In November 2013 travel photojournalist Ellen Barone explored Botswana with the Botswana Tourism Organization and luxury safari experts, Extraordinary Journeys. In the photo essay that follows, Ellen shares 12 images from her adventures and the stories behind them.
When I think of Botswana, I see vast expanses of pancake-flat land splashed with arid ochre deserts, emerald flood plains and winding ribbons of shimmering blue rivers. I hear the joyful voices of camp choirs and feel the radiating warmth of the people I met there. I remember floating down hippo-carved channels in the delta and lazy afternoon naps, saturated sunsets and 1,000 year old trees, sleeping in tented luxury and spending my days watching elephants, zebra, wild dogs and big cats.
In the photo essay below, I’ve assembled a dozen photographs from some of my favorite Botswana experiences. I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed making them.
When I am asked about my adventures in Botswana, it is the experience of floating the watery wilds of the Okavango Delta in a mokoro canoe at &Beyond Xarrana that I most frequently recount. The exquisite silence. The vulnerability. The thrill of adventure and water’s edge perspective. It was pure magic.
Five seconds after I’d clicked the shutter on this photograph, everything changed. One moment I was sipping coffee on the deck of my tent at Savute Elephant Camp. The next, I’d locked eyes with this magnificent leopard, lifted my camera to take its photograph, and then, in a flash, the cat leapt to the ground only a few feet in front of me. A moment later, he was gone. If I didn’t have the photo to prove it, I’d be tempted to think it had been a dream.
The safari hopped from camp to camp, habitat to habitat, and one unforgettable experience to another with the ease of charted flights with Mack Air. With vistas like this one of the floodplains of the Khwai River basin, getting about this largely roadless country was a fabulously scenic adventure.
The newly opened (2013) Machaba Camp, situated in the Khwai River region at the eastern tongue of the Okavango Delta, is not only beautifully appointed, it also offers great value. With 10 luxury tents, the fully-inclusive, solar-powered camp is the perfect blend of gracious hospitality, affordable comfort and environmental responsibility.
The intensity and focus of this lioness spotted hunting in Moremi Game Reserve was both inspiring and intimidating. From the safety of the safari vehicle I was relieved that she only had eyes for a nearby zebra herd.
If there is proof-positive that Mother Nature is an artist, it is this bird, the Lilac Breasted Roller. A stunningly beautiful bird, it is named for its courtship flight when the male soars high into the air and then plummets down, rolling its colorful body and wings from side while screeching its mating call.
Botswana is a place where people still tell stories around camp fires under starlit skies. Now that I’m home, whenever I smell the earthy aroma of burning wood, feel its comforting warmth and hear the sizzling pops and wheezing hisses of a camp fire, I’m transported back to Botswana.
Meno A Kwena Tented Camp sits perched over the unpredictable Boteti River in the arid Kalahari basin. For nearly twenty drought parched years, camp owner David Dugmore and his staff pumped water to provide wildlife with a vital lifeline until the rains returned and the river flowed again in 2011. Today, the camp continues to play a strategic role for wildlife, providing precious river access in an ancient migratory corridor.
Walking with native Bushmen and learning about their hunter-gatherer culture at Meno A Kwena Tented Camp offered a rare glimpse into an endangered way of life. Using demonstration, song and dance, the walk was narrated in the extraordinary tonal clicks of the Bushmen language and translated by camp guides.
Every safari guide has co-opted a few jokes guaranteed to make guests laugh. Coming upon this herd of Cape Buffalo in Chobe National Park, our guide timed his punch line perfectly: “They look at you like you owe them money,” he said as this huge bull stared us down. The line works. I can’t look at this picture without a chuckle.
I loved the songs and voices of Botswana and the a cappella performances by impromptu choirs that often accompanied a camp welcome. I loved the joy, the high shrilled trills, the foot-stomping rhythms and the love that imbued the songs. For a quick soundbite, check out this youtube video of the Mombo Camp choir.
Among the oldest living trees on the planet and an icon of the African landscape, the fat baobab with its tiny leaves and water-filled trunk is known as ‘The Tree of Life’ for its ability to sustain life during extreme drought, and the ‘Upside Down Tree’ because it looks like it has been planted on its head, with its roots sticking up into the air. I photographed this magnificent baobab, estimated to be 800 to 1,000 years old, in Chobe National Park.
Ellen’s photos make us feel like we are back in Botswana! Are you ready to go? These resources make it easy: