Tuesday, October 11, 2011

THIS Is Worth Getting Up Early For!

Since we had a really short ride to Chobe today, we actually slept in and spent a leisurely morning enjoying breakfast along the river and rearranging our duffel bags to make better sense of them. The Namibia-Botswana border was only about 35 miles from Katima Mulilo, so we made it there in no time. After filling out our Namibian exit forms and a getting a few more stamps on our documents, we were on our way across the bridge to Botswana. Before we got to the Immigrations and Customs building, we had to pass the anti-hoof and mouth disease checkpoint, which involved stamping our shoes on a wet rug in a basin and driving our bikes through about a 9-inch deep pool of muddy water (this was officially my second water crossing!). Once we completed our Botswana entry forms, got our passports and Carnet paperwork stamped and signed again, we rode almost immediately into Chobe National Park, where we had to sign in and register our vehicles before we could continue. This is when things got interesting.

Within the first mile of entering Chobe, the welcoming committee appeared. As I did yesterday, I rode, scanning from side to side for animals, and slammed on the brakes to see the elephants eating about 50 feet to the left of the road. Colin came back to see the “elephants in the corner of the room” and we watched them for a few minutes before continuing onward. Maybe five minutes later, we both hit the brakes again, this time, for the giraffes off to the right of the road. And before I even got back up to speed after seeing the giraffes, there were zebras! The number of animals we saw, just on the public road transiting the park was amazing.

Colin and I were both so engrossed in the scenery that we more or less forgot that we needed to refuel until we headed up a hill, and my bike coughed and then, stopped. We pulled off the road to fill the tanks, and at this point we realized that for the first time ever, we were in an area where we were not the biggest predators. We both kept an eye out for anything with big teeth while we worked, but Colin was not at all amused when I called, “here, kitty kitty, come here, puss puss puss,” before we got back on the bikes to ride STOP! ride STOP! and look some more. This went on for the thirty-some odd mile journey to the town of Kasane, where we would camp for the night. When we arrived at the lodge and campgrounds, we set up our tent in the communal campsite and booked a day trip into Chobe National Park for the next day. We spent the rest of the day doing laundry, relaxing in the pool, and giving Colin a much-needed al fresco haircut sitting on the edge of the pavilion in our campsite.

The next morning was an early one. Many of you know that I  am not and have never been a morning person, and it has to be something really important for me to get up at 5:00am. We had to meet for a game drive at 5:30am, so we did just that, jumped out of the tent, splashed water on our faces, brushed our teeth, and grabbed the camera and binoculars for the trip. Our ride for the morning was a large, open-sided safari truck, 4WD (of course), and we all piled in for the journey. The sun was just on the rise as we entered the park. Our guide, Richard, stopped to lock the front hubs on the truck before we started down the deep, sandy tracks. Shortly after we entered, we stopped to watch elephants eating in the woods. We drove farther and saw a herd of impalas, then a pile of banded mongooses feverishly digging through the dead leaves and dirt for bugs. Then we drove a little farther and stopped near a kudu carcass, where we actually glimpsed a wild dog for just a moment! Wild dogs are supposedly the most endangered carnivore in Africa, so I feel really fortunate to have seen one at all.

Our progress was slow along the tracks, and Richard stopped anytime anyone asked him to in order to see the wildlife. He was a great guide, telling us the names of animals, about their behaviors, numbers in the park and beyond, and about the scenery.  We drove along a waterhole, where more impalas, water buffaloes, and water bucks fed before riding up a hill and stopping by a tree in full leaf to see a LEOPARD. It had apparently already eaten and was napping, stretched out along a limb. We could see its hind legs hanging lazily, toes pointed down, tail along another branch, front legs stretched out. We watched it barely move through the binoculars (its tail twitched, and its front paws flexed). AMAZING! When everyone in the truck said to proceed, Richard drove on, stopping for impalas, antelope, beautiful birds, including carmine bee-eaters, fish eagles, and all sorts of other creatures. We passed another truck headed out, and the driver told Richard there were lions ahead. So he drove us on, and sure enough, on a small hill up ahead, were four lionesses snoozing in the morning sun. It was incredible! When we rode back, we passed the leopard in the tree and stopped to watch it again since it was climbing to another branch. This time, we saw its face!  Before we left, we passed the kudu carcass again, but now it was nearly stripped dry by the hundred-plus vultures perched in the trees above. We rode back to the campground after about four hours of game viewing and picture taking, totally in awe.

