Updated: Mar 25, 2020
Going on safari has been a lifelong dream for me so when I got invited by Letaka Safaris to go to the Okavango Delta in Botswana in April this year, I could hardly wait for the experience. Buzzing from the news, I started thinking about all the animals I was going to see but then it hit me…. I was going to be incredibly close distance to lions, elephants and rhino and suddenly I felt really scared.
I was informed that my adventure would begin with camping and that there would be no WIFI nor mobile reception. So, as well as now fearing being in the middle of the bush with potential dangerous mammals walking in from all angles, I was also worried about sleeping in a tent and not being able to get onto WhatsApp in case of an emergency! I must admit I am not a camper, I do like my luxuries and so was nervous about how I would handle sleeping let alone having the potential threat of bumping into a lion!
Packing was also a serious consideration. What do you pack for safari? Do you need to dress like Robert Redford in ‘Out of Africa’ and buy an entire new beige wardrobe or can you wear ‘normal’ clothes? Luckily some of the team here at Temple World grew up in Africa and so were able to help. They told me that the most important items to pack were binoculars, a camera, a warm jacket for the cold mornings and evenings, trousers, shorts, some t-shirts, insect repellent and suntan lotion. Also, a squashy luggage bag is a must as I would be traveling on small propeller planes as I moved from place to place and the hold is very small! Another really important point was that even though I did not need to wear completely beige, light colours were best to wear as camouflage in the bush. Bugs also tend to be attracted to bright clothing, so light neutrals are most certainly the best choice.
So, with a squashy bag packed with my light-coloured wardrobe and binoculars and camera in hand, I made my way to London Heathrow to begin my adventure. Fifteen hours later with a connecting flight in Johannesburg, I arrived. First thoughts were; wow it is hot (I love the heat) and what a small airport! Maun airport is the main airport in Botswana, but it is tiny. There is no luggage carousel, each airplane has their own luggage assistants who take your luggage straight through to the arrival hall. The arrivals hall is the place for everyone and everything, so it can be a bit manic but do not fear as everyone is so friendly and you quickly find who is looking after you. After seeing my guide (who had a sign with my name on), I made my way to our open air 4 x 4 to begin our journey. My luggage had also been taken straight to my vehicle. Even though I didn’t look like Robert Redford, I must admit I felt a little like him as we made our way across the bumpy sandy roads into the bush. After about 20 minutes, we came across a herd of elephant and giraffe crossing the road. I tried to stop myself from screaming with delight as my days of watching National Geographic at home had now become a reality.
After a bit of a bumpy journey, we arrived at our camp. My luggage was taken straight to my tent and I was introduced to the staff who immediately handed me a cold drink and towel, not expected but much appreciated! I was then shown around my new home for the next two nights. First impressions were, this is not as bad as I thought it would be, it is a lot better. The tents were large enough for me to stand in, I had a comfortable fold up bed with a duvet and pillow and a separate private bathroom attached at the back. My wonderful staff immediately put a hot bucket shower up for me, so I could have a shower and refresh. Now let me explain what a bucket shower is, it is simply a bucket filled with hot water with a shower nozzle on the end of it, which you can switch on or off as you wash yourself. It is surprisingly a very pleasant experience and will give you enough water (10-15 litres) to wash your body and even your hair. The toilet was another surprise, even though it was pretty much a hole in the ground, I had a proper toilet seat to sit on making the ‘camping toilet experience’ unexpectedly comfortable.
After freshening up, I made my way to dinner and… left my phone behind. What was the point if you have no reception and oh how lovely it was to just escape from reality. Dinner was had in a separate outside area within the camp. I have to say, it was one of the best ‘restaurants with a view’ I had ever experienced. As we looked over what felt like our own private part of the bush, our chef came out with our starter, main course and even desert. The three-course meal consisted of homemade pea soup, slow-cooked lamb with roast potatoes, hand-picked vegetables and ended with lemon zest cake and chocolate mousse. Everything was home-made and cooked to perfection! How on earth are they making this out here was my first question? And blimey did it taste good. I just had to see the kitchen and talk to the chefs about how they prepared all this incredible food. Everyone is encouraged to interact with each other which is lovely. After being shown around the kitchen and talking to the chef, I learnt that all they needed was a fire, a large pot, a hole in the ground, chopping board and knife and a tin can that they used as their oven. I was blown away and asked for the recipes to be shared amongst the group, for which they happily obliged. It was then time for bed to be ready for our 5.30am morning game drive.
Knowing that I am not the best morning person, I set my alarm 20 minutes early, so I could snooze for as long as possible. However, I found myself jumping out of bed raring to go. Coffee, tea and a small breakfast of home-made bread (of course) with condiments and cereals were served. We then set off in search for leopards! Our guide had been informed that they had made a kill just the day before and had been resting in the same area for the past 24 hours. Quickly, we drove to the sighting and to my amazement, we saw them. Two brothers feeding on an impala. Incredible. I was quickly told that this was an extremely rare sighting and I was very lucky, so I felt very enormously privileged to be having this as my first safari experience. We continued driving around for a few hours spotting Red Lechwe, Springbok, Black Rhino, Elephant Giraffe and a wide array of birds including my favourite bird, the Lilac Breasted Roller. What a day. We then returned to camp for lunch and siesta time before heading back out again for another four hours in the late afternoon/early
evening. As the day starts early, everyone gets time to rest, sleep or read for a few hours in the afternoon which is highly luxurious when you live in London and never stop. Before heading back to the camp for dinner, you also stop somewhere for a sundowner, where your favourite drink of choice (G&T) is served to you in a remote location as you watch the sunset. This experience blew me away each time.
After four days camping in two different locations (Khwai and Moremi Game Reserve), it was time to experience a bit of luxury. As much as I now loved my bucket shower, I was excited to experience a real one. To get to the lodge, we had to board a 12-seater propeller plane. This was my first small plane experience and I was apprehensive but excited. I was also lucky enough to sit with the pilot and so was rewarded with incredible views throughout our journey. As we took off, the sheer size of the delta suddenly became incredibly apparent. In short, it is huge and very flat. As you also fly quite close to the ground compared to the larger planes, you can also sometimes spot the larger mammals on the ground too. Have your camera ready. After landing, we were taken straight to our vehicle and handed fresh cold towels and water. Singing staff greeted us as we approached our lodge (Shinde) and led us into our luxurious abode. Lunch was then served in a communal dining space where everyone shares stories of their day. We were then shown to our rooms, which had been designed authentically but with luxurious touches, a four-poster bed with a stunning mosquito net hanging delicately over, a walk-in shower and a private balcony with two extremely comfortable chairs overlooking the bush landscape. Game drives happen twice a day at the camp and breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, sundowners and dinner are served each day. Warning, you are fed and watered very well on safari!
I admit that I needed some comforts to feel less Robert Redford and more Julia Roberts after camping in the wild, but I did also surprisingly miss camping after a while. The evenings shared over the camp fire listening to nothing but the ‘Sound of Africa’, which I was told before going would be something I remembered and treasured forever. I missed being where no one else was and feeling like I was really experiencing what it was like to live in the home of these incredibly beautiful animals and birds. I therefore think the perfect safari experience is to combine the two giving you the best of both worlds and letting yourself truly be taken in by all that Botswana has to offer.
It was truly a trip of a lifetime and I encourage anyone to go. Whether you are a solo traveller looking for your next adventure, a couple looking for a unique honeymoon or a family looking to rekindle over a log fire, this will be a trip to remember. Get in touch to begin your journey today.