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shouldbewriting

A Senior Safari

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shouldbewriting

After four nights in Cape Town, we flew to Maun for a twelve night early October safari in Botswana. Not a photographer, I’m afraid, so words will have to do.

 

I’m mid-seventies now, and no longer steady on my feet. Steps and stairs are a major issue and I tire easily. Why was I doing this? Because this was as good as it was going to get and next year wouldn’t be an improvement. In fact, bookings having to be a year ahead, it was next year by the time departure rolled around.

 

A 2011 safari to South Africa had left us wanting more, but somehow years had past and now it was almost too late. Deep down I was pretty sure I could do it, and with a lot of help and a studious denial of my dignity, I did.

 

We put planning in the hands of The Wild Source and were very glad we had. They chose the hotel in Cape Town and the camps in Botswana and made flight and transfer bookings. We used their (very good) travel agent for international flights and their (very good) travel insurance. Decisions were made after much mailing back and forth while Bill Given tried to figure out what we were looking for. He nailed it, and the one camp that gave me difficulty might have been okay at the time it was booked.

 

I was still jet lagged and worn to the bone by the time we arrived at our first destination, Bushman Plains Camp in the Okavango Delta. The SAA flight involved stairs instead of jetways and bus rides to boot. I couldn’t manage the steep step and had to crawl aboard the bus and also aboard the puddle jumper which would take us to Bushman’s. My rump became accustomed to many a shove as the trip unfolded.

 

Very fortunately the airstrip closest the camp was the pilot’s last stop that day, and her friend, the manager of a nearby camp, was there to meet her. But our ride wasn’t waiting for us. 

 

The camp manager called Bushman’s and discovered that the truck had broken down en route to the airstrip. Very kindly, he gathered us up and, casually mentioning the young male lions that were living in the bushes where we sat, took us to be fed and watered at his place while a ride could be rustled up.

 

And what a ride it was. By this time it was late in the afternoon and as we careened at speed over the deeply rutted sand - trip was well over an hour - we felt like we were in the opening scenes of The Lion King: against the blue and pink tinged sky there were herds of buffalo and wildebeest and elephant, troops of baboons, warthogs galore, journeys of giraffe, dazzles of zebra, antelopes of every kind. We had never seen so many animals all in the same place before. And we never did again. It was our own special welcome to Africa.

 

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Pamshelton3932

Great start! I'll take a trip report without pictures anytime.

 

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refox3488

What a great start, you may not be a photographer, but you definitely know how to tell a story. Looking forward to hearing about the rest of your trip!

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Atravelynn

What a start!  Your words are your pictures for us.  How awful to have to crawl onto the transport bus.  Looking forward to your tales of safari!

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mapumbo

Good for you.  All of us that are getting "up there" in age hope to carry on as you have.

We also have had a similar good experience with The Wild Source and are doing a return through them next year.

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wilddog

How special. I admire your determination. We are of similar ages but so far I am a bit luckier than you with mobility, but I know that will change over time

 

As others have said you write this so well we don't need pictures. We can feel your struggles and your delight and joy appearing as you reached your destination. 

 

Loving this, thanks. :)

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shouldbewriting

Thank you everyone.

 

Sitting around the camp fire under the tall trees at breakfast was the best part of camp life at Bushman’s.  (The tent and its surroundings were difficult for me as tarps had been set on rough ground on a hillside which was very uneven. The bathroom in particular was primitive and treacherous. Beds though were cozy and comfortable, and food mostly good.) 

 

We enjoyed meeting our fellow guests, all Europeans, and especially the lovely staff, dignified and kind. The usual guides were off somewhere and we were very lucky to have snagged Leso to guide us. He was only there for a few days to fill in and we loved getting to know him. Strikingly handsome - his face should be famous - he was the definition of charismatic, a true teacher, and it turned out he was well known and highly thought of at the camps we visited later.

 

The camp overlooks a lovely tree’d plain with a small water hole in front.  Apart from the occasional visit of a family of warthogs and a few impala, there wasn’t much to see when we were there. It was very dry and the water hole was low.

