Strathspey Wildlife
Africa 2010
"Botswana WIldlife Safari" (Explore Travel)
Botswana and Zambia.
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Saturday 20th March 2010

A repeat of our 2007 trip, and after one of the longest winters for some decades at home in Highland Scotland, our trip back to Botswana could not come soon enough. The prolonged winter snow, stretching back to mid-December had only just begun to release its icy grip, and as our Friday-afternoon Easyjet flight from Inverness flew south over The Cairngorms I vowed that if there were any snow left to greet me on our return leg I would take the first flight back to Africa. (Little did I know that two weeks hence, my tongue-in-cheek promise would be tested more than ever.) But - enough of that for now. The snow became just a memory as quickly as the clouds obsucred it from view. For this trip to Botswana we were accompanied by two of our friends, Mark
and Ros,and my wife Nancy and I wondered if this their first taste of Africa would ignite a spark, as it had done with us some eight years earlier, that
would send them back for more. Once Africa has you within her grasp, it's hard to pull away.


   

 

Just over an hour later we were touching down at Gatwick to face the trudge across to Heathrow. Although National Express provide an excellent service between the two airports, it always seems so incredibly long! No - in fact it IS incredibly long - four hours between landing and booking into our hotel!
We had booked the excellent Premier Travel Inn for our overnight stay - a precautionary stop-over to minimise the risk of any unseen delays, with the unpredictable winter weather of Highland Scotland uppermost in our minds when we had booked our flights twelve months earlier. After an excellent meal in the hotel restaurant, it was early to bed before our journey was to start in earnest the following day. After a good night's rest we took the hotel Hoppa service to Terminal 1 - a "full English" at the excellent Italian restaurant, then it was just a case of killing time until two o'clock when we booked ourselves in at the South African Airways desk to finally get rid of our baggage. We booked it straight through Johannesburg for the onward flight to Maun, keeping our fingers crossed that the bags (unlike last time) would make it through without interference. The next few hours, punctuated by the odd coffee soon passed, and it was time to board our South African Airways Airbus A340 - a replacement for the fleet's ageing 747's, and very comfortable it is too, with ample legroom for a six-footer, which makes a big difference on such a long flight. Another nice little touch on the A340 - a tail-mounted camera that gives the passenger a high-level view of the aircraft taxiing out, taking its turn in the long queue of departing aircraft - and then the take-off itself. We took off on time - a comfortable flight, and around 11 hours and 5,634 miles later we were touching down at Johannesburg. Local time was 6.45 am, so it was across to the nearest coffee-bar for a caffeine-fix to see us through the rest of the morning.  Mark and Ros, like us, though we wouldn't describe ourselves as "birders," do take a keen interest, and Mark was soon into the groove seeking to identify the birds flying around the terminal building - indeed spotting one which he thought was a mynah - and later confirmed. Another much needed coffee, and an opportunity to stretch legs, and it wasn't too long before we were boarding our Botswana Airways ATR22 for the two hour hop to Maun. We were soon clearing the vast sprawl of Johannesburg, and under sunny, partly cloudy skies reached the bushy terrain of Botswana. Ros, sitting just behind us,was glued to the window,  I feel sure she had soon shaken off the early-morning fatigue of the flight, given the expectancy of what was unfolding beneath.

   
 The heat of the day hit us as we descended the steps from the aircraft into the glare of the mid-day African sun at Maun. We completed the formalities of immigration without too much delay, and much to our relief, picked up our baggage - still secure. We made our way through the arrivalslounge to be met, not by our guide as expected, but by Mike, one of the bosses of our safari company, "Wilderness Dawning." He explained that our guide, Solomon, was on a first-aid course and would join us later that afternoon.  We were whisked away to the Sedia Hotel on the edge of Maun for our overnight stay. (Mike however SHOULD have taken us first to the currency exchange. His failure caused one or two problems in that many of us were forced to use dollars at the hotel (at a punitive rate of exchange) and later at the houseboat.) Maybe it was just me - but I had the feeling that Mike thought this task as being nothing more than an inconvenience. However, we were soon deposited at the hotel, where an ice-cold drink of fruit juice was waiting, and the very friendly staff at The Sedia ushered us to our rooms. All of the rooms were air-conditioned, which was most welcome, and gave us the opportunity to relax for a while and freshen up after the long journey. Time then to adjourn to the bar of the hotel for further refreshment, a couple of drinks and a light meal of"cheeseburger and chips" - but not as we know it. Burgers of fresh Botswana beef eclipse anything you're likely to get in UK. Some of us had already met at the airport, though only briefly, so we all had the opportunity to acquaint ourselves with our fellow-travellers. There were only eight names we had to remember: As on previous trips, there were one or two "foreigners" amongst us - Bruce was from Miami Beach, though he had been resident in Switzerland  for some years with his Swiss-born wife Mirella. This left Jenny and Derek, Jan and Bob, and Judith and Bernard, who, in his mid 80's was by far our senior traveller. We finally met our trip leader Solomon, or "Solly" as he became known -  32 years old, an experienced guide in this his home country. He gave us our first briefing, and, with an early start the following morning - with breakfast at 6.30, we all had an early night, in readiness for a fairly long drive of 300 miles to our houseboat  on the Okavango River, where we would be staying for the following three nights.    
     

 
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