Exploring Botswana… with Sonia Fernandez Carralero

Dear Friends,

 

It has been a long time since I have written anything interesting about any recent trip or ‘fam’ I’ve made, so after my wonderful journey through the majestic Okavango Delta, I have now returned full of energy and eager to tell you my story and to sell, sell and sell this fantastic destination.

 

First, I would like to explain how this wonderful natural phenomenon occurs every year in this region of Botswana so that those of you who, like me, did not understand it, can finally comprehend this extraordinary event of our mother nature.

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I know it is very confusing to understand when the Okavango Delta is at its peak waterflood, since it is exactly the opposite of when the rain season takes place. The first thing to remember is that the water must travel almost 1000 kilometres through Angola and Namibia, before reaching the Delta. In this case, the river does not flow to the sea, but into the Kalahari Desert, creating one of the most fascinating ecosystems on the planet.

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The rainfall in Angola is the main water source of the Okavango river, obviously the final amount of water reaching the destination will have to take into account the evaporation and exchange of water that occurs on the ground during its journey. This rainfall, in turn, coincides with the rainy season of the rest of the Southern African countries, that is to say from October to the end of February. The water takes almost 6 months to reach the Delta, so when it arrives, we are already in winter, that is, in the dry season. Hence, the dry season is considered the ‘high season’ for the Delta.

 

During my trip, we were told that to understand the areas where most water congregates, we must visualise the map with its characteristic shape that simulates a hand with its five fingers. Above is the map for you to understand one of the largest interior water systems in the world.

 

Of course, this is a natural phenomenon and therefore, the rains vary from year to year affecting the Delta. During this trip I learned and appreciated that this year has been one of the worst years of water accumulation in the Delta in the last 10 years, which I suppose is partly due to climate change.

 

I’ve been trying to experience the Delta for years. Although I’ve visited Chobe several times, I knew I was missing something important, and rightly so, I was missing one of the most fascinating natural phenomena on earth!

 

I do not want you and your guests to miss it as well and not have the opportunity to make another of your dreams come true. It is a unique and different landscape. The Okavango Delta grows and shrinks with its floodwaters, and these waters enable life to exist in this area between meanders and lagoons. The vegetation oscillates from a dark green colour to an emerald green and to an earthy yellow. Nothing ever looks the same in the Delta!

 

Now I fully understand what it takes to do a trip to the Delta and why it might seem costlier, looking at its infrastructure. The camp to camp flights are done in small planes, which in turn also provides the opportunity to observe the beauty of this place. Everything adds value to this trip!

 

It is important to note that thanks to the political commitment of the country’s government to safeguard the area, the Okavango Delta does not depict the same overcrowded impression as other African countries with unique singularities. The lodges are small, cosy and personal. Here quantity does not matter, but quality. They do not want flocks of people to visit the Delta, but people who are fond of nature and its unique phenomena, willing to pay for what it represents. That is why it is sometimes difficult to obtain availability or even to organise groups to the Delta, but DDS has some of the largest lodges in the area and although availability remains a challenge, the important thing is to plan well and to plan in advance.

 

By now you must have guessed with whom I did these inspections, right? Yes, with Desert & Delta Safaris (DDS), a company with which Thompsons Africa has had a great relationship for years, since we consider them our preferred partners.

 

We started in Maun, the capital of the Okavango Delta and we were transferred on a light craft to the first lodge, Leroo La Tau.

 

Leroo La Tau is located on the banks of the Boteti River about 140km from Maun. It borders the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, in the Kalahari Desert. Leroo La Tau means ‘lion’s paw’ but the interesting thing about the area is that besides lions, zebras and wildebeest, there is also leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, impalas, kudus, jackals, oribis, genet cats and caracals, amongst others. The vegetation is different and unique – most fascinating.

 

The highlight of the day was the safari we did in the desert. We did a kind of ‘routing experiment’ and in the 11 hours of safari, we did not come across ONE SINGLE VEHICLE! … That’s right, we do not cross paths with anyone, and that’s incredible.

 

Here is a picture of the lunch, sundowners and view of these salt pans in the middle of the desert … Most exotic and different!

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After spending two nights at this all-inclusive lodge and with an excellent and most welcoming service, we flew to the Xugana Island Lodge for lunch and inspection. The transfer from the airstrip to the lodge was by boat and that’s where our water adventure began, so one can understand what the Okavango represents and why it makes the difference. We calmly travelled through the water between bushes, papyrus and water lilies, amongst others. This Lodge is one of the permanent water sites in Okavango. Furthermore, the lodge is located in a private concession, so the location is also unique. It has an outside deck overlooking the water and amongst all the activities that can be done here, there is the famous mokoro trip (the traditional canoe) or motorised boat, a delight for birdwatchers! You can fish, do walking safaris and 4×4 safaris, but the most spectacular experience is the helicopter tour. This is an optional activity but a ‘must do’.

