Sleeping with the wild animals on our trip from Maun to Kasane
Sleeping with the wild animals on our trip from Maun to Kasane, Botswana
The safari vehicle turns up early at Old Bridge Backpackers to pick us up, Lucky's brother Robbie (our guide) has been delayed on another safari and Elliott another guide will be with us until tomorrow where Robbie will take over. Luca straight away wants to go in safari vehicle but the tar road out of Maun the vehicle will travel at speed and will be cold and tell him that after the Vet fence he could go in the safari truck with Edwina.
We set off out of Maun on the road up to the game reserves, our aim for the next 6 days is to travel over 500km in the bush camping in the unfenced wild with the animals. The route would traverse 4 main areas, Moremi (a game reserve in the Okavango Delta), Khwai (not a game reserve, but still plenty on animals), Savuti and Chobe Riverfront Game Reserve.
An hour out of Maun we cross the vet fence and immediately start seeing game even before hitting Moremi South Gate, first up was a waterhole with a breeding herd of elephants numbering over 200.
As we enter the park the good gravel road gives way to single tracks with offshoots going off in every direction, I am happy I have a guide to follow as I can see how tourists can get lost in the area when diverting off the main track. We weave in and out of bushes and trees spotting lots of game at one point a hippo runs out of the bushes onto the road and we need to apply the brakes, the hippo keeps trotting along the road until it eventually goes back into the water. Just before lunch we hit our first water crossing, the guide goes first and it doesn't look that deep and I follow behind, the engine slows a little but the white elephant makes it through with water just above the wheel arch.
After lunch we head into the northern end of the park normally not accessible at this time of year but since the rains came late the flood has not arrived yet and we drive around what would normally be islands, the tracks are running in every direction and a lot of the times the guide seems to be making his own tracks directly in the grass, I can see the track on the GPS but I have no idea how the guide remembers there is a track here as there is no signs of any tire marks or cars.
After Dead Tree Island we start to head to our camp for the night 3rd bridge, there are a couple of deep river crossings in our way, the guide approaches the last river crossing, the obvious path goes straight over but that route is fraught with danger with a big hole, the guide turns sharply up the river soon after hitting the water and exits at a point further up river, I follow and as I go for the exit the car bonnet dips sharply and is soon has water flowing over the top of it, the car keeps moving and eventually makes it up the other side. We heard stories back in Maun of fellow campers getting stuck in the river holes and were glad we had a guide to follow.
We head into 3rd Bridge Camp over the clumpy wooden log bridge looking like some of the wood could crumble with an overloaded weight on it. I had heard stories of lions being in camp and the campers having to waiting for them to disappear but luckily only monkeys were there to greet us so we were able to setup camp. We all thought before the trip it would be scary to be in an unfenced but was actually quite calming and didn't feel uneasy, the guide tells us that the game comes later in the night. It starts getting dark as we start cooking and we start hearing the hippos grunting and other beast stirring for the evening.
As the kids have a tendency to leave their tents in the night for the toilet we decided to sleep with the kids Luca and me in the small tent and the rest in the larger tent, both me and Edwina bring a vessel (mine a milk container and Edwina's a flowery printed juice jug with lid) into our tents in case anyone needed to go the toilet as we are not brave enough to head to the toilets in the dark on our own having heard stories of lions waiting outside.
In the middle of the night I wake up needing the loo, I put my head out of the tent and see 3 hyenas in the camp, looks like it's the milk container then.
The next day we get up early, pile into the safari truck and go out for a morning game drive, ever since coming to Africa we wanted to get up and close with a lion and around 2 hrs in we spot one, it's a lioness and the guide drives the safari vehicle within 5ft of the lioness. During the safari drive we hear a strange noise coming from the right hand side of the vehicle and instruct Elliot to stop. The wheel is barely on with only 3 nuts, we trace back our steps and find 2 of the nuts and Elliott tries to put the wheel back but his spanner is broke and cobbles together a wheel nut spanner from a socket, screwdriver and an allen key. Unfortunately it's not enough to permanently secure the wheel and have to stop on a number of occasions to tighten as the wheel keeps loosening. We head back to camp to pack up and head out again. We are leaving Moremi today and heading for Khwai, we lose some time tightening the wheel and have to head to Xakanaxa Lodge where Elliot picks up a wheel spanner for his Land Rover.
