chobe NP

The Okavango Delta – Another check off the bucketlist!

The Okavango Delta - Another check off the bucketlist!

Part II of the elephant paradise, and much, much more!

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Where did we left off in the last blog… Oh right, Savuti in Chobe NP, and Sisi’s not so slowly and very steadily draining fuel tank due to the deep sand (if you missed it, read it here). Depending on how you look at it, Lars would say her bottom is too big (like a real African woman). I would say it is too small (like a Japanese woman, which, as you know, she is). Her bottom, also known as the fuel tank, is the lowest part of Sisi. Thus it is the part that drags on deep-sand roads. It slows us down, causing more fuel use. However, compared to other 4x4 cars her tank is much smaller, only 70 litres, which is what limits the amount of kilometres!

Anyway, one unsolved discussion later, we are still in Savuti and we know that we are not even half way. We are not sure what the road conditions will be in the Okavango, so we’re a bit nervous. Would we be able to drive another 2,5 days in Okavango? Would we even be able to make it in one go to Maun, in case we need extra fuel? We simply didn’t have a clue and decided to gamble a bit. YOLO!

The little hornbill (aka Zazoo) that frowned upon our YOLO attitude!

We set off and by the time we finally reached the gate, we still weren’t sure. So we made use of our "amazing" math skills, after which we could make the educated guess that we would definitely not be able to make it back to Maun if we went into the Okavango straight away. That was decided, we had to go back to Maun, and we had to be fast because we needed to call the booking office to cancel our campsite. We made it in time, or actually Lars did, with insane driving skills and a lot of major ass bumping that might have popped anyone else’s tyre but Sisi’s. We called, but.. the booking office did not pick up. Unfortunate, but not unsolvable, we stayed at Maun for the night at a campsite, picking one with WiFi so we could turn this bad luck in some good use; we downloaded an app called Tracks4Africa. It is a navigation app which can be used offline with aaaallll the roads on it (well almost all), including the small 4x4 tracks you can’t even call roads in, for example, the National Parks. Vera and Eddie had used it their whole trip and told us it was definitely worth the price. We agreed after only one day, and are even more convinced by now. It really gives us a sense of freedom as now we  always know where are and how long it will take us to arrive at our destination.

The next morning we drove back those 130 km’s, thereby passing through the south gate of Moremi NP, so we could watch some wildlife around the so-called Black Pools. But we had to be in Khwai village before 16.30, because that’s when the booking office would close. So we arrived there around 16.00… And only then did we find out it was Sunday…. Somehow, it seems to be Sunday everyday here, or at least, always when we need something! And of course, on Sunday they are closed. What to do! Okay, we just went to the campsite. Thank God, we downloaded that app so now we were able to find it! And we took a detour along the river, because it looked interesting. And interesting it was, it made us find out that the whole Khwai area, even though not officially a National Park, is as much a wildlife area as Moremi or Chobe. In fact, it is the connection between the two parks. So it was beautiful! We drove along the river, and every 50 meters we saw an elephant drinking or grazing. By the time we finally got to our campsite, we were so happy! And then it turned out we had the best campsite, again!! We were on the edge with on one side a plain and on the other side the river. Wauw, it was the best place we’ve stayed so far. Because we had some time before sundown, we did a little tour, where I sat on top of the car (ssshh don’t tell anyone), and it was soooo much fun! And then we watched the sun set from our rooftoptent. It was just perfect, not even changed by the fact that a mouse bit my toe when I was hugging Lars.

A beautiful view on the river and the setting sun as an elephant passes by to elevate the beauty to a whole new level!

