Botswana Khoisan, Okavango Delta, Burglary, Fire, and Chobe National Park


Mokoro Okavango Delta
Mekoro on the Okavango Delta
Botswana

We departed Namibia February 9th for a week exploring Botswana, Okavango Delta, and Chobe National Park. Thankfully the Namibia to Botswana border crossing went smoothly. As we passed into Botswana our guides reminded us of two local rules:

  • Animals always have the right-of-way
  • Never, ever try to bribe the Botswana Police
Carmine Bee Eater
Ghanzi and the Kalahari Desert

We spent the night in Ghanzi – a small town in the middle of the Kalahari Desert. Known as the “capital of the Kalahari” Ghanzi has cattle farms and a “conglomeration of ethnic groups”. The San and Bakgalagadi were Ghanzi’s original inhabitants. In the late 1800s, the BatawanaHerero, and others settled in the area.

Hippo Yawns?
Hippo Yawn

Ghanzi villagers maintain cattle, donkeys, and sheep – all affected by serious drought over the past several years. Animals graze along the roadside and also on the roads! Driving in the area is tricky with the government imposing a severe punishment for injuring animals.

Chobe Hippo
Chobe Hippo

Botswana is socially conscious and invests substantially in the education and healthcare of its people. The country doesn’t have the racial issues of many other African countries. The Botswana government uses a form of ecotourism – “high income and low impact tourism”. Botswana charges more for services than adjacent African countries, prohibiting some travelers from visiting, and thereby reducing the number of tourists entering the country. Luxury safari camps are common but comfortable mid-range accommodations are available.

Wildebeest
Wildebeest Herd

Botswana won independence from Britain in 1966. Today it’s a politically stable country with one of the strongest economies in sub-Saharan Africa.

Cheetah Resting
Cheetah Resting in the Grass

Botswana’s diamond mines are the richest and most abundant in the world and the highest producing. The mines exist on volcanic kimberlite pipes composed of a rare type of rock formed millions of years ago. During volcanic eruptions plumes of magma pushed up tearing off chunks of diamond-containing rocks depositing them near the earth’s surface.

San Bushman
Khoisan
Khoisan

During our first evening in Botswana, we enjoyed a special treat – traditional tribal dancing performed by the local Khoisan community. Previously known as “Bushmen”, the mellow San are indigenous to Southern Africa.

Umbrella Thorn Tree Acacia Tortilis Mombo
Umbrella Thorn Acacia Tree – Tortilis Mombo

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The San have lived in Botswana for over 30,000 years and survive in the harsh desert environment by living “peacefully in harmony with nature”.

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Okavango Lodges
Okavango Safari Lodges

Historically, the San didn’t have a word for themselves. “The word ‘San’ was believed to mean ‘wild people who cannot farm’. Today they call themselves ‘Ncoakhoe’ meaning ‘red people’. The San are hunter gatherers who roam the area to find food and water. There are about 55,000 San left in the world. Sixty percent of them live in Botswana, the others live in Namibia and northern South Africa where their interesting cave paintings are abundant.”

Elephant
Okavango Delta Elephant

After arriving in Ghanzi, San Bushmen took us hiking in the Kalahari Desert. They shared ancient survival methods and secrets about how insects, animals, and humans can live in the desert. Later, they danced by a campfire in the moonlight!

Glowing Delta Tree
Glowing Okavango Delta Tree
Maun and the Okavango Delta

The next morning we headed for Maun – the third largest city in Botswana. Maun is known as the gateway to the Okavango Delta. The name comes from the San word “maung”, which translates “the place of short reeds”. After an overnight in Maun we boarded small airplanes and flew low over the Delta to our secluded safari camp – home for the next two days.

Dung Beetle

To comply with luggage safety restrictions in the small airplanes we packed lightly leaving most of our electronics and valuables back in Maun locked inside the safari truck. Our guides stayed behind and waited for us.

Okavango Delta from Airplane
Delta from Airplane
Delta from Airplane

“Eons ago, the Okavango River flowed into a massive Lake Makgadikgadi, now known as the Makgadikgadi Pans. Tectonic activity disturbed the river’s currents causing a backup that created the Okavango Delta. The Delta forms a complex network of over 5,000 sq. miles of waterways that sustain a large variety of flora and fauna.”

In the Delta
In Makoros on the Delta

The Okavango Delta is one of the world’s best locations for game viewing. Hundreds of bird species and massive numbers of large mammals live in the Delta where prey and predators are forced together in the floodplains. Lion, elephant, hyena, buffalo, hippo, and crocodile gather with antelope and smaller animals like warthog, mongoose, baboon, and bush baby.

