Southern Africa SafariAuthor: Marden P. (More Trip Reviews by Marden P.)
Date of Trip: June 2008
Arose at 5:30 AM and packed up for the boat ride back to Breezers Camp. We had French toast and our usual hot chocolate and boarded an outboard motor boat for the ride up river. We had floated about 50 miles in the last three days and the return trip was supposed to take about an hour and an half BUT we had some problems. The motor was not running well and was using much more fuel that it should so we had to stop at another camp (run by the same company) and change to another boat. The ride from there on was beautiful and uneventful. We saw a lot of natives out fishing, washing clothes and just enjoying the river in the early morning. At some of the villages they have built a kind of log fence out into the river so they can access the water without becoming breakfast for the crocodiles. We arrived at Breezers a little after 9:00 AM and set out for Livingstone. It was about 250 miles and we made very good time on the first half of the drive. The Chinese government built the highway we were on and it was a very nice one with passing lanes, guard rails and painted line. The fact that they painted the lines by hand with paint brushes didn't make it any less travelable. We would see gangs of 10 or 12 men sitting along the side of the road just painting away. The road will probably be worn out before they are done but it does provide work. We saw several new wrecks and many old ones. It is like Alaska; they just push the wreck off the road and leave it there. Of course the wrecks are stripped of anything that can be removed. There are a lot of break-downs and instead of flares they cut tree branches and lay them in the road to warn you. The last 50 miles of the trip were truly horrible. The roads, after the Chinese highway, were not great but they were drivable. Then we came to a stretch that was just one huge pothole after another. They were six inch to a foot deep and usually five or six feet wide, although some reached clear across the road. In many places the highway (?) was so bad traffic just drove along side in the barrow-pits. The native kids would stand along the road and throw some dirt or sand in the potholes and then hold out their hands for money. It was kind of creative but didn't help the road much. That last 50 miles took us well over two hours and we were all well shaken by the time we arrived in Livingstone especially Mom and Angie who were riding in the back seat. We checked into the Zambezi Waterfront and headed to our rooms for a "hot" shower and then a meal on the deck overlooking the river from which we could see the mist rising from Victoria Falls. Later we washed clothes and hung them in Angie's room. She had a suite with four beds, a tub and a real thatched roof so there was plenty of room and with a fan blowing on them they had plenty of time to dry. All the beds have mosquito netting but I haven't seen a single mosquito. Jessie said she saw some but then she sees "logadiles" too. Went to bed about 9:15 PM which is late but we had electricity so we could read and write after sundown.
June 19th. Livingstone-Zambia.
Left at 6:30 AM for the Elephant Trails Safari. This is a place where they have taken elephants, that were orphaned, or otherwise left without a home and herd, and trained them to allow people to ride them. There were eight elephants in the program. Two bulls, four cows and two young ones. The youngest was a year old and stole everyone's heart. We rode two to an elephant plus the handler. Angie and Jessie and Mike and Lisa rode together while I rode with a Mike from Manchester, England. We rode for about an hour through the brush and didn't see any other game but it was an interesting perspective. We rode out on the river bank and posed for pictures with the Zambezi River in the background. At one point we had to stop so the calf could nurse for a few minutes. The calf's mother was stolen away by a wild herd and she was gone for 18 months. When she returned, of her own accord, she was pregnant and the calf was born into the project. After the ride we fed the elephants treats and posed with them for pictures. The project made a video of our ride and showed it to us after we had brunch. Just as the video got to the point where Jessie was trying to get on her elephant the power went out and so we didn't get to see the rest of the video. Jessie was thankful, but we bought a video and when we got home and watched it they had edited out her climb aboard anyway. In the afternoon we went to see Victoria Falls. It is hard to describe how awesome the Falls are. They