“Backroads of Botswana” Camping Safari is Wild Experience

Sunset in the Okavango Delta as we ease the mocorro over flat water © 2010 Eric Leiberman/news-photos-features.com

Our correspondent, Eric Leiberman of Long Island, just completed a 10-day camping safari trip to Botswana and Zimbabwe, as a prelude to spending two months in South Africa.

The game-viewing trip, “Backroads of Botswana” organized by Gecko’s Adventures of Australia and and sold in the U.S. by Adventure Center, begins in Pretoria and goes to Khama Rhino Sanctuary, Maun, Okavango Delta, Chobe National Park, and ends at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.

Among the highlights: Canoe the Okavango Delta; Khama Rhino Sanctuary; visiting Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, Nxai Pan salt flats, The Chobe riverside, Chobe National Park, Botswana and Victoria Falls.

Eric filed his report by Skype Here’s what he had to say:

In the Okavango Delta, which is a floodplain, the only way you can get around is by mokoro, a traditional dugout canoe made out of the Mokoro tree.

We traveled in the Delta for 2 1/2 days with local Botswana people, who we got to know.

When we were camping in the Delta, that is wilderness camping. The animals are where you are camping. You are going to the bathroom in a hole. Lions, buffaloes –

Camping with lions?

It got more serious than that in Chobe…

In the Delta, we would do these nature walks, where would walk in single file line no more than 7, and no one wearing bright colors… They warned us what to do if we see animals:

Lion: look directly in his face and don’t move
Elephant: run down wind so he can’t smell you and hide under a log
Buffalo: run zig zag and climb up a tree
Leopard in tree: look down on the ground, because…

There are no paths. You are walking through tall grass. You look right, left. You have no idea if there is a lion right next to you . We walked for 3-4 hours.

We didn’t see lions – and I was contented with that. The area where you would you see lions is the Okavango Delta, part of Botswana which is arguably one of the best destinations to see actual wildlife. At the gameparks that people constantly think of for safari, the animals are wild, but are so accustomed to seeing people and vehicles, they aren’t acting the way they would.

The reason there we didn’t get to see as many animals as usual is that they had the biggest flood in recorded history (rainy season just ended) – water levels were very high. That’s why we didn’t get to see many animals, because the animals don’t have to go to specific watering spots, because water is more plentiful.

At one point, we came to a big body of water. We walked through the water up to our waist; you would get stuck in the mud, and it would be like sinking.

Couldn’t there have been crocodiles? There could have been crocodiles… when we were on the mokoro (dugout canoe)…

Are you joking?

When we were on the mokoros, there would be hippos in the water. They are dangerous…It’s happened before that a hippo submerges and rises and tips the canoe… They tell us if that happens, to swim as fast as you can away from the boat, because a hippo will attack the boat because it looks like predator.

But what if crocodile where swimming away?

The guide said, ‘If you get bumped by hippo, and there is a crocodile next to you, your time is up, it’s not your day.’

It was really exciting.

We did singing and dancing with the local people.

In Chobe National Park, which is all the way east of Botswana near Zimbabwe – there are more than 50,000 elephants. An unbelievable number of elephants, how close we saw them.

I saw one leopard, a bunch of hippos, a herd of a thousand buffalo…

We took a lot of trips at sunrise and sunset.

We camped that night in Chobe park – there is no fencing – just a kilometer from where we saw the leopard…

We are literally among the animals. They’ve seen a lion in the camp … They have had elephants walk through the middle of camp. They tell you “what to do” things.

So, when you are in your tent that night, you’re supposed to completely zip up because hyenas come into the tents – one guy’s face was eaten.

What do you do?

Hyenas are cowards – they won’t attack something that is bigger. The only attacked the sleeping guy .. So if a hyena comes into tent, you throw your hands up in the air to make yourself as big as possible and it will run away.

I would hear scratching at the tent at night – hear all this wildlife.

The wake-up call in Chobe is the lion’s call – a loud rumbling call it makes when it catches its prey – the call comes at morning because the lion does its hunting at night…

At Victoria Falls, we woke especially early because I wanted to see the sunrise, but it was so overcast, we didn’t have a sunrise – It wasn’t as special as I thought would be.

Victoria Falls is this adventure destination – they have all this unbelievable bungee jumping. I didn’t do any of this. They have all these activities over the gorges – the highest bungee jump. Scariest thing. Just being up there, made my heart race…

He did this thing, the gorge swing…. normally when you bungee jump, as you fall, you normally feel the resistance of the bungee and bounce and bounce until you stop.

But with this thing, you are free falling, and you don’t feel any resistance, and at the bottom, a pulley goes all across the gorge… so you fall straight down, then swing back and forth… (I watched).

The truck fits 26 but there were only 11 of us in the group …and there were a few pretty long drives, 5 and 6 hours…

I was surprised – I thought it would just be young people, but we had a 73-year old guy and a couple that was 68. There was also a couple who were on their honeymoon.

There was just one other American (a girl from Seattle), the rest were from Australia and New Zealand.

Weren’t you fearful camping with the animals so close by; traveling in the water in a dugout canoe with hippos and crocodiles, walking through such high water and tall grass?

There were a lot of times that I felt uncertainty – such a new experience – kind of scary. I have a travel journal of what we did… was kind of funny – was thinking about the dangers of camping…but then seemed it was the reverse: thought about the dangers of living in a big city like New York- murder, automobiles, trains, and all these opportunities to get hurt; then you think about the wild, the lion that could eat you but in reality the city is far more dangerous place.

My first day in Capetown, we woke at 5 a.m. and climbed Devil’s Peak mountain, which overlooks the city and the ocean, and the mountain range in the distance and saw the sunrise… the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen.

I just got back from surfing in Capetown -it’s a haven for great white sharks…. Amazing.

We’re staying on the campus of University of Capetown with a friend who is abroad here for the semester.

We leave early tomorrow for Mpopo, in a northern province of South Africa.

–Eric Leiberman, Correspondent

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