|Air Zimbabwe 347
||Th 10/19 2:45pm
||Th 10/19 4:30pm
|Air Zimbabwe 220
||Fr 10/20 7:00am
||Fr 10/20 8:30am
|Air Botswana 211
||Mo 10/30 4:00pm
||Mo 10/30 5:40pm
|South African Airways 383
||Mo 10/30 10:05pm
||Mo 10/30 12:05am
This leg of the trip is almost
entirely about the safari. We have to spend one night in Harare. We
have no plans there, but it was the most convenient flight from Kenya. We
will only have one full day and most of another in Victoria Falls. Would
like to have stayed longer, but the schedule did not work out. We also
tried to take a safari that left from Maun and traveled to Victoria Falls, but
the schedules did not synch up. So, we go from Vic Falls to Maun, Botswana
In Vic Falls, we may try to
whitewater raft or canoe on the Zambezi river. There are also other
interesting opportunities, like boogie boarding on the river, the world's second
tallest bungee jump site, and ultralite aircraft tours. The safari group
meets at 5:00pm on the 21st. There will so very much to see. Click
on the safari link below to view the details of the safari itself.
Small piece of Victoria Falls
Lone elephant crossing the trail ahead.
Momma and her cub.
Hippo showing us his choppers.
Cheetah ahead on the plains.
Sunset in Moremi.
Male lion welcoming us to his territory.
Leopard in our spotlight not far from the male lion's
The gang at the final camp. Our cook, Seli, is not
here as he stayed in Maun for the 2 days.
10/19: Nairobi: After killing some time in the morning, we headed for the airport for our flight to Harare. There was nobody at the Air Zimbabwe counter, so we waited. About 90 minutes before the flight, an airline rep came up to us to tell us that there was no flight. He said they have not flown that route on Thursdays for two and a half months. Seems odd since we checked our flights only about 3 weeks before that. In a moment of rage, we tried to call United to find another flight and the Vic Falls Hotel cancel our reservations. Fourteen minutes of scratchy calls and 141 dollars later, we realized that we had to wait another day to leave. That also meant that we would lose our night at the world famous Victoria Falls Hotel. The airline rep did arrange for us to stay at a hotel and he took care of all meals and transfers. The bummer of it is that we wanted to leave the day before since we had no plans in Nairobi. We checked the Internet, but did not see any flights that day. Just a reiteration of the lesson to confirm all flights!!
10/20: Flew to Harare. Kind of nervous because there has been some unrest in Harare over a new 25% tax on food and a gas shortage. We saw the shortage on the way to the hotel. There were about 50-60 cars in a line for gas. It wrapped around the corner. We did not see another station in Harare that actually had fuel. Had a "traditional" buffet at the hotel. It included fish heads, ox tails, and dead worms. We skipped the worms!
10/21: Early wake-up call (foreshadowing) and a flight to Victoria Falls in a prop plane. Kind of fun. Reminded me of flights from Merced to SFO "back in the day". One of Don's bags did not show up initially in Vic Falls. Fear not. It was just in the tail of the plane instead of the nose. Of course. We were greeted at the airport by a couple of nice guys from Afro-Ventures. Everyone in Africa (after Egypt) has been so nice!! They transported us to the Rainbow Hotel, which was pretty nice but not fancy. We met two of our co-safari folks. They are Tanja (pronounced like Tania) and Udo. They are a German couple on their honeymoon. We'll discuss them more later.
Since we are left with only a day in Vic Falls, we must cram as much in as possible. So, we arranged for a half-day white water rafting trip. We left right away and got a briefing at another hotel. On the way to the hotel, we saw a warthog and 2 babies walking down the road in town (Vic Falls is actually in a park, so there are always animals around). The rafting people told us not to worry about the crocodiles on the river since they are small (we think that where small ones live, there must be large ones). They also told us not to worry too much about the fact that the river has Class 5 rapids. This being Don's first rafting trip, we opt for the boat where someone else rows. A regrettable mistake in
judgment. After a short bus ride (where we saw baboons crossing the road), we hiked down about 600 vertical feet into the river canyon. It's great since we have not hiked in at least 4 days!! After lunch, we board the boat. First rapid is Class 5. Quite tall and powerful. We hang on and survive. Don now realizes that the river is not a continuous cauldron of rapids, but rather mostly calm water with occasional rapids. Now wishing we had not taken the non-paddling boat. This will be reconciled in New Zealand. It's nice to have time to try things more than once :) We floated outside of the boat on some parts of the trip. That was fun. Saw a few small crocs on the rocks, but did not lose any fingers or toes. After surviving the trip, we got to hike 700+ vertical feet out of the canyon. Ouch! Caused Kili flashbacks, except for the 50-60 degree difference in temperature.