are one of the Natural Wonders of the Modern World and truly deserve that title. We rented ponchos but still got soaking wet. The mist is so heavy it is like standing in a shower (a cold shower) and it was really hard to take pictures without getting the camera soaked. I managed to get come pictures by putting the camera in the hood of my poncho and shooting blind. Angie is not feeling well today and didn't enjoy the experience as much as she would have otherwise. After our soaking we went shopping at a market near the Falls and I bought two sets of salt and pepper shakers and a pair of wooden Cape buffalo. We had to negotiate price and it was just like Mexico--"Sell you cheap"--"haven't sold anything today"--"Make you special deal for US dollars"--"end of day special price". I don't enjoy dickering but Jessie seems to have fun doing it. When we got back to the lodge Angie threw up several times and that seemed to help. Chauntel cooked rice, corn, beef stew and salad for supper and we picked up the laundry that the lodge did for us then repacked our bags. Jessie and Chauntel went to the airport and picked up Jessie's "lost bag" so now she has the rest of her clothes and other essentials. A troop of monkeys came around just before sundown and I spent some time following them around and taking pictures while they posed. There were a number of mosquitoes in our room tonight. These are the first ones we have seen but we had netting over the beds so they didn't really bother us. I think there are bed bugs here though. Angie and I both had a number of bites, which were not mosquito ones, this morning. Jessie slept in her sleeping bag liner and didn't have any bites so I think we were victims of bed-bugs or a close relative.
June 20th. Livingstone to Chobe.
We left Livingstone about 9:00 AM and drove to the Zambia/Botswana border. There we went through customs and boarded a ferry to cross the Zambezi River into Botswana. It amazes me that we got across so quickly when it often takes trucks several days or even weeks to get across. At most of the border crossings we see trucks lined up for miles waiting to cross. As you can imagine tempers get short and "road rage" takes on a whole new meaning. We just had to fill out some cards, walk through customs, board the ferry, go through customs again and then re-board our truck. The welcome mat was out for us in Botswana and we had to walk across it. In order to prevent the spread of Hoof and Mouth disease they have disinfectant mats that everyone has to walk over and they also spray the truck tires. After a stop in Kasane for groceries we drove to Toro Camp, on the edge of Chobe NP, and set up camp. In the late afternoon we drove to the park and took an evening boat trip on the Chobe River. There were a lot of boats, all filled with tourists, and it reminded me of the Serengeti. Our driver/guide was excellent and kept us out of the worst of the boat jams while still showing us everything. We saw many bird species, kudu, crocs, hippo, waterbucks, impala, buffalo, puku and elephants. Chobe has the greatest concentration of elephants in Africa and we must have seen most of them. At one point we counted upwards of 200 scattered along the river and hillside above it. It is amazing to watch the herds interact and the adults take care of the calves. One calf kept getting stuck in the mud and the adults would pull him out and he would go right back to getting stuck. They play in the water, roll in the mud and even go swimming without paying any attention to the boats. We saw three elephants which were in over their heads, but no problem, they just used their trunks like snorkels and walked on across the river. I don't know how the area can support so many elephants. It appears that the vegetation is being severely damaged and if they don't find a way to reduce the elephant numbers there will soon be serious problems. We saw a large herd of buffalo and Jessie's first observation was "They smell just like cows" and she was right. As the sun was setting our guide put us in a position to photograph some elephants, against the setting sun, and it was spectacular. We then hurried back to camp, and since we were in the open boat and then in an open Park truck we were pretty cold when we got there. We had thought about going again in the morning but tonight was so good and Mom and Mike are not feeling too well so we decided to pass on getting cold again. After supper we sat around the fire and wrote down all the birds we saw on the boat ride. Then it was off to bed in anticipation of the long drive we have tomorrow.
June 21st. Botswana-Toro Camp to Planet Baobab.
