The camp was built and is owned as a joint enterprise between the local San and a white couple living in Maun. The San are one of fourteen extant ancestral clusters from which all modern humans are derived. The very large main tent houses the dining room and a commons room that opens on one side to the grassland and river. The individual tents rather than dome, were in the more traditional safari style –but ah, indeed, still with those refreshing bucket showers. The water had to be heated and brought to our tents. At night it was pleasant to listen to the hippos bellow, the lions roar, and the wild dogs yip. The animals were free to enter the camp were they so inclined. An elephant appeared outside Laura, Julia and Alex’s tent one night.
On arrival, we were the only guests in the camp, and the staff gave us a rousing traditional welcome of song and dance that they were clearly enjoying as much as we. Our guide/driver was named Face. He was an encyclopedia of knowledge, and a driver, over much tougher terrain, that would put some of the Indianapolis Speedway’s drivers to shame. Dining was at a long table adjoining the commons room. On our second day in camp an owner and his wife, and a couple who were friends from Durbin, arrived –interesting to talk to. They, Face, and we dined together. There was a no-charge serve yourself open bar in the commons room: good wines, beer, and that universal lubricant in southern parts of Africa, gin.
In the Jeep
The “Sundowner” has become an essential part of life in parts of Botswana and South Africa, much as afternoon Tea is a part of British life. As the sun is setting, gin and tonics, with lime, are passed around. This tradition was maintained throughout our three days, whether in camp or on safari. The jeep came to a stop in a suitably scenic place, Face, having brought all the ingredients in an ice-chest, fixed the drinks, and gave one to Hobbes, Laura, and I. The kids got a soft drink of their choice. A good tradition. America could benefit from it.
Our jeep safaris were during the four or so hours each morning between breakfast and lunch, and sometimes in the afternoon. We did not set out with the expectation of seeing any particular animal in mind, other than a lion, which we had not seen at Oddballs. Face of course had a good knowledge of where particular species preferred to hang out, but except maybe for the turtle, all of them had wide ranges and would go where they needed to make the kill for their meals. They could be anywhere from one day to the next.
Impala were everywhere. They were the cracker food for the larger species I think. Because there had been no rain since May, most of the animals really had to search for food. In the photos some of the animals are emaciated to one degree or another, but as any real situation some managed to find food more readily than others.
We had hoped to see a pack of wild dogs making a kill, but we saw only one trotting through the grassland. They are highly intelligent animals. Like on a football team, each dog has its specialty: ripping the stomach, severing the foot tendon, jumping on the preys back ….
A few of the photos deserve special mention: the mother leopard hunting with her two juvenile sons bounding playfully behind her, and the lactating lion with her cubs hidden somewhere nearby, flaked out on the grass after a hard nights hunting, are two of them. A third is the Red-crested African Ground Hornbill, and endangered species we were lucky to come across. A dominant male pairs with a hen that produces an egg maybe every two- and-a-half years. But a single fledgling survives only every nine years or so. The other males don’t mate, but help the dominant pair rear their young.
By the end of our second day at Sango we still had not seen any lions. Face was determined that we would see one. He told us to get up before dawn the morning of the fourth day and get in the jeep. He also roused several of his friends out of their beds and sent them to different parts of the reserve in search of lions with instructions to them to radio him if they found one. Because we had a plane to catch to our third camp mid-morning Face drove like a madman to cover ground. Sixty kilometers/hour over rough savannah is quite a kidney massage. At one point I shouted “I think I cracked a nut.” After Laura and the kids got home, Laura asked Alex what was the high point of the trip for him. He said it was when grandpa said “I think I cracked a nut.” Ah, the things that make one famous. Face’s radio crackled. One of his friends had found a lactating lioness. Face picked up speed. Julia loved the speed, the bouncing, and wind on her face –huge smile, arms in the air. Nothing in Disneyland approached this. It was an aspect of her personality I had never seen before. I turned to Laura, and smiled: wild one you have there my daughter. She’s giving you a glimpse of what you will have to deal with when she becomes a teen.
From Sango Camp we flew into Kasane airport, where Vasco, who would be our guide over the next three days, met us and drove us to the lodge. The lodge is in Kasane National Forest. Oddballs had a total of 14 tents; Sango had 10, though at each of these we were the only guests, our November stay coming toward the end of the season and the start of the Christmas holidays and school vacations. Elephant Valley Lodge had 20 tents, though again, there were only a few guests beside ourselves staying there. Though adjacent to Chobe National Park, the park was half-an-hours drive from the lodge. This took an hour of time each day that would otherwise have been spent viewing wildlife.
Oddballs and Sango had the warm feel of, and indeed were owned and run by, families, Elephant Valley had more the feel of a not-particularly-well-managed business more interested in a well-manicured lawn than in the comfort of their guests. We had chosen this lodge because it had a swimming pool, and we figured Alex and Julia would be ready for one after the hiking and riding in the hot sun at Oddballs and Sango. After Laura cleared the pool of dead insects and decaying leaves they jumped in with glee. That evening at dinner, the termites decided to swarm, and we were treated to their wings dropping onto our food because the dining room host had seated us under a bright light. Julia has an insect phobia and much of the dinner was spent calming her down, Jon by showing her how to eat termites. That said, the food was good, with items like crocodile, impala, kudu, and warthog steaks being on the menu, ordered, and eaten. I advanced Hobber’s birthday a few days and asked if the lodge might do something special for him at dinner the next night. They baked a birthday cake for him, and in presenting it sang in Setwana and danced around our table.
The tents were large, with good beds, and a spacious bathroom and regular shower inside the tent and an integral part of it. Although the tent had several side vents, for some reason the management kept them covered with the canvas flaps and the arrangement was such that we could not roll them up easily. Instead of the fresh African night air cooling our sleep, we used the electric fan. provided. Not an eco-friendly place. There were enough lights on the lawn to power a small city. At Oddballs and Sango one was in the bush. Here one was in an establishment, though a pleasant enough one. There was a light outside our tent. The light shade was made of small twigs from a thorn tree. It made a convenient hanger on which to dry my washed boxers.
Mox, one of the staff, took a liking to our family, and in spare moments Hobbes, Julia, and Alex took turns at playing chess with him.
To view wildlife Vasco drove us through both grassland and along the banks of the Chobe River. On one of these excursions we were caught in a sudden downpour. Pity the poor fellow who ventures out without a 4-wheel drive and undersized tires.
Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, and Zimbabwe all come together in this northeastern corner of Botswana. Near the lodge, Botswana and Zambia form the northern and southern banks of the Chobe River on its way to join the Zambezi River . One afternoon we cruised the river for several hours in a flat-bottomed aluminum boat that gave us an opportunity to see close up wildlife along both shores that would have been otherwise inaccessible to us. The short slideshow below is meant only to give a sense of the river. The wildlife we saw will be part of the next post. The small green building toward the end of the slideshow was Zambian border control