"Botswana WIldlife Safari" (Explore Travel)
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
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
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!
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.
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
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
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.