Three of my colleagues and I recently had the pleasure of spending two nights at The Lodge located north of the expansive Central Kalahari Game Reserve. We were picked up at our offices in Maun just after lunch for a comfortable four and a half hour road transfer in their air-conditioned 4×4 to this rather unique product. Although there was not much to see on the way, we kept our spirits up by discussing exactly what we were about to experience as it became apparent that although we were seasoned travellers in regards to camps and lodges in Botswana, we did not quite know what to expect at this property as big game viewing is not the primary focus. This is not to suggest that there is no game in the area (as I realised later on) as we encountered zebras and kudus during our stay there but rather that this property has a completely different ethos as compared to the camps we regularly visit in more predominately game rich areas in the delta.
We arrived to a very warm welcome by Teddy, the lodge manager and his ever smiling staff. The lodge really is beautifully built to match in with the surrounding area and the twenty-five metre lap pool had us all wanting to take a dip right then and there! We freshened up with a welcome cool drink and prepared ourselves to hear the usual camp briefing regarding operations safety pre-cautions and activities. Instead of the usual early morning wake up at 05h30 in the morning for a game drive we were advised we could sleep in until breakfast was served at 07h30! The activities on offer had us all spoilt for choice as one could go on a game drive, walk, fat bike tour of the area or horse riding. Other activities on offer are golfing (desert style!), tennis, an authentic bushman experience (either a walking safari to discover what the desert can provide in terms or nourishment and medicine or a more in-depth fly-camp experience at a bushman village located close to the lodge) or if one is feeling like being pampered, massage treatments are also available at a small supplement. Needless to say we all chose our prepared activities for the following morning with two of my colleagues opting for the horse riding and the third taking in a massage. I opted for fat biking riding with a twist as I was going to follow my colleagues on the horses.
In hindsight, this was probably not the best decision I have made in my life, as the next morning I quickly came to realize one cannot follow horses on a bright orange fat bike through the Kalahari veld. As my colleagues got introduced to their horses and the guides, I took this time to name my fat bike “Bubba” as all the horses had names I did not want my trusted bike to feel out of place. The ride started with a light trot which Bubba and I easily kept pace with, but this was to quickly change. When the horses went into a canter, keeping up with them rapidly become more difficult. Thankfully they stopped when they realised that I had fell from view and waited for me and Bubba to catch up. It was at this point, I made the decision to return back to the lodge with Bubba and let them enjoy the rest of their ride, as I was clearly slowing them down. Again, in hindsight, probably not the best decision as fat biking through tall grass on your own on a bright orange fat bike in a concession that can have wildlife pass through it without a guide would be considered foolhardy at best. I could just imagine the confusion on a leopard’s face seeing me and Bubba huffing and puffing along! Swinging my neck around every two seconds to check for wildlife whilst trying to stay on the “path” we had taken was a challenge to say the least.
My joy at finally seeing the lodge appear on the horizon was that of the desert when it rains. Pure and utter joy and relief!
Departing the next morning, it dawned on us that we had experienced something completely unique in the tourism industry of Botswana. They whole ethos is centred more around the relaxing and varied experiences available rather than big game sightings.
A fitting and relaxing end to any safari.
Safari Destinations is about family. It is the people that share our daily lives, and who we have grown to love and cherish. With our SD family, we create memories, share good times and help each other through the tough ones.
Some of those good times are celebrating the birth of the children to staff employed at Safari Destinations. At last count, it was 17 in total with another 2 on the way! Close to 50% of all our staff are parents. This is why lift clubs, meal arrangements, play-dates, “Hello Aunty Sarah” as well as kiddies’ laughter and tears are the order of our day.
We all know that total commitment describes our women here at SD. Many years ago when Lorraine and Andrea were still breastfeeding, critical Globetrack training had to take place. So, it all happened “behind the scenes” while the (male) trainer continued his training. He had strict instructions to “Don’t turnaround!”
While 80% of our staff are women, we believe that fathers are just as important as mothers. This is why our Dads get paternity leave with the birth of each child.
Our latest recruit is beautiful, little Paige, born to Senior Consultant, Mia Ives. Once Mia returns to work, as a first time mother, she will have the support and understanding of the Managing Directors, Carina and Lorraine as well as the many women here at SD who have walked the path of managing family and work.
I was fortunate enough to spend a week on safari during our so called green or secret season. Everything seemed to be bursting with life, from the lush green bush to the intermittent cloud bursts that warned us of their impending approach and of course there were babies – everywhere! I don’t ever recall seeing a giraffe that small or the tiny blue wildebeest that was even smaller than the average Impala. The weather was perfect. It was certainly not a sweltering and unbearable heat and when it did rain (which of course was every day) it was more often over in an hour. Undoubtedly the biggest drawcard is the price tag as green season is the cheapest time to visit Botswana.
My journey started in Chobe but this time it was a completely different experience from my previous visits. I had the pleasure of staying on the Chobe Princess for the night and often this option is overlooked when starting or ending a safari in Botswana, yet it was the most relaxing and certainly the most rewarding game viewing experience. Feet up and reading a book, I would glance periodically at my surroundings only to find crocodile sunning on the bank, or a hippo out of the water. In fact it gave new meaning to the size of these animals, seeing them plunge from the bank into the water. Our guide took us out on a tender boat later in the afternoon and we watched a herd of Elephant come down to the water’s edge – expecting them to quench their thirst and move on. But we witnessed something I had never seen before amongst elephants… whilst I had seen them in water before this time was different as 3 young bulls cavorted and tumbled around, disappearing completely under the water for a moment before resurfacing. The only obvious sign would be the trunk peering out every now and again. I loved every minute of this spectacle.
The highlight of my week away had to be the Xaranna concession in the Okavango Delta. With an expert guide and tracker to take care of our safari needs, we managed to see the Big 5 in 24 hours. Whilst this might be the normal expectation for most, very few concessions have the endangered Rhino. Through various means, White Rhino have been relocated from South Africa and reintroduced here over a period of time. It was certainly a proud moment to come across the magnificent prehistoric looking animals grazing peacefully in the bush nearby.
The rain showers did not keep us from our game drives and with a poncho readily available we embarked on both the morning and afternoon activity. The Delta was teeming with wildlife and though more scattered during the wet season, we were never disappointed. My husband, a professional photographer, commented on photography during this time of year, claiming that with less dust particles in the air, clarity in photographs was certainly better. I can only agree based on the stunning images he captured!
So in a nutshell, it will rain and probably more often than not. But with that comes the reward of new life, little lives finding their way; explosions of colour from the ground to the sky; a photographic playground; warm summer days and lastly a little more money in the bank account.
Back in June, we launched our 10FOR50 Campaign celebrating our 10th and Botswana’s 50th anniversaries. In celebration of this, one of our major goals was to donate a total of 500 Hours to Community Service.
When Lorraine initially announced this during a staff meeting there was a silent pause (cue cricket sounds…) as our staff body absorbed the enormity of the challenge. Now, anyone who has ever visited the SD offices knows that there is no such thing as silence here…
Fortunately, volunteering to assist the community is part of the culture at SD and the silence was actually attributable to a collective intake of breath before declaring Challenge Accepted – Game On!
The months have rolled by and looking back, we’re proud of what we’ve achieved: we’ve organised winter clothing drives, renovated the reception for a Woman’s Shelter, spent hours visiting and assisting the destitute elderly, helped out at charity events, hiked across the Makgadikgadi Pans for Charity and even participated in a Charity fashion Show. Phew!
And then came the final two big events of the year…
First up was organising a fun day at Bana Ba Letsatsi (BBL) – a day centre caring for orphaned and vulnerable kids. One thing you can say with certainly about SD staff is that we love kids. We love them more than delicious warm sticky magwinya’s (a savoury/sweet, deep fried donut-ish traditional food, which-we-know-we-shouldn’t-eat-but-Eish-they-are-delicious) we even love them more than we love planning that super awesome Delta Trip. We simply love kids.
It therefore goes without saying that a fun day for BBL would be well supported by our team.
Through the generosity of our agents, we support BBL under the TFI levy; we sponsor their full time Physco-Social Counsellor, contribute to food and running expenses and also provide free scheduled transport through the SD/TFI Community Bus. All of these are crucial support to BBL but they’re not “fun” for kids.
We decided on a Fun Day, purely because all kids need to have joy. They need to have a day where they can simply be kids and have fun!
