My flight for Maun, Botswana leaves at 11:45am so I take the hotel shuttle to the airport at 9:15am. I ask a South African Airways worker where my check in for flight SA 8300 is and I’m told check in B76. I make my way to B76 and they don’t have a reservation for me. I show them my reservation number from my iPod and I’m on South African Airlink flight 8300. Once I’m at the SA Airlink check in I’m told there’s not a PAU for the ticket. What PAU stands for I have no idea but it has to do with scheduling ahead for wheelchair assistance. The attendant calls for an assistant to help me through security and to the gate. After about 10 minutes my wheelchair assistant shows and we are on the way. As much as I don’t like help it’s much quicker to get through security when I can go right to the front of the line. We make our way to the gate and I have about 1 hour until boarding starts. Once boarding starts, I get on an accessible bus to the plane. Each plane on this trip keeps getting smaller 747, 737, Avro RJ85. I get carried on the plane on a straight back chair up 8 steps. I’ve not been carried on a plane on one of these chairs in over a decade. During the 1 hour 22 minute flight I see the salt pans in Botswana from the plane. Upon arriving in Maun, I go though immigration and am met by people from Desert and Delta Safari, Endeavor Safari and Safari Air. I take a mini bus to the 7 seat air plane, 5 passengers and 2 pilots. Now to my smallest plane yet, a GA8 Airvan. Michelle is our pilot for the 25 minute flight to Xakanaxa Airstrip, just a dirt runway.
I transfer to the floor of the aircraft then to the seat. We take off and cruising altitude of 5500 feet. During the flight I see many elephants from the air. The flight and landing are very smooth. I am met by Timothy from Camp Xakanaxa and I’m carried from the plane to a game drive vehicle by him and Michelle. We wait until the plane is airborne before leaving to make sure take off is safe. At the end of the runway we see an impala. I check in at the Moremi Game Reserve before a 15 minute ride to the lodge. During the drive we see an elephant and waterbuck with her babies. No pictures of these because my camera is still packed in my luggage. We arrive at the lodge just after 3pm. I see that the entrance is sand but there is a ramp with a big lip up to the check in. I was worried once I saw this about the accessibility of the lodge. During check in I have to sign a wavier that if I get eaten by anything they are not liable. This is very reassuring. Timothy gives me a daily activity brief – wake up between 5:30am – 6:00am, Breakfast from 6am – 7am, first game drive 7am – 10:30am, brunch at 11am, break until 3pm, 3pm snack, 3:30pm – 6:00pm second game drive, 7pm drinks at the fire pit, 7:30pm dinner and another stop at the fire pit before bed. Timothy takes me to the raised deck through slightly compacted sand that I can’t push through alone. There is a ramp to the deck that is a little too steep. The raised deck has the lounge, hot tub, fire pit and dinning area.
I meet a couple employees, Juan and Nagande, then we head to my tent through the same sand where staff are still building the ramp to my tent. My tent is over looking the Xakanaxa Lagoon. Timothy pushes me up the unfinished ramp to check out my tent. He quickly gives me the walk through and we are back by the check in to board a game vehicle.
With Timothy holding on to the back of my chair I go down the ramp by check in, try to pop a wheelie to get over the lip and fall forward out of my chair onto the sand. Timothy picks me up and puts me back in my chair. I get pushed to the game vehicle for my first game drive. Timothy and Ollie pick me up and put me in the front passenger seat. We leave about 3:30pm with 5 other passengers Alex and Carol from London, England, Arnez from Rio, Brazil, and Stuart and Caroline from 30 miles south of London. Our driver for the afternoon drive is Ollie. He is from Maun, Botswana. He’s been doing game drives for 9 years. We first see an impala right around the corner from camp, probably the animal I will see the most of during my 13 days. We see a few birds next a blacksmith lapwing, hamerkop and green backed herron. We stop at a hippo skull that was killed by another hippo in a nearby camp then drug here for animals to feed on.
An elephant is eating grass and leaves near by, a young male. He passes about 15 feet behind the vehicle. The next bird we see is a burchell’s starling. We see more impalas and another elephant that crosses directly in front of us. The next bird we see is a go-away bird.
Ollie sees the tracks of a leopard that we start tracking for about 40 minutes. We find him in the tall grass to the right of the vehicle. He is a 23 month old male leopard that was born in the area and is use to the vehicles being around. While following the leopard we see vervet monkeys in the trees. We head to an area to watch the sunset, have a drink and snacks, then head back to camp to get cleaned up for dinner.
We return around 6:20pm and Ollie comes by at 7:10pm to take me to the fire pit for a glass of wine before dinner. Dinner is buffet style. Tonight is ox tail, potatoes, pasta, salad and more. I miss writing down some of the menu because I’m still in awe of what I saw today. After dinner some of the people go back to the fire pit for a drink before bed. I’m the last one to leave the fire pit. It was recommend to bring a jacket, hat and gloves for the evening. I was the only one at the fire pit with a short sleeve shirt on. One of the staff always walks you to your tent after dark with a flashlight to check for, among others, hippos, monitor lizards or crocodiles that you may encounter. I head back around 10pm to write and organize the days photos. There was a lot to take in the first day. Today was amazing, I can only hope it gets better. While going to bed I hear frogs, crickets and hippos.