Zambezi River Valley
Cape to Cairo
|With an area of 581,730
square kilometres, Botswana is virtually the same size as France, Kenya or
Texas. Situated in the centre of Southern Africa, it is a landlocked country,
with Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe as its immediate neighbours.
Botswana lies an average of 950 metres above sea level and is more than 600
kilometres from the nearest coast. The Tropic of Capricorn bisects Botswana.
The most striking features of the country are its flatness and aridity. With the exception of the eastern part of Botswana where the great majority of Batswana live and where the summer rainfall is slightly higher, three quarters of Botswana is technically a desert. This is what makes the Okavango Delta even more remarkable. It is a wonderful wetland within a desert, getting its waters from rainfalling in central Africa, 1000 km away.
Botswana is one of Africa's success stories. Prior to independence in 1966, it was one of the world's poorest countries. When we started to work in Botswana in the 1970s, very few people who lived outside Botswana had even heard of the Okavango. In those early days East Africa was "king" of the safari circuit. Botswana was undiscovered and was only visited by a few hardy adventurers. But things were to change! East Africa lost its gloss in the eyes of the discerning traveller as it overcrowded its parks. South Africa became a "normal" country with Nelson Mandela's release, and the whole Southern African sub~ continent became a desirable region to explore!
Within Botswana, there were big changes, too. Diamonds were discovered in the Kalahari shortly after independence and this kick~ started the economy. Sir Seretse Khama was the country's first post~ independence president. He was a wonderful leader and one of the most pragmatic and far~thinking presidents any country could ever hope for. Seretse laid the foundations and the platforms that Botswana needed to propel itself forward. Democracy has never been compromised and the economy has been booming. On the wildlife front, Seretse's son, Ian, is one of the country's unsung conservation heroes. When he became head of the military, he positioned his troops to secure Botswana's borders from poachers. The game concentrations within the country multiplied overnight. Many people owe their jobs and careers to his actions.
The country abandoned mass tourism and focused on high quality / low volume tourism. The country's leaders took the view that high quality / low volume tourism was the best way to create a sustainable industry that would employ a large percentage of its people, while still preserving the environment. Today wildlife and tourism employs about 45% of all the people who live in northern Botswana.
The country has remained focused on delivering the finest possible, authentic wildlife experience. This is accomplished through one of Africa's most sensible land plans ever devised. Much of the country's best wildlife land is outside the parks! This land has been resurveyed over the past 10 years and has been divided into massive private reserves that are leased out to safari companies or to rural communities. Well over 30% of the country has now been set aside for wildlife. The safari companies have to manage their operations within strict guidelines and with very strict carrying capacities to prevent overcrowding. These companies have to train and employ local people ~ and they have to pay large amounts to the communities or the Government for the privilege of being there. Communities are now being brought into the mainstream of the wildlife industry.
While most of the country's best wildlife experiences are in these private reserves (or concessions, as they are known locally), the country still has areas for the general public to visit. These are not the areas to which you should be travelling to find the best private wildlife experience. The safari camps that Wilderness Safaris recommends in this brochure are all in the private reserves.“Chemical warfare in the desert” is how Ralph Bousfield, zoologist and owner of Jack’s Camp, explained the burning in our eyes resulting from the pungent fragrance of the wild sage that grew in the Makgadikgadi Pans reserve. He went on to explain how the powerful and deadly combination of poisons employed by the San (Bushmen) in their arrows derives from natural substances resulting from the struggle over 100’s of millions of years between plants and insects, a story in which mammals appeared only recently, and man even more so. We continued to proceed across the rolling grasslands towards a line of zebra and wildebees stretching across the horizon, one of the last vestiges in Africa of the animal migrations that occurred yearly as rains brought fresh grass out in the drier regions of the landscape. Traveling along, Ralph continued to point out the novel adaptations that occured in the Kalahari semi-desert. Every 1/2 mile along the road, a Black Korhan, with territories as clear as if mapped out at the local planning office, would leap out of the grass, flapping its wings, and cackling loudly to decry our trespass.
Our fascination with Botswana 20 years ago on an overland camping safari using a Land-Rover to travel through Magkgadikgadi Pans, Nxai Pan, Moremi, Savuti, and Chobe up to Victoria Falls. In those days the road from Nata to Maun was still a dirt road, often flooded as it crossed through Suwa Pan. Maun itself was a traditional African village with goats, mud huts, and the refugees of the British Empire, whose livers were as unreliable as the Landrover’s they drove. When back from conducting safaris into the remote parts of the Okavango Delta guides and hunters sought cures for the former malady at the bar of Riley’s hotel, and while awaiting repairs to the latter at Riley’s garage, not much more than a tin shed with an Indian mechanic. This remote outpost was still too much civilization for Ralph’s father, Jack Bousfield who headed off to the nothingness of the Makgadikgadi Pans. The unreliability of vehicles in those days was well portrayed in Jammie Uys’s popular movie “the God’s Must be Crazy,” which, in regards to the safari vehicles of the day should be accepted as historical documentary, and not slapstick comedy.
One of the watering holes en route was, and remains the well-known Gweta rest camp. In days gone by it was run by Keith and Margie Poppleton. We remember being regalled around the camp fire by Keith's tales of adventure in the bush, and recordings of hyena chasing lion off of kills, a phenomena know well-known, but in those days when fiction loomed larger than fact,
road to adventure still runs north from Maun the Moremi Nationa Park, the
Savuti region and then to the Chobe and Kasane.
While one mourns the passage of a certain romance that has disappeared with paved roads and competition from Toyota, one must congratulate Botswana on what it has achieved in the past two decades as one of the real success stories of Sub Saharan Africa. Wealth generated by the discovery of diamonds at Jaweng and Orapa have been wisely invested in providing broad oversees educational opportunities for the citizens of Botswana. Twenty years ago a border guard found a New York City subway token during a baggage inspection and laughed with incredulity at our description of its use and intent. Today the son’s and daughters of those customs officials now call us for flights on 747’s to return home from their studies at universities across the United States.
While modernizing, the other result of the success of Botswana has been its unsurpassed commitment to wildlife conservation with large parks and private concessions containing a fabulous quantity and diversity of wildlife. Transportation and accommodations are as good as they need to be while not compromising the unspoiled nature of the experience in Botswana. The wildlife, birdlife, and natural beauty have to be experienced. Many citizens take up careers as safari guides in the reserves and concessions. While tribal pride, traditions, and language remain, these are a subcurrent to a thriving national culture.
While some roads have been improved sustantially, once one gets into wilderness areas, the wonders and challenges of the African bush prevail. Roads remain very rough, and 4x4 travel is as challenging as it gets.
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