Botswana is fascinating when wet. Most travelers go in the dry season when wild game concentrates around the water holes. Yet in the rainy season, the land comes alive, and visitors can experience the rich variety of flora absent in the dry months.
The dearth of most large mammals neither surprised nor disappointed a recent CI-Sojourn group visiting Botswana’s Okavango Delta region. Chairman’s Council members Barbara Bauer, along with John and Kirsten Swift and their three children, had visited the Okavango during the peak of the dry season in 2002. This time they were eager to experience the delta at its most fertile.
A different Botswana is what they found. Seasonal rains had transformed a parched landscape into an endless sea of puddles filled with frogs and turtles. And they were able to witness the annual zebra migration, which numbers more than 10,000 animals. After the yearly Serengeti-Masai Mara migration of zebra, wildebeest, and other wildlife in Tanzania and Kenya, the Botswana migration is the second largest movement of animals in Africa.
The primary goal of the trip was to visit Bushmen communities in the region. Burdened by poverty and lured by the comforts of the modern world, many Bushmen have abandoned their traditional lifestyles, and the survival of their nomadic culture is in jeopardy.
First stop for the CI party was Gudigwa Camp, an ecotourism venture run by the Bukakhwe, or river Bushmen, of the Okavango. Gudigwa offers visitors an opportunity to experience indigenous customs while generating income to maintain such traditions. Supporters include CI, South Africa-based Wilderness Safaris, and the Swift Foundation.
At the camp, Sojourner activities included a guided walk in the Botswana bush. Zero, the group’s guide, provided a brief window into Bukakhwe life, demonstrating wildlife tracking skills and the use of medicinal plants. After a devastating fire last year, the camp is on the rebound and will soon be able to accommodate its full complement of guests.
The group also visited the Bushmen of the Kalahari, whose exposure to contemporary ways is even less than the Bukakhwe. On the first day, the group went on a 12-hour hike that included gathering, roasting, and eating beetles along the way. The visit concluded with traditional dances that included Bushmen entering hypnotic states and performing healing rituals.
“To participate in the trance dance brought the spirituality of the Bushmen into our souls,” Sojourner John Swift believes. “Their dance is a vital link to help cure the ills of our civilization.”