Eyeballing the king of the jungle

Kabelo Dipholo
READY OR TAKE OFF: Canoes

Unforgettable moments in the Okavango Panhandle

“He was so close, I could smell his breath!”

I’ve been lucky to experience some of Botswana’s top nature reserves and game parks, thanks to Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO).

In these excursions, I’ve encountered lions and wild animals in their natural habitat countless times.

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Eyeballing the king of the jungle
&Beyond

My biggest wish when, together with a group of journalists, I landed in the Okavango pan handle on December, 3rd was to see lions in action.

I wanted to see a kill so much, I blurted it out to our guide, Kgosi ‘King’ Letlhogela, the moment we met.

It’s an obsession I’ve had since I first set my eyes on the king of the jungle.

From Kasane Airport, we landed on a gravel airstrip in the Delta, and proceeded to Tsodilo Hills aboard a Robinson 44 on a sweltering Saturday afternoon.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS), a status the spiritual hills gained in 2001, Tsodilo has four chief hills being the ‘male’ standing at 1 400 metres, the ‘female’, ‘child’ and grandchild.

Eyeballing the king of the jungle
LINKING WITH BASARWA GODS: A moment in the Tsodilo caves

It is here where the artistic nature of the Basarwa people, who’re the first inhabitants, is in full display.

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Famous paintings of giraffes, elephants, zebras and a conspicuous picture of a penguin which, according to the guide, the nomadic Basarwa people could have encountered the aquatic flightless birds on the Skeleton Coast in Namibia.

Tsodilo Hills are home to over 4 500 ancient rock paintings, and attracts thousands of tourists every year who pilgrimage to Basarwa’s spiritual home.

After an exhausting two-hour walk on the wild side, we were lifted off to Nxamaseri Island Lodge, a 15-minute scenic flight aboard the R44.

Eyeballing the king of the jungle
Nxamaseri

The lodge has a beautiful setting on the panhandle of the Okavango Delta, and unlike other resorts with an abundance of wild animals, here you are treated to water and cultural activities.

It is as perfect and affordable space for bird lovers and for sport fishing.

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Nxamaseri offers a peace of mind. It is secluded, except for the natives who occasionally glide across the waters on their dug-out canoes.

It was here that I finally had the courage to ride the canoe. It, however, took some serious convincing from the guide who assured me that chances of a hippo attack and our canoe capsizing were non-existent, in fact there has never been such an incident in the Nxamaseri water channel.

It was two nights of pure bliss!

Monday morning, we took a 29km bumpy ride to Shakawe, where we were to board a small aircraft to take us to &Beyond Xaranna Okavango Delta Camp.

Eyeballing the king of the jungle
EXQUISITE: Xaranna Delta Camp

It’s the friendly staff that quickly won me over.

Like they say, first impressions are everything, especially in the hospitality space.

The camp offers luxurious solitude and a six star treatment in the wild.

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With a private sala and plunge pool overlooking the lagoon, complete with a private mini bar stocked with the best beverages, a telephone for all your needs, Xaranna is simply made for lovers.

The intimate touch and attention to detail makes this tented paradise one of the best places in the Delta.

Here your neighbours are elephants, buffaloes, the baboons that knock on your door early in the morning and an elusive and slick leopard called ‘Mosetsana’.

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Xaranna also offers foot safaris.

No adrenaline adventure beats a walk in the Delta among vicious, hungry lions, slithering snakes, marauding buffaloes and elephants.

It is such an exhilarating experience.

Armed with nothing but a bottle of water, we crisscrossed the dry waterways under the watchful eye of experienced guide, Dux Mareja, who reassuringly told us that the rifle he was carrying was just for aesthetics.

Eyeballing the king of the jungle
SERVING WITH A SMILE: Xaranna staff

It is during such walks that you’re schooled on every detail about the Delta, and how everything is interconnected.

From the dragon fly, termites and a persistent bee-eater, which allegedly has GPS coordinates of all the beehives in the bush.

The best moment of this amazing trip was when we encountered a pride of lions taking cover under a makeshift wooden bridge on the edges of a little blind road we were using.

The lions were just too close for my comfort, but with the little courage I mustered, it was here that I eyeballed the king of the jungle.

I looked straight into a male lion’s soul, and was immediately engulfed by a warm sensation I’ve never felt before.

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It is a humbling experience to be that close to an apex predator that can easily rip you into pieces and live to tell the story.

The lion was so close I could smell his breath!

Although I did not witness a lion kill as I had wished, I’ll forever cherish the moment I eyeballed the king of the jungle.

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