From Corona-lockdown straight into the holiday paradise of Botswana

Katja in Botswana

After writing about my Namibia travels in October 2020, which had received a very good response from many interested Africa travelers, I knew that there was a strong interest in finding out whether the neighboring countries could also be visited with similar ease. My original plan was to pack my bags again latest by spring 2020, so that I could describe how the people in Africa are doing and whether it was possible to travel during Corona times.

Things however turned out quite differently. In Germany, people were preparing from lockdown "light" to a few weeks of complete public life shutdown. At the same time, the demand for short-term trips increased and with it the need to be able to inform our customers about the exact situation on the ground at the already known reliable speed and precision. So, I decided to go to Africa a second time at the end of 2020. Again, most recent RKI data had to be analyzed, trends in the number of infections were evaluated and online research was carried out. Ultimately, my choice fell on a fly-in safari to the Okavango Delta in Botswana. At the time of decision making, Covid numbers were very low compared to other countries and I knew that visiting the small camps in the middle of the African bush would avoid any crowds. The preparations were similar to those for my Namibia trip, taking out health insurance, performing a Covid-19 test within the requested time limit (max. 72 hours before entry) and of course, getting a few nose & mouth masks ready.

For the curious reader, and to cover the topic of Corona upfront - in Botswana it is common practice to wear nose and mouth protection. In addition, measuring body temperature and disinfecting hands when entering any public areas were well established practices, without exception.

Those who travel to Botswana usually begin their adventure in Kasane or Maun. My way led me from Maun to the beautiful Okavango Delta. At the newly built airport, we were greeted personally at the front door 30 minutes before departure. Our entire check-in took at most 5 minutes, memories of good old Berlin-Tegel were awakened again. Our young bush-pilot was overjoyed to finally be able to fly international guests again. We were the only passengers in a small propeller plane, a Cessna, also known by the locals as a "bush taxi". The 30-minute flight indulged us with a breathtaking bird's eye view of the Delta. We could see the first elephants and antelopes roaming through the African bush. The Okavango Delta with its many canals and marshland somehow reminded me of my home, the Mecklenburg Lake District – with similar scenery and great equally impressive images, only the African animals have to be added.

Katja and Uwe before the flight
Bush Taxi
Flight over the Okavango Delta
Charter flight

When we arrived at our first lodge, we were greeted by our friendly safari guide Simon. Ker & Downey's recently refurbished Shinde Lodge is on a private concession. This is the only way to experience a variety of different safari activities that many other lodges cannot offer due to the tightened government regulations. We were allowed to spend three nights here, so we had enough time to use all the activities on offer. These include day and night trips in an open safari vehicle, boat excursions and trips in a mokoro (wooden dugout boat) through the canals of the delta, as well as guided hikes through the African bush. A fishing experience was also on our list, where we could enjoy the peace and quietness of the delta to the fullest. What impressed us most was the phenomenal play of colours in the sky during sunset. It sometimes seemed so surreal, but the different shades of red enchanted our hearts and with a tasty gin and tonic we felt overjoyed that we had made the right decision.

Shinde in Botswana
Katja changing tires
Landscape of the Okavango Delta
Sunset in Shinde

Because of my work as a tour operator, I often go on safari in Africa. This is precisely why I know what role luck also plays in the extraordinary animal experiences. We were not disappointed when we saw two majestic male lions on our first safari with Simon. Their bloodcurdling roars gave us goosebumps. If that wasn't enough, a male lion, driven by hunger, suddenly jumped up and unceremoniously chased a baby warthog which happened to come by. The anxious squeak still sounds in my ears today, not for the sensitive viewers. Nature can be so cruel. After this emotional experience, our safari continued into the deep bush and our guide saw something on a small hill in the distance…. a rare leopard sighting - what a delight. We didn't expect this surprise. After we had finished our impressive photo session, we enjoyed a wonderful sundowner and drove back to the lodge, where a delicious dinner rounded off the day.

two male lions
beautiful lion
Leopard

Four other guests were visiting however we heard from our guide that we would have the lodge to ourselves for the next two days, as there were no more guests arriving. I asked how many employees are currently working in the lodge – “14” he replied. From the cook to the waiter to the cleaning staff, the guide and the camp manager - all just for us. I was not sure what to make out of this, but the information certainly gave me an uneasy and sad feeling. I can only hope that the pandemic will soon be over and that tourists will be able to travel carefree again. Imagine what will happen to all the lodge & camp personnel if this continues to go on just a little longer….

Another highlight was the mokoro water excursion - a unique experience where you feel completely in harmony with nature. A mokoro guide, also known as a “poler”  guided us through the waterways of the delta with his long stick in a dugout boat. No engine noise, only the chirping of birds and the lapping of the water soothed our ears. The many beautiful water lilies was a delightful sight, and here and there a small reed frog could be seen on the reeds. I can't imagine a better way to calm down and be in harmony with nature.

In the afternoon, we decided to go on a walking safari, as we are generally very active and sporty. We love to hike long distances, so we asked for a longer tour and our guide Simon accompanied us on a 10km hike through the bush. We saw antelopes and other harmless animals. Certainly, a different feeling compared to the safe safari vehicle. We were particularly impressed by the knowledge of our guide, who explained to us, with much passion, how a termite mound is formed. None of our questions went unanswered.

Okavango Delta with Mokoro
water lily in the okavango delta
Walking safari Katja
Termite mounds

After three days full of adventure and impressive experiences, we made our way to our next lodge. Our “bush taxi” only took us 10 minutes to the famous 4,871 square kilometer Moremi Game Reserve to Camp Moremi owned and run by Desert & Delta Safaris. We were personally greeted by the Camp Manager; Action, who drove us to the camp together with other guests. We were to spend the next 3 days in the oldest nature reserve in Botswana in the heart of the Okavango Delta. For the next few days, boat and land safaris were on the program. Although we thought we had seen all the animals in Africa, mother nature once again managed to surprise us with unique impressions. Our first wild dogs, buffalo and crocodiles as well as rare bird species ran (or flew) in front of the camera. It is always breathtaking to experience these unique animals in their natural habitat. This time we were eyewitnesses to a remarkable spectacle in which a young antelope managed to free itself from the mighty jaws of a crocodile after a tough fight, reaching the bank, seriously injured.

Katja photographs a lion
Zebras in the moremi game reserve
Wild Dogs
boat trip in the okavango delta

Our absolute highlight was the hospitality of the staff. Every day the entire camp crew announced the evening menu with singing and dancing. What a joy. Some staff members also gathered with us for a joint sundowner at the open fireplace, telling stories about animals, nature and their homes. The joy of life and gratitude on their faces showed me how happy they were to welcome guests from Europe and elsewhere overseas to Africa. These people are proud to be able to present their country and to share their knowledge about nature in the countless stories and  excursions into the bush. Many locals welcomed us with goosebumps and rays in their eyes when they found out that we were visiting from Germany. Returning tourists are associated with hope - hope for an end to the pandemic, for the reoccupation of their camps and also, ultimately for a better life.

The trip to Botswana was short, due to Corona, not quite as carefree as I am used to when traveling to Africa. You have to stay informed, know the most up to date rules and regulations, react flexibly and at times, unfortunately also accept additional costs. For example, we had to take another COVID PCR test to shorten the quarantine time in Germany. For those who can cope well under these circumstances, a trip to a “risk country” defined by the RKI or AA is not only a conceivable alternative, but also an opportunity to treat yourself to a dream holiday under the African sun and clean open skies, away from gray winter months at home.

Katja and Uwe on a game drive