We started off with face painting accompanied by a snack of magwinya’s (have we mentioned these before?) followed by a round of games and fun: egg and spoon races, sack races, cup cake decorating, jumping castle and the surprise all-time favourite – tug of war! The kids then attended a graduation ceremony while the SD “Safari Chefs” cracked on with a massive braai (barbeque). Everyone enjoyed a superb lunch and we ended the day by handing out party bags to all. What a super day
Something else you probably already know about SD is that we don’t do things in half measures. Yep, half measures are for sissies, we like to go all out! So as if planning and hosting a fun day for a 100 odd kids and guests was not enough, two weeks later we were back in action – this time assisting with an Annual Christmas Lunch for 400 Elderly members of our community.
AGLOW International Maun is another beneficiary from the TFI Bed Night Levy. They are an organisation committed to caring for the destitute elderly in Maun. We sponsor monthly food parcels as well as the volunteers who provide daily visits. Transport is also provided by the TFI/SD Community Bus.
We are long term sponsors of their Annual Christmas lunch for the elderly and this year a contingent of 10 SD volunteers descended into what can only be described as a food cooking marathon. Forget Masterchef, if you want to see a bunch of amateur chefs dropped in the deep end in a foreign kitchen then this is the event to watch! If chopping 2 sacks of cabbages for 4 hours sounds like fun, feel free to join us next year…
All jokes aside, Team SD did a super job, worked well together from prep to cooking and served a delicious feast to a very enthusiastic audience – not a scrap of food was left over.
And that’s how we achieved our community hours. Often chaotic, usually sweaty, sometimes smelling of cabbage but always with a sense of achievement and proud to be able to give back to our awesome community.
Thanks to the incredible support and commitment of our staff in under 6 months we have not only achieved our goal of 500 community hours, but we have exceeded it to achieve 563 community hours!
What’s our target for next year? We’ll have to wait and see.
I’m sure we are planning on going large…
…Do I hear crickets?
Ina lebe seromo. This is a Setswana proverb that means: you are your name. Your name is your destiny, it is who you become, and it is you. Batswana just like most if not all Africans, understand that your name defines your fate, it shapes your life. Thus for most Africans, names bear deep meanings. Within SD itself, there are Batswana who have been endowed with special names and these names and their origins are more than meets the eye.
This is a Kalanga name, meaning “Him/Her” (Keene in Setswana). I am the first male child who is considered the overall caretaker and leader in my parents’ absence. I bear responsibility to ensure that the family is held together. I am “The One” in my family, with them I am the King.
This means that ‘We are fortunate’ or ‘We are blessed. This is a joyful name, a baby girl, a gift to the family. ‘Re’ in Setswana means us…so the first part of my name signifies unity. Now we know why I am a team player and a people’s person. J “Sego” in Setswana means good fortune or luck. It means I am a blessing in other people’s lives. To me, every time someone calls my name: “Resego”, it is a validation and a salutation that “WE ARE BLESSED”!
Kalanga names are beautiful and Chawada is another Kalanga name that has a spiritual connection. Directly translated, Chawada means “What you Desire”. My parents are believers and after a long wait, hoping to have a son, I, Chawada was born instead. Giving thanks and submitting to God’s will, my parents then named me Chawada. In other words, they were submitted to God’s plan for what he desired for them. Chawada Ndzimu too tji bokela – Whatever you like for us Lord, we are grateful!
Helmie is a Swedish name meaning “Will, desire”. It originates from helmet (protection). It is a rare name to find in Africa, let alone Botswana. I am named after Boineelo‘s (the writer of this article) elder sister. My aunt who gave me this rare and beautiful name was very close friends with Boineelo’s sister in high school. It goes to show that we never know the impact that we have in people’s lives and how deep meaningful connections can be. So make sure your life impacts those around you in a positive way and maybe just maybe your legacy might live on in a name, just like it did for me!
Lindiwe is a deeply spiritual name, one that signifies, comfort, love and protection. Being the spiritual person that I am, God has shown me comfort in times of need, protection in times of trial and love at all times. I am protected, it is my fate. I live in constant peace, knowing that what and who I am, is greater than the trials I may face. When at peace, all is well. I can live my life with a joyful peaceful heart.
Why are safaris so expensive in Botswana?
