The Road Chose Me – Beautiful Botswana
Stunning wildlife and wilderness in the heart of Southern Africa
As one of the least densely populated countries on the continent and blessed with a stunning array of wildlife and natural beauty, Botswana is high on the list for any visitor to Africa, and a country I have been looking forward to for a very long time.
With stringent conservation laws and more than seventeen percent of the land mass dedicated to National Parks, animals roam freely and are a fixture of everyday life. National parks are well organized and affordable, and thousands of miles of remote tracks lie waiting to be explored where it’s much more likely to run into a pride of lions than another human being.
With high expectations for Botswana, I am not disappointed after only two hours in the country when I have to stop on the highway to allow a herd of over 20 elephants to cross.
Moremi Game Reserve
Moremi lies on the edge of the stunning Okavango Delta and boasts wildlife staggering in both sheers numbers and diversity. Planning to enter the park early in the morning I make camp not far from the entrance gate. At sunset, I’m treated to a heard of elephants walking single file less than a hundred yards away and in the dead of night I wake to the sound of lions panting and breathing heavily.
In the morning I have only been in the park an hour when I’m stunned to see two huge male lions sunning themselves less than a hundred yards away. The lions are hiding in plain sight, and I almost missed them. Restless, zebras, wildebeest, and other critters walk quickly past – apparently they have no choice than to get uncomfortably close to the lions. I suspect the duo are not hungry, however, when neither of them pays the animals any notice and don’t move so much as a foot. After soaking in the spectacle for half an hour, I move off, only to stumble across two female lions lying directly on the dirt track less than a hundred yards later. It’s clear they have no intention of moving, and I’m forced to drive off the track to avoid hitting them.
The Central Kalahari Desert
At almost 390,000 square miles (1 million square kilometers), the Central Kalahari is an enormous expanse of protected wilderness, with absolutely zero development. Within its boundary lie thousands of miles of remote tracks which are virtually all deep rutted sand in the dry season and turn into endless sticky mud during the monsoon rains of the wet season.
Once inside the gate, the scrubby trees soon give way to the pans, the enormous barren and dusty dry lakes that Botswana is famous for. More often than not small tracks wind around the edges, and so I set about exploring far and wide, stopping at the occasional natural waterhole – a mandatory daily stop for all the large animals I hope to spot.
When midday rolls around the sun is scorching, with the outside temperature well over 104 °F (40 °C) in the shade. The animals are also feeling the heat, with many clustered around what shade they can find, trying to conserve energy. Soon before sunset, the visible wildlife increases a hundredfold, and I can’t believe my luck when a herd of elephants crosses in front of the setting sun, always blood-red in this part of the word. Huge billowy storm clouds have been gathering on the horizon all afternoon, and as I set up camp the lightning show over a nearby pan is breathtaking. Just as I climb upstairs into bed the rain lets fly, mercifully dropping the temperature so I’m able to find sleep.
I’m moving at dawn and soon find a pride of lions so close to the sandy track I am genuinely afraid to put my window down. Once again they pay little attention to the jeep, though I have no intention of finding out how quickly they can lunge across the short distance and through my open window.
The highlight comes later in the day when I stumble across a pride feeding on a fresh kill. With bloodstained faces and huge distended bellies, the lions are all panting and lazing around while digesting the enormous quantity of red meat they have just gorged on. All of the animals feature numerous battle scars across their faces, including torn ears and the occasional broken tooth. The harsh life of the Kalahari Desert is painted on their faces.
The morning after camping on sandy ground I discover both elephant and lion prints on top of my footprints – I had multiple visitors during the night and didn’t hear a thing. I have been warned repeatedly elephants can be incredibly silent, I’ll have to keep an ear open while I sleep from now on!
With smiling faces, remote and stunning scenery, and an abundance of the kind of wildlife you expect on a $10,000 African safari, Botswana is easy to fall in love with. In a month I have explored almost 2,000 square miles (almost 5,000 square kilometers), and again I’m sure I have only just scratched the surface. To do this magic land justice, I will simply have to come back.
Follow Dan’s ongoing adventure around the entire African continent across social media @theroadchoseme.
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