Have you been on a safari? Curious? Well of course there are a myriad of styles and comfort levels from overlander tours where a pile of people are tossed into the back of a big truck and participate in the day to day chores to massively expensive decadent indulgences in luxurious tents or lodges where your every whim is catered to. I have done the former and have never come close to the later.
The one I did in Botswana was a several notches above an overlander and about a mile from the top end. It was comfortable with a small army of guys to feed us and deal with the setting up and tearing down of the camp. We had two 4×4’s and two driver/guides. The tents were tall enough to stand up in and cots had a foam slab with sheets and blankets. Oh and the pièce de résistance was the en suite with a shower!!!!!! Yup! I was living high out in the bush of Botswana! Of course the toilet toilet seat on a can which was over a hole in the ground with a container of ash to toss on top. But heh, it was still attached to the tent so I didn’t have to take on the lions and jackals who roamed around our campgrounds at night!
So read on and see what it was like…
Water being poured in our basins just outside our tent gently woke me every morning around 5 along with a muted but cheery “Good Morning!”
I sprang up having learned the hard way that Nacouse would be hustling us into the trucks in 45 min so if I wanted breakfast and at least 1 cup of coffee I was going to have to get my ass up!
The water in our canvas basins was always hot, a treat in the brisk morning air. By the time I had washed my face I got to brush my teeth while watching the amazing sun rise through the trees. The brilliant colors never failed to send a rush through my body.
I arrive at the dining tent and the guys have coffee ready to pour. Made over a wood fire, it was flavored with a smokey essence that was so good. We all huddled around the table, chilled in the early morning briskness. We all dressed in layers knowing that before too long we would be stripping as the temperature would hover around 35+.
We gobbled down toast and cereal and one more sip of coffee then dived for seats in the trucks while Nacouse cracked the whip, wanting to beat those “lodge trucks” to the best sightings.
Our guides were Nacouse and Shahka, both from Botswana. Nacouse is legendary since he has guided for Dawn, who has been bringing groups here for many years and she is a huge fan. Shahka was no slouch either having had a long and distinguished career guiding and managing hotels. It was clear very quickly that we were in good hands. They managed to get us across Botswana to the Zimbabwe border and didn’t lose one of us!
Still groggy with sleep and cold we hunkered down in our open sided trucks and did our best not to bounce out…. the roads in Botswana are brutal, especially in the game parks where they are all red sand and/or salt. The whole time we are in the park, the guys have the 4 wheel drive locked on.
It doesn’t take long before the guides find something to get our adrenaline pumping – a herd of elephants at a water hole… a leopard cleaning up after breakfast… or, of course, the tree squirrel never fail to delight us with their antics. We laugh as we zip by a herd of impala, remembering the first time we saw them. Nacouse tried to drive by and we all screamed No! while taking like a million pictures of them. He grinned knowing that it wouldn’t be too long before we got as blasé about them as he was.
Mid morning we stop for a coffee at a Park assigned location. We tumble out, looking for a bush to pee in and stretch our legs. We chat about what we’ve seen and ask our guides questions… always so many questions. They are consummate professionals, never impatient, always ready to answer the same questions multiple times. Friendly and kind. Happy to share their beloved country and to watch that love bloom in visitors.
Back in the trucks and onto either a fresh trail or to continue tracking a beastie we started following in the morning. Looking looking looking. It astounds us how tired we get every day just sitting in the truck but it is hard work. We have a retired nurse and she explains that it is hard work holding our place in the truck while bouncing around, a good work out for our cores!
We pull into camp for lunch and a 3 hour break. We have just enough time to clean up a bit and lunch is announced. We gather under the dining canopy around tables set in a square with the buffet tables at one end of the tent. The staff are always so friendly and eager to hear about our day and to assist any way they can.
After lunch some stay and chat or play cards. Others drift off for a nap or just quiet time on their own or with friends. We have such a great group of people, friendly with no dramas who are comfortable with each other. That is such a gift with a group. Some in this group knew each other while others are strangers but for the most part, things are fluid without the feeling of cliques.
Soon afternoon coffee and cookies are served and we come together again and soon it is time again to load up the trucks and go off in search of adventure.
In national parks there are very strong rules, like no trucks out after dark but in the concession parks we can stay out well after sun set which can be a lot of fun when the lions are afoot looking for prey.
One late afternoon in the concession park, Khwai Community Area,we came across a leopard who was lounging on some dead trees. She perked up and leapt down and casually started moving… not yet committed but the scent was enough to get her attention. We were not so casual and got excited at what we would see.
As we followed her the sun was starting to go down which added to the energy. Then she suddenly fled, poof! Soon we discovered why, the monster lion pride was lounging by the river where she had been headed. She knew better than to tangle with them! She would find food where they were NOT!
We let the lions alone while we had our sundowners and watched the sunset by the river, excited not to be corralled at our campsite. We acted like teenagers at our first beach party. Our guides tried and failed to get us to quiet our voices while we frolicked and took selfies and acted the fool.
Good thing it takes more than a bunch of silly humans to scare off lions, eh? Soon we were herded into the trucks the pride, and us, were on the prowl.
It was funny to watch the lions deal with the hippos in the river. No fools, they were very cautious knowing one wrong move would be their last. So a few would jump across where it was narrow but then the rest would move on, not willing to outstay their welcome. And so it went, as the lions moved, the safari trucks moved. As more and more lions made it over the river so did the trucks.