Since my beginning with Safari Destinations this question haunted me on many occasions. Especially people who visited East Africa or travelled to more mainstream safari destinations like Namibia or South Africa before, are surprised when finding out how much more a safari to Botswana costs.
In order to get our head around the “price tags”, we first need to understand the philosophy behind Botswana as a tourism destination: The strategy follows a high cost – low impact approach.
Low tourist density. The restrictions on allowed beds per concession area are quite strict compared to other countries. This means that a camp can only host a certain number of guests and only operates on a small-scale vehicle operation in order to minimize the human impact on nature. This automatically leads to a lower number of tourists in Botswana and makes the experience of the guests much more exclusive.
But please note: there is a difference between national parks and private concession in terms of accessibility and tourist frequencies!
Environmentalism & high costs: In order to run a camp in Botswana, the camp operator has to pay the government quite high conservation fees and leases for the areas. Together with the governmental restrictions, it encourages sustainable constructions in wildlife areas. The idea is that every camp is built in a sustainable way so that it can be removed completely after the lease expires, without leaving any traces in the landscape. And I think every person who has swapped from standard electricity to solar power knows how cost intensive the installation of such renewable energy sources is.
Both points have a convenient effect on the tourist experience on safari:
- On game activity, tourists in Botswana (normally!) face fewer other tourists and have an exclusive wildlife sighting – meaning they only share it between fewer vehicles whereas in other destinations vehicles already queue to a certain extent in case of an exciting predator sighting.
- Landscape is mainly impacted by natural forces and not by humans, which often goes along with strong photo opportunities. Moreover, most camps and mobile operators are perfectly equipped with open vehicles to make a photographic safari a success (no window-/vehicle frames, better light effects). This also creates a distinction between Botswana and other destinations, where only closed vehicles are allowed. Besides the clear commitment to photographic safaris by the companies, nature also does its part by providing unique undisturbed sceneries for its visitors and local people.
You don’t believe me? Check out the following hashtags on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook or Twitter to get an idea of the beauty of Botswana:
#lostinbots & #whyilivehere & #thisischobe
There you have a proof of the diversity of landscapes Botswana has to offer: massive rivers (e.g. Chobe), dry savannahs (e.g. Savute), fascinating river systems (e.g. Okavango Delta), impressive salt pans (e.g. Makgadikgadi) and the vastness of the Kalahari desert.
- The diversity in landscape is not only an opportunity for landscape photography. It also provides different habitats and is therefore home to a wide range of animal species. Botswana boasts itself with “quality game”, not “quantity game”. Obviously we also count large herds of elephants and buffalos as well as comparably high numbers of predators (lions, leopards & cheetahs) in Botswana. But what other destinations can’t compete with is the high number of rare species like: wild dogs, brown hyenas, leopards, sable and roan antelopes to name a few. Normally these animals are hardly ever seen on conventional safaris. Botswana however provides the habitats for them and therefore increases the chances of witnessing these rare species on safari.
All those points lead to an exclusive safari experience, which is reflected in a higher price tag. But behind the tourist experience is a mostly unknown enormous logistic expenditure. And these need to be taken into consideration before labelling Botswana as “expensive”.
Food delivery and waste management: Botswana is a landlocked country, most supplies are imported from South Africa, by the time the food arrives in Maun it has travelled more than 1000 km already. From Maun the journey continues. Most camps are located in remote areas. In order to provide a culinary experience for guests during their stay, every single food item and can or bottle of beverage needs to be brought into camp. Due to most of them being inaccessible by road this is done by aircraft, which is not only a tremendously logistic operation but also results in high operational costs for the camps. And not only the fresh food is getting delivered, also the reverse transportation of waste out of wildlife areas takes place by aircraft.
High staff guest ratio: The staff members of the camps need to be flown in and out of camp (duty, leave, doctors visits,. ..) as well, and in order to deliver such a remarkable customer service the camps operate on high staff numbers. Normally 3 or more staff members are in camp for one guest.
High maintenance costs: The location in the unspoilt wilderness also results in high maintenance costs for a camp. Water pipes break regularly because of animals impact, wood constructions or canvas need to be replaced several times – not only for the visual effect but also to be functional e.g. in keeping the heat out of a guests unit. The same applies to safari vehicles. They need to undergo frequent maintenance because of the “unhealthy” combination of water, heat and sand which quickly leads to signs of wear and tear. Additionally, spare parts need to find their way into camp which again involves logistical costs.
