Lions, Cheetahs and a Leopard... Oh my!

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Africa » Botswana » North-West » Chobe National Park
February 5th 2009
Published: February 10th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

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We had an amazing safari trip and have finally had a chance to upload the photos. I tried to include all the animal species we saw, but I may have missed a ´bok´or two...*

Journey to Botswana

From Cape Town we flew to Johannesberg and then boarded a Botswana Air flight to Maun. The last flight was delayed three hours, and we were surprised when we got to the tarmac and saw the plane... it was pretty small and generic (no Botswana Air logo or anything). It turned out we had to make an unplanned stop in the Botswana capital, Gabarone, to pick up more passengers, which added a couple of hours to the trip. The turbulance was insane near Maun and we were pretty sure we were going to die... but it was hard to be scared when the Batswan passengers were laughing hysterically and joking at each bump. That was our first sign that Botswana is an upbeat and optimistic country 😊 At Maun we transferred to a tiny, tiny Cessna plane that barely fit the 5 of us and the pilot. It was actually a pretty smooth ride, and we saw giraffes and elephants--a good
The Semmel-Koch safari group...The Semmel-Koch safari group...The Semmel-Koch safari group...

minus our Mapula guides, we probably wouldn´t have gotten very far...
sign of things to come.

Mapula Lodge

Our first lodge was Mapula, in the Okavango delta. It was our favorite lodge, since it is run by friendly Batswan people and feels like a real community. We took all of our meals with the other guests, our guide Josiah and the host Thabo, and got a chance to talk to them about their lives and learn more about the country. We each had a large wood cabin with an open wall that faces the river. We could hear hippos playing and flighting all day and night. The beds were really luxurious, although the bugs took some getting used to (for me and Jenny anyway!). Dinner was an insane battle to eat before moths could get in the delicious food. Since Mapula is in a private game park, Josiah could take us off-road to track animals... he and Patrick, the tracker, really worked it to find us some lions. Josiah parked the car just a few feet away from 3 juvenile males and a female and we watched them sleep, fight, and almost completely ignore us. We did have a scare when the dominant male jumped up and came
Hungry hippoHungry hippoHungry hippo

...these chubby beasts apparently cause the most deaths of any game animal
towards us, but he was lunging for the female, not the car (fortunately... although that would have made a cool photo-op). We also got close to a herd of buffalo, saw a bunch of baboons with tiny babies, walked close to giraffes, saw many elephants, and sipped wine while we watched the sunset. Jake, Matt and Jane bravely decided to go on a Makuro canoe trip in the hippo-infested water, and got up close with some of those huge beasts (which are actually the deadliest of the safari animals, believe it or not). For Jane´s birthday, Thabo arranged a birthday cake and song at the 5:30am breakfast... Jane was definitely surprised! We planned on taking a safari walk for her birthday, but it started pouring. Most of us were still game (myself and Jenny excluded), and Josiah gave us rain gear, loaded his gun and we started out for the hippo pond before he finally called our bluff and put an end to the madness. We had a re-do the next day when the weather was better.

Deception Valley Lodge

After a 2-hour flight in the Cessna (I actually got sick on this one. Gross!), we landed at the Deception Valley Lodge, which is in a dessert-type environment. Since it was rainy season, however, the land was covered with thick bush and we could tell from the start is was going to be harder to spot animals. The lodge is run by white South Africans, and the trackers are San guides who speak little to no English... so there wasn´t much opportunity to get to know the local people besides a very rehearsed ´San culture walk´ that seemed like someting you might see in Disney world. All of a sudden our San trackers came out of the woods dressed in tiny leather loin clothes (they had changed from their normal khaki clothes) and awkwardly posed for photos, then demonstrated different traditional customs, like extracting water from a tuber and making thread and needles from plants and animal material. It was actually really interesting, despite the staginess... it was frustrating not being ale to talk to and get to know the San guides, however. Our friendly South African guide Dough (the Afrikaaner spelling is Veough or something like that) said he knew the San language and acted as a translater, but it seemed more like he was going
Male lion after waking up and giving us all a scare!Male lion after waking up and giving us all a scare!Male lion after waking up and giving us all a scare!

...turns out he was ready to fight with the female lion, not attack us
through a rehearsed speech than ´translating´. We took our meals with the other guests in a formal dining room, without any of the guides... it was much more formal than Mapula, and we missed the sense of community. Since it was off-season, we didn´t see many large animals... we were mostly bird watching; although we give Dough full credit for coming up with impromptu lessons and other ways to kill time and make the drives more eventful. (The lecture about termite hills was actually pretty entertaining). We got the sense that our guides weren´t working as hard as the guides at Mapula since they never went off-road or followed up on radio reports of lions in the area, until we happened to have the visiting travel agent in our car, and then the guides inexplicably initiated a full-on search for leopards... they actually got out of the car and were frantically searching the bush on foot for tracks. We ended up spotting a mother cheetah and her cubs... an amazing sight that made up for the other, tame game drives. The food was amazing, like at Mapula, and we enjoyed meeting the other guests and getting to know them over dinner. Olga, the travel agent, was selling us on Namibia, so now we have to plan another African trip as soon as we get jobs and have money to travel again!

