Week 4 (and a half): June 25 - July 5
Route: Maun - Central Kalahari Game Reserve - Maun - Kwai - Savuti - Machenje - Kasane
Kms driven: all of them (about five thousand in total)
Bottles of beer that opened themselves and spilled in the fridge due to the bumpy-ass driving: two
Elephants seen: about two thousand
So John and Phoebe said goodbye to Ronnie and Ben in Maun, and ventured down to the mythical Kalahari, home of the fabled black-maned lions.
Opinions differed as to how long it would take to drive there - Google Maps said 11.5 hours, our paper map said six, and some guy at the bar estimated eight. Given the fact that our campsite was actually way further than we thought, we did pretty well to get there in around eight and a half hours. It was about as remote as you get: no cell reception, no shops or people for 100kms. We drove through the Sunday Pan on the first day, and saw honey badgers, chanting goshawks, giraffes, zebras, elephants, and gemsbok herds, all right beside the road. Well, I say road. It was more like a long sandpit. It was easy to spot animals because it wasn’t possible to drive faster than 20kms an hour.
The campsites were lovely - situated on hillsides, very basic, but completely isolated and private. We expected there to be more noise from the wildlife, but it was totally silent.
On the second day we drove around Leopard Loop (though tragically, saw no leopards) and watched a pair of bat-eared foxes playing in the grass for about half an hour - they were adorable - kind of like raccoons, but with huge ears. We spotted lots of tiny steenbok in the underbrush, but didn’t find any lions. We did spend the whole next morning following fresh lion tracks as we drove out of the park, getting very excited, but in the end not seeing any.
We reunited with Ronnie and Ben, showered for the first time in three days, and then set off north into Chobe National Park, on the worst road yet! After being thrown around in the back of the car for nearly three hours, we arrived at what we thought was our campsite (which didn’t actually exist in anyone’s maps or our GPS), and were told that actually, our voucher was invalid, and had been sold to us by people who USED to work there, and were now selling the vouchers as a scam. The good news was that they did actually run a campsite that we were told was only a km or so back down the “road”. VERY skeptical, and tired, and not excited about getting back in the car, but even less excited about paying for a campsite twice. So back in the car we went.
Shockingly, it was an actual campsite, and we had a lovely night by the river, disturbed only by the noises of hippos and lions (which we were now pretty used to). Phoebe threatened the boys with physical violence if they didn’t get on the road by seven the next morning, as the sandy roads are easier to maneuver in the cold, and animal sightings were supposedly more likely in the morning.
The road into Chobe was horrendous, but after an hour it levelled out, and opened up into a huge salt flat. We saw herds of wildebeest and springbok - pretty par for the course by this stage, but, just as we were getting ready to drive off, phoebe spotted something else moving through the long grass: lions. At last! We had stalked a hunting group of lions in Okavango, but had never gotten close, and they had been on the move the whole time, so we prayed that we would be able to catch up with these. They were heading for the road, and we drove up to meet them, and as we got closer, we saw that it was a family group - three females and four cubs! By amazing good luck, they all flopped down in the shade in an open space beside the road, and we were able to creep up right beside them - they weren’t at all bothered by the car, nor by the very nervous family of giraffes who happened to be grazing nearby.
We were all in seventh heaven!
After watching them for an hour or so, they got up to wander off, and we kept driving to Savuti campsite, on the way trying unsuccessfully to find another pride who had killed a giraffe, but who had probably dispersed before we got there. The campsite was....not great. Deep sand, no shade, nowhere to sit. There were no game drives available until the following afternoon, and although John and Phoebe attempted to do one themselves, they didn’t see much. When a massive bull elephant came trampling through the campground that night, causing Ben, Ronnie and Phoebe to retreat into the car (much to John’s disgust), we all decided it was time to leave. After MORE hours of horrendous road driving, we made it to Muchenje, and booked into a gorgeous little riverside campsite.
We spent the next two days exploring the Chobe Riverside and flood plains, spotting literally hundreds of elephants, crocodiles, zebra, buffalo, hippos, kudu, waterbuck, sable, roan, and of course, springbok and impala. We took a wonderful river cruise for John’s 70th birthday, and saw a plethora of birds (which made his day). We were sad not to see any leopards or hunting dogs, but the odds weren’t good.
We Spent our last night in Botswana in the beautiful Senyanti Camp, and saw another huge family of elephants at their waterhole at sunset, who cause quite a stir when, for no apparent reason, they stampeded out fo the water, RIGHT towards the hide where twenty or so people were seated, open mouthed. At the very last second they swerved off into the darkness. It was amazing!
We survived the border crossing to Zimbabwe (although our driver managed to get a ticket and we got an impromptu tour of the Kasane Police Station - complete with a vintage Baobab Tree Jail Cell) and arrive din Victoria Falls, our final destination as a foursome. The lodge where we are staying is gorgeous! For a bit of an adrenaline rush, we booked ourselves on a trip to Livingstone Island and the fabled “Devil’s Pool” - a natural infinity pool that lets you swim right out to the edge of the falls. Victoria Falls. It was, without doubt, one of the best things we have ever done - scary as shit but AMAZING! There was a perfect rainbow behind us as we sat in the pool with a couple of new friends (nothing bonds strangers like the feeling of abject terror), and the mist from the falls was rising all around as we tried our best not to look down….
This afternoon we are going to high tea, and tomorrow John and Phoebe are going horse riding, and then we say goodbye to Ronnie (who is spending the rest fo the summer bouldering in Rocklands, South Africa) and John, Ben and Phoebe head East… to Kilimanjaro!