This shows that there are many visible and invisible components for the price tag.
Botswana – one of Africa’s best kept secrets!
Arriving at our mobile camp set up between 2nd and 3rd bridge in Moremi Game Reserve after dark was like arriving in fairy land, with all the lanterns down the pathways and throughout the camp. Welcomed with a glass of sparkling wine, we were settled in.
This luxury mobile set up boasts a combination of elegance and a kind of exploration history giving you all the comforts of beds, en-suite bathrooms with bucket showers and flush toilets. This was to be our home for the next 2 nights. A mobile safari gives you a private camp feeling much closer to the bush than the infrastructure of any lodge. Lying in bed at night and listening the bush come alive, as certain curious species of game come to inspect the different smells and activities of our camp.
Our Guides, Ralph Bousfield and Greg certainly did not disappoint with their in depth knowledge and passion for the bush and stories of exploration, history, culture and scientific facts kept us all engaged and entertained the entire time we were with them. The other advantage of a mobile safari is creating a trust and a bond with your guide that will be with you throughout your trip.
Day 3 we boated far into the Okavango Delta, to our Island stop where Devon (our Camp Manager) was waiting for us, fly camp set up, with more food and drinks. Our set up was a roll mat with a mosquito net under the vast stars in the middle of the Okavango Delta. It gave us a feeling of being truly in the wild, in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Here we experienced the water ways of the Delta, whilst competing against each other on the number of Sitatunga and Otters we spotted. Nature walks around the island with Ralph proving to Simona we could still make a pizza from natural plants, mushrooms and shrubs on the island as well as curing malaria at the same time.
Day 4 our Delta experience was over and we flew out to the openness of the Makgadikgadi Pans. Our home here for 2 nights was in the most feminine of all 3 Uncharted Africa camps, San Camp.
You have a choice of 3 camps all meeting 3 different styles and budgets, whilst you can all enjoy the same activities.
Camp Kalahari situated further back in the grasslands is the least expensive of the 3 camps. It is currently raising all the tents, to allow the breeze to blow through and give you more of a view of the Pans.
San Camp being the lady of the 3, situated on the edge of the pans themselves is seasonal and only operational from April to October. Its white tents on the edge of the pans gives you the true feeling of being on the moon.
Jacks Camp, this colonial and historic camp based at the edge of the pans but slightly back into the grasslands is the grande-dame of the three. Packed with history and science with their registered museum, it does look fabulous after the completion of its refurbishment.
One thing to mention on the activities, is all 3 camps run the same activities on a rotational cycle so that guests from 2 different camps don’t do the same activity together. This is the reason that a 3 night stay in the dry season is recommended to be offered the surprise sleep out (weather dependant). Activities include a cultural bushman walk, game drives looking for more adapted desert species, quad biking in the dry season, following and interacting with the very comical habituated meerkats, horse riding as an optional extra and watching the sun set where it is so silent that your ears ring.
A safari to the Salt Pans is such a unique experience, from the Zebra migration in the Green Season to exploring the pans on quad bikes in the dry season, it should not be missed.
There is something about the private concessions in Botswana – they just never seem to fail! We were in for an absolute treat on our recent pre Indaba Famtrip where we hosted agents from around the globe. One of our agents had never been on a safari before and her expectations were completely exceeded when it came to the cats; and just as special, the African Wild Dog.
I recall sitting at the breakfast table at Shinde Camp, settling into a scrumptious spread, when an unknown voice from somewhere uttered the words … “wild dogs”. We leapt up to take a closer look and in an instant blur of excitement and mere seconds, we were on the game drive vehicle with our trusted guide following the dogs. We found them and then lost them, found them again and then finally lost them when they disappeared into a thicket. They were on the hunt and it was not an easy task keeping up with them! Still we enjoyed those few precious moments and when we returned to the breakfast table our food had been keep warm and served once again.
We were lucky with the wild dogs in the Khwai concession too! This time it was a more relaxed setting and we watched a pack of 6 dogs go about the daily get up, walk 10 metres, lie down and take a break, get up and go another 10 metres, lie down and so forth. That was a special sighting and one I will remember for a long time still. Just when we thought our afternoon drive could not get any better, we came across a leopard walking in the road not far from our vehicle. My heart nearly skipped a beat … it had been nearly 10 years since I had seen a leopard in the wild. There is just something about a leopard sighting – it so magical watching this gracious and absolutely beautiful cat, so awe inspiring and a tick the box on the bucket list for most visitors to Africa.
