Beautiful Beasts of Botswana

First one bird, then another landed on the branches of the saplings planted just beyond the terrace. Bright turquoise blues, golden yellows, and fiery oranges flitted among the leaves in the dappled sunlight.

They discovered a shaded puddle beneath the sprinkler, which became a birdbath where they splashed and fluttered their wings.

A larger white bird joined the crowd, intimidating some of the smaller creatures, but she wasn’t interested in them. She soon identified herself as a mother, searching for food to take back to her babies in the nest.

A group of butterflies swooped into the garden, dancing circles around the birds and through the streams of water like synchronized swimmers.

I sat in the shade of the veranda and delighted in the activity of these sweet beings, so unlike the big game animals I’d imagined finding in Africa.

It was our first morning in Botswana, and I was eager to see every creature I could. Most people visiting Africa are in search of the “big five”: lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and buffalo. But there are also zebras, antelopes, giraffes, crocodiles, wildebeests, hippos, and all of the beautiful, beautiful birds.

We began our Botswana adventure at Muchenje Lodge in a rustic cabin overlooking the Chobe River floodplain. Our first friend was discovered just outside the front door, and it seemed to bode well for wildlife encounters.

In addition to cabins and campsites, the lodge boasts a sizable working garden growing everything from lettuces and herbs to melons and coconuts, all surrounded by electric fencing to keep animals (including hungry guests) from nibbling on the produce.

We spent our days reading, writing, cooking, and walking, eagerly awaiting the sunset each evening followed by more stars than we’ve ever seen anywhere on Earth.

After several restful days at Muchenje, including a day trip to Namibia’s Salambala Conservancy, we moved east through Botswana to Kasane, the gateway to Chobe National Park.

We checked into the brand-new Sandpiper Villas, an absolute luxury after bucolic campsite nights. The incredibly friendly Lloyd and Banyana welcomed us with a glass of ice water in the air-conditioned lobby, and that alone was pure bliss after a hot and dusty ride.

Lounging poolside and dinner on our private patio were all we had energy for the first evening, but we eagerly anticipated a boat safari on the Zambezi River the following day.

Lloyd explained that we were a bit late in the season to see elephants, since there had been a lot of rain recently. That meant the big game animals didn’t have to make it all the way to the river for water. But he assured us there would be plenty of exciting things to see along the Zambezi, and he was right.

As we sailed the river between the borders of Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia, we saw something new at every turn. Crocodiles, hippos, Cape buffalo, antelope, wildebeests, puku, and even a recently-deceased elephant.

In fact, there was so much wildlife that some even jumped aboard our boat. Despite its sharp teeth and aggressive thrashing, our captain calmly picked up this tiger fish and plopped it back in the water.

This area is so rich with wildlife and other treasures that the countries sharing the Zambezi’s shores are careful to mark their territory as a sign of pride for the many spectators who tour the river each day.

Just after disembarking from the boat, we were treated to a sweet little warthog family making its way through the parking lot. I didn’t manage to catch a photo of the babies, but I did capture Pumbaa and his bride in a kiss.

That evening, while we relaxed on the patio of our villa at Sandpiper and reflected on the bounty of Botswana, we were treated to another epic African sunset.

As the Botswanan proverb goes, “Gotsamaya ke go bona.”

“To travel is to see.”