TRAVEL UPDATE: Beasts, Bugs and Bungee Jumps
Vicky’s family trip to Botswana
I wouldn’t usually leave Edinburgh and the festival during August, but when my brother Archie asked if I would come with him to introduce his kids to the African bush, I reckoned the festival wouldn’t miss me for a year. He wanted an experience they would remember, and one, at 11, 15 and 17, they would all enjoy. A few days in the activity-filled Victoria Falls combined with a self-drive in Botswana immediately sprung to mind.
They started without me at the Vic Falls, which is the perfect family holiday destination with so much to do, and all set against one of the world’s largest and most dramatic waterfalls. Although at 11 James was too young for some of the activities like bungee jumping and whitewater rafting, he still loved watching and videoing his sisters losing control. They then hopped on a short flight to the edge of the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
They were met and taken by speedboat up one of the many delta tributaries to meet their mekoro polers, who would take them on a boating adventure into the delta to spend the night on an island before I met them with the Landrover. By the time I arrived, they were all fully acclimatised and ready for the next part of the adventure. Fifteen-year-old Katie had pretty much conquered two of her greatest fears: heights, by doing one of the highest bungees in the world, and spiders - though she was still brandishing a sharp forked stick for attacking any spiders who strayed her way.
We set off for some road driving, camping and game viewing in Moremi and Chobe National Parks. The Southern Africans certainly know how to camp in style – our Landrover had a satellite phone, GPS, fridge, roof tent, external lights, internal water and every camping and cooking luxury you can imagine! We stocked up on a week’s worth of food in the local markets and headed into the bush. You definitely need to be more on the adventurous side for a self-drive, and it helps to have some knowledge of off road driving and the animals and birds you are looking out for. The National Park campsites are excellent, though, with solar-heated shower and toilet blocks, staff who keep them in good order, and helpful rangers who will point you in the right direction for the best game viewing.
Camping is a great way to get all ages involved and we all took turns in cooking and washing up, though 6am fire starting and tea making wasn’t a teenager’s favourite occupation. But the mornings always drew anticipation about what were those noises in the night, so the first thing each morning was camp inspection, to see whose footprints could be seen round the site. We actually saw quite a few animals by torchlight coming to see if we had been untidy campers. We had honeybadgers scurrying around and even lion’s footprints one night. James didn’t wander far on the second night when he saw the eyes of a hyena only metres away in his torch light. Elephant were always around, and in Savuti, a huge bull elephant would come for his tea just around our site each night. Our first night we warily kept behind the Landrover delaying our cooking but by the second night we realised he was totally disinterested, so we continued our dinner preparation, he ignoring us and we (sort of) ignoring him.
Game viewing in Botswana is not like going to the Masai Mara or Kruger National Park - you do need to be patient, and my job was to point the small things in the African bush as well us all spotting the bigger animals. I think my nieces and nephew were quite surprised at my twitching knowledge, though only quite impressed with the bugs I caught to show them. We saw all the animals they’d come to see, and some rarer ones too such as roan antelope, sitatunga and, most excitingly, a leopard with a kill up a tree. Savuti was one of the top safari areas in the 1980s, but when the Savuti channel dried up so did the animals who went to find new feeding grounds. This year was the first time in over 20 years that it was running and the Savuti marsh is becoming a marsh again, and the game numbers are slowly rising.
Our final destination was the Makgadikgadi Pans and the fantastic and funky Planet Baobab, which had a campsite and rooms and, most importantly..... a pool! It was colder than the North Sea, but it was pleasantly refreshing. It seemed to be only the mad Scots who swam in it though! We went out to the pans, firstly to see the meercats which are as sweet as they look on Meerkat Manor on the TV. They are completely habituated, so they paid no attention to us at all and carried on with their business. For me it was one of the highlights of the trip. For the kids, the next 24 hours were definitely their favourite, as we hopped onto quad bikes and headed off onto the pans arriving at sunset for dinner around a roaring campfire. We then all slept out on bed rolls under the stars, in a vast salty lunar landscape. It was amazing, and under the stars we all had the best night’s sleep of the holiday, awaking as the sun rose over the horizon.
All three children loved their first experience of Africa and I hope it has given them an appreciation of the beauty of the African bush, from the smallest bugs to the biggest landscapes, which will last a lifetime.