When we sleep in a wildlife area, our ears always seem to attune to the sounds of the animals. That night we heard many; hippos, elephants, baboons and even lions and a leopard. We heard them in the morning, both not too far away. Excited as we were, we left without breakfast to find these animals. Even though we were unsuccessful, it was a good drive through a beautiful water rich area. In the afternoon, we finally made it to the booking office and were told we could stay the night we missed, without paying extra! So nice! We also made a booking to go with a mokoro that afternoon. This is a small, traditional boat used for hundreds of years by the locals. Imagine the boats in Venice, but then one size smaller, they do include a gondolier as well! Because we had some time before the Mokoro would leave, we thought we should try and find the place. So, we arrived there early and were greeted by the manager of a camp and also, supposedly, a trained guide… We thought to just put our chairs under a tree and relax a bit, make our lunch whatever. That was all good, but this guy joined us… As well as the elephants we mentioned in the previous blog (read it here). And so, as well-raised as we are, we talked with the guy even though it was quite awkward. He talked a lot about himself, and maybe he thought we were some naive, credulous tourists, but he tried to convince us that elephants live about 15 years. 15? We double-checked, making sure we heard right, that he hadn’t said 50... No, 15 years, sometimes a little bit older…. Which is simply not true. Elephants, and hippos as well, they can become as old as 50, and elephants even 60 years old. I don’t know if he realized his lie, or if he simply didn’t know any better. But it was clear he was definitely not a trained guide... And he would be the one taking us on the mokoro?? But just as we were about to leave, a game vehicle with a lot of people arrived. Lucky for us, because it included the official mokoro guide. Even though he smelled a bit like alcohol (and the rest of the group acted like insane drunks), he didn’t act like it and he showed a lot of knowledge and breathed an air of peace. Which is perfect if you go on a mokoro ride, I assure you.

The ride itself was beautiful, we slowly floated forward, surrounded by gorgeous waterlilies, meanwhile enjoying the peace and quiet and the sounds of the birds. We also stopped to stretch our legs. The guide showed us a Hamerkop nest (full-on villa!), and he also explained that they use the clay from termite mounds to pave their houses. This is a very old tradition done by many, many generations before this guide. The people from Khwai village are part of the San people (bushman) and used to live in Moremi Game Reserve, way further into the Okavango delta, for hundreds of years. They were relocated to the Khwai area, on the edge of the Okavango, were they actively participate in the conservation of the environment. And what a beautiful area it is, full with wildlife!

After our relaxing mokoro tour we went back to the campsite. It was a bit after sunset, so we started cooking in the dark. We hadn’t seen a shop for a while, so it was time to break open one of the cans with salmon in it. Now, you think, what has our dinner to do with the story?! Let me tell you! Lars had emptied the extra fluids from the can about five meters from where we were sitting. He had just finished his dinner and I was still eating, when he heard something behind him. He turned around… then turned back to me and said: “Kellie, hyena!” WTF! The hyena was just within our light circle at about five meters, and we saw him sniffing around, not even seeming to notice us. He was definitely trying to find that salmon! And when he couldn’t, he just walked away into the dark… We got our big torch out and tried to find him, but he had disappeared. It should have been scary, because I know hyena’s are dangerous. But at that moment it was more exciting than scary, mainly because its absolute lack of interest in us! I think Lars felt the same way, although… after the hyena left he did keep walking around with the torch, shining into every bush. And then of course another important part of this story… Both me and Lars had to go to the toilet for a number two, so to say… And this was after we had seen the hyena in our camp. At this campsite, this would be your toilet: dig a hole in the ground, do your business, cover it up. Now normally, I would do that a little bit away from the camp.. but this time though, I couldn’t give a shit about privacy, Lars had to be near! But the circumstances made it absolutely the hardest shit (not literally, luckily) I have taken in my life.

Let’s get back to some civil conversation. The following morning we had to say goodbye to the area, but not after another morning drive. This was our last chance to find that leopard in a tree, you know, the one that had been on our bucketlist since we set foot in Africa three years ago, and which we had hoped to find in this area! The highest chance of finding carnivores is during the early morning hours, and as these hours were fading, our hope faded as well. Even though we had a beautiful game drive, we couldn't escape that touch of disappointment.

Just when we were about to move on, we saw the game drive vehicle with the people we had met the day before. Out of good manners we didn’t just drive by, but stopped to say goodbye. And I’m soooooo happy we did, because believe it or not, they had seen a leopard in a tree not even fifteen minutes ago. They were sure she would still be there and so the game driver was so kind to take us there. It was so close, but the drive there felt like hours to us (five minutes tops). When we rounded a corner, and saw another game vehicle, we knew she was still there! We looked up in the tree, and there she was, a very young female looking at everything going on below her. Beautiful! We couldn’t believe our luck. What an amazing goodbye. Or so we thought…

Finally, there she was, waiting for us to find her! What a beautiful animal, so elegant!

