Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Sonya's Okavango Delta Trip Report - May 2016

An aerial view of the Delta
There is nothing quite like flying into the Okavango Delta in Botswana. This past May I had just that privilege as I joined a condensed FAM trip with Ker & Downey Botswana. At this time of the year the waterways, just now filling with the seasonal floods, are a life source to the land – a verdant puzzle of rivers and forested islands teeming with wildlife and colorful birds, punctuated every so often with the starkness of dead leadwood trees standing tall.

On the ground, our small group explored and experienced the busy riverine life by 4X4 safaris, boat cruises, by being poled on traditional mokoro canoes, and on foot in the expert care of the professional, attentive, and simply fun guides and staff from the Ker & Downey Camps. In all, we stayed at Kanana, Shinde, Footsteps, and Okuti camps. Each boasting their own stand-out locations and styles, each complimenting the other.

At the lovely and oh-so-comfortable Kanana, we followed elephants as they swam through the channels, and returned to camp for dinner one evening to find a lion there! After following her and listening to a lonesome call for some time, we were witness to the beautiful reunion she had with her older son. At Shinde I loved the tree house feel of the main camp with so many levels and places to enjoy. Here we set off at daybreak in our mokoro canoes, being poled through the reeds and water lilies in silence is a most peaceful therapy. The staff also set up the most wonderful sundowners by a pan complete with bubbles – much to the delight of all! Okuti was loved for its beauty and pampering – and the wild dogs that surprised us (hoping for a bite of biltong, no doubt) during our sundowners! And, the insanely talented staff gave the performance of the year as they sang for all camp guests before a traditional dinner in the garden!

Footsteps Camp
Of all, the highlight camp for me was Footsteps situated in the Shinde Concession. What stood out was the exclusive and simple luxury of being immersed in the wilderness. Set along a lagoon in a shady woodland, the camp itself is humble in design with only three meru-style tents with proper twin beds and nice linens, attached toilet area and detached bucket shower. The d├ęcor harkens back to the age of true safari under canvas – throw rugs on the tented floor and wash basins outside. The small staff immediately welcome you as family and the tempting creations put out of the basic camp kitchen by chef are incredible and inspiring – there was much fanfare over a special spicy concoction that was always on the table. Though this camp is not for every traveler due to its minimalism, it is ideal for the adventurer who wants to step off the beaten path, and for families – with its exciting “Young Explorers” program which adds animal behavior lessons, bush craft and tracking skills for the children.

Walking with the elephants
Beyond the camp experience itself is the opportunity for adventurous and engaging activities – the most popular being the walking safari with highly qualified guides. To walk in the African bush is a transformative experience – each one of your senses heightening to its fullest. Imagine our thrill when only five minutes out of camp we came upon a herd of elephants feeding on the long grasses nearby. On foot, and with the wind blowing in our favor, we were unobtrusive and included, silently watching them slip by. Walking the bush at morning light we witnessed hippos returning to the water, herds of the endemic and very sweet red lechwe, busy warthogs, dozens of vibrant birds, hyenas, and so much more, the air perfumed by the scent of the wild sage plant underfoot – a favorite of lions to roll in.

All said, my magic moment came very much unplanned as I lay asleep in my tent, flaps up but screen closed. I awoke to the bucket from the shower clanging followed swiftly by the fall of water down what could only be an ele’s tummy. Turning in my bed to look out the large screen in front of me, my pulse was pounding. The lone bull elephant’s footsteps padded softly on the sand until he was standing directly in front of the tent. I doubt I exhaled for many minutes as I admired him when all of a sudden, a shooting star crossed the sky behind him. No wish necessary!

These three brothers lazed about while they sent their hard-working sister ahead to scout

Intent on a meal for the family

Sun sets on the Shinde Concession

There is no better way to end a day on safari! 

Early morning explorations by mokoro

Walking safari at Footsteps Camp

Beyond verdant waterways - the Delta's grassy plains such as these provide the perfect hunting ground for cheetah!

Botswana is a real treat for an elephant lover like me

The beautiful Okuti Camp in the Moremi Game Reserve

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