Chobe Game Lodge

Our final safari stop was the Chobe Game Lodge, on the grounds of the Chobe national park. This was the most corporate of our hotels, and was equipped to handle large conferences and package tourist groups. The meals on the first day were buffet style, and we missed having gourmet meals prepared especially for us. However, the animal sightings were so easy compared to the other lodges. The hotel grounds were covered with warthogs and mongeese, and on our ride into the park from the airport, we saw just about every animal we had seen in the past week... hanging out on the main road! The boat trip brought us up close with hippos, elephants, monitor lizards, and crocodiles. By then we´d seen just about every animal on our wish list, except for leopards and water buck. On our last drive, we saw both! Plus a ton of giraffes and elephants. Our guide Emily spotted a leopard crossing the road and booked it;
Spider in our cabin above the toiletSpider in our cabin above the toiletSpider in our cabin above the toilet

...not as big as the Akha hill house spiders, so we were cool with it :)
the leopard had been attempting a kill among a pack of impala and stood staring at us at the side of the road. He went off into the bush but kept staring, until he disappeared... just as another car of tourists pulled up. We were so lucky to see him. It was interesting watching the impala herd react to the leopard; they were making a loud, hoarse cry and facing the direction the leopard went, and ignored us completely. A great end to the safari trip!

Zambia and Victoria Falls

We were loving being packaged tourists and having all of our travel arranged for us... a car picked us up from the Chobe Lodge, brought us to the Zambian border, took our passports in for us, tooks us to a private ferry (we bypassed the lengthy line of people and cargo waiting to board the freight ferry), and ushered us to a waiting van on the Zambian side. Our first impression of Zambia was total chaos... the ferry terminal is lined with hundreds (thousands?) of cargo trucks waiting for days to cross into Botswana on one of the 2 ferries. We also noticed immediately that deodorant is a
Shrine to the mysterious Jake-a-lopeShrine to the mysterious Jake-a-lopeShrine to the mysterious Jake-a-lope

...hehe, actually just a scary collection of skulls at Mapula lodge
foreign concept in Zambia... someone needs to send a giant care package with AXE deodorant ASAP. Anyway, we were booked in a giant resort hotel called the Zambezi Sun, within walking distance of Victoria Falls. The Sun had a New Mexico look to it and could have been in the US Southwest; the sister property next door was more upscale and actually resembled a plantation, with individual butlers for guests and workers wearing servant and safari outfits. A giant poster advertised trips on a restored old train as a chance to ´relive a bygone era´.... not sure if most Zambians would want to relive those colonial days! The grounds of the Sun were covered with aggressive monkeys who would sneak into open doors and steal anything edible from hotel rooms.... including toothpaste and sugar packets. Jake saw one staling a purse from a woman and taking out cough drops. Jake and Matt got too close to a fiending monkey and it charged them. The hotel had staff on guard at the restaurant 24/7 carrying slingshots to scare away the monkeys. There were also zebra on the grounds and an elusive giraffe and baby, which we didn´t see. The falls themselves
Leopard tortoise at MapulaLeopard tortoise at MapulaLeopard tortoise at Mapula of the Little 5 animals for our checklist
were beautiful, picture-perfect with rainbows in the background. Visiting the nearby souvenir market was eye-opening... vendors were willing to trade for just about anything, including used t-shirts and pens, which are highly coveted. Jenny traded a pen and a few dollars for a little warthog statue, and I traded 2 old t-shirts and 1 US dollar for a bigger one. Jenny also picked up a 10 TRILLION dollar Zimbabwean note for 1 US dollar... you have to feel for the Zimbabwean people when the only way their currency has any value is at a tourist market. Their situation is very grim.

Back to Reality

It was really sad saying goodbye to the Semmels... we miss them a lot. We´ve also come crashing back to reality, staying in hostels again. Back to the backpacking life! We managed to make it to Brazil, despite South African Airlines cancelling our ticket and not booking us properly on the correct flight. We´re in Rio de Janeiro state, enjoying the beaches and celebrating Jake´s 30th bday today. Woop woop!

*I=Leslie. Using 3rd person or the royal ´we´ is starting to sound really strange. We feel like we´re writing a Christmas letter or are channelling Karl Malone... (that reference is thanks to Jake!)

Additional photos below
Photos: 38, Displayed: 29


Makuro boat ride at Mapula LodgeMakuro boat ride at Mapula Lodge
Makuro boat ride at Mapula Lodge

(aka sailing with the hippos)
Scary little bush plane we took to get to the lodgesScary little bush plane we took to get to the lodges
Scary little bush plane we took to get to the lodges

...Leslie only threw up on one of the flights, so overall it was pretty successful
Ill-fated attempt to go on a walk during a thunderstormIll-fated attempt to go on a walk during a thunderstorm
Ill-fated attempt to go on a walk during a thunderstorm

...Josiah finally pulled the plug on this rainy expedition
Porcupines feasting on garbage at Deception Valley LodgePorcupines feasting on garbage at Deception Valley Lodge
Porcupines feasting on garbage at Deception Valley Lodge

...their quills are HUGE... some over a foot long

Our San tracker and our Afrikaaner guide Dough actually worked it to track down this Cheetah with cubs at Deception Valley.
Stick bug at Deception ValleyStick bug at Deception Valley
Stick bug at Deception Valley

...looks like it is from a horror movie!
Our lethargic guide Dough (sp?) actually got out of the car to track the CheetahOur lethargic guide Dough (sp?) actually got out of the car to track the Cheetah
Our lethargic guide Dough (sp?) actually got out of the car to track the Cheetah

(could it be because the travel agent was riding in our car?! lol)
Pregnant (or fat?) lizard at Deception valleyPregnant (or fat?) lizard at Deception valley
Pregnant (or fat?) lizard at Deception valley

...they brought out some little critters to show us... possibly to make up for the fact we were just bird watching all day?
Lizard that looks like a crocodileLizard that looks like a crocodile
Lizard that looks like a crocodile

...hanging out inside our wall at Deception Valley

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