebra, wildebeest, and flamingos in the summer season and starry sleep-outs in the dry season. Activities include guided walks with San Bushman and down time with habituated Meerkat colonies.
In my 25+ years of travel in Africa, I hadn't actually seen a Meerkat, so the experience of being used for shelter and as a look-out mound by several of these curious, scampering critters was a lot of fun. When one approached my face and stared me down, eye-to-eye, I was hoping it wouldn’t mistake my fluttering eyelash for an appetizing insect :)
My mission on this trip, in part, was to investigate the up-and-coming Natural Selection (N.S.) collection of camps springing up in southern Africa. They’re being built and operated in excellent locations by people who know more than a thing or two about safaris from decades of experience establishing other pillars in the safari-conservation-community development fields.
Natural Selection’s logo, “Safaris of Character” eludes to the eclectic décor, interesting design, and history of its camps (although knowing the people behind N.S., it could also apply to the personality, thoughtfulness, and beneficial initiatives behind their outfit).
In the Makgadikgadi region, the N.S. camps are like cabinets of curiosities, with their spattering of framed photos of elderly bushman smoking long pipes and early camp settlers, personal maps, natural history collections, and archaeological artifacts from the area (which can still be found on the earth's surface when you're out on foot).
The Moroccan / North African flavor of San and Jack's camps is achieved with long flowing drapery and pillows strewn about the floor for casual tea time and ‘shoes-off’ relaxing. San Camp is very remote and romantic with its white flowing tents; Jack's has a dramatic 'Aladdin' style pool. Camp Kalahari offers a more casual, contemporary safari vibe.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get much sleep in the Makgadikgadi, as I had the same wildebeest outside my tent both nights there. If you’ve never heard a wildebeest moan during mating season, I can tell you that it’s a very repetitious, slightly melancholy sound J
From the Makgadikgadi, I headed north into the far eastern reaches of the Okavango Delta to a private area of the Khwai Conservancy. The landscape of thick mopane brush and the occasional Baobab tree contrasted the endless openness of the Pan.
Hyena Pan Tented Camp has quickly become one of my favorite camps in Botswana, due not only to its colorful, artistic décor, but to its location on a lagoon of water that resembles the Louisiana Bayou with large trees living in standing water. Louisiana doesn’t have elephants drinking and playing in its fresh water though and I arrived to quite a show. One Ele was only exposed by its ‘snorkel’. Others paraded through the water with a rush of sound.
You would think with all of the water around camp that the elephants wouldn’t need to come looking for more. Yet they do, right up to the swimming pool for a drink which I witnessed in extraordinarily close proximity. They knew I was there and allowed me to walk slowly toward them for center stage viewing. It’s all about maintaining a respectful distance from wildlife when in the bush!
One of my favorite memories of the trip came when I was offered the opportunity to board a helicopter a VIP had chartered to show other VIPs around. Flying over the bush, and the Okavango in particular, in a helicopter is pretty spectacular. Flying over graceful galloping giraffes, steadfast elephants, and herds of zebra was more than a treat.
As my colleagues set out to look at a new camp under construction, I noticed the builders (two ladies and a handful or more of men) were fascinated by our helicopter - which was kept running with the pilot nearby during our quick stop. I couldn't help but ask the pilot if he could take them up for a quick flip. He naturally questioned whether I had the authority to add the flight time that would need to be logged and compensated. I replied “yes” as confidently as I could.
Some things are worth the risk, and potential cost I think. (thankfully the VIP who chartered the heli agreed after I confessed when I bumped into him at the conference I later attended in Durban, South Africa).
Speaking of which, the three days I spent at South Africa's annual Indaba 'gathering' of ground operators in Africa was a terrific way to cap off my two weeks in Africa. It left me excited by all of the opportunities for you in Africa - emerging, clever, diverse ways of enhancing your experience - which I will enjoy incorporating into your itineraries. The fact that we had also come together as colleagues to mark what would have been Nelson Mandela's 100th birthday added to an always inspirational stay in Africa.