We were driven early in the morning to the Botswana border where we cleared immigration leaving Zambia, ferried over to Botswana where we witnessed the smuggling of alcohol across the border as seen below.
After we cleared immigration in Botswana, which was basically signing a guest book, we drove to the Airport in Kasane where we waited for a light aircraft to fly is to the Moremi National Park where we would be camping for 5 days. The flight was cool. The first hour there was nothing. We were flying at 6500 ft so if there was something to see, you would have seen it. During the last twenty minutes we gradually left the desert and moved onto the edges of the Okavango Delta, an amazing oasis of water, plant and animal life. We could see elephants, giraffes and herds of antelope from the plane. It was really cool.
We were met at the park’s landing strip by Brent Reed our guide for the next 5 days on our mobile safari. Brent and his brother are owners of Letaka Safaris. Brent was an excellent guide. He was extremely knowledgeable about where we were and what we were seeing. He was invested in every outing being better than the last as far as the wildlife encounter. But most importantly he was a great guy who put up with our crew and was quite convincing, as he appeared to like the kids, think GM’s stories were interesting and or funny and was highly tolerant of all my questions. He even played baseball with the boys. He also instilled a huge amount in confidence in us. We were so comfortable and rest assured that we were safe from the animals, we weren’t going to get lost or stuck in the flooded road, and that he knew how to operate the huge gun he carried around for emergencies
I loved the rhythm of the day. It was an early wake up (5:45) not usually my thing but as I mentioned before we had been doing the early wake-up since we started the trip so it wasn’t a problem. The day started with a breakfast of toast, cereal and coffee in front of the fire, then out in the truck to see what we could find. The hour after the sun rose was the coldest part of the day meaning were where in multiple layers, fleece jackets, hats scarves, gloves and blankets around us. But it was exciting, it was the time of day the animals were the most active moving from their night to day.
You could sense the collective sign of relief from the impalas that Timothy, one of Brents’s staff, called the McDonalds of the Delta. Any carnivore would eat an impala and most kills happened at night. I was always trying to get into the head of the animals, kind of futile I know, and always wondered if they realized they were lucky to survive another night or that one of their own was missing. If I thought about it too much it was really brutal.
Things kept from getting too morbid with the constant coffee breaks, hot chocolate from the kids and biscuits. After our morning outing we would return to camp. At camp we would have a substantial lunch and an equally substantial siesta. After naps, water was boiled for our showers which were hot and just a bit two short but refreshing as you showered outside in your roofless (but walled) bathrooms. It should be said that while we were technically camping (sleeping in tents, eating al fresco, campfires at night and an amazing show of stars) it could have been hardly called roughing it. The tents were large and we slept in cots with mattresses and duvets. There was an attached bathroom, roofless as I mentioned, where they dug a deep hole and put a toilet (without any plumbing) on top of the hole. At night and the early morning kerosene lanterns lighted everything. We kept warm with lots of blankets (it got cold at night) and a warm fire. The best part for me, always, is the food. One of the biggest surprises to me about this trip was how great the food in Africa is. It is straightforward like Argentine in that there aren’t a million ingredients, but unlike Argentine food there is a lot of layered flavors. Africans seem to love their condiments; chutneys, chili sauces, sweet and hot, mustards, curries, really yummy. Every meal we had was excellent and the big bonus was the kids loved it as well. We had a staff of really fun guys that made great food and had lots of fun with the kids. Pula, Kaiser and Timothy were great, professional and a lot of laughs.
One of the many rituals that made the trip so special along with the coffee break, afternoon showers, sundowners, being woken up by Timothy’s singing was the “Bush Babies”. A bush baby is a cute little monkey like animal with HUGE eyes, think those sad girls painted on velvet. Well every night at the campfire Timothy distributed what he called bush babies. They were hot water bottles with fuzzy fleece covers. We all took to our bush babies as they made our already cozy cots even cozier. Georgie was such a fan that she spent her two pound coin on a hot water bottle in London and is sleeping with it as we speak.
What made this more than a luxurious camping trip were the animals. We saw all the animals you would imagine one sees on safari. The only exception would be that we didn’t see rhinos, which are almost extinct in Botswana (but we did see one in S. Africa), we didn’t see the African buffalo because of the water being so high, and we didn’t see any hyenas (which I was a bit disappointed about, but we did hear them at night). One thing we saw that I wasn’t expected to be so blown away by were the birds. I don’t know squat about birds, but I do know now why so many people are into bird watching. They were beautiful and fascinating to learn about.
The mammals we did see was amazing: 2 lionesses with 7 cubs, a leopard with her baby both in and out of her tree where she kept the impala carcass that they ate for several days, more elephants than you can imagine, some of them pretty grumpy, Hippos, giraffes, cheetahs, antelopes of all kinds, impalas, kudu, tsessebe, wildebeest, zebras, jackals, foxes, vevret monkeys, baboons and my personal favorite the painted cape hunting dogs.
I think I like them best because over the course of one morning we got to know this little pack of dogs. Brent followed them, sometimes off road. So we watched them from early morning when they pondered crossing a bridge (that was broken down but they don’t like getting wet), to running around like a bunch of teenagers in chaos, to locating some impala with their amazing sense of smell, to flying in tandem into a group of grazing and kind slow on the uptake impalas. And then they were gone, into the brush, chasing their lunch. We had lost them and were sad that were not going to see what happened next. So we headed back to the main track and about five minutes later saw the dogs again, again just kind of milling around like teenagers at Starbucks. We were kind of surprised they weren’t munching down some McDonalds. Then out of now where one of the pack shows up all bloody and hyper and acting weird. I though he was hurt, but no, he had made a kill and was letting his bros know. Off they went, back into the brush for some chow. It was really cool. I appreciated that I didn’t have to watch the impala die but I have to say I was rooting for the dogs. Maybe because they were so familiar to me and I couldn’t help think they were not that different than my dogs, except they don’t eat Ekubana and sleep on a couch. Later in the afternoon we happened upon them again, some of them were sleeping, some playing, and one was just licking his balls. Just like Tevez.
While we could have spent more days with Brent and crew, after five days I was ready for a long hot shower. It was time to say goodbye to Brent, Timothy, Kaiser and Pula. I was sad to leave but looking forward to our next stop, also in the delta, where I was under the misimpression that I would get a real shower.