Got cleaned up and met our safari guide, Chimney, at 5:00 for a briefing. He seemed nice and spoke clear English. Chimney gave us a ride to town. The safari truck is pretty cool. There will only be 4 of us on the safari (some others cancelled late) so we have two rows of two seats with room in the middle. The sides of the truck are open and the roof tarp can be removed. Grabbed some dinner. Also arranged a morning adventure. Ended the night by playing video poker at some casino. It was fun, especially since each bet of 5 "betting units" was only about 20 cents. Currency conversion is a nice thing if you own U.S. dollars.
10/22: Woke up at 5:15 for a 5:30 pickup at the hotel. A bus took us to a hot-air balloon near the falls. It's attached to a tether, so it only flies up and down. The balloon went up about 350 feet. Pretty scary for a while. They served tea and pastries while we watched the sun rise and got our first view of the famous falls. It's low-water season so they are much smaller than during other times of the year. Still quite impressive. The mist sprays high into the air and the roar is easily heard from distance. We see buffalo (the "Big 5" Africa kind, not the Dances with Wolves kind) on the ground. Our first Big 5 sighting!! After return to terra firma, we go back to the hotel and prepare for our 8:30 pick-up by Chimney.
Off to Vic Falls we go. Udo and Tanja had gone the day before so they pointed us towards the highlights. We took a bunch of pictures from various vantage points. The ground and plants around the falls are mostly dry. However, one part was a rainforest. We went from arid to rainforest in about 50 feet. The rainforest conditions are created by the continuous amount of spray that the waterfall generates. It produces enough spray to creates its own weather!! Another highlight of the falls involved two people on the opposite bank (the Zambia side). They were standing on a rock near the edge and jumping into a small pool of water. The pool then flowed out the side and several hundred feet over the falls. They were basically jumping with 5 feet of the edge of the falls. From the little pool, they can look over the edge of the falls. Maybe next time :)
We're off to Botswana. We stop for currency and beverages (water and boxed wine included, but nothing else), and then head for the Chobe gate. This is a good time for a general safari discussion instead of repeating the same stuff multiple times.
General Safari Info: There are 4 destinations on the safari, with 2 days at each. The morning of day 1 for each site involves breaking down the camp, travel to the next site, camp setup, and an afternoon "game drive". The second day at a site includes a morning game drive and an afternoon game drive. The afternoon includes brunch and a siesta. The animals are not active in the heat, so why should we be?? During a game drive, we just drive around looking for critters. We think it is very much like fishing for big game. You drive and drive, get bored at times, fall asleep sometimes, but then, BAM!!!, you're wide awake when you spot a cool animal .... just like catching a marlin.
We awake before dawn (5:00-5:15) every morning for a quick breakfast and the morning drive. The afternoon drive is from 4:00-7:00 or so. For those who know us well, you're probably snickering at the thought of us waking up so early. Probably think we could not do it. WRONG!!! The truth is that we were often awake before Chimney arrived. Because it was too warm? To cold? Not comfy? Too much sleep? Negative to all of the above. The truth is that it was very scary!! You see, we were on camping safari, sleeping in tents, not a luxury safari with cabins and wood walls and such. That leaves a small bit of cloth between us and anything that wishes to come by. We'll cover more of that later. Suffice to say for now that sleep was at a premium. 4 hours in a night was a gift and 2 hours was not uncommon. If you sleep lightly and/or do not enjoy things that go bump (or growl) in the night, you might do well to avoid the camping safari.
Food on the safari is very good. The accommodations are better than expected also. Tents are large. There's a portable toilet we can sit on (vs. the hovering over a hole at Kili) and a portable shower. The shower is a bucket of water with a shower head. It hangs from a tree and is surrounded by a tent of sorts. Imagine our joy at the realization that we would not again go a week without a shower. Our assistant guide is Silishebo. He does not go on drives with us. He does much of the cooking, gathers firewood, collects water, and drives the gear truck. That truck has a water tank on it that must be filled every couple of days. Almost forgot. Our truck has a small fridge in it, so we get cold drinks. This is like paradise compared to Kili .... except for the man-eating animals of course.
