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The Wild Side Of Botswana

Gweta, Botswana

As a backpacker it is almost impossible to see the true Botswana without being part of an overland tour or having your own 4x4 vehicle. I was lucky enough to have a week in Botswana with Mum and Dad, who had hired a fully kited out truck to get a feel for what they were getting themselves into with purchasing their own back in Wales.

No sooner had we entered Botswana than we opted for the minor road over the main one, which basically meant we were heading north along the banks of the Limpopo River on a dirt track. Whilst I had experienced this sort of road before it was a new concept to Mum and Dad, and thus took a little getting used to, but soon we were up to speed and headed north a happy bunch.

After a gruelling (for Mum and Dad at least) five hours driving it was time to set up camp for the night, and where better to camp than right on the bank of the Limpopo River where one could watch for hippos and crocs to the symphony of Vervet Monkeys playing games in the trees overhead. The truck was kited out with two roof tents, that whilst not small were not exactly big which lead to quite a comical night's sleep - choruses of laughter accompanied every movement Mum and Dad made in the night. Where as I was more than comfortable in my tent Mum and Dad were wedged into theirs like sardines in a tin, and watching Dad, all 6ft6 of him, trying to get out in the morning was simply classic.

Packed and ready for the off our journey took us further north into the Tuli Block where we would be staying at Mashatu Game Reserve for two nights. I have, over the course of my life, been lucky enough to visit some special places in this world but few can match Mashatu and all that went with it. For starters it is southern Africa's largest private game reserve at over 30,000 hectares, and with no perimeter fences you really are in the wild. On top of that main camp is one of the most idyllic places I have stayed, there are not many places in the world you can sit eating your dinner watching an elephant drinking at the water hole.

In our time there we had four game drives, two early morning sunrise drives and two late afternoon sunset drives, and saw more wildlife than you would care to shake a stick at. Given that it is a private reserve there is no need to stick to the tracks, but rather Fish, our personal ranger, got us so close to the animals it was quite surreal at times. When you are sat within ten metres of a wild lion, looking him straight in the eye, you can't help but feel inferior and in awe.

Fish warned us not to make any movements, as this would constitute a challenge to the lion and when you are sat in an open air truck with no doors there is only going to be one winner. If I thought the lion was impressive it faded into near insignificance compared to the leopard we tracked for almost an hour. The leopard is an animal of immense beauty and grace, and given that most sightings are brief this was, even for Fish who has worked at Mashatu for twenty-eight years, a rare treat.

Having tracked it along the dried riverbed we had to make a hasty exit in order to see it stalk two impala back on the open plains. Sadly, for us but not the impala, there was a lack of cover for the leopard to operate with and it was thus unable to attempt a kill. So it was back into the riverbed to watch it climb an almighty Mashatu tree (the tree the reserve is named after) as it hunted for a guinea fowl to snack on. It was here he disappeared into the branches and we left knowing we had experienced something only a handful ever will.

As majestic as seeing the lion and leopard was, being a elephant lover the piece de resistance was without a doubt the vast herds of elephants we had the pleasure of following and observing. In the past I had on a few separate occasions seen a maximum of four elephants together, but here we saw herds of up to fifty, and at one stage had over two hundred walking past us as we stood atop a small hill drinking coffee early in the morning.

At one stage we were parked by a section of the river with a small pool of muddy water, no more than twelve metres from the truck, watching a three day old elephant playing in the mud. It was comical, cute and magical all at once and quite honestly I could have spent hours watching the little fella rolling in the mud, struggling to find his feet and working out how to use his trunk, which was clearly still something of a mystery to him.

It is one thing to see these animals on television documentaries, or even in wildlife parks, but to come face-to-face with them in their own environment is quite something. Here they are in charge, this is their turf and they will defend it according to their natural instinct, which basically means attacking to kill if they feel threatened or challenged in any way.

Given the time we had here it was a wrench to leave, but safe to say I will at some stage in my life be going back to Mashatu, the land where the giants walk, the land where you can be at one with these giants, a land where dreams can come true.

permalink written by  MarcusInAfrica on May 5, 2009 from Gweta, Botswana
from the travel blog: Cape to Cardiff
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Some great pictures there thanks for sharing them. The Happy Gilmore reference made me chuckle, I'm guessing you didn't actually eat any of that!?!?

permalink written by  Botswana Honeymoons on June 3, 2009

Magic... thanks Marcus... Maddie x

permalink written by  Madeleine French on June 5, 2009

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