The land of Precious Ramotswe—from The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith, definitely a must read or movie-watch (with Jill Scott and Anika Noni Rose) before visiting. Only Chobe National Park and Okavango Delta, the largest land-locked delta did I visit. There is so much more to see.
The visit to Botswana began with a short flight from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe then a 2-hour drive and riverboat cruise over the border into Maun, Botswana to Baobab Camp near Chobe National Park. All the time in Botswana I was never near Gaborone or Mochudi, where I had hoped to run into Precious Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi (The Number One Ladies Detective Agency for the lesser read). I had to content myself with many a pride of lions, tower (standing group), journey (walking) and raft (running) of giraffes, parade of elephants, pod of hippos, mob of mongoose, troop of baboons (nasty creatures, but the babies were cute riding on their mothers’ backs), sounder of warthog (and just like Pumba, they do prance with tails straight up and look like they should be wearing tutus), float of crocodiles, implausibility of wildebeest, obstinacy of buffalo (mean looking creatures), pride of ostriches, rank of impala, dazzle of zebra, and my favorite, a coalition of cheetah. The two cheetah I saw were young adults, barely out on their own. They were so beautiful and allowed us to watch for ten minutes before they escaped our clicking and orgasmic sighing.
Saw no leap of leopard, crush of rhino (saw a few singly), murder of crows, parliament of owls, cloud of bats, skulk of foxes, clan of hyena, shrewdness of monkeys (saw only one vervet), but did see a fling of oxpeckers enjoying their symbiotic relationship with giraffe and zebra.
The Okavango Delta was one of the reasons I wanted to visit Botswana, the world’s only land-locked delta. The 1,430 kilometer-long (888 miles) Okavango River, Africa’s third longest, begins in the mountains of central Angola flowing southeast across Namibia’s Caprivi Strip entering northwestern Botswana. Only 2% of the total water that enters ever makes it to the tip of the delta. The Okavango River disappears into a maze of lagoons, channels and islands, which constantly changes with the rains in Angola. It takes two months after the rains in Angola for the first waters to hit the Okavango Delta. Amazing.
This wetlands is basically created in a Kalahari sand depression, which is one reason why the waters never get to the ocean--the sand sucks it up. The sand beneath the delta can be up to 300 meters (almost 1,000 feet) deep. An excursion via a mokoro, a shallow canoe powered by a well-muscled poler, is de rigeuer in the delta. These polers, like the drivers and guides, look like regular people from various tribal backgrounds, but clearly have the equivalent of bachelor degrees in ecology, entomology, ornithology, geology, biology…. The mokoro gave me a river-level view of lily ponds, papyrus-fringed shores, and painted reed frogs. The mokoro afternoon was serene and peaceful, even in the pouring down rain. The water was warm, the rain warm and despite being soaked to the skin, was a delightful experience. I could have stayed longer, but there were others in the group with demeanors indicating they would melt ala Nessarose Thropp (why these people travel is beyond me). My poler showed me how to make a necklace from a water lily and how the pod below the lily is used as an eyewash, which I tried as the fine sand can be irritating (it felt quite good). The hippos in the delta are protected because they are integral to the health of the wetlands; they are constantly creating new channels with their grazing. The water throughout the delta is only 2-3 meters (about 7-9 feet) deep, so the hippos do more walking than swimming. And when the waters dry in areas, I could see where the hippos created roads and channels.
At one point during the rain our land rover became stuck and we all had to get out to help push it out of the mud--what fun. Several times we drove through ponds where the water washed over the hood--way better than thrill dips on hilly roads! Although one time we paused partially in the water to view the hippos, keeping a watchful eye on one large guy stealthily heading our way, much to safari-mate, Crystal’s, dismay. Of course, she was in the high seat and the one most likely to be thrown out should said hippo bash the jeep.
Botswana means “land of the Tswana” and about 60% of the country’s population claims Tswana heritage. Although there are also Herero (cattle culture), Bakalanga (thought to be descended from the Rozwi Empire, the culture responsible for building the Great Zimbabwe) and other tribal groups, everyone refers to him/herself as Motswana (singular) or Batswana (plural). Botswana, formerly Bechuanaland, a protectorate of Britain, was impacted by the Boer War, the Shaka Zulu Empire, and European missionaries. Botswana, a land-locked country slightly smaller than France, is regarded as the least corrupt country on the continent and is ranked as a good investment opportunity. Their big problem is HIV/AIDS, which has reduced life expectancy to 33 years! Fortunately, Botswana offers anti-viral treatment free of charge and had pledged to make Botswana AIDS-free by 2016. Botswana’s current President, Ian Khama is the son of Sir Seretse Khama, who was the first president in 1966 (and diamonds were discovered in 1967--helpful for funding a new democracy). Sir Seretse was descended from Khama I, who became king in 1875 and outlawed witchcraft, polygamy, bride price, killing of twins, enforced prohibition, and introduced laws to conserve wildlife and birds. Then he decentralized his own rule, so rulers could be closer to their constituents, a unique political move that laid the cornerstone for Botswana’s relatively trouble-free transition to democracy. Since speculation is that the diamond industry will be depleted in 30 years, Botswana is looking to tourism and other sources for revenue. Tourism is focused on high cost-low volume, so that Botswana has large areas of wilderness and a strong animal protection and preservation program, like the reintroduction of a rhino population and propagating endangered species. One can still hunt in Botswana in certain reserves. Lion, about $30,000; elephants, $20,000; leopards, a mere $4,000 each. Who still does this? It does help the economy, and I wish they’d leave the leopards alone--I’ve never seen one in the wild and would like to. There is much more to see and experience in Botswana; I must return.