10/22 (continued): Within minutes of entering the Chobe gate we saw our first game in the form of 3 male Kudus browsing for leaves. These are very large antelope. The males are quite impressive with large horns and beautiful coats. Before we even reached camp we saw many elephants and hippos in the Chobe River. Our first two days are spent viewing game along the Chobe in an area called Serondela. It's a great site because the animals all get their water from the river. One needs only to hang by the river to see many animals.
After lunch we started our first game drive. We saw elephants, many impala (a.k.a. the lion fodder of the safari food chain), a herd of water buffalo, a giraffe family, and a sleepy male lion under a bush. He did not seem to care about us. He simply rolled over on his back with his legs spread. Kind of looked like Simon. However, we elected not to rub his belly like Simon :)
We had dinner that night in our camp. It got very dark in a hurry. We could only see a few feet beyond our camp. The guides shined a light into the bush repeatedly, looking for animals. None were spotted. We did, however, get to hear a lion roar in the distance. Sounded next door, but we were assured that it was far away (1-2km). Seemed like sleeping with the windows closed might be a good idea. The thought of seeing some elephant looking in the window was a bit spooky. Kind of light the T-Rex looking into the jeep in Jurassic Park.
10/23: Happily, we made it through the night without need to use the "facilities". Tanja's has a tour book that says not to drink too much for dinner. It said something like, "it's better to be thirsty than to be running for your life". On this morning (wake-up at 5:30), Tanja was very excited. Apparently she heard a loud noise outside their tent late in the morning. She said it sounded like a cat. Chimney confirmed Leopard tracks in the sand. We cannot confirm that it was a leopard, but the clues look promising. We checked in that tree a lot from that point forward. Udo may not have been as excited about the potential cat proximity. You see, Tanja heard the noise about 10 minutes after a toilet break. The job of the spouse during a toilet break is to stand outside the toilet and flash the light around looking for predators who might disturb the proceedings. It's a rather unnerving job ...... and Udo got to do it with a rather dangerous cat in the tree.
We were all excited for our first morning drive. Maybe we were just excited to have made it through our first night?! The river was pretty busy with animals getting their first water of the day. We watched a heard of about 100 buffalo for a little while. They are very wary of people. They are also dangerous. That's why they are in the Big 5. We learned after several days that the Big 5 are the 5 most dangerous animals (hippos are apparently not counted because they are not dangerous on land). We were just about to hang a right at a fork in the road when a female lion came down the left fork at us. She saw us but did not pay much attention. When Chimney stood up to open the tarp on the truck roof, the lioness then took notice. Apparently, they only see the truck when you are in it and the truck does not present a threat. When you stand up like he did, the lion can then see the figure of a man, which does register as a threat ... or an opportunity.
The lioness was trailing a small group of 4 buffalo. She stalked quietly and slowly. They saw her. They always do, but they save their energy until the threat is very real. She was starting to get close when one of the buffalo quickly turned toward her. In an instant, she was laying on the ground, trying to be invisible. After a few minutes (and a lot of film), she gave up on the buffalo and headed back into the bushes away from the river. This is where the strength of a good guide pays off. Chimney moved up to a parallel road on the other side of the bush. Don spotted another lion walking towards the female. It was a cub that was about 7-8 months old according to Chimney. Chimney then left that road and returned to the prior one, looking for them again. Sure enough, we spotted the two lions laying under a bush, the baby laying his head on the mother and making little growls from time to time. Should be some great pictures from this encounter.
After lunch, we drove back to Kasane (park entrance) to take a boat ride on the river. This was a great journey because we got to see the hippos much better than we could from the land. They are generally shy, but you don't want to get too close. They make these funny grunting noises that sound like Jaba the Hut from Star Wars laughing. We saw some babies too. The boat trip also yielded crocodiles, many great birds, some deer on the hills, a few water monitors (i.e., lizards), and the carcasses of about 20 buffalo on a peninsula. The boat guide told us that they had been killed in a stampede. Apparently the lions got them stirred up and started a stampede, killing several of the buffalo. Many of the dead were younger ones. Towards the end of the boat ride, we had the pleasure of watching multiple herds of elephants run down the slope of the hill towards the river. Some trumpeted. After getting a healthy dose of water, many of them headed for the mud baths. They cake themselves in mud to cool off and to fight bugs. When the mud dries, the bugs come off with it in the wash. See them all so happy together was a great sight. The night game drive was uneventful .... at least in comparison to the other events of the day. We were all pretty sleep too since we gave up our afternoon siesta to take the cruise.