Delta Waterlily
Okavango Delta Waterlily

The Delta is home to endangered African Wild Dogs with one of the richest pack densities in Africa. Animals pass through the Delta during summer migration. When the countryside dries up in winter, they cross again on their way home.

Delta Pond
Okavango Delta Pond

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Brilliantly colored Carmine Bee Eaters welcomed us by following the safari vehicle. Much to our delight, they flew low and close to the jeep “buzzing” us on both sides!

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Sue Under a Baobab Tree
Fallen Baobab safari Camp

After lunch at our safari camp – Fallen Baobab – we took a game drive and nature walk with a local expert. Later we took a boat trip in traditional dug-out canoes called Mekoros. Skillful African polers navigated through the narrow fragrant waterways strewn with waterlilies. We lavished in the magnificent environment while taking photos and sharing the scenery with birds and hippos sunning in reed-covered Delta waters. It was an unforgettable, idyllic day! After dinner, we retired early and fell asleep to the sound of African night birds, lions, and elephants.

Fish Eagles
Fish Eagles

Early the next morning we departed on a game drive viewing more Delta vegetation and a plentiful populations of cheetah, elephant, warthog, buffalo, and wildebeest. We spotted a Silver-Backed Jackal and many large antelope including Reedbuck, Red Lechwe, Tsessebe, Sable, and my favorite – the beautiful Greater Kudu.

Chobe Croc
Chobe Crocodile
Delta Flora and Fauna

Our guides educated us about Delta flora and fauna, insects, and giraffe physique, pointing out interesting details. Graceful giraffes have long tongues for reaching vegetation, thick saliva to help with digestion, 7 collar bones, and large hearts needed to pump blood up their long necks!

Guinea Fowl

Plants indigenous to the Delta include pungent turpentine grass and exotic trees like Baobab, Camel Thorn, Jackalberry, Leadwood, and the funny-looking Sausage Tree. Dung Beetles are one of Africa’s most interesting insects. They play an important role in stabilizing the African environment and fighting climate change.

Botswana Sky
Botswana Sky

That evening at camp we enjoyed a beautiful open-air candlelight dinner under bright stars and a brilliant full moon! Despite our best efforts, we finally succumbed to the relentless, nagging insects, moved away from the dining table to spend the rest of the evening dancing and singing close to an insect-repelling campfire.

Fallen Baobab Camp Dinner
Fallen Baobab Safari Camp Dinner Table

The next morning it was sad saying goodbye to our kind, gracious African hosts. I wished we had more time there… During a leisurely drive to the airstrip we said farewell to the Okavango Delta and boarded small airplanes to fly back to Maun.

Fallen Baobab
Comfy Fallen Baobab Accommodation
Burglary and Fire

After landing in Maun we made our way through the airport to our waiting guides. Their long faces alerted us that something was wrong. We listened carefully as they told us that vandals had burglarized the safari truck and stolen our personal belongings.

Baboon
Lone Baboon

In the middle of the night thieves tossed a heavy metal garbage can through a truck window, cut locks off storage lockers, and stole our stuff! During the burglary, our guides were fast asleep in nearby lodges. The burglars stole laptop and tablet computers, cell phones, camera equipment, cash, clothes, food, drinks, and anything left in the truck.

Turpentine Grass
Turpentine Grass

My possessions were in a bottom locker without a padlock. The padlock I brought from the US didn’t fit the lockers, so I stored my belongings without locking them. Shocked and bummed by news of the burglary, we left the airport and drove back to the lodge to prepare handwritten inventories of everything stored in the safari truck – #@!*…

Fallen Baobab Safari Camp
Maun Police

The guides alerted the Maun Police after discovering the burglary. The police advised them not to enter the truck, touch, or tamper with potential evidence until they arrived to investigate and take fingerprints. Six hours later, the police still had not appeared!

San Cave Painting
San Cave Painting

After waiting for hours we disregarded police orders, got into the truck, checked our lockers, and drove to the Maun Police Station. Many safari members lost everything including gear, electronics, and clothing. Surprisingly, the burglars did not bother unlocked compartments, and my duffel bag and its contents were intact and unharmed!

Kudu
Greater Kudu

When we arrived at the police station the guides accompanied those with loses inside to file reports. After about an hour they came out with a policeman who dusted the lockers for fingerprints. The Maun Police’s casual attitude and lack of concern over the burglary was disturbing. My conclusion – Botswana is not a good place to have an emergency!

Botswana Map
Botswana Map

The theft looked like an “inside job” with employees at the campground / lodge tipping off burglars of our absence. It would have been difficult for outsiders to invade the fenced park with security guards posted at the entrance and throughout the grounds.

