Savuti – Fun in the rain with insects.


We have heard so much about Savuti, mostly about the difficult driving conditions. From Chobe to Savuti involves lots of deep sand and we prepare by deflating the tyres as much as we dare. It makes a huge difference in these conditions and despite our best efforts we fail to get Dad stuck! Passengers in both cars would dearly love to post a photo of one
pulling the other out of sand, mud or water. But its not to be.

On our way to Savuti

I find it hard to describe the feeling of being out in the African bush at this time of year. The grass is growing, trees are budding and animals are plentiful and looking well fed, many with babies. The sense of wellbeing you feel from just driving through the bush, or sitting around camp with the sights, smells and sounds of it all around you is fantastic. It makes you feel alive and you feel such a connection to this place that it is difficult to imagine being back in “civilisation” at all. What is it about Africa that so many people feel this connection from the very first time they visit and, for some, it feels like a second home, which they are drawn back to again and again. It is been like this for us for years, and today, in Savuti, we see the first signs of it in Dad and Chris.

Maribou Pan, Savuti
Maribou Pan, Savuti

Shortly after arriving at the rest camp and freshening up we decide to go for a drive and see what’s around before setting up for the night. Within just a few minutes we are bumping along a deep sandy track and spot a pride of lions lying under a small clump of acacias. They must have only just woken from sleeping in the hottest part of the day as they are lying on their backs, stretching, yawning and rolling over in the sand to wake up. The thing about a lion sighting is that when you catch the first glimpse it so exciting. Lion! Wow! How thrilling. Unfortunately, during the day, the just don’t do anything. They just lie there, in the shade, breathing. So its great to see these ones at least moving about a bit. Maybe we will catch up with them again later.

Mostly doing nothing!

We head in the direction of Maribou Pan and here we see a lovely big herd of elies, some of which were making the most of the shade under a lone tree. Good chance for a nice photo of Dad and Chris in their Toyota.

Elies in Savuti

We then head off around the marsh area and see some tsebbee, wildebeest, black backed jackal and warthogs. The land here is surprisingly green, I think it must have rained here too. Every now and then in the flat landscape is a rocky kopjie or a a little copse of taller trees, successfully hiding  a few giraffes, but for the most part we can see for miles.

Savuti

We arrive at a dry river bed a spot another vehicle, a game drive from the nearby lodge. They are watching a lone lioness and we come to a halt a observe her from a short distance away. She is alert, head high and gazing into a thicket of small acacias. Then we see it; a impala. And it seems to be on its own, some distance from the rest of the herd which is unusual and not really a good idea. The lioness begins to stalk, slowly, slowly getting nearer to the impala. But the impala is moving and soon both are in amongst the bush and we can no longer see them. We drive around to the other side of the trees and then around a few other tracks in the immediate vicinity but with no luck. Never mind, it is great just to see the stalking and feel the anticipation.

Zebra in Savuti

During the night we have another thunderstorm and all around us is the sound of elephants and hyenas. It is surprisingly difficult to sleep in the peaceful African bush sometimes.

Big Baobab in Savuti

In the morning we set of again and soon come across some fresh tracks in the sand and they are definitely white rhino. We have a drive around but we can’t follow them far as they head off into the bush where there are no roads. Back at the camp site we let the rangers know what we have seen and they seem surprised. Apparently they haven’t seen rhino here for a very long time but some have been released into Moremi so perhaps they have come from there. Its good news though, rhino are vary much in danger from poaching all over Africa and any sighting, especially when its not expected, is fantastic.

African Bull Frog

Sometimes in the bush it is the smaller things you see, or even don’t properly see, like the rhino who left the tracks, that are the most rewarding. We spend what could have been an uneventful afternoon huddled under the awning during a thunderstorm but nature often has a surprise in store. When the rain finally stops we notice hundreds of aliates, termites with wings, are released from the colonies to mate with others from different colonies in order to start an new one. When they find a mate they drop their wings, join together, and burrow down into the ground. It is an incredible sight as thousands of these things are flying around or crawling on the ground and this annual bonanza of nutritious insects attracts birds, frogs and other insectivores to feast on them. We saw lots of different species and even a huge African bull frog who just sat there, waiting, and as the insects wandered into his path, a quick flick of the tongue finished them off. It was a fascinating afternoon and it was then that we realised that Dad and Chris were truly loving the whole experience. Some come to Africa to see the Big Five but that is to miss the whole point of the place. Beauty, drama and adventure are everywhere here, you just need to open your heart and your eyes.

