African Adventure Tour 2020
We arrived at our lodge that sits on the shores of the Chobe River and is nestled between Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The lodge is beside one of the jewels of Botswana, Chobe National Park. After a brief orientation of our unique and beautiful accommodations which were individual rondavals on the river, some of us relaxed poolside to shake some of the jetlag after the journey half way around the world. This would be the base for a few days enjoying the abundance of wildlife on the river which included hippos, crocs, elephants and a wide selection of feathered friends, all the while preparing for our foray into the wonders of an untamed part of the world.
There were 8 enthusiastic guests, and 3 support including Givemore who I met in Zimbabwe in 2019. Givemore, a freelance guide at a luxury tented camp was excited to join this 2020 trip through Botswana and would bring his passion of southern Africa, knowledge of the flora and fauna, humor and smile along.
After a couple months of international news coverage about the drought in this part of the world, we would have a pleasant surprise. The different shades of green surrounded us, it would seem like every living plant or tree was displaying their version of green. It would be the greenest and healthiest I have seen in this area.
Over the next few days, we managed to prepare for the next 5 days which would be completely off the grid and into one of the last great wonders in the world where the human influence is almost non existent except for maybe the double track 4×4 ‘roads’ that take us into it.
On this particular adventure there were 5 Toyota Hilux 4×4, full of provisions, equipment, fridge (full of soon to be cold Windhoek beer, vegetables and freshly vacuum packed assortment from the local butcher) and everything else to make life in the wild that much more memorable…oh did I say the finest South African wine as well ;-).
OFF THE GRID – Chobe National Park
The next part of the adventure had begun, the heavens had opened like a gigantic bath tub full of water being dumped from the sky but thankfully that was short lived as we meandered through small villages on the way to the entrance to the wilds of Botswana. The double track ‘road’ that greeted us had no previous vehicle tracks which made our journey that much more special and exclusive. The rains overnight helped with traction on the sand and we made better time than anticipated. On our way to our first stop which was in the middle of Chobe National Park we encountered numerous wildlife that used the double tracks as their highway as well…a little easier to travel than making one own’s trail through the dense bush.
In the early afternoon we arrived and set up camp which overlooked a dry river bed and for the next 2 days was ‘base camp’ for our twice daily game drives and exploration. On the last night we had visitors into the camp and it was noticed by some that the solar powered lanterns that were placed strategically around the camp were somehow being bounced into the air casting their light all over. Those visitors were playing with the lights and by morning when everyone unzipped their tents a number of the lights were missing and others were displaced all over the landscape and down into the dry river bed. The paw prints all over the sand in our camp were from hyena. The hyena had visited our camp and decided to play with lights and steal a few as well. Now that they have a few of them they will have endless nights of playtime if they place the lanterns in the sun during the day!
A NATURAL WONDER OF AFRICA – Okavango Delta
After two days in my second favourite place in the world, we followed a double track through an abundance of varied terrain to my favourite place in the Okavango Delta for the next 3 nights. The trucks well suited for the environment, and it was a game drive the entire way. There were challenges with pools of water that would have to be navigated through, stops for elephants that would suddenly cross in front shaking their heads informing us to let them pass by, towers of giraffes suddenly galloping in slow motion as our trucks neared, and signs of predators on the soft sand tracks. As we entered the Okavango delta the landscape changed due to the numerous tributaries of water. Hand built bridges of all types, shapes and sizes were some of the ways to cross larger spans of water, otherwise it was navigating through rain swollen ponds.
The next three days were spent in more comfortable accommodation, safari tents on a platform with a patio that overlooked a stunning landscape with a front row to the daily angry thunderstorm that would pass by between 2-4pm. Also it felt like we didn’t have to leave our high backed comfortable chairs to view wildlife either as they would often graze right in front of us. No fences separated us from ‘real life’.