In seems like a seating order has naturally occurred, Edwina, Luca and Maddalena ride in the safari truck whilst Arabella rides in the White Elephant with me, she says she doesn't want me to be on my own. Both I and Edwina are surprised how well the kids handle the safari drives, at times a couple of hours can pass without seeing any game but the kids sit their quietly and patiently whilst the parents look for game. But as soon as they get the chance to get off the safari truck back in camp they are quick to grab the guide and start playing hide and seek, at the beginning Edwina and I didn't think anything of it until we see the guide heading into the tall grass to hide then it dawned on us maybe hide and seek is not such a great game to play in an unfenced camp, not to be party poopers they continued fun and games insight of us.
On the way out of Moremi we stop at Hippo Pools for lunch, the kids are a little reluctant to get out at first, as there are around 10 hippos in the water close enough hear their grunting and to make decent eye contact with them it was only a stones throw from our lunch spot, not considering they can run incredibly fast, we also spot a couple of crocodiles sunbathing on the edge of the river. The kids tummies rumbling they have no choice to get over there concerns and join us around the truck for lunch, I disappear with sandwich in hand and head within a few feet of the hippos enjoying my sandwich, Edwina is convinced that I am going to be the hippo's lunch.
We head to Khwai village were we are to swap safari trucks and guides and we bid farewell to Elliot and welcome Robbie who will be our guide all the way to Kasane. We are all excited about going to Khwai is it is good for spotting cats. Edwina and Luca go into Robbies safari truck and head up to Khwai community camp on the way we see wild dogs (extremely rare Robbie tells us) and then 3 lioness, one so close we can hear her crunching the leg of a zebra similar to a dog crunching a bone. We also spot elephant and hippo on our way into camp. Soon after setting up our tents the kids go to play in the bigger tent whilst I and Edwina start getting ready for dinner, at this point an elephant decides to walk into camp and is right next to our truck, we pause for a moment and then I rush to get my camera, the kids are too scared to come out of the tent, the elephant soon gets bored of the bush its munching on and moves away into someone else's camp.
Edwina is cooking on this adventure, using the wood we have transported in and Braai, tonight she cooks up steak, smash with gravy and corn on the cob, with a bean salad, yummy. Food in the evening is a true social event sitting around the campfire chatting about the day's events is a really special time. Also being in an unfenced camp worrying about the wild animals in close proximity went out the window, your fine if you stick round the open roaring fire, but every now and then you turn your back with your head torch shinning into the black obis to see if you can see any eyes glowing close by.
The campsites are not like the UK they are far apart and no chance of getting help when the animals wander in, the ablutions can also be far from the allocated campsite and in Khwai there are none so we would be digging our hole and setting up the toilet alfresco. This makes the long walk to the toilet at Third Bridge more like a military exercise having to be on our guard not knowing what enemy is lurking ready to pounce, but we manage to get everyone toileted we head to bed and are serenaded at night by hippos grunting and lions roaring and the rustling of long grass, looks like we will be using the milk container and flowery jug again tonight.
The next day we again venture out early just as the sun was rising and it's not long before we spot 3 lioness, the same pride from last night, they are lazing around near the river waiting for their next meal to come and drink. We stay with the lionesses as the sun rose and warmed us up for around an hour and followed them down the river. We pass a hippo with a baby and when the hippo spots the lion it opens its mouth and shows its teeth and grunts, enough for the lioness to keep moving. We drove around spotting elephant, hippo, giraffe, zebra, warthog and plenty of antelope. On the way back to camp we spot another pride of lions this time they are 5 and less than a kilometre from camp, we spend some time with them and then meander back to camp for lunch, so far Khwai is certainly living up to its name as a great place to spot cats beyond our expectation.
In camp Edwina does a fantastic job of making girdle scones on the open fire for morning tea smothered in butter and jam a real treat to top off our fantastic morning seeing all the lions. Lunch passes and entertainment follows, games of backgammon, kids having piggy back rides with Robbie and general relaxing we head out on a late afternoon game drive, we didn't see that much but not due to the efforts of the guide, he was an old school guide and knew how to track animals on a number of occasions he would stop the truck wander out and say "Male lion went this way, 2 hrs ago, weighed about 80kg" and we would then start following the tracks but the tracks soon went into the bush making it hard to follow, but we did see lots of hippos in and out of the water including baby hippos.
