Chasing sunsets and lions in a splendid Botswana
From a luxury eco lodge in Pandamatenga to sipping sundowners at a glorious pan and tracking lions in Chobe National Park, Botswana makes for a perfect escape
It is often said that travelling is about the journey, not the destination.
After you’ve travelled a few times, the memories of all the places you stayed become blurry: somehow this isn’t as important as the memories scattered along the way. Other times, in special instances, the accommodation forms part of the memory, taking centre stage as the destination alongside the activities and places and sights to be seen.
For me, a short stay at Wildtrack Safaris Eco Lodge had all the makings of a memorable experience.
Situated in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area in the Kavango and Zambezi river basins where Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe converge, Wildtrack Safaris is an exclusive lodge in Botswana’s Pandamatenga where a good grocery shop is an hour’s drive away and the scenery is splendid.
Of the 11 thatched suites, elegantly styled to reflect the earthen elements from the surrounding bush, we are handed the keys to suite number five where, we are told, Botswana’s president had also stayed – twice.
The spacious suite, with a canopy of mosquito net billowing above an extra-large king-size bed that swallows you at night and begrudgingly releases you the next morning, leads into a spacious bathroom. Two outdoor rain showers under the vast expanse of the African sky are perfect for a crisp, cool shower to beat Botswana’s heat.
A swimming pool surrounded by a lush lawn glistens in the morning sun. After a good night’s sleep, a satisfying breakfast and delicious coffee, this is where we spend our morning, soaking up the sun and the sounds of the bush, making sure to keep our ears alert; apart from tourists, lions are common visitors. Wi-Fi lends itself to checking up on messages and updating Instagram but my book wins out in the end. It’s easier to do a social media detox when you’re surrounded by nature’s peaceful abundance.
In the afternoon, we exchange our Land Cruiser for an open game drive vehicle. As soon as we exit the gate to the lodge, our track begins, taking us through the dried-up Kazuma pan and into the heart of the bush along the border with Zimbabwe. We make our way past Pandamatenga’s farmland to the lesser-known Duru Pan, arriving just as the sun sets over the calm water.
In a country that is home to a third of Africa’s elephants, it becomes normal in a very strange way to spot a herd of elephants drinking water on the bank of a pan. As the sun sets, the entire landscape is cast in a silhouette on the horizon against brilliant hues of orange fading into an expanse of soft blue. The world goes quiet. Peacefulness, omnipresent, transcends on us. We don’t talk as we watch the world cast into darkness around us.
As we sit, pondering the beauty of this incredible moment, our hosts scurry to prepare a table of nibbles to feast on. Lanterns are packed out, gin and tonics are poured to enjoy as sundowners. A variety of cheeses and crackers delights. Later, one of Botswana’s prime exports, a juicy steak that could not be more succulent, gets prepared in a grill directly on the coals of the boma we sit around. This memory is the one we will all keep coming back to.
As our night comes to an end, we return to the lodge. After the sun sets, chilliness creeps into the night and I enjoy a hot soak in the natural stone bath in water generated by the lodge’s solar geysers. Snug in the chalet, I listen for animal sounds. Guests at the lodge are advised to stick to pathways and stay indoors at night when the terrain can be dangerous.
The next day we make our way to Kasane, the small town on the Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia borders and the gateway to the Chobe National Park. Fondly referred to as the land of the giants, Chobe National Park is home to Africa’s largest elephant population. The crown of the Chobe National Park is the Chobe River and a trip to this region is not complete without a boat ride.
Cruising down the river, the Namibian Caprivi Strip lies to the right, the light green swampy grass plains a haven for wildlife. To the left lies the lush Botswana bush. It strikes me how different the two sides of the river are, divided only by the water coursing through.
The landscape, dotted with wild animals attracted to the river’s water and green vegetation, is interrupted by a lone Botswana flag wavering proudly on Sedudu Island. It was for long a disputed territory between Botswana and Namibia until the International Court of Justice ruled in 1999 that the fluvial island belongs to Botswana on establishing that the main channel runs between Namibia and the piece of land. That put an end to years of clandestinely hoisting and removing country flags under the cover of night.
For a short moment, you find yourself wondering why all this fuss was made over an island that is submerged under water for a few months a year. As you drift lazily down the river, drink in hand, feet up if you please, admiring the elephants, hippos, buffalo and giraffe, the answer is simple: who wouldn’t want this?
The relaxed, small-town holiday vibes of Kasane blend perfectly with the combination of water and wildlife viewing. Worries don’t exist here and stress melts away in the African sun. The water is peaceful, the air quiet and the world simple.
As we return shortly before sunset, the sun casts a golden glow on the water. We stop to admire a herd of elephants submerged in the water, some whose trunks only slightly emerge for a breath of fresh air.
Dinner at the busy Thebe Safari Lodge in the heart of Kasane and a glass of wine are a perfect recipe to unwind and relax into the evening, preparing us for an early morning game drive that has us in search of lions. To our dismay, one of the game drive vehicles sends out a distress call: two of its tyres have been reduced to flats. In the scuffle to change the tyres, the lions escape and we return let down, ready for a scrumptious lunch at Chobe Safari Lodge. A whole bream, freshly caught in the Chobe River, adorns my plate from end-to-end. According to the waiter, eating the eyes is recommended for optimum health.
Like the sun setting, dipping under Botswana’s horizon, so, too, our days wind down. The nature, luxury and perfect bush escape have treated us well; we leave with heavy hearts, sad to return without having spotted a cat or two. But as the sun sets on our Botswana trip, we are reminded that the magic happens at twilight. Just as we set off on our journey home, not a second too late and true to the hospitality we’ve come to appreciate from this friendly country, three lionesses dart across the road. With an air of majesty, one gently parades on the side of the road. She waits, as if bidding us farewell then disappears into the shrubbery. She approves – we can now go home.