Late to the waterhole

Stunning scenery and wildlife on Chobe waterfront

Back in Botswana and off to Chobe

14 Nov. First stop this morning is Hemingways in Livingstone to pick up Dad and Chris’ car. We have used this company before and found them to be efficient with good cars. In fact the car we collect is  one we have actually driven before. After going over everything to make sure they are happy with how everything works Dad and Chris set off with us to their first African border crossing – Kazangula again – we brace ourselves.

But, after employing a helper again, it actually isn’t too bad. However Dad is absolutely gobsmacked at how disorganised it all is. It is certainly a shock welcome to your first African holiday, but we assure him that it should be a little more relaxed from here on in. Back in Kasane we have a lovely lunch at Chobe Safari Lodge and get some shopping for the next few days as the next place we will get chance to buy food is probably going to be Maun.

Our campsite for the first night is Senyati and this is our first time here. It has a lovely bar which is up high and overlooking a waterhole. Interestingly the owners have built an underground tunnel which leads to a view point of the water hole which is at ground level. This means that you are only a few feet away from elephant feet and it is quite a disconcerting, if unique, view. This was dads first elephant sighting so it was fantastic to see one so close and it is great to experience these first sightings through someone else’s eye.

http://senyatisafaricampbotswana.com

During the night we hear hyena which keeps us awake and then the storm starts, with torrential rain hammering on the tent. It seems we are destined not to sleep at the moment. We had planned to set off at 5am but as the rain was still heavy we stay in bed to see if it will stop. It seems not. We finally have to get up, rain or not, and we all get thoroughly soaked in the process of packing up, but at least it is cooler.

Chobe

Driving through puddles in Chobe

Driving through this park is always special and we are excited to wonder what we will see here. The deep sand tracks are a little firmer due to the rain and there are plenty of deep puddles to drive through; a taste of things to come in Moremi perhaps. Driving slowly along the tracks, each of us scanning the bush to find game, we decide that no matter how many times we go on a game drive it is always a very special experience. With the windows down we can smell the air and damp ground and the sounds of the bush are all around, even with the sound of the car engine. There is a fair amount of game but it is evident that this rain is much needed as there is very little grass and leaves around for animals to eat. Hopefully this much needed water will kick start the growth and make life a little easier. A lot of animals have their young at this time of the year so we should see some cute babies. As we bounce through the deep sand we spot plenty of animals, including a small group of elephants where several of them were lying down, something we don’t recall seeing before and it is something we will have to find out about. Other sightings included a couple of lionesses, some kudu, waterbuck, lechwe and even a sable antelope which was particularly beautiful.

Bird life here is prolific too and we clocked up 58 species including the very pretty southern carmine bee-eater which is probably my favourite bird in southern Africa.

View over the river flats in Chobe

Altogether a productive day, and still Savuti and Moremi to look forward to.

 

Nata to Livingstone via the legendary Kazangula Ferry!

9 Nov

A quick trip to Nata for some supplies and fuel and then we are on our way north again. It is extremely hot at the moment and the fitting of the air conditioning to Landy is starting to feel like a very good decision. The road to Nata is straight and pretty good, passing through bush on either side of the road with occasional signs warning of elephants and this is a real possibility on this road. Elephants, kudu, zebra, impala, springbok and bushbuck appear out of the bush to cross the road and the wide verges are essential so that you can see them appear up ahead and slow down accordingly. This is a highway north for humans but an important area for animals migrating between Okavango, the pans and Chobe in Botswana and Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. It is also of course just as important to slow down for all the cows, goats and donkeys we pass. It is all in the average days drive in Botswana.

Big Foot in the Bush

bushbaby Botswana
Bushbaby – cute!

We decide not to drive too far today, it is hot and we have plenty of time so we look for somewhere to stop and just chill out for the afternoon, preferably with some shade out of this sun. We find a little place with some little chalets, but they have a spot where they are happy for us to camp too. There is also a nice little bar that has nice sofas and is lovely and cool. Sipping on a cold beer, we hear a small thud and look over to see that something has fallen from the ceiling onto a cushion strategically placed on the dining table. “Don’t worry” says the somewhat eccentric owner, “its just a baby bushbaby, I’ll just pop him back on the beam”. Apparently this mother bushbaby has built a nest in the eaves that is too small for all her babies and every now and again one falls out. Humans place them on a beam and then the mummy comes down to retrieve them. Its repeated several times a day but it is a wonderful opportunity to see one of these gorgeous little creatures up close; usually you see them in the dead of night leaping around the trees.

