Monday, May 28, 2018

WET BOTSWANA, Guest Post by Owen Floody

Botswana, Africa. Half-collared Kingfisher
Our friend Owen Floody, who recently retired from a career of teaching and research at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, has had the good fortune of being able to travel frequently.  These trips have been divided between treks and safaris, reflecting his interests in seeing (and photographing) interesting landscapes and wildlife.  In 2017, for example, he completed three treks and two safaris, a personal record. (Note his previous posts on The Intrepid Tourist.) This post will describe the first of his 2017 safaris, a 14-day trip to Botswana with Wilderness Travel .
The trip to Botswana appealed to me for two major reasons.  First, it ran at an unusual time of the year.  Whereas one usually goes on safari in the local dry season (for reasons that will become apparent), this trip was aimed to coincide with the end of a wet season and I was curious to see how the African landscapes would look then.  Second, in comparison to many other commercial safaris, this had an unusually diverse and interesting itinerary.  Rather than visiting just one or two areas, this included 4-5 distinct (sometimes very distinct) habitats.  These included the Okavango Delta, Moremi Game Reserve, Savuti Channel and Chobe River.  But perhaps most notably, it included the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, which I was particularly anxious to see and which essentially can only be visited in the wet season.
Including myself, there were seven guests on this trip and at least twice that number of support staff.  In that and other respects, the trip might be described as a luxury camping tour.  For the most part, we lived comfortably (e.g., hot showers on demand, amazing food from an extremely simple “kitchen”) in a tented camp, but one that moved from area to area with us.  The only exception to this was our stop in the Okavango Delta, where we got in and out by small plane and/or boat, and so could not bring with us the truck that gave our mobile camp its mobility.
Wild dogs, Kalahari
In turn, my decisions to follow this itinerary in the wet season had both positive and negative consequences.  Let’s get the latter out of the way first.
Lioness
The first negative consequence was completely predictable and so can’t really be seen as a weakness of the itinerary.  Because of the lush vegetation and widely distributed water, animals simply are harder to find and view in the wet season.  For instance, (1) Why is the lioness walking in the road? (2) How visible would she have been if displaced a few feet to the left?  Second, even though I initially thought that the mid-April timing of this trip might be too late, we ran into a surprising amount of water, enough to flood roads and potential camps, requiring adjustments in our plans. All safaris are at the mercy of unpredictable weather and our guides were able to make very effective adjustments on the fly, reflecting a big advantage of travel with a very reputable company.  Last, I thought that the amount and variety of wildlife near our Okavango lodge was a bit disappointing.  But I don’t know if this says something about the choice of lodge, the season or my expectations.
Kalahari
Offsetting these limitations were a like number of pluses.  First, we were able to visit the Kalahari and it was an eye-opener—much more lush and productive than I expected it to be in even this relatively fertile time of the year.  Second, largely due to the efforts of our two expert guides, we managed to see many wonderful mammals and birds.  This was a little less true in the Okavango than elsewhere. 
Hippo, Okuvango
But even in the Okavango, we had a terrific encounter with a pod of hippos and also a very pleasant morning on a Delta island, tracking elephants on foot.  Third, I think it’s worth emphasizing that the variety of sites that were included on the itinerary exposed us to a greater variety of wildlife than we otherwise would have seen.  Last, the wet season really was different.  It was lush and highly attractive as a result.  And the late rains even made the skies attractive and dramatic, especially early and late in the day.
Gazelles
So, do I recommend this trip?  That depends completely on the person I’m advising and what they’re after.  Remember that any safari is in part a game of chance.  And, despite the greater ease of avoidance and concealment enjoyed by animals in the wet season, we did very well.  Therefore, I found the trip to be very productive and enjoyable, though I might research the Okavango site to be used a little more searchingly before signing on again.

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