It was a drastic difference between the Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg--a bustling international gateway--to the airport in Kasane. The airport featured a garage door in the two-room building that opened to the airstrip and served as baggage claim. My transfer was patiently waiting for me with my name on a sign. The travel industry is such a vital part of the economy in Botswana, that it is not surprising---yet incredibly refreshing---how well visitors are cared for by everyone from airport attendants to transfers to hotel staff.
My first stop was the Chobe Safari Lodge. A lovely spot located right in Kasane, which I immediately forgot after setting foot inside the lodge. The view of the Chobe River and Chobe National Park across the water command immediate attention as well as the beautiful decor and enormous thatched-roof above the common area. The lodge offers a variety of activities, including a 3 hour boat cruise departing every afternoon into Chobe National Park. I would have loved to stay longer, but as always is the case, I only had a taste and was off again, crossing the border into Zambia and onward to the town of Livingstone, made famous by the Scottish explorer David Livingstone and the natural spectacle of Victoria Falls.
My time was divided between the Stanley Safari Lodge and Waterberry Lodge, both of which were exquisite in their right. Stanley Safari Lodge is an oasis, with never-ending views of bush stretching out to the Zambezi River and onward into Zimbabwe. Each free-standing suite has its own unique feel, some with open air structures providing a feel of truly being in nature and others enclosed in colonial elegance. Guests are provided with their own butler who will bend over backwards for you. Despite what you might think, there is no feel of pretentiousness, just casual luxury and comfort. The lodge is also conveniently located within a short distance from many of the activities that can be experienced in Livingstone, including viewing Victoria Falls, visiting Livingstone Island, and white water rafting the Zambezi River.
Now, when I say that the Zambezi River was running at its lowest for the year, the river is still more powerful than almost any other river in the world. This only means that more rocks are exposed, creating even more powerful hydraulics and a few more obstacles. I have been white water rafting every year for the last four years in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Washingtong, British Columbia, and New Zealand, and this was by far the biggest, scariest, and most exciting rafting I have ever experienced. A full day of rafting offers 22 rapids between class III and VI (VI is considered commercial suicide, so guests get out and walk around the rapid). The guides are some of the world's best, and they have to be. Our guide gave us the choice between a wet or dry day. We hesitantly asked for a "wet but alive" day, resulting in two entire flips and four times swimming the river. It was exhilarating and exhausting and I slept like a baby that night.
From Stanley Lodge, I changed to Waterberry, which sits outside of town along the Zambezi River across from Zimbabwe National Park. There are no neighbors in sight on this large property. The rooms are quirky and comfortable and the lodge offers many areas to relax in nature---the activity of choice after a day of white water rafting. Most of the activities revolve around the river, and the lodge boasts a variety of birds singing all day long. Hippos have been known to enjoy the grassy lawn and use the lodge's lagoon as their nocturnal hang-out. It is a wonderful spot to return from safari and to have a true feeling of being away from it all. It was my last spot before leaving Zambia, and it took everything I had to peel myself away from this beautiful country with such friendly, hospitable locals.
Click Here to Read Part II - Safari in the Okavango Delta