The leopard wasn’t our only goodbye! We had decided to take the scenic route back, so we followed the river area a little further. When we rounded a corner we were overwhelmed by a valley full of elephants! There must have been at least 500 within our sight, and probably a lot more in the surrounding bushes. And as this was obviously a road not well driven, we were the only ones there. It was amazing. We parked the car under a tree, climbed on the roof and just enjoyed. There were males and females of all ages, some grazing, some bathing, some fighting and we even saw two little ones playing with each other. There was so much to watch, and so much interaction. Luckily, we had gotten to know how to move around elephants by now, because we had to manoeuvre through this valley filled with elephants to get to the other side! There was only one point where it got a little bit excited, because on the track we had to take, were three elephants with a younger one.. and they didn’t seem inclined at all to move for us. We tried to push them very slowly, but then two big bulls decided to put their trunks in someone else’s business; they came at us with their ears wide, trumpeting! Even though we knew it was a mock charge, it is still scary, because these animals are huge!! And because we were surrounded by them, so we did not want them to infect the rest with their excitement. So instead of following the track, I decided it was okay to just move a bit around it for this time. I’m pretty sure people will understand.

Botswana had shown us one last time that they are the perfect elephant paradise. And this whole morning had been the perfect ending to the most amazing wildlife experiences in our lives. Now we can move on to the next stop, a cultural one this time; Tsodilo Hills (read it here).

-Kellie-

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Chobe National Park – An Elephant Paradise

Chobe National Park – An Elephant Paradise

Chobe National Park - An Elephant Paradise

Part one of our beautiful wildlife adventure in the North of Botswana

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While writing this story, outside on a chair, we are looking at an elephant heading our way... wondering if he will come closer (also wondering if we would like it if he would). He is relaxed, casually browsing with his 5th leg slapping against his underbelly. Show-off! No match to be found here, even our local ‘guide’ (more on him later) looks impressed. Anyway, while the elephant walks slowly around us we are astounded by the huge number of elephants here in Botswana. Five days ago, we entered Chobe National Park and travelled all the way down through Savuti and on to Khwai/Moremi NP where we are now. Our adventure started in Kasane for what we hoped was going to be the best wildlife experience of the trip! Expectations were high and we were excited to start our journey through the African wilderness. Before we entered Chobe with our car, we decided to book a boat tour over the Chobe river. Around 15.30 we boarded the boat which could just as well have been a German retirement home on the water; except for us and a young German couple, the remaining 40 persons were probably using up their pension. Luckily, they did not spoil the experience, which was a refreshing experience after driving so many kilometres. For about three hours they navigated and parked us close to hippos, elephants, crocs, antelopes and birds that lived in and along the river. While having the pleasure of sipping a cold cider, we had some wonderful sightings.

The following morning, we arrived at the entrance gate of Chobe National Park at 7am precisely (opening time for self-drivers) to be ahead of the others. The plan for the day was to drive along the Chobe Riverfront (a route of about 50 kilometres). The best sightings were a lion and lioness (a bit hidden in the bushes), a baby baboon riding on the back of her mother (Jiihaa!), a lot of fish eagles and a huge herd of about 200 elephants. The last one took our breath away. We entered a viewpoint that provided us an overview of a cleared area next to the water that was filled with elephants. Later, we found out that many small herds of elephants come together at places where water or/and food is plentiful. Here they’ll form mega herds of hundreds to even a thousand elephants. However, they are only able to do this in this region, because Botswana houses about 250.000 elephants. This is about 25% of the world’s population! An absolute elephant paradise!

Later that afternoon we arrived at Muchenje where we filled the petrol tank for the last time and stayed at Muchenje campsite for the night. While sitting on the deck with our dinner, we had a beautiful view of the sunset. One of the owners joined us, a former British man (he left the UK about 40 years ago), and we talked about the area, Botswana and it’s presidents. The next morning we relaxed a bit at the pool and then left for the remaining part of Chobe (Linyanti and Savuti).