Back in camp and Edwina starts preparing dinner whilst I get the fire going, Edwina goes into the safari truck to get the ingredients, suddenly I hear a loud screech coming from the truck, an elephant has wandered into camp and is standing right next to the safari truck, Edwina had her back to it with her face buried in the chilli bins getting out the vegetables and on turning around got a rather big fright to see an elephant within metres of her, unbelievable that it crept up to her as quiet as a mouse. Maddalena quickly runs over to the truck for protection, coincidentally the baboons in the tree start screaming at each other, this is enough to send Luca into the truck also whilst Arabella seems unfazed by the commotion and stays put with me at the fire. We talk to Robbie about wildlife, his family, future plans, life in Botswana etc and discover why he has such a dislike for hippos, about a year ago his girlfriend's mother was out working in the fields close to the river edge with a group of other woman, they were cutting long grass for roofing and close by was a cluster of hippos in the water the locals are obviously used to them being close by, but out of nowhere a hippo ambushed the group and killed his girlfriend's mother. Shocking to hear but hippos are one of the biggest killers of people.
Robbie is shattered after entertaining the kids today and goes to the tent for a break, Robbie passes out and we can't wake him for dinner, we eat and put the kids to bed and start to pack up. As I am putting the chairs away my head torch reflects a pair of red eyes in the woods circling the camp, I show Edwina, "I am getting in the bloody tent" she yelps, luckily the eyes then start moving away from camp and we quickly finish up and go to bed. About an hour later we hear the guide outside, he explains in the morning he woke up in a bit of a panic looking outside and seeing his guests gone and wandering what could have come into camp, he quickly comes over to our tents "Are you inside", "Yes, we are all in" we reply, Robbie didn't get his dinner that night.
Next day, up with the early morning sun we set off to Savuti along the Sandridge road, this is the road described in the guide book as very sandy and the one we were hesitate to drive sole, both me and Edwina were surprised at just how easy the road was and actually wasn't that sandy, we were still glad though we hired the guide as we certainly were more adventurous on the tracks we took and think we saw a lot more game with him, he also shared interesting facts about the animals.
On the way we passed a mass migration of buffalo heading south to the water, there must have been in excess of 10,000 buffalo with the trail of buffalo going for several kilometres. Speaking to other guides we passed it seemed that a lot of the cats had left Savuti following the buffalo and picking of the young and elderly. Pulling up in camp and finding our pitch the first thing we do is head to the shower block for a scrub the kids are beyond filthy, the toilet block perimeter is like a fort high walls and a narrow gate to pass through, we later find out it is to deter the elephants from coming to the shower blocks, before the fort was put round you would be in the shower look up and have an elephants trunk steeling your shower water. On our safari drive in the afternoon we didn't get to see any cats but we did stop at some rock painting, they were around 10,000 years old certainly the oldest thing we had ever seen.
Back in camp and Edwina cooks lamb chops accompanied by, fired potato, cabbage with cheese which sounds like a recipe for nightmares and gas, but was very tasty. As we are putting the kids to bed, the guide shouts out "leopard", I look round and see a leopard in camp on the other side of the fire, the guide gestures to come and take a closer look, at this point all rational thinking went out of the window and we proceed to get the kids out of the tent for a closer look, the guide keeps his torch on the leopard and we see it walk into the dark bush, Luca stays in the tent stating he doesn't want to be eaten. As we go to bed we can hear two male lions roaring, the guide says their less than 2 km away, looks like the milk container and flowery jug will be in use again tonight especially having a leopard in such close proximity.
The next day we wake up whilst it's still dark, we can still hear the lions roaring but they seem further away, we pack up and go out in the trucks to see if we can find them but have no luck and decided to start heading north into the Chobe Riverfront area and Ihaha our last camp in the bush. On the way we see little game and pass the occasional zebra and giraffe, around half way Robbie gets out of the truck, I also get out of the White Elephant to see what's wrong, the bumps have taken their toll on his truck and the bolts on his bull bar have come off, the bulbar in true African sprit is being held on by 2 coat hangers only, we decided to take it off and place it on the back seats of the safari truck.
