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Next stop: the Okavango Delta

The stunning Okavango Delta, one of a kind.

The Okavango Delta is a never-ending 15,000 square-kilometer swamp, formed where the Okavango River empties on to a basin in the arid Kalahari Desert. What makes it even more unique is that it is filled with water that comes from 1,000 kilometers away. It is considered one of the most spectacular landscapes in Africa and ranks high on the wish list for visitors to the “Dark Continent”. It’s just a shame it is such a trek to get there and that it’s so expensive. But that’s what also makes a visit to the Okavango Delta so special, making it an unforgettable experience.  It’s a “once in a lifetime” experience but I want to make it a “twice in a lifetime” experience – we visited in between the dry and wet season but I want to go back at the peak of the flood season, to see the Delta’s other face.

Unlike South Africa, for example, which has gone down the high-volume, lower priced route, Botswana has strictly controlled its tourism industry to keep it more exclusive and upmarket. This means that there’s a limit to the number of guests allowed in the parks at a given time and you won’t see ten jeeps parked around a family of cheetahs with drivers frantically radio-ing other guides to let them know about their “find”. Instead, the whole safari experience in Botswana is kept intimate, personal and the animals enjoy their peace and quiet, unthreatened by humans. It also helps that Botswana’s population is only around two million, so I guess the animals outnumber the people.

The Botswanan wildlife is also lucky that they live in a wealthy country – some say one of the wealthiest in Africa with a healthy supply of diamond mines and a GDP per capita of almost USD 14,000. As a result poaching hasn’t been as extreme as in other African countries. And because the animals have not been aggressively hunted, they’re not overly aggressive towards humans. It goes both ways.

Touching down at Hunda airstrip, no customs clearance and no security checks ...and no wildlife on the runway.

We touch down at Hunda airstrip, a ten-minute drive from Tubu Tree Camp where we will spend our first two nights in the Delta. Anxious to get on his way, the plane revs off down the runway before I climb out of the cockpit and realize that my handbag with everything I diligently lock up in the hotel safe – passport, US dollars, credit cards, iPhone, wallet, along with my daily essentials for the bush (insect spray, sunscreen, make-up, camera and notebook) – have taken off with him. (I put my bag in the cargo hold of the plane as there was no space in the cockpit.) The camp staff radio the pilot and, amazingly, 24 hours later, I am reunited with my handbag which has made five or six stops in the Delta including an overnight stay at Sefofane Air’s hub in Maun (the “capital” of the Okavango Delta). Even better, everything – every single US dollar – is still in the bag. That’s a major thumbs up for the honesty and helpfulness of the airline and camp staff.

A warm welcome at Tubu Tree Camp.

My first impression when we pull up at the five-tent Tubu Tree Camp, where all the staff turn out to welcome us with a song, followed by sandwiches and iced tea, is “wow” – a  feeling that stayed with me for my entire stay and is still with me every time I look at my photos.

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