We woke up super early, around 3:30 am . We left the hotel around 4am for our 6am flight. We got through security just fine, and the plane was there waiting for us, but yet we still left late. Someone decided to check in but not get on the plane, so we left 20 minutes late. Crystal got a bit of sleep on the way to Johannesburg . Justin and his parents watched the nice sunrise. We did not have a very long layover in Johannesburg, so we rushed through the airport, worried about making our flight to Maun. It was not that easy, because we had no idea where we were going and the airport was under construction to expand in time for the 2010 World Cup.
In the end, however, it was a breeze, and we had time to spare in the terminal. We bought some Springbok rugby gear at one of the stores. The Rugby World Cup was going on, and the whole country was in a frenzy – much more than people in the United States around the Super Bowl. The flight to Maun was uneventful, and we both slept. Maun was a tiny airport – mainly a jumping off point for the various camps in the Okavango Delta. We were greeted after picking up our bags. Justin's parents then proceeded to empty several of theirs. They had brought a ton of stuff for CITW (Children in the Wilderness). In brief, CITW helps out children who are ill, orphaned, or otherwise in need of help in Northern Botswana . More information can be found at http://www.childreninthewilderness.com/overview.html .
After clearing customs, we went right back into the terminal, this time for departure. We knew the plane would be small, but were not quite expecting something so small. There were only six passengers in the plane, and Crystal got to sit in the front so that, according to the pilot, the plane would not tip over. She thought about holding onto the steering wheel, but instead just took pictures of the instruments and out the front of the plane.
The flight was less than an hour, but was pretty turbulent because of the heat. Both Crystal and Justin's mom got airsick, although Crystal was a trooper and actually managed to get a photo of the landing strip with one hand while holding the airsick bag with the other. On the flight we got some views of the Okavango Delta area, but it was mostly dried Mopane forest. September is towards the end of the dry season in Botswana, which has rain from October (or November) through April, and is dry the rest of the time. Shortly after takeoff Justin saw some elephants and giraffes, but there was nothing else in sight until shortly before landing, when we saw elephants, and Justin's parents saw hippos as well.
We were picked up at the airstrip by BB (short for Barberton ), who we found out would be our guide. He was tall and thin, with an extremely deep voice. He told us it would be a 35 minute drive to camp. Justin's parents had been to Kenya before, but we had never been on safari. The drive to camp was surreal – the feeling was similar to what is depicted in the beginning of "Jurassic Park," when the guests are driven to the main camp and see dinosaurs all around them. Even though we knew we'd be seeing lots of animals, it was still unbelievable to see them in person, without any fences, in great numbers.
Our sightings started with some impalas crossing the road right in front of us. Then we saw a giraffe. Then we saw a group of warthogs and elephants, with the warthogs grazing and the elephants getting a drink. The warthogs actually have to get down on their "knees" to eat the low grass. Other highlights from the drive from the airport to the camp included:
Eventually, after an hour or so, we made our way to Selinda camp. Just on the drive from the airport, we were happy with what we had seen. We had no idea what to expect, but in one hour our expectations had already been exceeded. The camp and the rooms were amazing in terms of décor and amenities. We had a nice double sink, a walk-in shower and massive tub, a desk, and a great view out the front door. The camp had a plunge pool (we never used it), as well as a massive lounge area, dining area, and bar. The view from the lounge area was fantastic, as animals congregated to the spillway. We had tea in the lounge area, then went out on our first game drive.
We saw all sorts of good stuff on our first drive. We weren't sure if it was beginner's luck or whether this was just par for the course. Highlights included:
BB told us that the dagha boys are prone to "misbehave" all the time, charging things for no good reason, but they left us alone. While driving around, Justin spotted a wildebeest from far away, to the surprise of BB. This definitely was beginner's luck. The wildebeest didn't appear to want us anywhere near it, even when we were very far away. We stopped to have our "sundowner", which is the traditional drink around sunset to stretch the legs and enjoy the day. BB was in the middle of pouring our drinks when he heard someone had spotted a leopard in a tree. Earlier in the drive BB had mentioned he saw about one leopard a month, so this was a big deal. BB stopped pouring the sundowners mid-drink, and we were on our way. Justin's was already poured, so he had to balance his drink and his camera while BB sped over to the site. We saw the leopard, but it was skittish, so we had to park far away. It then walked off, and climbed into a tree. We circled around to where it went, parked even farther away than before, and tried to get a decent photo. It was now after sunset, and so all of the shots were coming out blurry. Justin ended up resting the camera on the edge of the trunk and basically wedging it in place so that it wouldn't shake, and managed to get one decent shot. It was rapidly getting dark, and we could barely see the leopard any more, so we took off back towards the camp. On the way back, we saw a large group of elephants right near the road. It had really cooled down since the sun had gone down, and we wished we had brought our jackets on the drive.
Back at the camp, we got cleaned up, and then went to the main area for dinner. We had drinks while we got to know some of the people. Mike and Larry from San Diego, for example, had just come from Xigera and Chitabe, the next two camps we were going to, and had started at Victoria Falls, where we are going after leaving Botswana, in fact, almost our whole trip is the reverse of theirs. Dinner was at a large table right near the Selinda spillway, and we had to speak over the frogs, the insects, and the roaring hippos. After dinner, we sat around the campfire for a bit, then went back to finally end the day. Even if we had to go back after today, our safari experience would be a success.