Back to Botswana: Inside Henrietta’s return to where it all began
When I first travelled to South Africa in the 1980s as a wide-eyed teenager, all anyone talked about was Botswana and how magical it was. I heard tales of the Okavango Delta and how there were very few visitors. Friends spoke of the huge tracts of unexplored bush and the sense of real adventure and pioneering spirit that permeated the place. I was determined to go.
Some months later, I found myself squashed into the back of a land rover and about to embark from Johannesburg on the long journey to Maun, then a frontier town on the edges of the Delta full of ‘white hunters’ and safari folk. This was the real beginning of my lifelong love affair with Africa, the world of safari, the wildlife, but most of all the sense of freedom that being in the bush brings to the soul.
So, it was with huge excitement that I once again set off to Botswana in May this year to celebrate our 25 years as a business and the African country where it all began for cazenove+loyd. Botswana is one of Africa’s success stories. It is very stable politically with the continent’s longest continuous multi-party democracy. It protects some of Africa’s largest areas of wilderness and the safari industry is a crucial source of income alongside diamond mining and cattle farming.
Landing in Maun is very different to what it was then as frontier town no longer, in that there are tar roads, a shopping centre and even a traffic light but it still has the same feeling as it did then – hot and dusty (being on the edge of the Kalahari Desert), with donkeys and cattle on the side of the roads and Toyota safari vehicles lined up at the airport to greet another group of expectant clients. A sense of adventure still abounds.
We were on a five-night luxury mobile safari – very much in the essence of what a safari used be. Safari means journey in Swahili and what a journey we were on. We moved camp every second night supported by a crew of 12 and a ten-tonne lorry. Whilst the camp moved, we immersed ourselves in the wonders of the bush. One of the strong senses of being in the African bush is smell. A certain area in the Okavango, adjacent to the Moremi game reserve is synonymous with wild sage and campfires and this is a smell I experienced even today all these years on – it is magical! Being one’s own unit, allows the days to take their own course with no restrictions on time and it is this freedom that entranced safari enthusiasts in the 1920’s and 30’s first recognised.
Botswana is a hotbed of fantastic game viewing areas and on this trip we were treated early on to leopard sightings that surpassed any of our groups previous experiences (all seasoned Africa-philes) which set the tone for the rest of the days. Gliding on a double-decker boat through the Delta heading towards our camp on an island which was to be our night stop, high enough above the reeds and papyrus enabling spotting of the very elusive and rare Sitatunga antelope, is something everyone should do – no vehicle noise apart from the very gentle hum of the motor, elephants crossing in front of our boat and the reeds a myriad of different water birds with Malecite and Pied Kingfishers darting from A-B.
On this trip we were led by John Barclay and James Stenner, who are part of a new generation of guides who are passionate about rediscovering safari as it used to be. Their trips are all about real adventure, sleeping under canvas with the sounds and smells of the bush all around. Our young band of guides are doing away with set itineraries and embarking on extraordinary adventures in the wild. This style blends perfectly with cazenove+loyd’s approach, which has always been to introduce clients to the very soul of a destination.
Botswana will always hold a very special place in my heart, it never fails to deliver on all counts and it is for all the reasons above, that it remains one of the most exciting safari destinations in Africa.
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