I know we are all fans of independent travel around here, but there are times when nothing but a tour will cut it. Today’s guest post describes an adventurous, budget, African safari.
“This is not a holiday, it’s an adventure,” Michel, our Mozambican guide, informed us. Excited and a little nervous, we settled into our seats. Over the next eight days we would be travelling through Botswana, sneaking up on herds of impala, watching elephants bathe themselves in the Chobe River, and taking in the beautiful African sunsets. Our chosen method for exploration: a budget camping tour.
As self-proclaimed budget travelers, we’ve certainly stayed in our share of hostels over the years and we will gladly skip a fancy restaurant in favor of a trip to the local grocery store. But riding in an un-air conditioned overland truck, setting up our own tent, and forgoing showers brought “roughing it” to a whole new level.
We also thrive on the challenge and impulsiveness of independent travel. In fact, we pride ourselves on being able to breeze into any city in the world and get our bearings before most people manage to hail a cab.
But the African wilderness is a whole different ballgame. There are dangerous animals and unsafe roads and long lonely stretches between cities. The public transportation system leaves much to be desired and getting caught in the vast and unpopulated landscape after nightfall is not recommended.
And then there is the issue of cost. Renting an all-terrain vehicle, satellite phone, and camping gear doesn’t come cheap. And neither do those luxury tours that fly you from place to place. Visiting the region can be prohibitively complicated and expensive for the budget-minded traveler.
After thorough research, we concluded that signing up for a well-priced camping safari was the best way to experience these less-explored, hard-to-reach areas of Southern Africa. Ultimately the call to see this “Africa of our dreams” as described by our Lonely Planet book prevailed over the desire to sleep in a bed or travel on our own.
By our first night in the African wilderness, the “adventure” was well under way. After racing off to set up our tents ahead of an impending rain storm and eating a superb dinner prepared by our cook, we gathered around a campfire to watch the men and women of a local bush tribe sing and dance. We’ve had some unforgettably good times as independent travelers, but not once have we ever happened across a group of native bushmen!
Our favorite part of the tour was the three-day venture we took deep into the Okavango Delta. Led by local villagers, we traveled the delicate waterways using the only method possible – by mokoro. These canoes made of dugout tree trunks are propelled forward using a long pole to push off the soft delta sands. Basically they are African gondolas.
The villagers who guided our group through the delta were more than willing to share their immense knowledge of the delicate landscape as well as their way of life. Learning from them was the ultimate in cultural experiences. These locals are intimately familiar with every plant, footprint, and pile of animal dung in this land that is their backyard. Their love and appreciation for their home really showed and our lives are all the better from having met them.
In all our travels, this was the first time we let someone else decide when we would get up and where we would go. And you know what? It wasn’t half bad! The tour made excellent use of our time, just like we would have chosen had we been on our own. We were always up early, either to go on a morning game walk or set off for the next destination. All of our meals were cooked for us. The fifteen strangers we started out with turned out to be like-minded adventure seekers from around the world, making the atmosphere of the journey feel like a nomadic hostel.
We could not have replicated these amazing experiences on our own. It’s remarkable how choosing the cheapest option can give you something priceless. And surrendering control of your trip can yield wonderful surprises.
Photography by Randy Reese
Andrea Reese and her photographer-husband, Randy, are fanatics about traveling the world and love new and exciting experiences. When they’re not wandering the globe, they devote their energy to exploring their current base of New York City. They share the best of NYC and plenty of tips for visitors on their website, Essential New York City Guide.