When we got back to the campground, Colin and I had to move our gear and tent to another site, since one of the big safari companies had reserved the spot where we had stayed. So we picked up and moved to the one that was recommended by the security guard who was standing in reception, which was big, empty, and right near the Chobe River's edge. We had coffee, some breakfast, and tried to absorb everything from the morning.  Later that afternoon, a fellow camper named Christel, from Rouen, France, walked over with her uninflatable Thermarest pad to see if we might have a repair suggestion.  We got our sleeping pad repair kit out and glued a patch on the hole she located.  While we stood around chatting, the security guard who recommended the campsite came to see if everything was okay.  We resoundingly said yes, it was great, and thanked him for the advice.  He said it was a nice spot and that on many evenings, hippos and elephants will walk along the river in front of the site.  Since it was just about time for us to meet up again for a boat ride on the Chobe River, we packed our bag with the camera and binoculars again and climbed on the same truck from the morning trip and rode it to the jetty, where we boarded a large pontoon boat. Our guide was again Richard. As we rode, he and the boat's captain told us some of the history of the islands in the middle of the river and about the animals we should see. Soon after we took off, we started seeing elephants out on the islands. And LOTS of birds. And then, hippos. We stopped to look at them all, watching the hippos raise the tops of their heads out of the water to look at us. The captain moved the boat out farther into the river, and we felt and heard something BUMP! on the bottom of the boat. They said it was a hippo. Fearing we'd hit it, the guides told us just how territorial hippos are, and that they actually ram boats and try to flip them when they enter hippo territory. The hippos will then bite the people in the boat, kill them, and leave them to the crocodiles. Feeling happy that we were in a large, stable boat, we continued on, and as Colin and I looked behind the boat, we saw... a hippo rise out of the water like a porpoise with its jaws open wide. WOW! I had no idea they could move like that and cannot believe we were looking in the right place to see it happen! We saw crocodiles lying on the riverbanks in the sun, watching the unsuspecting birds and buffaloes, more impalas, more river bucks, and large herds of a different kind of antelope called a red lweche. 

The sun was setting as we cruised slowly along the river, watching the animals and truly enjoying the whole experience. We rounded a turn in the river and saw huge herds of elephants, on the islands and on the shore. We watched a group of about fifteen elephants of various ages drink at the edge of the water. Through the binoculars, I noticed something very small rolling in the water at the very edge, behind the bigger elephants. It was a tiny baby! I asked Richard how old it was, and he suspected it was only a few days old, which was kind of what I suspected since I could see what looked like umbilical cord.  Richard said that when they're born, they don't know how to use their trunks to drink, so they kneel down to drink with their mouths, which we watched it do.  The herd turned to leave the shore, and as they walked, I could see the mother elephant guiding her baby with her trunk.  It was such a sweet sight!  We also watched as huge adult elephants walk from the shore to the islands. The water is too shallow for them to swim, so when they walk across, you can only see the tops of their heads and backs. As they exit the water, they look like they've been painted for battle with a two-tone black and gray paint job. I was so overwhelmed by everything we'd seen in this one single day that I cried as we rode back to the jetty.

When we got back to the campground, Colin and I had a quiet dinner and tried to process the events of the day. We headed back to our campsite afterward and heard rustling in the grass between us and the river. Sure enough, there were nearly a dozen elephants grazing in the grasses and trees just beyond our campsite. It REALLY doesn't get any better than this. Today was one of the very best days of my entire life!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  1. Amazing pictures Rebekah!!! So glad you're able to see all of this!!! Love the "here kitty, kitty". LOL Take care and safe travels!!!

  2. It is good to see pictures. Love that everything is coming together. Great post.