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Botswana – it just never fails By Pete Oxford

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We are not sure of the exact number but reckon it to be more than 50 safaris that we have led to Botswana over the years, every one of them a gem!

Covid has severely impacted not only us, the travel industry worldwide but also of course Botswana. It was that extra special, deeply appreciated welcome from the lodge staff that started us all off with a warm and fuzzy feeling. They were genuinely as glad that we were there as we were to be there.  For Pete Oxford Expeditions it was the only trip we led in a full two years! We were happy too! The group had pre-formed themselves around a family whom we know very well. Our job was done and from the beginning it was pure fun.

We covered three regions in Botswana, the Makgadikgadi Pans, the Okavango Delta and the Linyanti region in the north, each with its own flavour and suite of wildlife. It was from Jack’s Camp in the pans for example that we saw our brown hyena, porcupines, yellow mongoose, secretary birds and cheetah a perfect habitat for them. Not to mention the totally habituated colony of meerkats that took advantage of us by climbing on our bodies to elevate their lookout points. It was a Christmas card clicking frenzy! We drove on the pans on 4-wheeler ATV’s, stopping to prove to ourselves how disorientating they can be in an hilarious blind-folded game where the core family ended up at all points of the compass.

The elephants were amazing and came into their own once we reached the delta where they fed from the very same paths we walked to our tents. Our friends were in awe, never believing, prior to the trip, that we would be so close, on foot, to the world’s largest mammals. The endangered African wild dogs on an impala kill was a huge bonus.We took to boating, passing pods of belligerant hippos while from mokoros we felt like royalty as we were polled serenly at water level, gliding past lesser jacanas, malachite kingfishers and tiny ornate reed frogs.

Lions seemed to be everywhere and our many hours in their company were very special indeed. The stare from an adult male, a few meters from the vehicle causing an unconscious shift, by those closest, towards the empty middle seat. Primordial was a word that came to mind repeatedly.

The Linyanti brought us a host more lions and more very cool behavioural observations. The lioness crunching the tiny baby warthog from a few meters away was harder hitting yet it was interesting to note, as she was separate from the pride, how she took an enormous amount of time to actually relish it.

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Elephants, zebra, kudu, wildebeest, lechwe, hornbills, lilac-breasted rollers and helmeted guineafowls were by now all fixtures of the landscape and it was leopard that proved the hardest to find. Not everyone had seen one as we were nearing the end, half the group had already spotted a mother and cub. Finally, our diligence paid off and we stayed with a big tom for a long while. He was so chilled that he would amble between the two vehicles and virtually rubbed himself on our front bumper.

Once again we maintained our record of 100% of our guests seeing leopard! With well over 200 bird species and in excess of 40 mammals we were all very happy. Once the nurse had flown out in a helicopter, to meet us during our game drive and do our PCR tests we knew all good things were to come to an end. A mild panic set in as none of us wanted to leave. The safari (as they always do) ended all too quickly and we headed up, as a group, for two days to the spectacular Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to see the falls, relax, shop and reflect.

Usually one of the busiest hubs in the country, Vic Falls was empty. The incredible artesanal market behind the Elephant Walkway was deserted of visitors. We were the ONLY ones. I did buy myself a 10 trillion Zimbabwe dollar banknote as a keepsake to frame with my one Zimbabwe dollar note that I have from my travels there in the 1990’s!  Needless to say we did our collective bit to support the local economy and Craig even coming away with new Facebook friends!