Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Africa Trip Report Part 1: A glimpse of the Kalahari

What is there to be said upon one's return from a trip to Botswana? That it was fun? Definitely. That it was educational? For sure, especially when visiting 6 different camps in as many days. That it was exciting? But of course. A safari is all about excitement, anticipation, even a glimpse of danger when you find yourself just about within spitting distance of some of the largest and most powerful mammals in the world. It is exhilarating, yet peaceful at the same time. Between game drives or other activities, there is ample time to relax and do (almost) nothing, perhaps gazing out over a watering hole or lounging by the pool with a book.

It is also quiet, almost startlingly so. The absence of practically any ambient noise is immediately noticeable on arrival at one's first camp. At night, it is easy to imagine hearing the swish of a shooting star, while the roaring of lions is only too real, sometimes uncomfortably close to camp. In the mornings, the absence of city noise becomes less noticeable, because this is when the bush explodes with the calls of a myriad of birds: francolins, robins, hornbills, kingfishers, louries, parrots, doves - all intent on getting an early start in yet another wonderful day in the paradise that is Northern Botswana.

Visitors often travel to Botswana to find wildlife and come back talking about all the wonderful people they met. I can't imagine that anyone could not be touched by the warmth, spontaneity, genuine friendliness and dignity of the Botswana people. Spend a little more time in fewer places and you are likely to make some lifelong friends!

Over the course of half a dozen or so parts of this trip report, I will touch upon these and other facets of what it is like to be on safari in Africa.

After a brief stop in Johannesburg, our first destination was a remarkable camp on the edge of the enigmatic Kalahari Desert.

3 December 2008: EN ROUTE
Due to poor connections between Houston and Washington Dulles Airport, I had to fly into Washington Reagan Airport/DCA on Continental and then transfer to Dulles/IAD. I was dreading the transfer between the airports but it turned out ok, an uneventful $30 Super Shuttle ride which didn't take much more than 40 minutes or so. As always, the SAA flight from the US to Johannesburg was long and tiring, but there were a couple of bright spots. For one, there is no refueling stop in Dakar on the flight out of Dulles to JNB (except in the summer months of June, July & August). This makes a significant difference of more than 2 hours on the total elapsed time. So I would advise anyone intending to fly between the two countries to use the non-stop Dulles flight if at all possible. Also, the vegetarian (no dairy) meals were tasty and more than adequate. And they were served before the regular meal service...

4 December: JOHANNESBURG

We arrived in Johannesburg as scheduled at 1540 on December 4. That evening I enjoyed a family reunion which took the form of dinner at a restaurant in the Emperor's Palace casino complex. It was nice to see my mother and brothers and their spouses again - everyone looked good and we chatted until after 1000P. Somewhat surprisingly I was not feeling too tired - yet.

5 December: Leroo La Tau Camp, Kalahari Desert

I was impressed with the breakfast buffet at the Mondior Concorde Hotel - better than most deluxe 5-star hotels I've ever stayed at. In addition to the usual buffet items, 3 kinds of bread, scones, pastries, cereals, a cold meat platter, and eggs to order, they offered Maltabella porridge (a childhood favorite), an excellent variety of fresh fruit (orange, pineapple, mango and more), and soy milk without having to request it.

At just after 1000A , we boarded 'Jessica', a commuter jet, for the 1hr 40 minutes flight to the northern Botswana town of Maun, the gateway to the Okavango Delta. In short order we were underway by road to Leroo La Tau, our first stop. It took about 2 hrs on a good asphalt road to reach this recently rebuilt property, which is located on the Boteti River in the southern portion of the Makgadikgadi National Park.

In the dry winter months from about May through November, the area attracts large numbers of zebra and wildebeest, amongst others. We were there during the 'Green Season' when game-viewing isn't quite as productive, but we enjoyed some good sightings of kudu, lion and elephant, amongst others.

While at Leroo La Tau, we had some great views of this black-maned Kalahari lion in his prime. There are some signs that the lions in the area, who were previously in conflict with a nearby farming community but now effectively separated by a fence, are resuming their natural priding behaviour. It is important to know that the game-viewing area is not fenced in - it stretches for hundreds of kilometers towards the Makgadikgadi area.


An impressive elephant bull seen on a game drive from Leroo La Tau.

Zebras are common at Leroo Latau in the dry season.

A view over the Boteti River in the dry season, with zebra and wildebeest coming to drink.

Leroo La Tau is an impressive camp, with a large dining area, an expansive deck, a hide (blind) overlooking the Boteti River and a great pool.

One of our group members enjoying a quick dip in the pool at Leroo La Tau.



My room - not too shabby!

The view from the room is not half bad either; in the dry season the Boteti River is sandy and dusty, but with lots of animals to be seen.



One of the guides - Limbo (Munihango Sakhi Limbo) - explaining something to a member of our party. Limbo is the Staff Wellness Officer for Delta & Desert Safaris and an altogether delightful and friendly person.

After dinner at Leroo La Tau, members of the staff entertained guests with a singing and dancing performance. This does not happen every night, so we were quite pleased to be treated to several traditional songs, done in a sweetly harmonious fashion. I think we were all struck by the wonderful attitude of the staff at this camp, everybody smiling all the time! I would have loved to have been able to spend a bit more time at LLT. Prospective visitors would do well to schedule three nights here, and to take a full day trip (with picnic lunch) into the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park.

After all that, a quick running update: Day 2 of my Boston program was a Tuesday which meant mile repeats. And so I did 3, not on the track but on a rolling trail. Not as fast as I might have liked them to be (7:29; 7:36 and 7:45) but ok for now; I am still getting back to running not having done pretty much anything for nearly two weeks. Total of just over 6 miles today.


4 comments:

Burger said...

oh my lord...are you kidding me? Seriously - are. you. kidding. me?!

Ugh. Burning with too much envy here to comment any further. Lucky you. Blah, blah. ;)

Alexandra said...

Your pictures are absolutely awesome! I love the sound of no sound! What an amazing experience you had!

johnking said...

those pictures are awesome!! Mile repeats are never fun. never, never fun. sounds like it was a good "down home" trip...glad you got the break!

Lily on the Road said...

Good job keeping up with your training, what a wonderful pictorial you have shared with us...

thanks!