10/24: After a lovely 2-3 hours more sleep, we awoke at 5:15 to break camp and head to the next destination, the Sevuti section of the Chobe park. Chimney warned us that it would take 6 hours, much of it over really bad road. We made it in about 4.5 hours, which was good because we were all ready to stop. Not so much shade at our Sevuti camp so the siesta is restless at best. Sevuti is very dry. There is no river, so the animals are more sparse. It was flood plain several years back, but it has been dry since. On the game drive, we no longer see elephant families. Instead, there are "bachelor herds" of a few large males. They are often alone. Got our first view of wildebeests, bat-eared foxes, and black-backed jackals. We have to search harder for animals at this park. As darkness approaches, Dawn sees a Spotted Hyena in the distance. We trail him and get within about 15 feet or so. He raises the hair on his back when we cause him to move from the road. This is not a happy looking animal. Any ideas that they are small "doggies" is lost forever as this guy's shoulders are waist high and he is clearly strong and not concerned about us.
10/25: Today we saw a lot more of the same animals. We also saw a giraffe family sitting under a tree. They are such a wonderful looking animal. They are a treat to see run also. We also climbed a small rock grouping and saw some bushman paintings. They are guesstimated to be between 200 and 1,000 years old. Kind of cool. The highlight of the day, and one of the trip highlights, came right at dusk. We spotted a cheetah walking out from behind a bush. If we had passed moments sooner, we would have missed him. Chimney had just back up moments before that to look in another direction. This was the extra time that let us see the cheetah. We personally think that Chimney had already spotted the cheetah and only stalled so we could spot it. He later denied this, but he did so with a laugh and a smile. Anyway, the cheetah was gorgeous. Lean and fast looking. Beautiful coat. We got within 10-15 feet of it and took pictures as fast as we could. Tanja told us that the cheetah is the number 1 difficult animal to spot (at least of the popular ones). Tanja and Udo have been on multiple safaris and this is their first cheetah sighting. We are all very excited. The cheetah was very cooperative too. It sat down on a small mound to look for prey. It looked like the cat was posing for us, sitting straight up, sniffing the air, tufts of hair blowing in the breeze. Absolutely made our day and moved Sevuti from somewhat disappointing to a great stop.
Note from Don ..... today I finished my re-read of Lonesome Dove. What a book!!! If you have not read it, you should do. My good friend Brian Adams gave me the book about 7 years ago and it is my favorite. Some pages are falling out now, but the read is as sweet as the first time. I want to send a special thanks out to 'B' for giving me this wonderful novel. Thanks Buddy!!!!
10/26: Don actually slept well on this night and Dawn did not. It was a change from prior nights. It rained and shot a lot of lightening in the night so we had to close the windows in the dark. Always fun to be outside the tent in the night. When we left the tent in the morning, Dawn asked if there were water bottles lying around. Sure enough, there were. The hyenas had gotten into the cases of water in the night and had torn open some containers to drink the water. It is that dry in Sevuti. Don is happy that he slept through that one. We also saw a hyena run by about 3 minutes after waking up. The final event of the morning departure was a family of wild dogs running by our camp. We think we counted 3 adults and 8 pups. They are very pretty animals. This brief glimpse is the last one we have of wild dogs on the trip. Chimney warned us that the drive today would be very dusty. It was not though because the rain made the roads wet. On the way out of the park, Don spotted a male lion about 200 yards out, walking along the bush. Pretty good spot at 60 Km/h. We took some photos but could not get very close. We also spotted two Honey Badgers crossing the road. It has been a good morning!!
We arrived in Moremi reserve, part of the Okavenga Delta, and had lunch. The afternoon game drive was very pretty. Moremi has a river, so there is a lot more water around. We visited "The Hippo Pool" where we watched about 20 hippos from a raised observation post in a tree. We spotted zebra on this day. These were the first ones we had seen since Kenya. The drive ended with sunset over a marsh.