Ate breakfast, broke camp and headed south for 300 km and then west another 100 km. The roads were good except for a short stretch. There the potholes were easy to see (if not avoid) because the asphalt was black but the underlying soil was almost pink and the many of the holes had been patched with a white sandy material. So if we saw pink it meant slow down but if we saw white we could drive over it. Stopped at a store in Nada but they couldn't sell us any chocolate mix because the power was out and the cash registers weren't working. The restrooms were also off limits because there was no water without power. Mom was happy when the power went out at the elephant rides (so we couldn't watch the video of her climbing on the elephant) but she was not as happy today. While driving we saw ground hornbill, kudu, elephant and lots of donkeys and cattle. We also saw our first ostrich. We stopped to buy firewood for our campfire but had a hard time finding anyone to pay. The natives gather wood and stack it beside the highway and if you stop they come running from the village to collect the money. This time no one came and finally Chautel had to go off in the bush and find an old man to pay. He didn't speak English but finally we took wood and he took money and we all took off happy. In mid-afternoon we arrived at Planet Baobab (named after the trees) and set up camp. It is hot and sandy with little shade but does have decent showers and toilets. After lunch we wandered around the camp. They have a reception center that had chairs and stool all covered in cow hide. It looked like a herd of strange Holstein cows and I'm sure Rhett would say that was the best use they could be put to. There was also a chandelier made of empty beer bottles and a swimming pool that was too cold to swim in but just right for soaking feet. This is the hottest day we have had and the temperature is in the mid 80's. We took pictures of the Baobab trees and then went on a nature walk with a local guide. We learned about many local plants and how they are (or maybe I should say "were") used by the native people. The Baobab tree is a storage tank for water. It can be "tapped" and water collected like maple sap and also the hollows in the branches and exposed roots collect pools of rain that can be used as "sipping water" by men and animals. Its fruit is eaten and elephants strip away the bark and eat the moisture laden inner fiber. The sickle bush is very thorny and grows on areas that have been over-grazed. The grasses grow up amid the thorns and are protected from grazers and then when the short-lived bush dies there is a patch of well established grass. Its thorns were used as needles in the old days. The leaves of the brandy tree were used to brew a powerful alcoholic drink. We saw a tree whose leaves look like butterflies and another that is so hard that when it dies the stumps will remain solid for more than 50 years. The basil (?) plant has seeds that can be crushed to produce a substance that smells like menthol and is used in a steam bath, or as a drink, to treat colds and breathing problems. I tried some fruit that were about like chokecherries (all pit) except sweet. The guide also told us that we could find our way in the bush by looking a termite mounds. They always lean to the east, away from the prevailing winds. When we told Chauntel about the mounds she said that we might want to check more than one "just to be sure". After the walk we sat at a waterhole and enjoyed a cold drink and watched the birds come to drink as the sun set. We went back to camp for supper, showers (hot and clean) and then to bed.
June 22nd. Planet Baobab to Camp Mankwe.
Broke camp and drove three hours to Maun. On the way we saw some steenbok, zebra, donkeys and cattle. Many areas are severely over-grazed and the livestock will be mighty hungry by the next rains. We shopped for groceries and fuel and then drove on to the original Mankwe Lodge and stopped for lunch. Then we drove on to the brand new Camp Mankwe where we stayed in really nice permanent tents with attached shower and toilet facilities. The road into camp was gravel for about 20 miles and was very dusty and there was quite a bit of traffic. We were constantly rolling windows up and down to keep the dust out and let the breeze in. Most of the vehicles were from South Africa and Chauntel said that it was school break time there so many families were on vacation here. The last five miles were just ruts in the sand. The sand was so loose and deep that we had to let some air out of the trailer tires so we could pull it. On the drive in we saw wildebeest and bushbuck. There were also lion and elephant tracks, but the lion tracks were as close as we got to actually seeing the big cats. The tents were spacious and very comfortable but we were the first people to stay in them and there were lots of "bugs". I got an empty juice bottle and caught spiders and other critters in it for about an hour before Jessie felt comfortable in the tent. There was a waterhole right in front of our tent and I watched birds and an impala come in while I tried to write in my journal. (Just a note about the toilets here. They all flush on the "wrong" side just like people drive on the "wrong" side of the road. ) Jessie and I couldn't get our shower to put out hot water. They have propane heaters but they are pressure regulated and ours wasn't set right so it would be hot for a few seconds and then go cold. At dark we set out for our second night game drive and the best thing I can say about it is that it was not as cold as the first one we did in Kafue. We saw hippos, a jackal, a wild cat and some shadows in the trees. That's it!!!
