Experiencing Botswana Magic Through the Eyes of Ruifeng

Scraping a few vigorous blades of grass onto the canvas in a decisive manner, adding robust and resilient vitality to this gentle and serene scene, I finally finished my painting.

The elephant at sunset, the rambling antelopes, the leopard under a tree, and the quiet purple dusk—all these paintings remind me of my days in Botswana, the paradise in my heart. Botswana, an untainted land where tranquility and wildness coexist perfectly, is a heaven for safaris. If you could go there even once, you would never forget it.

Our Experience at Linyanti Bush Camp

In October 2023, my friends and I spent a short but fantastic vacation in Linyanti and the Okavango Delta.

Approaching Linyanti by helicopter, we were greeted by a vast grassland with its aesthetic color palette of warm yellow, lemon yellow, apple green, and moss green, where water flowed and glittered in the sunlight. It was the sheer beauty that relieved all my tiredness and made me eager to explore this place.

Linyanti is quite private. Compared with the mass migrations in East Africa, the scale of animals in Linyanti is relatively smaller, but they seem to live more leisurely in harmony with nature.

In the bright spring sunlight, giraffes strolled gracefully. A young couple of giraffes in love, staying among branches, didn’t care about our watching. They romanced intimately and beautifully, their long necks circling around perfectly in a gentle and playful rhythm. They turned away, slightly touched each other’s necks and backs, and then slowly walked into the woods, leaving us behind. You couldn’t help being jealous of them for the adoring and enchanting looks on their faces, and the lithe and honey-like close dance.

As the afternoon sun shone fully on the land, lions, individually or in small groups, slept soundly on the grass. Aware of our visit, they lazily stretched and looked up at us with half-opened eyes, as if saying, “Here you are. Look around and help yourselves,” and then fell asleep again. In the distance, herds of buffalo and zebra were scattered across a vast expanse of yellow-green grassland, moving forward and halting intermittently, sometimes galloping. The scene was powerful yet as fluid as the wind. Always keeping a safe distance without disturbance, we were able to witness such free and fabulous scenes.

Before dusk, we took a mokoro safari through the tranquil waterways. Just in front of us, baby elephants drank and played under the protection of their family. The elders took showers without rush, sometimes lying on the shore to roll over with mud, and then getting up to ramble. The lake was dotted with some white water lilies. On the shore, various tall and short, lush and vibrant trees and shrubs cast clear reflections in the water, with shades of reddish-brown and yellow-green intertwining and overlapping in different depths and brightness. As the sun set, the afterglow dyed the skies with various colors, from honey color to red-orange, flaming red, rose pink, magenta, and finally to violet-purple. The silhouettes of elephants drifted away gradually. A lady next to me couldn’t help but whisper, “This is meditation.” I couldn’t agree more.

Night safari is uniquely attractive. We headed for a night safari around 10 pm that day. At that time, the grassland was in an extremely quiet darkness. Some tiny flashes of light glowed like fireflies, and they were actually the eyes of some small animals looking around. Our vehicle suddenly stopped at the entrance of the grassland, and Ken, our guide, turned off the engine and his flashlight, and spoke no words. We got confused and asked Ken why he didn’t keep going. Ken replied slightly, “Enjoy nature. Listen carefully. How many sounds can you hear?” We said nothing more but tried to feel the stillness in the wilderness. To our surprise, we heard various sounds such as the chirping of insects, the strolling of small animals, the snoring of water buffalos far away… like a night sonata. When we stopped looking around and ran away from the noisy confusion, we could focus on the subtlety and hear the voices from a deeper silence. It was the dark night and the serenity that touched our hearts and gave us the tender power beyond our imagination.

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Our Experience in the Okavango Delta

Linyanti was like a fresh and innocent manor girl, while Okavango Delta was like a profound and generous sage for its more extensive grasslands and wetlands with much trickier colors—ocher, earthy yellow, and blackish green. The blend of dense colors revealed the artistic mood of primitive wilderness and the isolation of the beginning of Creation. The free-spirited wild animals here, some simple and innocent, some profound, some noble and mysterious, some authoritative and domineering, bestowed upon this land an incomparable yet full vitality of purity.

