Fascination with Place

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Mama B and staff singing in the Boma.

We received our welcome orientation from Mama B, the delightful lodge manager.  “If there’s anything you need, you just ask Mama B and I’ll take care of it.”  We settled into the rooms, much nicer than I’d anticipated, and gathered a bit later for afternoon tea – though first I enjoyed great looks at a Pearl-spotted Owlet that our lead guide, Graham Johansson, found right outside my tent!  We were only a few minutes removed from the long journey, but I was already relaxed and excited about the adventure that awaited.

After tea we headed out on a game drive.  Almost immediately we passed wetlands that were loaded with hippos.  Botswana has many attractions, but I was most excited about seeing the extensive freshwater wetlands in the northern part of the country, the vast Okavango Delta and the associated Linyanti Swamps.  This is one of the greatest protected wetlands on earth, one I had long dreamt of seeing.  There were Woodland Kingfishers and Lilac-breasted Rollers, Waterbucks and Red Lechwe, African Jacanas and Open-billed Storks, and when we paused to watch sunset, a group of elephants across the clearing.  We turned our backs to the scene briefly when the guides asked us all what we wanted to drink – each afternoon excursion on our trip ended with drinks and snacks at sunset.  Talk about spoiled!

Above: Arriving at Banoka.

Below: Guide Chris welcomes us.

Above: Hippos in the Khwai Channel of the Okavango Delta. Below left: young Red Lechwe.  Below right: Woodland Kingfisher.

Back at the lodge we gathered in the boma – a semi-enclosed campfire circle – where the staff serenaded us with songs and dances (photo at top).  Finally we enjoyed a spectacular dinner, with choice of fine wine, to wrap up the day.  Less than twelve hours into my stay in Botswana and I’m already smitten; it this my new favorite country?

I rose at dawn the next morning, watching Impalas and Lechwe from my tent’s front porch while listening to bird calls – most unfamiliar, but a few that I had learned in Tanzania.  A quick breakfast and we’re off on a game drive, heading east.  Predators were on everyone’s mind, and we found predators indeed, just not the hoped-for big lions, leopards, or wild dogs.  But we had great looks at many predatory birds, including Brown Snake-Eagle, Booted Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Tawny Eagle, African Hawk-Eagle, Bataleur, and Yellow-billed Kite, along with a Monitor Lizard and a few Nile Crocodiles.  We did see big mammals: Southern Giraffe, Plains Zebra, Greater Kudu, Cape Buffalo, and Southern Reedbuck among them.  We lingered long afield and finally returned for a late lunch and short rest break.  I wanted to nap but couldn’t pull myself away from the mammals, birds, and views that I was enjoying from my front porch.

Above left: Bataleur. Above right: Southern Giraffe.

Below: African Hawk-Eagle.

Our afternoon trip was on the water, our first experience with the small traditional watercraft known as mokoros.  Resembling a dugout canoe, mokoros are pushed through the wetlands by pole.  Each boat takes just two passengers and is propelled by a guide who, in this instance, is simply called the poler.  What a way to experience the Delta!  Storms were brewing over the Okavango, creating dramatically beautiful cloudscapes.  I was captivated by the scenery, but managed to shift my focus from time to time to enjoy the water birds, the water-loving Red Lechwe, and a few tiny Long Reed Frogs, spotted rather miraculously by our polers.  As the clouds approached our polers wisely decided to head back, and after returning to dry land we had just a few minutes to enjoy our “sundowner” snacks and beverages before heading back to the lodge as the rains began.  We fell asleep to the dramatic sounds of thunder and rain, which conveniently finished up well before dawn.

Above: Traveling by mokoro.

Below: Okavango skies.

Above: Reed Frog.

Below: Polers.

We were out early on our last morning at Banoka, filled with excitement because another guide had found a Leopard!  We couldn’t help but pause when passing trees filled with Marabou Storks, but dragged ourselves away until: voila!  We saw the Leopard at rest on the right side of a tree and its prey, an Impala that it had apparently taken the day before, wedged into a broad fork on the left side of the tree (photos below).  Our guide maneuvered us into position, and we settled in to watch.  Almost immediately the Leopard stood up, stretched, and bounded gracefully over to the other side of the tree.  It was breakfast time, and we watched for a long time as the Leopard licked the carcass, tore off big chunks of meat and gulped them down, and then finally cleaned himself up, licking his paws and rubbing its face just like a house cat does.  What a grand finale to our time at Banoka.  We returned to the camp for a tasty brunch, packed up, and headed to the airstrip for the short flight to our next destination, Xigera Camp, located just about in the center of the Okavango Delta.

Marabou Stork.