We're feeling a bit more comfortable heading into dinner, but that would change. The guides seem to be looking out of camp with flashlights more often than normal. They tell us that our camp is the "Hyena Capital", and that they have never camped there without Hyena visits. Sure enough, we hear rustling not long after we went to bed. Then we heard some pots being kicked over and the sound of digging. The end of this little show was a very loud howl/yelp from a hyena. Sleep was at a premium again. The soothing sounds of lions from two different directions did not help matters any.
10/27: Chimney told us that the Hyena was digging right outside his tent. Apparently, some prior campers had buried food, which is a no-no. The hyena had dragged it out again. Chimney also said that, although they had cleaned up camp the night before, the hyenas decided to tidy up a bit more by knocking over some pots and such.
Not too long into this morning's rainy game drive, we spot 8 lions across the field. Four females and 4 cubs. We could not get real close to them however. Later in the drive, we came across another female eating some impala remains. As we watched her, Chimney pointed out the other 3 lying not 15 feet from our truck. We had not even seen them at first. We stayed here for about 30 minutes watching the lions take turns on the remaining bones. They walked right by our truck several times. Maybe they were 3 feet away. You can feel the power pretty well from this distance. They were wary while drinking though as 3 crocs were floating in the water, including one that looked to be 10+ feet easy. This lion spotting was amazing. It's the closest we have been to the harsh realities of life in the wild. We contemplate what the scene must have been like a half hour earlier when they first chased and killed the impala. Probably not a pretty site.
At lunch, Tanja asks Chimney if he knows of any accidents on safaris. Quick lesson here. Do not ask questions if the answers may be really bad. Chimney tells us about at accident at Moremi (the park we are in) 2-3 months prior. Hyenas dragged a 10-year old American boy from his tent in the morning, pulled him into the bush, and killed him. The guides never heard the boy because the hyenas suffocated him. The guides only knew something was wrong when they heard the hyenas making "the happy noise they make when they eat". The guides ran over but the hyenas charged them. They finally used the truck to chase the hyenas away. This is not the story we needed to hear. Tanja asks if there are others. Chimney says he will not tell anymore or we might not sleep. Too late. The damage is done.
Chimney says the mistake in that other case was leaving the cover to the tent door open. The door has a screen and a cover. During the day, the screen is closed and the cover open. We always close the cover at night. If the animals, especially hyenas, look in and see shapes on the ground, they will think it is dead prey and tear into the test to get it. Chimney tries to explain how the same problem does not exist with the windows (because they are higher), but the difference of only 2 feet seems like little difference to us.
On the afternoon drive, we saw the same 8 lions come out of the trees and walk right by us. They were interested in a heard of 40+ buffalo across the narrow river. The buffalo were clearly disturbed by the visitors. The lions lazed around a bit and then slept. One looked for a way across the river, but not much happened. Chimney said they might swim over to chase a buffalo, but we just saw them sleep. Yes, Lions do swim to prey. They don't like it much though because of the crocs.
10/28: After breaking camp, we headed to Maun, which is a city in Botswana. Only event of the drive was when Chimney stopped the truck quickly and asked if we saw the leopard (which we have been looking for). Dawn was laughing. Turns out that everyone except Dawn and Chimney was sleeping in their seats. Dawn was getting ready to catch Tanja and Don as they were perilously close to falling from their seats to the truck floor.
We shopped a bit in Maun, and ate at a burger joint called Wimpy. Not great, but a change of pace. We then took a flight on a 6-passenger plane to the private camp of our tour company, AfroVentures. It was a fun flight as we could see animals from the plane. About 10 seconds before touchdown the pilot climbed back into the air. He could not land because the darn zebra were running across the runway, being chased by a truck who was trying to keep them from the runway. After a turnaround, we landed safely on the dirt runway. Thirty minutes later, we were in our camp. It was a permanent camp, since they own the land, and it was very nice. For better or worse, the tents were pretty far apart, and quite far from the toilet. The whole camp borders on the water. Our tent was under a tree, and about 30 feet from the water. This fact would play heavily into our last night (they call this foreshadowing if I remember my high school literature lessons correctly).
On the way to the toilet, Dawn nearly steps on a snake. The thing went right by her feet. It was bright green, about 3 feet long, and very fast. The color and our location results in a debate among the camp crew about whether the snake was a harmless green grass snake or very deadly Green Mamba. We hope for grass snake and thankfully never find out for sure. We have been in camp for all of 10 minutes and we have our first brush with nature. This is just the first of many over the two days to come. We make it to the toilet, which is past Udo and Tanja's tent and then down a trail that has elephant poo on it. This means that they must come through the camp.