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We did not have a helicopter flight planned in our itinerary, however our Australian travelling partner, who unlike the rest of us, paid attention to everything, guessed that we were going to be surprised …and she was right… we flew in a door less helicopter to the next camp for approximately 5 minutes.  Being able to capture this memory with incredible photographs and to enjoy this wonderful place … This was simply A M A Z I N G!!

 

We spent the next night in the magnificent Camp Okavango, where another pleasant surprise awaited us.

 

Camp Okavango is located in the heart of the new declared World Heritage Site.  This property is nestled in a labyrinth of deep lagoons, large lakes and hidden and meandering canals. Another permanent water camp throughout the year. It is also important to mention that all the DDS camps are fully inclusive, even the daily laundry service.

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The next day, once again we were transferred by a light craft to Xakanaxa Camp on the banks of the Khwai River in the Xakanaxa lagoon in the heart of the Moremi Game Reserve. This camp offers water and land activities. Here we lived one of the best safaris that I have ever experienced, since we had the opportunity to see almost everything, elephants, giant herds of buffalo, giraffes, wildebeest, kudus, etc. and here I also learned that the national bird of Botswana is called ‘Kori Bustard’.

 

The bird life is prolific in this area and this tented lodge is hidden amongst the woods but do not lack any detail. Once again, breath taking views … Here we did a walking safari where we could even see a herd of lions walking in the distance, in addition to learning about the baobab, marula – where the famous Amarula drink comes from, and the sausage trees … Appreciate the photo below … No need to say that in this part of the world, nobody looks for shelter under these trees. 😊 Apparently they are good to treat skin diseases.

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Next destination – Savute Safari Lodge in Chobe National Park…

 

Savute Safari Lodge or the ‘unpredictable’, its meaning in the local language, stretches from the Linyanti River to the Savute Marsh. The name Savute or the unpredictable is due to the unpredictable and capricious conditions of this channel with a history of floods or droughts, regardless of the good rainy seasons and the flood levels in other places, which confused its local inhabitants as well as geologists during so many years, hence its name.

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Savute hosts the second summer migration of African zebras in the world … Do you know which one is the first? Surely, you do…  This phenomenon normally occurs between the months of November and December and again between February and April, which is when the zebras move away from the northern rivers in search of rain pastures and waterholes full of water in the southwest.

 

For me, one of the biggest highlights of this place, besides the gigantic rooms and of course the kindness of its people, was the ‘waterhole’ located right in front of the dining deck. In the few hours I was there, everything happened … Elephants came to drink during the day and night, sometimes in the company of their babies; we could see baboons playing, as is usually the case, but the best show for tourists at that moment, was the insistence of the male kudu to mate with his female companion for several hours. She stubbornly rejected him – not sure if she had a headache or she was not simply feeling well… 😊

That day, we saw so many animals during our game drive throughout the park.

 

As our trip was coming to an end, we once again boarded our last flight to Chobe, thinking that all the fun was over, but in turn, I personally experienced a great safari in Chobe – the boat safari.

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Chobe Game Lodge is a 5-star lodge located in Chobe National Park, in fact, it is the only permanent lodge inside the park. Despite its size (it can accommodate up to 94 people), one still feels in the bush due to its surroundings and location, but with the benefit of having a good internet connection and serving good cappuccinos … we must remember that generally in the Delta, there is little mobile signal, which on the other hand, also gives you the opportunity to disconnect from the world. In addition, it is also important to mention that this lodge is a full ecological lodge as graded by Botswana Tourism Board.

 

In the afternoon, we did a safari in one of the solar energy boats. Having an appetizer and a drink on this small boat to whilst seeing the abundant fauna in the area is priceless. We remained attentive for a long time watching the interaction of elephants, baboons, buck, monkeys, kudus etc, all in one panoramic view. Between the games played by the mischievous monkeys, the trumpeting of the adolescent elephants trying to impress and frighten the baboons, and all the other animals that came to drink to the shore, the best was to observe the fun bath of an elephant right in front of us. You could really see how he was enjoying it, like a child playing in a pool. Everything was a spectacle! We remained observant of everything while drinking our Amarula and eating ‘biltong’ and nuts. We returned to the lodge at sunset, and of course, another ‘highlight’ … the sunset of Africa!  Those who have never seen it would not understand!

 

And suddenly our trip was coming to an end… One last safari on the Chobe National Park where we were able to add more lions to our phone gallery, as well as numerous herds of animals and one more boma dinner. We had lots of laughter, mobiles without memory and wider hips, but very happy to have visited this unique and privileged place.

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Africa never disappoints, and Okavango Delta exceeds all expectations.  For more details and bookings, please contact your Thompsons Africa consultant.

 

A big hug,

Sonia

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Sonia Fernandez Carralero

Key Account Sales Manager – Latin America, S Europe, Scandinavia, Australasia

 

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