Whilst we did not see any lion in the Khwai concession, we most certainly heard them that evening and that has to be the most incredible sound – the true call of the wild. Close your eyes for just a minute, imagine you are in your tent, separated only by a sheet of canvas to the bush around you, it is pitch dark and you cannot see your hand in front of your face….then the first call erupts from somewhere in the not too distant dark of night, a reply comes from another angle and then what sounded like a conference call amongst a pride, bellows through the silent, dark night. Nothing compares to that sound!
Selinda was probably my favourite concession, with vast open spaces dotted by a termite mound here and there. The grass was still high in places and we headed off to an area where a lioness and cubs had been seen the previous day. This was not an easy find and we all kept our eyes peeled on the bush around us, searching for that slight movement – something that might give their presence away. Our guide was committed and we continued searching, hoping to get a glimpse of these little cubs. Somewhere, someone noticed a small movement and there before our eyes were these absolutely gorgeous and perfect little cats! They were not perturbed with our presence and we were spoilt with a show in their African playground.
There are no guarantees when it comes to sightings, however I dare say, with strong concessions and committed guides, the experience of a lifetime is guaranteed.
Here at Safari Destination, the sheer number of women in the workplace means that women’s issues receive attention. Our two Managing Directors, Carina and Lorraine, are fantastic role models of what women working together can achieve. And they are both working mothers, having to cope with the reality of work-life balance. In response to this reality, the company provides a kiddies’ house on the company premises. Mums are responsible for hiring their own caregivers who then look after the children in a safe and secure environment. These caregivers are very special women. In the month of May, Safari Destinations celebrated the contribution of these ” women behind our women”. Each working mother shared a few words. These words were printed in our bi-monthly newsletter and each caregiver was also given a copy of the photos with the words below. It was a special moment.
Roxanne, Boineelo and Kyle: I am quite an over protective mom, so I truly appreciate that there is someone watching Kyle throughout the day. I know that Boi really cares about him and always takes good care of him. She can be both gentle and stern with Kyle. He has someone caring and gentle when he feels sad or scared. We make a good team as we raise Kyle together. I think of Boi as Kyle’s office mummy.
Karen, Komotso, Nikita and Courtney: I am so lucky that Komotso cares for my children and so I trust her with them. Komotso to me is a life saver. Without her, I would not be able to achieve what I do at work. I’m grateful that I am in a position to provide Komotso with a job, which helps her support her family. Having 6 children of her own, Komotso treats both Courtney and Kita as her own. She loves my little girls and looks after them well.
Kim, Lillian and Tate: I would not be able to cope without Lillian. Tate absolutely adores her and when we go on holiday, he misses her so much he sometimes cries for her!! Lillian has been with Tate since he was 2 weeks old. She is also teaching Tate to speak Setswana, as he is a Motswana.
Lorraine, Bea, Megan and Taylor: Bea is an extension of my family and I could not manage without her support. I trust Bea with the lives of my children – her honesty, loyalty and patience is invaluable. I would not be where I am today without her support. I often envy the time that she spends with the kids but I am also grateful that they have a second mum in their life to look out for them and meet their needs.
Ramona, Otshephe and Isabella: I am really glad I found Otshephe. I can go to work and have little Bella close to me. It is a great relief to know that my daughter is in good hands while I am at the office. I am looking forward to a long working relationship.
Thelma and Thuto, and her twins, Kgotla and Kgosi: Thuto has become so close to my kids they ask for her when we are home. Kgotla goes to the loo and calls out “Mommy where is aunty? I have pooped.” J I am happy to have found her.
Verena, Evelyn and Leila: Evelyn has only been with us and looking after Leila for 4 months, but it’s amazing how quickly she has become pretty much a part of the family. She is so much more than Leila’s Nanny. She is just my life supporter in every way!! It is great to have her helping me!
Ashley, Helen and Bella: Helen is a great help so that now I can go to work and relax with peace of mind that she is taking good care of my daughter. Bella is always happy to see her and I know that she is in safe hands.