After a snack, we get ready for a makoro ride. A makoro is a long shallow boat (for two people) that is propelled by a man in the back with a long pole. Since there is no motor, it's very quiet during the trip. We had to wait a few minutes for the polers to come back to shore. They first had to check to see if the resident hippo was in the water so we would not stumble upon him. Run-ins with hippos account for more deaths in the Africa wild than any other animal. With no hippo in site, we set out for our trip. We saw some cool frogs and birds, but no animals. We were a bit disappointed since we hoped to see elephants on shore and such. It was very tranquil though and the sunset from the water was quite nice as storm clouds on the horizon showed great colors.
While waiting for dinner, Don makes one of the most important animal sightings of the trip. Coming under a red-hot log about 20 feet away is a scorpion. We quickly get a light on it and watch it walk deliberately across our eating area. The guides confirm that it is very poisonous (because it has small claws and a large stinger). The thing is black and very mean looking. I mean it did come from under a fire log without a care in the world. Keeps it's tail up all the time, ready to strike. Tanja loves it. She loves all animals. Most of us are not as excited. When Tanja moves a chair to take a picture, the scorpion freezes and raises his tail higher. Now he's pissed!! He finally heads into the brush near our table. We keep our feet off the ground during the meal and check with our lights frequently. There is much discussion about whether he should have been let go or squashed. We mostly lean to the squashing side, but would never have had the courage to step on this fat, scary thing. We asked what would happen if someone was stung. They said they would call Maun and have a plane sent out immediately to take the person to the hospital. Turns out that death can come anywhere from a few hours to an entire day if you're lucky.
While still pondering the scorpion, and wondering how we are ever going to get to sleep in such a place, Tanja comes over very excited. There's a large noise in the camp. It is pitch dark out and a few lamps are the only light. We scurry over towards the truck, where someone has the large spotlight out, looking for a visitor. The noises get louder. Sounds like trees are coming down, and they very well may have been. Everyone shines their lights, no matter how weak they are (the lights that is). But we see nothing. Sounds like the animal is standing next to us. Finally, he is spotted. It's a medium-sized elephant, and he's about 30 feet away, standing in some trees. We're all stoked to see him so close .... and to have truck between us. Chimney decides to approach to elephant to scare him out of camp. This is one of our first hints that Chimney might be a bit on the wild side (more foreshadowing). The elephant runs, making a ton of noise. This noise apparently causes a disturbance. We hear a roar that sounds like a saw of some sort. Chimney immediately says for everyone (4 crew and 4 guests) to get into the truck. It was leopard roar and it's very near camp. We can hardly breath from the excitement. In we pile and off we go. Chimney had to quiet us down as we were all jabbering about the recent events. We drove around, shining the light about, looking for the leopard with the powerful light, but we do not see him. We have been looking especially for a leopard for a few days now, and it's not looking very good since time is running out. We see some spring hares (the "African Kangaroo") and a few other animals and then head back to camp about 11:00.
At least it's late so we can sleep. Yeah right!! During the last toilet run of the evening, we hear some splashing in the water .... the same water our tent borders. We look but never see anything. As we laid down, with one window slightly open to see, we kept hearing the noise. Sounded like something smacking in the water to kill fish or something. Goes on for over an hour. We also hear lions in the distance and a noise that sounds like a cat growl just outside our tent. There are steps outside our tent, and we are convinced that a cat is sniffing around.
10/29: We survive the night of course and we're eager to discuss things with Chimney since his tent is the closest, about 50 feet away. He heard nothing, but then he rarely does. He never wakes up once he goes to sleep. Jealous are we. He says it may have been a hippo since they fling their dung around the water to claim their territory. We tell him about the growl. He says it sounds like an elephant's stomach was growling because it was hungry. He also says that elephants often smack their trunks in the water while drinking. So, we decide it was an elephant. At least we believe it was not a growling cat, which makes us feel better.
Don has been dreading this morning since the plans were first described. Maybe he's just paranoid. Today brings a "walking safari", where we just walk across the plains trying to see things closer. The main purpose of the hike is to experience the feeling that natives experience walking in the wild. Such an adventure was not allowed in the parks, but we can do it here since it is private land. Don asks Chimney why a dangerous event is alright on private lands. Chimney's only answer was that their insurance covers us if we are eaten and the insurance of the parks would not. Nice!!