Keith happens to mention to the owner that we spotted some huge human footprints in the sand near to our camping spot. “Do you have a particularly tall guy working here?” This is clearly a sore point! “Bloody hell, he’s back!” Apparently this place has been robbed a couple of times and the huge footprints are familiar. Of course we are very close to the Zimbabwe border and its fairly straightforward for unsavoury characters to hop across, steal stuff and they back in Zim before any is the wiser. But our host is not taking it lying down. He is up and out of the door with a shotgun and his wife makes a call to the local police office. Within half an hour he is back and the police have arrived. They don’t seem to bothered about his outing with a firearm, and promise to patrol around the place a few times during the night. Its all very exciting but we take the alarm and pepper spray up into the tent tonight just in case.

Kasane

Next stop Kasane, the gateway into Chobe where we will be heading to in a few days with Dad and Chris. We decide to stay at Chobe Safari Lodge, which is a pretty up market place, but they do have a campsite. This is brilliant as you get to use all the facilities without having to pay for the rooms. We use the swimming pool and sun loungers and treat ourselves to some lovely cocktails. At the campsite we find another Landover with a UK number plate. This is a first for us; we have seen many European registered vehicles but none from home. This lovely vehicle is owned by an English couple,. Sandy and Kevin shipped their Landover to Cape Town too and are doing a six-month trip around southern Africa. So far it seems as if they have been following us, as we have been to pretty much the same places. They are heading to Zambia and Malawi next so we may bump into them again. One of the surprising things we have noticed is how often you come across fellow travellers on more than one occasion. Word certainly gets around about the best places to camp so I suppose its inevitable that paths will cross and with everyone sharing and connecting on social media it makes it relatively easy to keep in touch with like minded people that you meet in the bush.

Baby Warthogs in the campsite
Baby Warthogs in the campsite

After pampering ourselves for a day or two we head off to Kazangula Ferry, the crossing over the conflence of the Zambezi and Chobe Rivers. If ever there was a place that needs a bridge, this is it, and apparently one is being started soon. In the meantime either side of the crossing means hours of tortuous red tape and hassle by “helpers”. The buildings on the Botswana side have no signs whatsoever and so before the car has even come to a stop we find ourselves surrounded by men all saying they can help us. Now, we have done many border crossings, and you always get a bit of hassle and it can be difficult to work out what you need and where to get it, but Kazangula (on both sides) takes bureaucracy queuing and chaos to a whole new level.  On the Zambian side different documentation needs to be produced, purchased or handed in, all in different places and all whilst being hassled by “fixers” to do it for you for a fee. So this time we tried a different approach and hired one of the “fixers.” And it actually paid off. We were whisked from building to building and told to wait while he spoke to officials and got us to the front of queues. It was money well spent and after a couple of hours we were on our way. (We have heard of it taking five or six so this is good.)

Livingstone

12 Nov. It is ridiculously hot today. We park the car at Livingstone Airport and our feet sink into the melting tarmac as we walk over to the air conditioned terminal building to wait for Dad and Chris to arrive from Johannesburg.  Oh my word, it is so strange and lovely to see them! It seems surreal, almost as if our travelling is like another life and it is hard to imagine everything and everyone at home. It is going to be a great two weeks catching up and sharing this wonderful African experience with them.

First of all though, a bit more luxury. We check in for one night at the Zambezi Sun and enjoy gin and tonics around the pool whilst we chat about anything and everything. Dad confessed that when he stepped off the plane and felt the heat he did think “I won’t be able to cope with this” but we assured him that we will be out of the heat in the middle of the day, his truck will have air con, and hopefully it will rain a bit. It is surprising how we have got used to heat over the last six months. We take a walk down to the falls later but there is no water at all on the Zambia side so tomorrow we walk over to Zimbabwe to see what its like over that side.

13 Nov. After the most amazing breakfast we set off through the private access to the Victoria Falls, circumvent the pressurised sales techniques of the curio sellers and head to the border crossing on the bridge. We pass the bungee jumping adrenaline junkies and Keith has a few pointed words with some particularly annoying curio sellers. As much as we like to support people as much as we can you cant buy a souvenir from everyone and the problem is that if you do make a purchase the rest of sellers see you as an easy target and home in like bees round a honey pot. Border formalities on both sides are quick and painless but the sun is relentless and we arrive at the falls hot and sweaty and in need of refreshment. Is it too early for a beer?

The walk along the viewing area though proves to be cooler, the vegetation is tropical due to the fairly constant “rain” from the falls and there is a cooling breeze and fine mist which helps us recover. The falls on the Zim side are better and although it is nowhere near as impressive as it is after the rains it is still beautiful and definitely worth the walk.

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Dad and Chris spend one more night in the hotel and we head back to a campsite where the partying carried on until 3am. Not the best nights sleep, but we are excited to be on our way back to Botswana and our itinery for the next two weeks is going to be busy but hopefully fun and rewarding. I just hope that Dad and Chris love it as much as we do.