 

But after Leso and tracker Langa had loaded me into the truck via an empty crate, we were off for some great sightings over three full days: wild dogs sleepy after the night’s activity; three male lions; kudu; sable buck; giraffes with babies; elephants; a leopard with a warthog supper in a tree; lots of beautiful birds, and my favorite—a mama cheetah with two tiny kittens on what Leso thought was their first public outing. We stayed with them for a while before letting them have their privacy. Everywhere we went, we were impressed by and appreciative of how much respect the animals were given.

 

The other camps would have much to live up to.

 

And they did.

 

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shouldbewriting

I was relieved to be on firmer footing on the hardwood floors of Kwando Splash Camp, using ramps instead of steps, and easing my aches under the piping hot water. Splash was the largest camp we’d been to and I wondered if it would be too impersonal. But its three managers divide guests between them and check constantly to see how you’re doing, your guide and tracker stay close, and I relished the comfort everywhere. Hospitality was warm and food delicious and beautifully presented.

 

Lying in bed, or from the public areas, you are in full view of a large well used water hole. Breeding herds of elephants and giraffe and antelope visit from dawn to dusk, and even a large pack of wild dogs joined us for breakfast one morning.

 

Guide Mr T and tracker KT were excellent. They had a short step ladder which made getting in and out of the truck a breeze. As well as seeing all the usual animals, we enjoyed two spectacular sightings and a very pleasant boat ride.

 

One morning we came across a male lion who was wandering back from his travels and looking for his brother, a stay-at-home type who would not move from his termite mound close to camp. As we passed this guy in his meandering search, we saw another male lion, an interloper who had taken advantage of the unguarded territory to muscle in.

 

The previous day, this second lion had killed a baby elephant which had promptly sunk deep into a mud hole and was presumed lost. But its captor had evidently worked all night to pull the carcass free and now, exhausted and caked in mud, was trying to tuck into it. The nearby trees were festooned with vultures, and the drama continued as they wheeled overhead.

 

We parked close by to await developments. It took a while, but eventually the returning lion noticed the vultures and veered over to investigate. Galvanized, he broke into a trot. The imposter dropped his mouthful and headed off, pursued by the irate returnee. We followed for what must have been miles. The lion who was being seen off was older, tireder, hungrier, but he had nonetheless killed another male some time before and was not to be discounted.

 

Eventually though, he could go no further. He turned to face his pursuer and dropped to the ground. There was a growling and howling stand-off that lasted for quite some time, before the younger lion, having made his point, reclaimed his territory, and avoided injury in a fight, turned on his heel and departed.

 

(A side note: while waiting for the stand-off to end, I fell into conversation with the D.C. couple behind me, who were on a celebratory surprise post-engagement trip. She could have used a sleeved shirt and some sunscreen, while he, a genial fellow, was missing his WiFi.

 

They asked me about our previous camp and I waxed enthusiastic about Leso, the cradle of man-kind, and the fact that, to me, Leso was undoubtedly a very old soul. Their jaws dropped and they all but rolled their eyes at this piece of California woo-woo.

 

 I later discovered that the woman was an Obama appointed Federal Court Judge. Perhaps fortunately, the law has no time for the mystic.)

 

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Kitsafari

Your words paint a thousand pictures. 

I am enjoying your stays and your thoughts so far. what a shame the older lion lost his kill after such hard work at retrieving it from the mud. I hope he did get enough to eat before losing it. 

kudos to you to be determined to do the safari despite your age. I hope that when I get to your age (which isn't that far off, really), I'll have as much as perseverance as you have to undertake a journey such as a safari. 

 

Looking forward to reading more. 

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shouldbewriting

Thank you so much for your generous remarks!

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Atravelynn

 

"Lying in bed, or from the public areas, you are in full view of a large well used water hole"

Now that is my idea of luxury.

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shouldbewriting

No kidding. It was heavenly.