After driving about a half hour, we exit the truck on our hike. Orbit (a local guide) leads and Chimney follows. We discuss the fact that we should not run if lions come ... unless we can make it to the truck. Chimney will tell us if we have to run or climb a tree. Feeling great about now. Oh, we forgot to mention how Chimney knows to stand still if a lion comes. He told a couple of days prior that he was charged by a young male lion once and the lion backed off when Chimney held his ground. Running makes them think you are prey. The added bonus of Chimney's story is that it happened in a camp in broad daylight. When he told us that, the day after the hyena story, any notions of the days being safe were gone forever.
Back to the hike. We walk along, looking at tracks and the droppings of various animals. Another thing we forgot. We saw a python track on the way to the hike, very near camp. It was a smooth line in the sand about 8-10 inches across. Snake tracks bigger than Dawn's foot is long are not exciting. As we hike, we think we hear a lion roar. We (just Don and Dawn) confer on this, but nobody else seemed to hear it. We say nothing because we already seem overly paranoid. We hear it again. Dawn is already thinking of which tree to climb and Don is thinking of some maneuver that might scare a lion. Sure. Then a truck comes around the corner out of some trees. That must have been the roar we heard. We feel better and sort of silly for being so nervous. The tourists in the truck take a lot of pictures of us, as Chimney walks 100 feet over to the truck. The tourists must be surprised to see people walking in the wild. Aren't we brave!!!
Chimney returns and says that we should head back. The truck had spotted a pride of female lions hunting in the bushes we were heading towards. As if that were not enough, they had just be charged by a male lion on the other side of the trees to our left .... the trees that were about half as close as our truck, which was about a quarter mile away. So, the roar we heard was indeed a lion. We quickly walk back. We now believe that we are experiencing the feeling the natives feel walking in the wild ... at least when they know a lion is near and they are only armed with a camera. There are no guns, ever. We constantly look around, half expecting one or more lions to be chasing us. This is "pucker factor 10" in all it's glory. The happiness at reaching the truck cannot be described. We should not ponder what could have been too much, but it's hard not to think about the potential outcome of the male lion coming from the bush or our coming across the females. We also now know why the people in the truck were so fascinated with our presence and took so many pictures of us :)
We set out in the truck to see if we can find the lion. Sure enough, he is sitting in the very trees we were walking by. He is huge and very awake. We rattle off a bunch of pictures, including some of where we had been walking so we can show how close it was. The lion has a wildebeest kill in the bushes near him. He has eaten some, but much remains. Chimney says the females likely killed it and then the male chased them off. That's probably why he charged the truck, to protect his prize. It's also why we are happy to have not encountered the females who had recently lost their kill. After a lot of photos, we head back to camp. Tanja is not happy. She wanted to walk somewhere else, but we did not. Chimney later asked what we wanted to do on the final morning, and Don adamantly declared that a walking safari was not an option for us. It seems that paranoia on such topics may not be such a bad thing!!
For the night game drive, we take a power boat into the waters of the Okavenga Delta. The first part of the trip has us ducking reeds as we plough through a narrow path created by hippos. Once in open water, we cruise at high speed. It's pretty. We see lots of birds, but the motor scares them away. On the return, we spot a baby croc on a branch. He is about 18 inches long. Chimney goes to the front of the boat and grabs the thing. It starts squeaking loudly and trying to bite him. Dawn and Tanja pet it while Udo and Don takes pictures. As the sun starts to set, we stop to do some fishing. It's like dream fishing. Large mouth bass are jumping on the lines. We catch two and loose a few more than that. Chimney catches about 8 of them and the other guides catch 3-4 too. Some of them are easily 14 inches. They were good as a snack before dinner.
After dinner, we head out for a night game drive. This had been planned originally. We drive around for an hour or so without seeing too much. Getting sleepy. Then we head back to the prior lion sighting location. The truck stops very suddenly and the light goes to the base of the trees. We do not register it at first. That's because leopards have very good camouflage!!! Sure enough, we found one on our final night. We rattle pictures as quick as we can. The great cat moves further into the bushes and lies down. The light moves from him, which we do not understand. In the 2-foot high brush in front of our truck we the same male lion. He is moving quickly from right to left towards the bushes. Chimney looks back like a kid with too many presents at Christmas. We have a leopard to our left and a lion in front of us. Jackpot!!!! We're burning film at an alarming rate now. The lion lays down. Neither cat moves.