Most of the people were polite and followed the rules, which were created to protect the animals. Some did not. Like don’t flash a bright light into their eyes even under normal circumstances let alone when they were trying to jump over hippo infested waters! A few lights caused the lions to flub their jumps but still managed to make it safety.
Eventually we let them go in peace to get on with the hunt and turned back to go find our earlier cheetah. We found and followed her for a while till her hunt turned serious and we left her and made our way back to camp. We enjoyed sightings of other nocturnal critters along the way like jackals, civet cats, white-tailed mongoose.
Another exciting event was when we connected with a large pack of wild dogs. These endangered animals are incredible hunting machines. Even lions will not take on the pack and there are many stories about how wild dogs have stolen kills from lions and leopards.
We found them napping one afternoon in a copse of trees near a watering hole. While the adults slept the young ones were starting to get restless, playing a bit. A few trucks pulled up and we all waited with bated breath. Except for the little yips and yaps, silence reined.
Finally the adults stirred… making the rounds to greet each other, touching noses to strengthen their bonds. These wild dogs are the ultimate pack, to watch them in action it is easy to believe they are all tuned into each other’s minds so well they operate as a single organism.
They soon move to the watering hole and continue their greetings and bonding. They drink and allow the young ones to wear off some pent up energy.
Then they were off like a shot, responding to a signal only they heard. And we were right behind them.
We asked our guides wouldn’t our presence disturb them and they assured us that we were nothing more than just another inanimate object like a rock or a tree to the dogs.
This is where guides can prove their worth by knowing where the pack will be when we can no longer follow them. Can s/he figure out where to position the truck so that we will be there when the pack slips out of the bush? Well our guides were rock stars that day! Each consistently positioned themselves in different places at different times so that we got 2 different perspectives.
I was in Nacouse’s truck and we arrived looking down on the scene as it would unfold. At the time, there was no scene… at least to our untrained eyes. At the same time Shacka was in the middle of the scene… sitting quietly.
Suddenly an impala crashes out of the bush below us. Out of no where like 4 wild dogs popped up out of the grass around her with the rest of the pack closing in on her heels. The noose tightened and I thought for sure she would meet her doom but at the last minute she kicked and leaped and against all odds made it out alive! The adrenaline in the trucks were palpable! OMG!!!! For me, it was the best case scenario- I got to watch the pack in action AND the prey got away. I was confident the dogs would eat that night but I did not have to see it happen. Others were disappointed.
Those were two big highlights of our trip but there were so many more wonderful moments where we got to experience first hand the magic of Botswana’s fauna and flora. Like sitting having our coffee watching the multitudes of elephant families maneuvering their way in and out of the watering holes at Chobi National Park. Amazing,
We would finally arrive at camp at the end of the day as darkness fell, and in Africa – it drops like a stone!
As we pull in the guys are all yelling Jambo! and welcoming us home with a drink and a wet towel to smear the red dust around our faces. We slowly gather around the big bonfire they have lit in comfy camping chairs and lazily chat about the day’s events while we drink our sundowners. Sometimes we just sit and listen to the night noises. Then our cook arrives and announces that night’s menu and always he has a little something special for dessert.
We move over to the dining tent where we we are called up group by group to the buffet – vegetarians then women and finally our 3 men. One night we suggested the men go first in the spirit of equality. They were tickled.
After dinner it doesn’t take long before people are stumbling to their tents barely able to keep their eyes open. I lay tucked into my cot and read maybe a page before I give up and put my kindle down. My roommate is already snoring so after trying to listen for animals I put my ear plugs in and sigh happily as I drift off to sleep.
But of course that isn’t it for the night! My 65 year old bladder refuses to allow me to sleep through the night so I have one more treat and that is sitting on the can, in the middle of the night, looking up at the stars of Africa and listening to night noises.
I booked the escorted tour through Island Fever Travel & Cruise out of Campbell River, BC but Kim Patrick, owner/operator, can take care of you no matter where you live. She is a modern old school travel agent who really takes care of her clients as one of them on this trip can attest. The woman came down with a violent virus on the plane to London and had to be rushed to the hospital upon landing. The rest of the group, led by Kim’s sister Dawn, had no choice but to continue on to Africa without her. It didn’t matter that it was the middle of the night for Kim, she was hustling to make sure that if the woman got cleared to continue (and wanted to), Kim would move heaven and earth to make it happen for her. And she did. We were all delighted when the woman got off a plane in Maun, Botswana an hour before we were to catch the small plane into the game reserve. She couldn’t say enough great things about Kim and needless to say, we all highly recommend Kim!
The safari company is Letaka Safaris and I highly recommend them. I know from Dawn that year after year they prove they are one of the best.
We stayed Cresta Riley’s in Maun, Botswana and it was pleasant and comfortable. At Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (where we ended the trip) we stayed at Bayete Guest Lodge and all of us were blown away by this small boutique lodge. The staff and management were excellent and the gardens were exactly what we needed after so long in the sand and heat of the game reserves.
I really enjoyed Vic Falls, more than I thought I would. I loved the people and there was a lot to explore. I even went on my first helicopter ride and got to sit in the front seat. It was glorious to fly over the falls and the game reserve! There are so many activities out of Vic Falls – sky diving, rafting on the Zambezi River, helicopter, game drives, SHOPPING and so much more. Make sure you take US dollars since Zimbabwe no longer has their own currency.
Botswana is a glorious country and extremely safe and stable, the people have a great democracy and love their gov’t so please go and celebrate the amazing beauty of this land.
Info sheet for safari