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Remote Botswana

Imagine this.  I spent at least 2.5 hours in bush planes flying at low altitude over Botswana's vast Okavango Delta.  In all that time, I saw only two motor vehicles, no gas stations, no McDonald's (or any other business) and only one small village. 

The reason is that there is no electricity or telephone service.  Safari camps use generators for power and shortwave radio instead of telephones.  Obviously, there is no television. In short, the last thing that worries people in Botswana is urban sprawl.  Of course, its remoteness is one of the primary reasons Botswana's Okavango Delta offers a superior safari experience. 

Another reason is the Delta's sheer size.  It is the world's largest inland delta about 5,800 square miles, or bigger than the state of Connecticut.  In this vastness, there are extremely few people only about one per square mile.  (The entire country, which is about the size of France or Texas, has only 1.6 million people.)  Safari guides' stories reflect this remoteness.  Indeed, their fascinating stories about their lives are as remote from Americans' experience as Botswana itself. For instance, Chief, a guide at Duba Plains Camp, said that the first automobile that people in his village saw was a military Jeep, no more than 20 years ago.

The concept of such a vehicle was so alien, villagers believed the motor's roar came from the driver who was so very strong, he moved his house with him. Teko, a Xigera Camp guide told how he would help his father make mokoros, dug-out canoes used for transportation in Delta lagoons and marshland.  They would pole two mokoros 12 hours a day for seven days to get to a town (Maun) large enough to offer trading opportunities.  There they would trade one mokoro for ammunition, pots and maybe blankets.  Then they would spend another week poling the other mokoro back home.  If this sounds like an onerous shopping trip, it was.  However, Teko's family only needed to trade every two years.  Otherwise, they were completely self-sufficient.  (They made their clothing from animal skins; their thread was animal intestines.)

Or consider the description by Cuan Daniels, chef at King's Pool Camp, on how he deals with thieving baboons.  (Firearms are prohibited at Delta safari camps.) He wrapped a dead black mambo snake in cabbage leaves and put it where he knew it would be found. Indeed, it was, and with Cuan watching, the baboon took his stolen find up a tree to eat.  When he unwrapped the highly poisonous black mambo, the baboon was so frightened he fainted and fell out of the tree.  Cuan still laughs at the memory. More ominously, a Swiss guest asked Johnson, our guide at River Khwai Camp, what one should do if confronted by lions on foot.  Johnson answered slowly, 'There is nothing you can do.  The lion can run faster than you, so if the lion wants to take you, it will take you.  Perhaps, if you run into female lions, they will leave you alone.  But males are very territorial.  They probably would take you.'

These stories, told on twice-daily game drives in a part of the world that is so remote to Americans,  combined with a dash of fear about the dangers of the wild represent the real excitement of a safari in Botswana. It's no Disneyland.  Botswana is as real as it gets.

Text: Arthur Hoffman (The Adventure Collection)

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