Let’s say you’ve been on safari in Africa a few times. If you’ve gone back more than once it’s pretty safe to say that you’re a fully-fledged safari junkie, and a traditional safari (a couple of weeks long with comfortable tented camps and two game drives a day) puts you right in your happy place. Let’s say too, however, that even though you had an incredible time on your last trip, you felt it was time to mix it up. Time for something new, time for something unique and something very few other people have done, or indeed will ever do.
Is it possible to go on a safari in the old sense of the word? To embark on a journey, an honest to goodness expedition? Though without the armies of porters, mountains of gear, suspect personal hygiene and risk of grisly and unusual death, and instead with hot showers and a stiff gin and tonic at sunset? My answer is a resounding yes, and do I ever have the trip for you.
The kind of trip I have in mind will take you to the most remote parts of Botswana, far from the 5-star luxury mainstream, where you’ll stay at lightweight camps or sleep under the stars. Like any great expedition this is a story of adventure more than just a mere trip, so what better way to describe it than in chapters?
Chapter one opens with your arrival in Maun, from where you’ll fly into the least explored southern reaches of the Okavango Delta, and connect with an outfit called Okavango Horse Safaris. Here you’ll move between lightweight tented camps covering serious ground on foot each day. This is the real deal, not some sissy nature walk; you’ll be exposed to the bush at its most raw and intimate. And trust me, seeing predators at ground level or getting right up close to a bull elephant is a completely different ball game from seeing them in a vehicle. The first chapter ends after six nights exploring the delta, moving between three different camps.
Chapter two takes you from the Okavango Delta to northern Botswana, flying into the spectacular Selinda Reserve. You’ll be met at the airstrip by your guide and then drive west, deep into the heart of the reserve to the canoe launch about halfway along the Selinda Spillway. For the next four days, you’ll paddle along the channel, dodging elephants and hippos by day and enjoying sumptuous meals and sleeping in lightweight fly camps by night. After three nights on the water, you’ll put in at Selinda Explorers Camp for a night or two’s rest and relaxation before the story continues.
The closing chapter of our adventure takes place with the epic Makgadikagdi Salt Pans as a backdrop. After two nights at the unique and quite remarkable Jack’s Camp, you’ll set off as part of a convoy of quad bikes making for the enigmatic Kubu Island. Kubu is so far off the beaten track that there’s not even a track to beat. Once you hit the pans, your guide will seemingly choose a direction at random, leading you into the stark and empty wilderness, and leaving you with the distinct impression that you might well be driving off the edge of the world. After a hard day’s ride across the pans, late in the afternoon the granite mass of Kubu will punctuate the flat horizon and you’ll realize you’ve been heading the right way. The advance team will be there ahead of you with piping hot showers ready and a three course spread and inviting bed-rolls laid out on the rock, the star studded firmament spanning out above you as a galaxy sized night light. You’ll spend a full day exploring both on foot and by quadbike and after a second night, head back for a final night at Jack’s Camp before our story comes to an end with your return to Maun.
As a sort of epilogue to our story, I’ll leave you with probably my favorite piece of travel advice. It’s from “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau, and it reads: “Rise free from care before the dawn, and seek adventures. Let the noon find thee by other lakes, and the night overtake thee everywhere at home.” Listen to Henry and seek adventure… and perhaps take me with you.
Dan Achber gets uncharacteristically philosophical when he speaks about Africa… get him on the phone to hear for yourself.