We get to camp and are right on the river front, the Zambezi river is very wide at this point and we can see Namibia on the other side, from here its only 200km to Victoria falls and can start to get a glimpse of just how much water goes over the falls.
Ready for another safari drive we initially spot lots of colourful birds the roller and the bee eater, fish eagle etc Luca is really into his birds and becomes totally engrossed in observing them, back in Maun I bought the kids colouring in books of African animals which they just adore and spend most drives colouring them in, Luca has African birds and he is keen to spot as many birds as he can from his book.
Chobe is famous for large number of elephants and we are surprised to only see 1 on our drive, but to make up for it we spot 3 lions resting under a tree, Robbie can hear some noise further back and drives us round the back where we see another 6 young lions resting on the road, it's starting to get dark and suddenly the lions all get up and start to move, we go back to the river front and follow them down as they look for dinner, at one point the 9 lions have circled the truck and we are stuck in the middle, you have to remember the safari trucks have no doors or windows and it was a bit scary being in the middle, the kids sit motionless and Edwina in here element taking photos but also gets nervous when one lion passes about 1m from her eye balling her the whole time, it certainly got her heartbeat up. Unfortunately the park rules state we have to be back in camp for sunset and we leave the lions starring at a group of impala slowly making their way towards them such a cool sight to see them focused on hunting, they didn't seem fazed by our vehicles following them as they had their eyes on the prize of tasty impala.
Back in camp just on sunset we are greeted by large group of baboons who have decided to make sleep in the 2 trees in our camp, there were some large baboons lurking around keeping an eye on us which made making dinner a little uneasy Edwina gets the fire going quickly hoping it will be a deterrent for the baboons, we speak to the guide about the national dish of Botswana "Seswaa" and he shares his family recipe with us.
Again when we went to sleep we could hear lions roaring in the distance it has become a familiar sound to fall asleep to.
On the last day we were woken up in the early morning by the baboons fighting and decided to packed up and get going. We all drive out of camp on the last day following the river edge, around 1 hour in the guide spots a pride of lions with cubs, the track to the lions goes into the river, the guide goes first, Edwina is in the back and tells me to hold back as she wants to take a photo, I watch Robbie go through the water and it doesn't seem that deep. I skirt the edge of the water, but as I held back I cannot see the exact tracks Robbie took, I decided to stay as close to the bank as possible, suddenly the car dips down sharply deep into the water, it looks like I found a hole, I push the accelerator flat to the floor as the water comes over the bonnet and the White Elephant triumphantly makes it through, for one moment I thought we may have to recover the truck within 50m of a large pride of lions. We head over to the lions and the cubs quickly find refuge in the trees and we sit taking photos and observing of the rest of the pride around 10 lions for the next hour, such a wonderful experience to be so close and observed their natural behaviour.
After the lions we head straight to Chobe Safari Lodge were we say our goodbyes to Robbie. We all loved the experience of the last 6 days, it was so grounding, wild and unpredictable, a real African safari experience being totally at one with nature.
We all enjoyed camping at Chobe Safari Lodge, it is an upmarket lodge that's very artificial and feels very weird after being bush for the past 6 days but just being able to sit around our camp without having to be on the alert for lions, elephants, baboons was a welcome rest bite.
800g slow cooking beef (Traditionally they would use biltong, then no salt needed)
1 whole onion (optional)
3 bay leaves (optional)
Salt to taste
Black pepper (optional)
Water (enough to just cover the meat)
1. If not cooking on an open fire, Pre heat oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Cut meat into large chunks then brown in a casserole dish.
2. Add whole peeled onion, salt, cracked black pepper, water and leaves. Bring to the boil then cover and place into the oven for 6 hours.
3. After 6 hours, remove from oven and place onto stove burner in order to cook off remaining liquid. Use a wooden spoon to pound or mash up the meat, the meat should fall apart and should appear shredded. You can brown the meat further if desired.
4. Serve with pap (or polenta if you can't find) and a side of green vegetables traditionally spinach.