We watch them for 15 minutes or so. We hear a hyena once from the rear, but it's in the distance. We are sitting in the back seat. Chimney says something about the spotlight putting out 40,000 candlepower and how we would have to push-start the truck if stopped and the battery were too low. Thankfully our engine was still running. They usually turn it off while we watch animals. We are ready to go on this news, and the fact that it's late. Orbit, who is sitting next to Chimney (driving), starts climbing into the back seats of the truck. We do not understand this. Then Chimney pulls towards the lion. We're yelling at him to stop. The lion jumps up, roars, and runs towards the truck, which is now fleeing. The closest part of the truck is the back left corner, where Don is sitting. The lion does not chase at all. We read Chimney the riot act. We're not happy with this event at all. We finally head back, spotting a hyena and some giraffe on the way. We're still pretty steamed from what seemed like a careless act. We later learned that Chimney wanted to pull forward to see if the wildebeest was still under the tree. Despite what may have been good intentions, the fact that the other guide did not want to be in the seat next to Chimney was cause enough for concern. Despite the anger, we are still excited at the leopard spotting. Chimney saw him, and we easily could have missed him. Going back to the lion's prior location was a great move. Chimney said the leopard was most likely trying to steal the lion's food when we arrived and saw the lion running across the field. The whole thing gets my heart racing just typing it!!
One follow-up note. When we got back to camp, Chimney turned off the truck and cranked it over. Nothing. The battery was very dead. Had we stalled or turned off the engine in the bush, we would have been there all night in the dark, next to the lion and the leopard. Can you say fresh meat????
We're so tired that we fall asleep easily. Around 4:00, things changed. We heard the distant Jaba-like grunting of the hippos. We also heard a much nearer crunching in the bushes. It got closer and closer. It was clearly large footsteps and they were heading our way. We heard it move through the bushes that marked the main entrance to our little tent site. Our eyes were wide. We would hear two steps and then some crunching. We could hear breathing ...... and it certainly was not ours as we were barely breathing at all. We thought it would bump into our tent for sure. But you see, hippos don't like tents. Sure enough, we saw the shape of a large hippo move into the faint starlight right outside our window. It was moving a bit away, but was still only 3-4 feet from our tent. This was scary and exciting all at the same time. We could hear every step, every chomp of grass, and every breath. We took a picture the next morning of Don standing outside the tent, holding his hand where the top of the hippo had been. Should be a good one!!! This was an amazing way to end our restless nights on safari.
10/30: After telling our exciting hippo story to anyone who would listen, we get a bonus game drive in the truck. We're pretty happy to be in the truck because it seems like the safest place to be. We visit the same lion again. The wildebeest is almost gone now. Chimney says the lion will move on once the kill is gone. We get some wonderful shots of the big boy on this morning as he poses for us under a tree. We don't see much else on the drive, so we head back to camp. After breakfast, we pack and head for the airport for our little flight back to Maun and then onto Johannesburg and Cape Town. The pilot let Dawn fly us the second half of the trip back to Maun and even makes the big turn for final approach. The passengers may have been a little nervous when they realized that the actual pilot was talking a lot with his hands and Dawn had hers on the stick. You could hear a large sigh of relief when the pilot took over for the landing. She did fine of course. A passenger reading a magazine would never have known the difference.
Summary: This was an awesome experience. Camping was the source of great stress, but also resulted in some great stories. We will probably opt for lodges next time. Sleep is a nice thing. All the people from AfroVentures were great. They run a real class operation. Despite our being mad at Chimney for a bit, we enjoyed having him as a guide. He has great field knowledge and he's fun. He's also a great spotter of animals.
We enjoyed spending so much time with Udo and Tanja. We played a lot of poker during the last 4 days of the trip, using extra cards as "betting units". We also had some wonderful conversations about animals, politics, and cultural differences. Meeting interesting people from around the world is one of the great aspects of a trip like the one we're on. We'd like to say thanks to them here in case they read this page sometime.
In the end, we saw 4 of the Big 5. That's the best we could hope for since rhinos in Botswana were all moved to fenced reserves years ago for their protection. Looks like we'll have to go to Kruger in South Africa sometime to see a Rhino in the wild.