I fell in love with doors-off helicopter safaris since my first try there. You could observe the whole landscape and animals with God’s eyes when the helicopter tilts, rotates, and changes different flying routes. It’s truly magical to approach elephants from above or circle in the low altitude to watch alligators jumping into the river one by one, let alone feeling the freedom in the air.

Meeting a leopard was our priority in Delta, as we didn’t see one in Linyanti. We expressed such an expectation to our guide, Mr. Max, on the first day of our arrival in Delta. Max was so dedicated to leading us to find a leopard. He searched for footprints of leopards and bushes where they might appear, but we failed to find even one clue. On the last day of our trip, I accepted that any encounter during a safari was a kind of luck, and that encountering every animal was a precious experience. It’s better to treasure every encounter with different wildlife instead of only going crazy for leopards.

However, Max didn’t give up, and he kept looking for any potential chance. Suddenly, he raised his telescope towards a distant place, and just in two seconds, he accelerated the vehicle—he saw a group of antelopes standing still and alertly gazing at the opposite side. When we approached the antelopes, following the direction of the leading antelope’s gaze, Max spotted a leopard far across the grassland! Max drove us to the leopard, and we finally met the leopard at such a short distance, face to face. He was noble and domineering like a royal warrior. At the moment I lifted my camera to focus on the eyes of the leopard, I shed tears not only for the unbelievable reward at the end of the journey but also for Max’s persistence.

At the end of our journey, I encountered a German visitor. He said Botswana was his favorite place in Africa, and enjoying the Milky Way here should never be missed. He described the beauty of the Milky Way watching from an open area in the south of the camp around 7:40 pm and showed me the Milky Way photos he took just with his cellphone. When describing the amazing beauty, he, sitting in a wheelchair, glowed in his eyes. My friends and I followed his advice to watch that on the last night. Around 7:40 pm that day, the spectacular view, the visible Milky Way spanning across the skies, hit us.  I took a photo of that in the way taught by the German.

You will Never Forget the People There…

When I returned from the trip, I missed not only the natural ecology of Botswana but also the considerate and warm services provided by the people at ABC, along with their simple yet strong appeal.

As our helicopter approached ABC, we saw all the staff coming out onto the balcony, waving their hands to welcome us. They sang and danced, offering us sparkling juice, a clean wet towel, and a greeting of “welcome home,” sweeping away our tiredness from the journey.

Every morning at 5:00 am, before sunrise, the tour guides woke up each camp with a bottle of fresh orange juice and shone flashlights to guide us to the dining room for breakfast. At the end of the day, they ensured everyone’s safety by taking us back to the camp.

Thanks to African Bush Camps, we had delicious meals every day. In the morning, they served fresh ground coffee, juice, different kinds of bread, cheese, and sausages. For lunch and dinner, the chef and his assistant introduced the appetizers, courses, desserts, and wines in detail. Even during the safari, the guide found safe open fields and set up tables with pre-prepared yummy cookies, dried beef, soft drinks, and wines so that we could enjoy tea time on the African grassland, immersed in the daylight or sunset glow.

On special days, waiters and locals organized a bonfire before dinner and invited us to sing and dance together. They danced freely and passionately, spinning and twisting heartily to cheerful tempos. The girls’ colorful skirts swayed like blooming flowers. Surrounded by the atmosphere, you would let go of your shyness and dance with them around the bonfires. Their enthusiasm activated every cell in your body. This is the unique charm of Africa. Their songs were powerful, led by a singer who led a chorus with polyphonic and multilevel voices, complicated but harmonious. Among the voices rose a metallic and soaring voice from the leading singer. It was like a beautiful voice from ancient times, but it truly was the soul song from the homeland deep in my heart. She sang, “Beautiful Botswana, Beautiful Botswana, You shall never forget, Beautiful Botswana…”. The simple lyrics and melody touched my heart deeply, even without musical instruments. I wished the song, along with the bonfire, could last forever, and time could pause here.

Back in city life, I often miss the natural beauty of Botswana. If heavy traffic and a fast pace in the cosmopolitan city make life busy and unbearable, or tall buildings block the gorgeous scene of the sunset glow, or city lights cause us to lose sight of the bright stars, I know that distant Botswana still remains originally beautiful. May the untouched land and its wildlife be loved and protected. May we cherish and stand up for the pure beauties. May we be free by holding fast to awe and respect.