Following my much-loved time in Namibia, our tour continued east to the next-door neighbor, Botswana. Botswana is a landlocked country in the south central part of Africa. Unlike some of the neighboring countries, Botswana is an economically stable and thriving country with interest in protecting its environmental resources. Before we get too deep into all of that, let me give you a very brief history about the country.
In response to uprising violence and the threat of war in the mid-to-late 1800s, the leaders of Botswana requested protection assistance from Great Britain. The country remained under Great Britain’s umbrella for over eighty years, until 1966 when the country was granted independence and transitioned somewhat smoothly to a democratic nation.
Within a few short years after Botswana received independence, diamonds were discovered. Mining began in 1972, and today, Botswana is one of the world’s leading distributors of diamonds and other precious metals, like uranium. The discovery of diamonds so quickly after gaining independence helped stabilize the country’s economy. While Botswana’s population is comparable to Namibia’s with approximately 2.2 million residents, it remains in the top ten countries of Africa for lowest unemployment rates. The government has continued to encourage job growth and economic stimulation throughout the country.
I always thought the United States of America was the “melting pot” of cultures. However, the African countries have blown my mind in the way their very different cultures have learned to survive together. Some of them are not in peaceful survival, but they have survived nonetheless. How does a country survive with tribal Bushman living along side European westernized cultures as well as those who still happily live in bamboo huts? Now that is really a melting pot.
One of the many things that makes Botswana so wonderful is its goal to protect the environment. I am not going to get into the politics behind the anti-poaching laws and other environmental protection efforts because as I mentioned, some of President Ian Khama’s laws have been viewed as controversially too harsh. I will let you make a researched decision for yourself. But what the ordinances have created is an environmental “safe haven” for animals, especially elephants and rhinoceros.
Read more about this here.
In addition to protecting animals, Botswana also has taken measures to protect the landscape. Within the past couple of years, the Okavango Delta has been recognized as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. It achieved the 1000th site to be labeled a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
With nowhere else to flow to, the Okavango River empties into a swampy marsh area known as the Okavango Delta. During the rainy season, the river can overpower the Delta, causing it to flood. During the dry season, the Delta remains considerably low but provides enough water to sustain the delicate balance of wildlife and plant survival. Of course, the details are far more involved by providing a delicate chemical balance and specific nutrients to the area, which makes this place completely unique to the rest of the world. But I am not an environmental biologist in any way, so I will leave those details to the experts. Check out this website if you are interested in further information: http://www.okavangodelta.com.
Picked up from our campsite by a large, open truck, we bumped our way for a good hour or more along unmarked, pitted, dirt roads. Colorful birds flew between the lush trees lining either side of our path. Small, smiling children ran to the fence to wave as we passed by the quaint villages. Eventually, we came to a shoreline with tiny canoe-type boats called “mokoros” waiting for us.
Attributed only to the Okavango Delta, mokoros are used to navigate through the relatively shallow water and high reeds by using a large bamboo pole. The “poler” stands at the rear of the boat and pushes off the ground bottom with the pole to move the boat forward. As easy as it looks, it is actually a tough skill to master.
Hauling overnight bags, gear, and kitchen supplies, we rode over an hour through the Delta toward the campsite. The scenery was beyond beautiful. Blue skies, tall reeds, green lily pads, and blooming lotus flowers lined the path. How the polers knew where to guide the boats is still a mystery to me as they carved a path through the wetlands.
Our campsite was already set up and waiting for us when we arrived. Each tent had a front door and a back door. The back door led to a private, outdoor bathroom consisting of a drop toilet, hand wash station, and bucket shower. We all cheered when we saw the “stretchers” or cots waiting for us in the rooms. Sometimes, it is small things like a night of not sleeping on the ground to bring joy to an adventure.
The area was completely peaceful.
No traffic. No city noise. No construction. No hustle or bustle. No Wi-Fi. No television.
Just green trees, tall reeds, birds singing, and frogs croaking. The air was clean and fresh with the occasional slight breeze. My heart and mind were able to simply “be still.”
We enjoyed a visit to the swimming hole, went on nature walks, took poling lessons, and just relaxed. We were blessed with a gorgeous, colorful sunset, complete with elephant silhouettes walking in the distance. After dinner, our local guides and crew members entertained us with games and songs of the Delta around a campfire. The next morning, we packed up our belongings and headed on the hour mokoro ride back to civilization.
Look for these unique experiences. They challenge your comfort, they challenge your mind, and they challenge your emotions, but in the end, the rewards are so much greater than the challenges.
Please do not settle for only seeing the touristy places everyone seems to want to visit. This world has nooks and crannies of rare treasures waiting to be discovered. By all means, go see the Eiffel Tower. Then, go find the diamond in the proverbial rough.
It is waiting just for you to uncover it and find peace within it.
By: Tara Smith