This year we did something completely different for our holiday. An ideal holiday for me is warmth and sunshine, a nearby pool or beach, sun bed and my Kindle loaded with plenty of reading material.
But this year we decided that we’d try a safari to Botswana!
I’d not appreciated just how much travelling would be involved, and it didn’t stop after the 11 hour overnight flight from Heathrow to Johannesburg.
In total we took 7 flights. Eight if you include a 15 minute helicopter flight over Victoria Falls.
These weren’t the sorts of flights I was accustomed to either. The small planes which were used to move us and our luggage (plus a wheelchair) from one location to another were TINY. I thought 12 seats was pretty small, but one of the flights was in a 5 seater plane.
I realised how valuable my weight loss was during the course of this journey. Fitting into these small planes was very difficult. The steps into and off the plane are provided via a section of the fuselage! These creaked and groaned under the weight of an average adult. The seat belts were also minuscule – in three sections to hold you securely into your seat.
We were extremely well fed – four meals a day was the usual. The morning game drive starts at around 6am, so we were regularly up at 5.30am. With shortened arms, climbing in and out of jeeps wasn’t possible and I had to be physically lifted by my husband. I am certain he was grateful for the weight loss!
A long 11 hour flight from Heathrow to Johannesburg and a 2 hour onward flight to Victoria Falls. Our accommodation was at the Bayette Lodge Guest House. Traditional thatched buildings set around a shady tropical courtyard, built with very high thatched roofs. Our room was as close to the main facilities as it could have been. Our first day was spent relaxing in the sunshine by the pool and that was about the end of the relaxation… and the sunbathing!
We enjoyed a sunset dinner cruise on the Zambeze and marvelled at birds, hippos and giraffes. All set against a magnificent sunset and high quality dining experience.
The following morning we enjoyed a 15 minute helicopter flight around Victoria Falls which was a spectacular sight, although hard to get a clear idea of the scale of the Falls from such a height. On our return to the lodge, we ordered a taxi to visit the Victoria Falls up close. This was somewhere that I needed to use my chair, with the ability to walk short distances coming in handy as there were several parts of the pathway in the park which were rather uneven. Being able to see and hear the falls up close gave us a better understanding of the power of all of those thousands of gallons of water crashing over rocks!
From Victoria Falls (3 nights) we moved on to Chobe Safari Lodge in Kasane. This was around two hours drive in a minibus, with a stop to get through the border formalities (Zimbabwe to Botswana). Chobe Safari Lodge was a 4 star hotel with around 50 rooms. The beauty of its location was that it was right on the edge of Chobe National Park and on the banks of the Chobe river. We therefore had a choice of river safari trips or road safari trips. I’d never considered being able to see so many animals up close from a boat – but I loved the boat safaris and they enabled us to see all kinds of creatures.
A highlight had to be watching a herd of around 10 elephants cross over the river, swimming and playing in the water. We did both early morning and afternoon game drives as well as a private boat safari. The joy of the private boat trip was being able to learn so much about the animals and birds that we spotted and the tranquillity of having a boat to ourselves. I also indulgeded in a 30 minute neck, back and shoulder massage one evening, which helped with my aching body. The tracks through the park are quite lumpy and bumpy and we were often driving for 3 4 hours at a time.
From Chobe, we took a further two private charter flights to get us to our next destination. These flights are aboard a tiny single propeller light aircraft, between 5 and 12 seats. It is only when you see the size of these “flying taxis” that you understand the requirement to pack light and use small soft holdall style bags. There isn’t a lot of room! We were flying at low altitudes and so the view was incredible, as was the experience of landing on a tiny landing strip in the middle of… nowhere!
Little Machabe in the Otavango Delta was…. quite literally, in the middle of nowhere. It came as a peaceful haven after the hustle and bustle of Chobe. Our jeep collected us from our flight and we were immediately transported along a muddy track with the strong smell of sage wafting past our nostrils arriving at our camp in 20 minutes. Little Machabe has just 4 tented rooms. They may have canvas walls, but these palatial tents are really something else!
The pace here was relaxed and luxurious, starting with high tea! Our guide “BT” was exceptionally knowledgeable and hugely talented at spotting animal prints as we sped along in our jeep. Highlights of this camp were seeing a pack of wild dogs just after a kill and spotting a mama leopard walking across the track straight in front of us taking a dead bird to her hungry cub.
One of the less enjoyable experiences was witnessing the death of a bull elephant. This unfortunate giant beast had been involved in a fight and had suffered a broken shoulder. He’d stumbled into a waterhole and was unable to get back up. We watched as the sun set and he struggled to lift his trunk clear of the water to draw his final breath. It is all nature at work. Animals are born and animals die. There are no human interventions here.
Our time at Little Machabe was all too soon at an end. It was time to leave for our final destination, the Kalahari Plains. Another two light aircraft flights transported us to an arid place devoid of any water. This was the Kalahari. That any person or animal is able to survive in such an environment is incredible. Our camp here was, quite literally, on the edge of a desert, three hours drive from the next closest camp. Whilst here, my husband Andy took advantage of a walk with the local bush men, learning about their way of life and how it is that they manage to forge an existence in the dry heat.
Our final day both started and ended well. We were treated to seeing two large male lions (brothers) walking right past our jeep as the Kalahari sun rose behind them. In the evening, we had a farewell party hosted by the staff of the camp with singing and dancing before a meal besides the campfire all wrapped in our blankets. Once the sun sets, the temperature plummets.
And so our journey home began. I wasn’t looking forward to the long flight, but all good things have to come to an end.
So what did I take away from my Botswana adventure? I astonished myself at just how much I managed to do in such a short space of time. How my body withstood it, I’m not sure! Our idea of a holiday as being lots of sunbathing and relaxing was most certainly not what we got here – but what we did get was the opportunity to travel thousands of miles to see some amazing things that I will never forget. Seeing large animals up close in their natural habitat is really something rather special.
This holiday has left me wanting more. Whilst I have the ability and the stamina and my health allows, I’d like some more adventuring!
Weight gain? Surprisingly only 4lbs! In two whole weeks! I was astonished! I’d fully enjoyed all meals, but clearly the early mornings and fairly active (by my standards) nature of the trip and all the travelling had burnt more calories than I’d anticipated!