June 23rd. Game drive from Mankwe.
"Mankwe means "mother leopard" so we took that as a good omen as we set out for our game drive. No leopards and no lions but a very nice day. This was the best game drive we had on our safari. It didn't start out too well because we tried to cross a small river and got stuck. There was a vehicle stuck when we got there but Chauntel thought she could cross by the side of it. Didn't work. We were just getting the jack out and preparing to go to work when the guys the other truck belonged to showed up. They had gotten stuck the night before and were now back with a truck and a road grader to pull their truck out. They pulled us out first and we were on our way. We were driving along a small river and many animals came into drink. We had several groups of bull elephants come in and literally mill around the truck as they drank. We also saw giraffes but they were not as close as we would have liked and most of our watching was done with binoculars. There were lots of bird including a huge saddle-billed stork and many birds of prey. The road was just a sandy track but it is the main route south through Chobe NP to Maun and we saw about thirty vehicles during the day. We stopped for lunch under a large tree along the river and while we ate we watched hippos, crocs, and birds in the river and monkeys, zebra and impala on the other side of the road. Resuming our drive we saw mongoose, squirrels, steenbok, elephants, baboons and the ever-present impala. The guides call impala "McDonald" antelope because they have a black "M" on their rumps and because they are the "fast food of the plains". At one point we saw elephants, baboons and impala drinking side-by-side not thirty yards from the truck. On the way back to camp we saw vultures circling and thought about driving over to them and seeing if there might be lions. However, it was getting late and we still had to get across the river where we had gotten stuck so decided to push on. Unfortunately we found out the next day that there were indeed lions there and they were on a kill. Fortunately we found another way to reach camp without crossing the ford so we reached camp without incident. We had asked a native woman, on the camp staff, to wash some clothes for us today. We told her the clothes were in a bag on the bed. Well when we got back to camp there were our "garments" flapping on the clothesline and the bag of dirty clothes was still on the bed. Supper, a shower (the maintenance man showed us how to get the shower to stay hot and so tonight we enjoyed it much more) and bed.
June 24th. Moremi Reserve.
Since we were going into a game reserve Chauntel couldn't take us so we had a local driver and truck. In Botswana it is required that you have a guide and vehicle licensed in the country to drive in national parks or reserves. Mike, our driver, picked us up at 6:30 AM and we set out for the Moremi Game Reserve. It took about one and a half hour to get there and we were in an open-sided truck so it was a cold ride and we were very glad to see the sun come up, or rather, to feel the sun come up. Mike took a short cut and we went though some very dense cover and in the middle was a huge bull elephant. He had tusks that must have been eight feet long and very thick. Mike said that if he strayed a few miles in either direction he would probably be shot. There are hunting areas all around here and the bull would make a great trophy. We also saw giraffe and zebra on our drive into the reserve. Once in the reserve we didn't see any game for quite a long time but finally the animals showed. We saw elephant, kudu, zebra, impala, warthogs and two species of antelope, the Tsessebe (a kind of Topi) and the Red Lechwe (similar to a Puku) which were new to us. There were blue netted boxes along the road and we were told they were traps for tsetse flies. They are used to determine density of the flies so that spraying can be pin pointed. We entered the reserve by the south gate and had lunch on the edge of the Okavango Delta then exited by the north gate. When we were having lunch there were a number of interesting and colorful birds and we took lots of pictures. There was also an observation platform that over-looked the Delta and we climbed it but didn't stay long because it swayed with every little move we made. At the north gate we had a flat tire and then had to cross a log bridge to exit the reserve. We came home on the same route that we covered on our game drive yesterday. It was great, again!! We saw the largest herd of waterbuck that I have ever seen. There were lots of elephants including a breeding herd with several young calves. It was nearly dark and we couldn't get good pictures but we did watch them for a time. Like all herds with calves they were nervous and didn't stay around for long. We finally got back to camp about 7:30 PM. after a long 13 hour day during which we covered about 75 miles, most of it on sand roads, and took a few thousand pictures. At least it seemed like that many. We had just started supper when Mike radioed that he had seen a leopard just a few hundred yards from camp on the road we had just driven in on. We jumped in the truck and drove out but the leopard was gone by the time we arrived. That was the closest we came to seeing a leopard on the whole safari. The big selling point for Botswana has been "unspoiled", "uncrowded" and "a taste of Africa as it used to be" and yet we saw more tourists in the last two days than Angie and I ever saw in East Africa-even on the Serengeti- and here things are far less organized and far more chaotic. Even the main roads are often deeply potholed and resemble two ruts in 6-8 inch deep sand. If a tree falls across the road no one moves it they just drive around it and "presto" a new road is born. We have also found that instead of saying "Stop for a minute while we take a picture" we can say "Stop for an African second" and that will give us all the time we need and then some. Africans operate on their own time and it is a whole lot slower than we are used to.
