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Published: September 7th 2017
September 8, 2017.
Episode 2: Seven days in the heart of the African bush.
Greetings from beautiful Botswana, where we spent the past several days on a mobile tented safari, moving around the Northern National Parks and reserves. Home to both the Kalahari Desert and Okavango Delta, Botwsana is one of the top travel destinations in Africa. Much of the country is arid or semi-arid. Yet beneath its parched soil lies a glittering prize, as Botswana is the leading diamond-producing country in the world (in terms of value) and the second largest in terms of volume (after Russia). Such a lucrative resource has driven Botswana’s prosperity, and hence it is a stable, safe and tranquil place with a generally good standard of living, at least in cities. The over-arching national principle here is equality. The proud Botswana people are full of mutual respect, and are a joy to interact with.
The Botswana leg of this trip all started when we did a transfer across the border from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. We first stayed at a large lodge on the Chobe River in the famous Chobe National park. This included a late afternoon boat cruise along the river,
where we joined about 30 other people on a large boat. We spied all manner of beasts on the water’s edge, including large numbers of thirsty elephants and as many gorgeous birds as you could shake a tail feather at. On the cruise, I got chatting to a chubby little German boy with a dollop of red hair, good English and a precocious manner. He must have been about 13 years old. He squealed with delight every time I said an animal’s name in German to him: Schmetterling (butterfly), Schnablteir (platypus), Fledermaus (little bat). Words that my German mate, Thomas, had taught me.
The little German seemed quite amused by me, and be-friended me on most of the four-hour cruise. He was one of several Germans on a tour. The others were all adults and spoke little English. While photographing some wallowing hippos, he said to me in good English:
“That is a very nice camera you have there.”
“Oh it’s good, but not like some of these other super expensive ones that a lot of people here onboard are using. They are really expensive lens and- by the look of them - their
owners must be quite wealthy. When you grow up, if you work hard and get a good job, you can buy a good camera for yourself and travel the world photographing animals. Now, that would be a good life, wouldn’t it?! ”
He smiled broadly but said nothing further.
Later in the cruise, I was amazed to see the little German boy pull a massive camera and lens kit from his bag, and use it like a pro. Easily tens of thousands of dollars worth of photographic equipment. A South African tour guide, who was guiding this whole German contingent, drew me aside and told me that the boy was the uber rich son of a German property developer, and already knew everything about travel and photography!! And indeed had spent much his life (so far) traveling the world with his elite family and - you guessed it - photographing animals! LOL .
The cruise overall was excellent. We watched the sun set over a swampy marsh littered with elephants and other animals feeding. Brilliant.
You cannot easily drive yourself around Northern Botswana. Like a Donald Trump speech, the roads are meandering, criss-crossing and often impenetrable.
Many are deep sandy tracks. So, we went on a tour. The trip was “non participatory and private”. That is, just the two of us, a wonderful driver/guide called Salani, the cook called “K.B”. and two other back-up guys. They did everything. We shifted camp every other day, going from park to park (Savuti, Kwhai and Moremi). The back up guys moved ahead of us in their own vehicle, and were waiting with a fully set up camp each time we arrived in a new spot. Our guide, Salani, took us on daily game drives and he was incredible behind the wheel of the 4WD Land Rover. We chugged our way through deep sand rifts, through rivers that came half way up the car, along rickety wooden bridges and pot-holed tracks. True bush bashing! We slept in large tents on stretcher-type beds (completely fine and comfortable) and they filled portable showers with warm water when requested. This was so much more authentic than staying in the upmarket lodges in this area. And a shitload less expensive; Botswana is the most expensive wildlife viewing destination in Africa. Anyway, It was fantastic camping in the African bush each night, talking about life
and everything by the camp fire, laughing at jokes and sharing each other’s cultural oddities. However, we went to bed each night at around 9pm, rising promptly at 5.30am each day. (By far the best times for critter spotting are dawn and dusk). Sleeping each night under the stars was magical. I left the large canvas “window flap” on my side of the tent open each night, with only the fine mosquito mesh separating me from the bush. Basically the whole side of the tent open, allowing a cooling breeze to come in. It was wonderful lying in bed each night, looking straight out at the moon, the silhouetted acacia trees, and falling asleep to the sounds of grunting hippos or yelping hyenas or, on one evening, nearby roaring lions. It was exhilarating. We were told that we were completely safe inside the tents. Like safari vehicles, the animals ignored tents. And indeed we were fine.