Botswana Landscape
Typical Botswana Landscape

Those who sustained losses spoke with safari company representatives in Cape Town. Some losses included hard-to-replace items like photo memory cards, jewelry, and favorite gear. Surprisingly, they would not receive compensation from the company’s insurance. Even more surprising, the truck wasn’t equipped with a burglar alarm!

Delta Rainbow
Delta Rainbow

A few hours later, the police returned bringing stolen and discarded items they found in the bush near the lodge. Of course electronics and cash were never recovered. It was a depressing, sour note after our beautiful relaxing experience in the Okavango Delta.

Ghanzi Cattle

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In the middle of the night thieves tossed a heavy metal garbage can through a truck window, cut locks off storage lockers, and stole our stuff!

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Bush Baby
Bird Sanctuary and Salt Pans

The guides got the broken window repaired, and we continued to Botswana’s Nata Bird Sanctuary and Makgadikgadi Salt Pans stopping along the way so people could replace essential items like toiletries and clothing. We would soon discover that our Botswana woes had not ended with the Maun burglary!

Chobe Riverboat
Middle of Night Fire

We spent the night at a lodge in an isolated area near Botswana’s saltpans. In the middle of the night a fire broke out in the grass thatched roof of one of the buildings. We were rousted from our beds and evacuated to a safe area nearby.

Whistling Thorn Acacia

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The grass thatched roof over the kitchen burst into roaring flames – a vivid, unforgettable orangeish-red image against the ebony African sky!

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Lone Delta Tree
Lone Delta Tree

As the flames grew higher the lodge owner feared the fire might spread to other buildings – all with thatched grass roofs. Fortunately it did not. The fire department arrived the next day – after the building had burned completely to the ground!

Delta Hippos
Okavango Delta Hippos

The cause of the fire wasn’t determined, but seemed suspicious. One possibility was a loud thunderstorm with lightning that occurred earlier in the night. I heard someone say the kitchen was known to have electrical problems….

Delta Elephants
Chobe National Park

Shaken but unscathed, the next morning we pulled together and made our way to the town of Kasane and Chobe National Park for a much-needed day relaxing on the Chobe River. The day began very hot but as evening approached, it grew cool and moist on the river. The banks of the Chobe River have abundant game, and the region is known for large buffalo and elephant herds.

Silver-Backed Jackal

Chobe National Park is the second largest park in Botswana covering over 4,000 square miles. The park forms part of a “medley” of floodplains, lakes, and islands created from the Kwando, Linyanti, and Chobe Rivers.

Leadwood Tree
Leadwood Tree

During dry season Chobe elephants migrate and travel hundreds of miles from the Chobe and Linyanti Rivers in the north to Botswana’s saltpans in the southeast. Kalahari elephants are known to have frail ivory and short tusks, possibly due to the lack of calcium in the desert soil.

Cheetah Tails
Cheetah Tails Near Termite Mound

“During 1932 over 9,000 square miles in the Chobe region were declared a non-hunting zone. Throughout the years the boundaries of the Park have been modified and settlers in the region relocated. Finally, in 1975 Chobe National Park became completely rid of human occupation. In 1980 and 1986 the boundaries were once again altered, growing the Park to its current size.”

Chobe Landscape
Chobe Landscape

A bit like a migrating herd of animals, the next morning we left Chobe and headed for Zimbabwe, carrying mixed memories of Botswana with us!!

3 Comments

  1. Garrulous Gwendoline

    Oh my Lord. What an adventure. One moment I was thinking, what fabulous photos! Next I was thinking, oh,oh, this sounds a bit odd, and then ! Whew! Well, you had a fabulous experience, and I guess you can cut the perpetrators some slack. They might be imagining that all westerners are rolling in so much money they will never notice the loss of some possessions. Just guessing – but I have had that experience myself in the past. Anyway, no one can rob you of the memory of your amazing tour and all the sights and good encounters you had. And, miraculously, you came through with all in order.

    Like

    1. suemtravels

      Hi Gwen – a Canadian couple in the group lost their tablet and many videos and photos they didn’t have backed up – lots of ways to do that now. The experience ruined the trip for them and their misery ended up affecting everyone. They weren’t booked for the entire Cape Town to Uganda safari of two months (thank goodness) – only me and a guy from Spain. The burglary was creepy and the Maun police even more so :(. After the experience I re- learned that anything you take on safari you must be willing to lose or break. Another couple from Portugal had 600 Euros in their stolen bag – bad move! The burglars must have had a big party on that!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Garrulous Gwendoline

    It seems naive to leave so much money behind. Or to carry it in the first place, but that may have had to do with access to banks. It would have been a shock to all concerned, and I can understand the downer it would have created, and constant speculation on who and how did it. I try to travel with few valuables. I buy junk jewelry to take for example. Your story is a reminder about backing up photos though!

    Like

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