The abundance of wildlife was truly magical even for a seasoned enthusiast. One early morning game drive we encountered a new born zebra which was barely a week old, what we didn’t know, nor did the newborn for that matter, was that a couple hours later it would be the centre (quite literally) of attention and a target for painted dogs. Imagine witnessing a pack of wild dogs (painted dogs) which are endangered and challenging to find, some rolling around, some play biting, and some resting near a dense wooded area out of ‘radar’ range of a dazzle (herd) of zebras with the baby zebra included. Suddenly the alpha male with the alpha female signal to the rest of the pack, and all of them get up almost simultaneously. It took a few moments to realize that they received marching orders for a hunt. The body positions changed, heads lower, tail down and they fanned out in a V like formation, it was like military precision and it was happening right in front of us. Just a 100 meters away were the zebras and when the pack changed course it was evident that the little one would be the target. The painted dogs would circle the zebras with their tails raised (so that all of the pack knew their position) and the zebras went into defence mode with the newborn safely in the middle. The painted dog’s strategy would be patiently attempt to force out the new born so that it was in a position to be taken down and possibly taken away. The events that were witnessed in front of us were fluid, dynamic and one could feel the adrenalin run through our veins. The painted dogs strategy was working and the new born managed to run into the open away from the safety of mom and the others. Just as the painted dogs could sense victory a wildebeest came at a full gallop at a number of the dogs saving the little one from a guaranteed demise. We watched intently as the wildebeest now was controlling aspects of the events causing the dominant male painted dog to call off the hunt and in an instant all tails of the pack went down and they trotted on their way and the new born would see another day.
We spent our mornings and afternoons following different tracks throughout this part of the Okavango Delta and were greeted with various inhabitants of this part of the world. Every afternoon the sky grew angry and we quickly went for shelter for the hour or so until the summer sun showed again but this time as a spectacular African sunset. ‘Sundowners’ were in order and we all enjoyed our favourite drink as the orange sky turned purple. Another evening under the African stars. Dinners were cooked over an open fire and bottles of spectacular South African wine complimented the meals.
THE JOURNEY TO CIVILIZATION
After an amazing three days we headed towards civilization as the sun just started to rise over the horizon. We had a plane to catch and that would be to a different part of Botswana and a different experience. Within 15 minutes we encountered 2 leopards that had a kill in the tree from the day before… our encounter was magical as the golden sun amplified their spots and soft looking coat. Our journey out of the wild to the airport at Maun was challenging as the thunderstorms the last few days had made water obstacles every 10-20 seconds. The lead vehicle (which I was driving) approached one of the ‘ponds’ and a decision had to be made on whether to go through the right side or the left side. I decided the left, which changed the outcome. At around the centre of the water obstacle the truck became high centred, it most likely was on a tree stump. Interesting feeling as the wheels were spinning madly like a paddle wheel boat but the outcome was not a forward movement. A double tow strap was attached to the front of the truck and it was pulled out by another truck in our group…a morning adventure.
A TENTED CAMP EXPERIENCE
Arriving at the Maun Airport, our small charter plane glistened in the sunshine, we were on our way to a luxury tented camp in the Tuli Block which is in the south east corner of Botswana. As the plane approached the small thatched roof airport at our destination we banked left and flew over the runway. We had arrived at Limpopo Airport and were greeted with lunch and some special people…they would be our guides for the next 4 days.
The next 4 nights were spent in a luxury safari tent on a platform, with a deck, comfortable beds, an outside shower and bathroom. Every evening weather permitting was spent eating a wonderful meal under the stars in a boma (an enclosure made of thorn tree set up to protect the camp) after our late afternoon game drive.
On one of the morning game drives we observed a female leopard being harassed by about 5 Jackals that were making a deafening racket, yelping and taunting. What we witnessed was a dramatic territorial dispute with the leopard mock charging but knowing full well those jackals would be too fast. On a number of occasions, the leopard lured the jackals and then turned around and chased them. The jackals didn’t want the leopard near their dens so yelling would surely move the leopard on as it would not want the attention. Soon a pair of hyenas arrived to see what the commotion was about, the leopard not wanting an encounter with hyenas decided to climb a tree instead of leaving her territory. This was one of many dramatic moments that we witnessed during our stay.
For the past 13 days, every day was a unique encounter, an experience, an education, and had numerous elements to create one’s own life changing story.