The guys also miraculously produced the most delicious meals in the middle of the bush each day and night. Most of it was very hearty and filling. Although, I must say that it is often hard to get Ross to eat enough green
salads when they are offered. One night, Ross pointed to a bowl of green mashed up stuff and said:
“What is that?”
Cook said “It's bean salad.”
Ross said: “Well, yes, I assumed so. But what is it now?”
We saw lots of animals during our time in the parks and reserves, and it was definitely the best safari experience we have ever had in Africa. Highlights included the following:
- Watching a large herd of elephants arriving at a waterhole late in the afternoon. They just kept coming, till the waterhole was full of them, maybe 30 or 40, all drinking, splashing and little ones mucking about. (Botswana harbours more elephants than any other country in Africa, and indeed the world. Some 130 thousand of them.)
- Very up close views of four male lions (all brothers) as they drank, walked about and ate from a recent buffalo kill.
- During a night drive with a spotlight, we caught sight of a honey badger. Oh, that crazy shit. Isn’t he nasty? (Youtube: Randall Honey Badger).
- Finding a herd of the majestic sable antelope, a species I had long
hoped to see. The males are black with white fetlocks and huge backward curving horns (see picture below).
- Leopards ! Late in the afternoon, we watched a female come down from a tree, then stalk and kill an impala. She then dragged the carcass to the base of a tree, where she fed on it (butt first!). Then the next morning, we followed a different female with her cub as they made their way slowly through the bush. Brilliant.
- One day at camp, Ross and I were having a cuppa outside our tent. Salani (our guide) and the other guys were near their own tents some 50 metres away. So, Ross and I we were kinda isolated at our tent. I guess they arrange it that way for privacy. Anyway, we heard Salani suddenly shout out:
“Craig and Ross, don’t move. Stay silent and enjoy! They will not harm you.” We looked up to see several large elephants emerge from the bushes and head our way. They veered slightly and passed immediately behind out tent, and we stood still to watch them….. Well, it wasn’t “several” elephants but a proved to be a massive conga
line of over 70 of them! They were led by a large matriarch, followed by others of all sizes. Ross counted 15 little babies among them. I had my camera at hand (as usual) to snap some pics. They completely ignored us and we were in awe of them. Very humbling when you are outside the safety of a safari vehicle and on foot in their domain.
-Last but not least, the main species I had really hoped to see on this trip. African wild dogs! At 6am in camp at Khwai, I was eating porridge and Ross was drinking coffee at the camp dining table. Suddenly, Salani called out:
“Guys, guys! Look ! Wild dogs!” Yes - there they were! Ten of them, all around us in camp, trotting along! They were on a mission, though, heading out towards the rising sun. We dropped everything, jumped in the car and followed them. Neighbouring campers eventually caught on, but we were the first to see them and mobilise quickly enough to lead the procession of safari vehicles in hot pursuit. I was wiping porridge from my lips and Ross was still clutching his coffee as we sped along
the bumping dirt tracks. Mottled brown, black and white, wild dogs are rare and Botswana is their last African stronghold. They were led by an alpha male and we had superb views of them as the sun rose. After an hour or so, they disappeared into thick bush, their heads down in hunting mode. It was an absolute thrill for me to see them in the wild and I will never forget it.
Well, tomorrow we are going into the Okavango delta. We are going on a guided mokoro trip (a dug-out canoe). Then we are getting a scenic flight over the delta to see how vast this most amazing place is.
Bye for now,
Craig (and Ross). More photos below.Click to enlarge, scroll through.
(P.S. Uncle Den , best way to reach me is via a PM on Facebook.)
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