Botswana's Timeless Wilderness
Big Game, Splendid Isolation
If we had to pick the most miraculous African place of all, it might well be the Okavango Delta, where the 1,000-milelong Okavango River gives up on its search for an outlet to the sea and seeps lifegivingly into the sands of one of the world's most uncompromising deserts, creating a vast and mesmerizing oasis. As Frans Lanting wrote in his elegiac book Okavango: Africa's Last Eden, "The [Delta's] very existence in the middle of the Kalahari Desert is nothing short of miraculous . . . like a dream."
Botswana's wilderness is expansive and-to our scurrying senses-timeless, and the Okavango isn't its only dreamy place. Our under-two-week safari takes us to three others, right up near the top of African marvels: Chobe National Park and, up near the Zambian border, the exemplary Moremi Wildlife Reserve, quite close to another phenomenon of miraculous rarity, Victoria Falls.
Johannesburg's contrasts are some of the most extreme in the world; poverty-stricken and overcrowded Alexandra is surrounded by some of the richest suburbs in South Africa, and downtown hundreds of homeless struggle to survive around the Stock Exchange. The contrast between suburb and township is mirrored nationwide, but is more extreme here because of the intense wealth of many of the suburbs, and the sheer size of the townships and their satellite squatter camps. Yet the city as a whole continues to suck in people and skills from all over the country, making it the financial, commercial and cultural powerhouse of South Africa.
The town of Victoria Falls is a pleasant place, created for visitors. There are hiking routes and rental bicycles. There are also trinket shops, selling everything from cheap T-shirts to antique African musical instruments. Carvings of masks and animals are a tradition around the area (as is the bargaining required to purchase them for a reasonable price). The Victoria Falls Hotel, a short walk from the falls, still operates in full colonial splendor and should be seen even by those not staying there. Visit Crocodile Ranch and Craft Village - a fascinating glimpse into Zimbabwean culture. Visit Livingstone, just across the border in Zambia— more than just a tourist town and more character than Victoria Falls. Another appealing side trip is to Chobe National Park, in neighboring Botswana. Chobe is one of the finest game parks in the world.
The Okavango delta is one of the world’s largest inland water systems. It's headwaters start in Angola’s western highlands, with numerous tributaries joining to form the Cubango river, which then flows through Namibia (called the Kavango) and finally enters Botswana, where it is then called the Okavango. It is a unique ecosystem with large populations of African mammals, birds, and other animals and is one of the last totally unspoiled areas in Africa. This destination is perfect for camping, picture taking, walking safaris, and mokoro (canoe) excursions.
Moremi, hunted by the Bushman as long as 10,000 years ago, was initiated by the Batawana tribe and covers some 4,871 km2, as the eastern section of the Okavango Delta. Moremi is mostly described as one of the most beautiful wildlife reserves in Africa. It combines mopane woodland and acacia forests, floodplains and lagoons. It is the great diversity of plant and animal life that makes Moremi so well known.
The idea to create a game reserve first originated in 1961 and was approved by the Batawana at a kgotla in 1963. The area was then officially designated as a game reserve in April 1965 and was initially run by the Fauna Conservation Society of Ngamiland. Moremi was then extended to include Chiefs Island in 1976. In August 1979 the reserve was taken over by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks. A further extension was added as recently as 1992 and now the reserve contains within its boundaries approximately twenty percent of the Okavango Delta.
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