Before entering the park there was a sign “engage 4x4, deep sand ahead”. We have been told to do this before where we didn't listen and everything was fine, so we ignored this sign as well, Sisi would be able to handle anything. But the sand got deeper and deeper and after a few kilometers we did decide to stop and deflate the tires for more traction. That did the trick and we drove on until we stumbled onto a vehicle that was stuck in the deep sand. The main problem with the sand is that in between the tracks of tires the sand is elevated. Vehicles with relatively low clearance level will drag there bottoms on the sand, creating more friction, until… they come… to a stop. This happened with the Australian (Eddie) and Norwegian (Vera) couple we run into. As good citizens we got out of the car and walked towards them, equipped with our spade, and a big smile on our faces. They responded in kind. You know those people that take everything as it is and try to make the best out of it? Meet Eddie and Vera. What happened was that they had stopped without thinking about the sand, because there were elephants next to the road! As soon as the elephants left, they hit the gas, but nothing happened… They were stuck. And that’s when we came in. We started to recover the car together and while reaching under their car we learned that it is actually really fun to dig someone else’s car out of the sand. Eddie told us about reading that “this road swallows cars for breakfast”. An exciting prospect, considering we are lying under a car right at the beginning of this road. After a few tries and pushes the car was out. Now it was our turn… Kellie took a sprint and went through this bit in one go! On the other side we met up with Eddie and Vera who thanked us with a cold beer. We learned that they were heading the same way as us and left in convoy together.

Our sunset view dinner from the deck at Muchenje campsite.

Only a few kilometres further we had to stop again. Not for Eddie and Vera, but for a car filled with four Dutchies. This makes it sound like there are loads of cars on this road, but actually these were the only cars we came across. And all of them got stuck in the sand. The Dutchies told us that this was the third time (!) that day that they got stuck. And in the following 5 km, we helped them recover their car three more times… Welcome to the African bush! We finally told them to keep the car in low gear, try to drive on the side of the road instead of in the tracks to remain a high clearance, and just keep hitting the gas no matter how much noise your car makes. Plus, we drove ahead to find the best parts of the road and clear some of the deepest sand. And that’s when they finally managed to get through the last 8 km.

Our car was fine and we made it to Linyanti with our confidence skyrocketing. Noticing that our 98’, self-bought and fitted, Landcruiser could take on all that Africa has to offer better than many of the far newer, and much more expensive, rental cars made us feel really good. In addition, we got the best campsite of the camp, with a great overview of a small river. At arrival we saw elephants grazing and enjoying the water down in the river in the light of the setting sun. It doesn’t get any better than this! Because of the amazing view we invited Eddie and Vera to stay at our campsite. They willingly accepted and we had the most wonderful braai. A true African feast; with beetroot salad, potato salad, capsicum, corncobs with butter, chicken and boereworst. The rest of the night we spent talking and laughing around the campfire; the perfect ending of an exciting day!

Our camping spot at Linyanti. If you look closely, you can find the elephants on this picture!

The next morning we decided to wake early to search for wildlife with Eddie and Vera. We took some of the loops in search of the lions we had heard that night, and the tracks we found that almost moved into our camp. All the campsites we booked in game areas, are not fenced, so any animal can walk through, which makes camping a lot more exciting! We didn’t find the lions, but we found some elephants and a roan antelope. From there on we took the road that, we thought, lead us to Savuti (in the middle of Chobe). After a few kilometres we found a huge dead elephant skull along the road. We stepped out of the car to stretch our legs and make some pictures of it. At the same moment a helicopter flew over us and started to circle the area around us. We waved like well-behaved tourists, to show that we are not poachers. What poacher would wave at a helicopter, right? But we were pretty nervous. Even more so when the helicopter started to land on the same road we were parked! At that moment I thought we were in a whole lot of trouble. Pretending confidence though, we walked towards the helicopter from which three game guards, one with a big rifle, exited. Even more nervous. Once cleared from the helicopter they asked us what we were doing here. We answered that we were interested in the elephant skull . Then they asked us if we weren’t scared of lions. We answered that we weren’t. Luckily, this broke the ice and they followed us to the skull. They began to explain how you can see if an elephant died of natural causes or poaching, as this was the reason they landed in the first place. We just happened to be there... Afterwards, they stressed that we shouldn’t leave the safety of the car while in the park and they pointed us in the right direction. We, of course, waited for the helicopter to ascend before turning around and driving off. Another experience added to the list!