June 25th. Lazy day in Audi.
I got up at 6:30 AM and wandered around camp taking pictures until breakfast at 8:00 and then we headed for Maun. We shopped and fueled up and Mike went to the airport and talked to some local pilots about flying over the Delta. We decided not to do it and so drove on to Audi. It is a camp that caters to campers on their way to somewhere, since there isn't much to see or do there, but they do have four luxury chalets with showers and baths attached. We were booked into these and it was very nice. We had the afternoon to just lie around and ??? I showered, shaved (well trimmed my new beard), read, wrote in my journal, took pictures and even napped a little. We retired early because we want to get to our next camp before it gets hot tomorrow. When the sand gets hot it is much harder driving and the chances of getting stuck go 'way up.
June 26th. Audi to Guma Camp.
We ate breakfast and were on the road by 7:00 AM. We drove back through Maun, then west for about 75 miles and then turned north. We were now on the west side of the Okavango Delta and drove north another 75 miles and fueled up before turning off the pavement and heading east to Guma Camp. The road was deep sand and it took us over an hour to go 15 miles. On the way we passed a native village that was built to house refugees from the Angola civil war. There were a series of these camps built and then when the war ended most of the refugees went back to Angola and the camps only house a fraction of the people they once did. Many of the huts in these villages are built of adobe brick rather than thatch and the villages have a more permanent look than the typical villages we have seen. There is very little game in this area because there are many scattered villages with the usual cattle and goats. We did see some elephant tracks crossing the road but never did see their makers. The camp turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It is located on a large lagoon and the vegetation is stunning. It is landscaped and maintained better than anywhere we have been. There are flowers, bushes, trees and grass. After setting up the tents Mike, Lisa and I walked to an airstrip that is a half mile from camp. The strip has a three thousand foot runway and after we walked it, from end to end, we still had to walk back to camp in the sand. It was a pretty good work-out. While walking we saw horses (a rarity), cattle, dogs and goats. Mom and Angie did laundry and Mike and Lisa napped while I wrote in my journal. There was another Jenman group out on the Delta today and they returned very happy with their experience. The camp has fishing gear for rent but the manager said that it is the wrong time of year to catch anything. The water is too high and cold. By cold I mean about like Bear Lake but these are warm water fish so they are not very active now. The water in the Delta comes from the mountains in Angola and it takes about six months to get here which means high water is in the middle of the dry season or right about now. When the water is low the animals move about easily and there is a good bit of dry land but now there are only a few scattered islands (well that's not exactly true-there are thousands of islands) and the animals that are still around pretty much stick to their island. There are a lot of beautiful birds around the camp. One of them kept perching on the outside mirror of our truck and admiring himself (or more probably, herself). She would change angles and even lean over, from the top of the mirror, so she could get an upside down look.
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