In Search of the Magic of Southern Africa

In September 2019 we left for Botswana and Namibia. We wanted to immerse ourselves in Africa: nature, wildlife, landscapes, cultures, and do so in small intimate groups and clearly off-the-beaten-path. We wanted creature comforts yet in rustic accommodations, services provided by local people, and the greatest opportunity for viewing of wildlife and meeting indigenous people.

Beginning of an amazing journey in Botswana

Untrodden created quite an amazing adventure for us! We traveled to Botswana with two good friends, starting in northern Botswana at the Kwando River (Kwando Lebala Camp0, then to the Khwai community area at the Khwai River (Little Machaba Camp), and last, to the Okavango Delta (Nxabega Tented Camp). This gave us three very different environments to explore.

While there is a serious drought in Botswana, indeed in all of south Africa, our viewing of wildlife, particularly around rivers and watering holes, was just spectacular. Highlights included just seeing the majestic wildlife, as depicted above, and enjoying the villagers who served as our guides, cooks, and new friends.

A special treat was taking a canoe down the tributary to the Khwai River to find a large family of elephants crossing the river just in front of us.

Another highlight was a walking safari at Nxabega. We stepped out of our camp just in time for an impala to fly by about 10 feet away being chased by 5 Wild African Dogs, all too fast to record by camera! We saw leopards, and in particular a female leopard calling frantically for her young cubs to come out from their hiding place. No response. We were assured that they would emerge once our vehicle left. 

We literally saw every animal we came to see, including the elusive cheetah! We were watching lions from a close distance and heard the lioness roar, a sound like no other, loud enough to vibrate the vehicle.

Botswana, its wildlife, landscapes and people were the adventure we had hoped for. Our wonderful meals served by local villagers, including surprise campfires and dinners in the bush made for some real treats. We had many deep discussions about the political conditions in Botswana around those dining tables and the reversal of the ban on hunting elephants. That recent decision almost caused us to cancel our trip to Botswana. Justin at Untrodden counseled us to consider making more of a difference by discussing the complex issues of human-elephant conflicts and how to solve the problem of overpopulation of elephants in Botswana. We listened and engaged in those discussions with locals. As a result, I was asked to take our ideas to the Minister of the Environment and see if we can help find a solution. I am following up. I had read the book "The Elephant Whisperer" en route to Botswana and along the first part of the trip. I recommend it to all as a way of understanding the emotional and intellectual makeup of elephants and their behaviors. It is a powerful tale  of a relationship between a South African man and elephants, and it helped inform my thoughts about how and why to save these incredible animals in Botswana.

Another highlight was the conservation ethic at our camps, among the villagers, and from our fellow explorers. The guides and trackers we3re not only extremely knowledgable about the behaviors of the animals we sought to see, but they were also respectful of the animals. When we came upon a young hyena waiting for its mother in the open to return, we were assured that the guides would check on it in the event that the mother didn't return and would then provide food to help the baby survive. They also ensured that we were not in large groups of other people observing the animals. They were mindful of the need to conserve water, utilize solar energy, and minimize waste. It was very heartening to see such lengths our camps weren't to be good environmental stewards.

Onto Namibia

Namibia is the land of few people and much "empty" space, beautiful orange dunes, the joyous and friendly Himba villagers, and wildlife that just melts into the incredible landscapes. We went to the Desert Rhino Camp and then to northernmost Namibia to Serra Cafema Camp on the river that separates Namibia from Angola. 

At the Rhino Camp a highlight was the translation of our menus from English to Namatamera, a click language spoken by the locals. Cookouts in the bush around a fire and of course the viewing of the magnificent black rhinos were highlights. The rhinos' horns were cut to prevent poaching for their horns. We saw a solo rhino as well as a mother and her 4 year old calf, almost her size.

Serra Cafema and our visit to the Himba Village was the highlight of the whole trip. "Mama", the matriarch of the village, was so full of life and welcomed us into her hut and village. We bestowed packaged food on the village, as the drought had been hard on the village: their cattle were dying of starvation, thus depriving them of the trading value of the cattle as well as much needed milk and meat. 

The dunes, orange sand, a majestic landscapes captured us as well. We were fortunate to go by boat down the river and crossed to the Angola side, visiting a village there. Not only were the landscapes amazing by land but also by air.

We recommend this itinerary to everyone!!

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