Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Our Botswana safari

Our trip to Africa last month included a fascinating four-night safari experience. It began with a charter flight to a tiny airstrip in the Khwai River floodplain, located in the Okavango Delta region of Botswana. It was winter there, and the dry season, so we had no mosquitos to worry about.

We were met by folks from Kazuma Trails, a safari outfitter based in Victoria Falls and run by the wonderfully enthusiastic David Carson. On the 45 minute drive to our campsite, we were stunned to see animals at almost every turn: giraffes, baboons, elephants, hippos, impalas, and even some lions taking a nap in the brush. We saw a lot more animals on later excursions. I won't bore you with too many animal shots, as I think it's more interesting to shed light on the safari experience itself

This was billed as a "luxury" safari, and that was an understatement. Each couple had a spacious tent with an adjoining bathroom which included a bush shower and a toilet (under which was a four-foot hole in the ground). On request, the staff was quick to fetch a bucket of warm water for the shower, a true luxury for a camper. The main part of the tent featured two beds with fresh pillows and comforters, a small wardrobe, and nightstands with battery-powered lights.

Lunch and dinner were served with elegant place settings, delicious food, and wine. David's staff numbered at least 10, and there were 22 of us. The cook was a magician, cooking for over 30 people using what you see in this picture (the metal box serving as the oven). We had fresh bread, casseroles, curries, pot pies, salads, desserts and pasta, to name just a few of the many dishes this man conjured up from his humble kitchen.

We had three guides each time we ventured out of the campsite: David, Spokes, and Rod (see below). Rod slept on top of his jeep every night with a rifle by his side, in case any animals wandering through the campsite decided to make a fuss. We were visited at night by elephants, hyenas, and at least one lion. Staff urged us to stay in the tents no matter how awful the cries were at night. Fortunately, no mishaps occurred.

One morning we left camp at the crack of dawn to follow some lion tracks, and before too long found him. He was a young lion making a walking circuit of the area, marking his territory. To our amazement, he completely ignored our presence. At one point, if I had leaned out of the jeep I could have almost touched him as he passed by. David explained that predators' brains are simply not programmed to see people inside a jeep as potential prey. As long as you stay inside the jeep and inside your tent at night, you're OK. But venture out and you're history. That may be so, I thought to myself as the lion walked straight toward me, but what if there's a first time and I'm the victim?

Although things looked pretty dry, there was actually a lot more water than usual for this time of the year. The jeeps regularly had to ford ominous streams, and once we got stuck in deep mud. One highlight of the trip was careening around the bush in the dark, with David swinging a flashlight too and fro, lighting up the eyes of hyenas and wild dogs closing in on a recent kill, David insisting "Can you smell the stomach?"

Another highlight was running across a family of cheetahs taking a nap in the brush. About 200-300 yards behind them we could see a fairly large here of impalas—Africa's "meals on wheels"—grazing contentedly. The cheetahs apparently preferred to rest rather than hunt.

Finally, some profound thanks are due to our good friends Lowell and Linda Rice, who spent the past 18 months planning and organizing this amazing trip. Here's a shot of them I took in Cape Town, looking south toward the Cape of Good Hope. We can only hope we have the chance to do another trip as rewarding as this was.


Benjamin Cole said...

Well, I for one, am totally amazed by the animal shots. The lion appears to be strolling right by.

John said...

The jeep in the water is a bit scary to me.

Mutual of Omaha had a program a long time ago called 'wild kingdom'. There was lots of footage of wildebeasts being consumed by hugh crocs.

It must have been a fantastic trip. I know you both had a wonderful time.

Again, thank you so much for sharing it with us.

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