Along the road we stopped next to a big elephant bull. We think he was curious as he kept coming closer to the car. He didn’t send any warning signals to us so we stayed put and waited for him to pass… but he didn’t. He came even closer and at a certain moment I could have touched his trunk if I wanted to. At that moment though he got too close for comfort, and I decided to move the car slowly forward. My heart was pounding like crazy while I watched how he would respond to revving of the engine. He stayed relaxed though and just crossed the road behind us. With big eyes Eddie and Vera looked at us (they were in front), and we exchanged how exciting that was. After this experience the road got worse; deep sand for kilometres in one stretch. At this moment we started to notice that our fuel was going a lot faster than normal, which worried us a lot because we had a long way to go! We calculated that the car was consuming 1 litre for every 4 kilometres, which is ridiculously inefficient; normally it is about 1 litre for every 8 kilometres (also not great). We did not even think of driving back to Muchenje though; we had an expensive reservation at Savuti that evening. This created some uncertainty as we were not sure if would be able to make it to the other side (about 250 kilometres further). For us though, the only option was forward, deeper into the wilderness…

Arriving at the entrance gate in Savuti we heard that a lion pride had killed an elephant. We drove around but couldn’t find any signs of the kill, which should have been only 300 meters from the gate... Hunger won from curiosity, and we first made a quick lunch. With our bellies filled we continued the search. Kellie and I eventually found the lions by tracking the tracks of other cars into the bush. They were lying under a bush, their bellies even thicker than ours. We never found the elephant. From there we had an afternoon game drive through the Savuti Marsh, a supposedly wet area but at this time of year no water drop to be found. Nevertheless, the plains were stunning with cumulus clouds in the background. And to stretch our legs we even climbed a small hill to visit some rock art.

Overall, the wildlife on this drive was a bit scarce, which we hadn’t expected after reading the Lonely Planet (expectations are always bad). So we were kind of disappointed when we drove back towards camp. Suddenly, we saw a big dust cloud ahead of us; the sign of a big herd (buffalo or elephant) on the move. It were about a hundred buffalo’s and they were heading for the waterhole that was very close to the lions we had found earlier! All the buffalo’s gathered around the waterhole, a hole way too small to accommodate them all. Then an elephant tried to push through the herd of buffalo’s to get to the water, which was already occupied by two hippo’s as well. Just before it reached the water, it got scared of something and ran away, trumpeting. Then, out of nowhere, the lions suddenly appeared! They were after the buffalo’s and the herd started to move. Not chaotically, as one might expect, but very organized. We could feel and hear the enormous amount of hoofs smashing against the ground as a big cloud of dust covered the area. After a few moments the dust settled and a battleground between prey and predator emerged; the leaders of the buffalo’s and lions were facing each other. In turn they charged one another, measuring the strength and confidence of their opponent. One bull buffalo charged! The lions retreated, afraid of the massive horns of the buffalo. They only stayed put for a bit, and then the lions set in the chase again. The lions made several attempts to brake the formation of the buffalo herd to seclude one from the rest. And this went on and on right in front of us. It felt like we were in a National Geographic documentary! The only thing we missed was the voice of David Attenborough. The hunting lions were with five lionesses and a one young male, the adult males were being typical lions. We found them lying about 50 metres away; watching the spectacle just like us. The kings of the savanna do not hunt, they get fed. Unfortunately, it was getting really dark as the lions continued the hunt. We knew we had to go back to camp, even though we did not see the conclusion of the battle. Without a choice, we decided to look for any signs of who won in the early morning the next day. At the campfire, we talked the day and especially the evening over with Eddie and Vera while preparing another feast. What a sighting!! We slept like babies (didn’t even wake when a small herd of elephants walked through our camp).

The next morning we said goodbye to Eddie and Vera (we had an amazing time with you guys!!), and headed to where the battle had taken place the previous night. And we couldn’t believe our eyes! We found a carcass surrounded by lions, however, it was not a buffalo! Apparently, the buffalo’s had won the battle and instead the lions had killed a medium-sized elephant! Because of the huge population of elephants in the region, the local lions had become elephant hunting experts, very cool! We stayed at the kill for a couple of hours, watching them feed in turns and walk to the waterhole to drink. After a while though it got too hot for them to stay in the open and one by one they found a place in the shade. For us this was a sign that we could move on, on towards the largest inland delta in the world: the Okavango Delta. Read about this exciting adventure in our next blog.  

- Lars -

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