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shouldbewriting

On an afternoon drive we joined the Marsh pack of wild dogs as they prepared to hunt. It’s a large pack of twenty five dogs (recently twenty-six, but one was missing that day and perhaps permanently).

 

They fussed around for a while, readying themselves. As the vibe went out that the dogs were going to hunt, nervous heads bobbed up in the long grass all around. A few false starts got them in the mood and suddenly they were off after something in the distance. 

 

We followed as fast as we could; it was surprising how many antelope heads they ran right by without seeming to notice the easy meal. Those who survived were able to maintain an utter stillness.

 

 We covered a lot of ground in several wild chases of flushed game that managed to escape. Suddenly a reedbuck soared high into the air and landed in a small lake. It swam to the further shore, where its luck continued as it scrambled past the jaws of a waiting crocodile. Hot stuff!

 

The wild dogs were done. They were tired and it was now too dark to hunt; it would be a hungry night.

 

As for us, we had sundowners surrounded by a brilliantly beautiful sunset and a concurrent rise of the huge orange moon. And on the drive towards the welcome lights of camp — a giant eagle owl. It was almost too much for one day.

 

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offshorebirder

I am enjoying reading this trip report very much @shouldbewriting.   Thank you for taking the time to give such good descriptions.

 

The male Lion interaction is especially gripping.  Sounds like the older one was having a hard time of it - I presume he had been deposed as a pride male?

 

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shouldbewriting

Thank you for the kind remarks!

 

The guide didn’t mention that the older one was a deposed pride male, only that he had killed another male quite recently. I don’t know enough about lion behavior to tell.  That would make sense, though. He certainly was having a hard time, especially being unable to eat after he had worked so hard to extract his carcass from the mud.

Edited by shouldbewriting
Typo

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shouldbewriting

We loved the location of Kwando Lagoon Camp on the banks of the Kwando River. In order to give me a more stable footing, they put us in the family suite which is close to the center of camp and connected to it with wooden walkways. Though the camp is quite intimate, with fewer guests than Splash, the suite is huge and has the best view: the lagoon itself, which is a wide place as the river turns a corner. The staff were very lively here, young and friendly.

 

If you did nothing but sit all day in front of the enormous window in the suite, you would likely see a safari’s worth of animals and birds without moving. Breeding herds of elephants came to drink, swim and cross to the other bank several times a day. Herons fished round the clock. A family of hippos was in residence, their snorts and bellows a frequent refrain.   

 

Looking out in the grey dawn, you could see their generous bodies waddle towards the water after a night of grazing, only to slip in soundlessly and disappear without a trace. Moments later their comical nostrils and tiny ears emerged many yards away. 

 

The territory here is vast, varied, empty and very beautiful, with numerous trees of different species, and grassy plains which are sometimes under water. There are pans, ponds, lakes, and the meandering river, which brings life. Guide Wago and tracker James had to work hard to cover the distances. It was tantalizing to look to the distant horizon and to think of all the animal life beyond, which probably knew little or nothing of people. 

 

Being on the borders of Namibia, there is a military presence here, on the look out for illegal immigration and poaching. We came across patrolling soldiers during drives.

 

A motor boat ride proved to be my biggest challenge since the airport bus incident. (I was beginning to handle the bush flights better using the short step ladder and scooting on my butt to beyond my seat, then maneuvering myself back into it using the upper body strength I’d been maintaining with light free weights for the last few years. My reasonings is that since my lower body will no longer cooperate, my shoulders, upper back and arms will simply have to. I wore out the seat of my pants doing this however.)

 

Getting down into the double decker boat was tricky but manageable and we set off into the evening sun, me on the lower deck with the guides and coolers and everyone else aloft. It was lovely on the water, cooler than ashore, with glimpses of water-lilies, kingfishers and the occasional croc. 

 

But, turning a corner, we came on the surreal vision of three dead hippopotamuses. I won’t forget the sight of them, beached and bloated with their sad short legs in the air. No-one knew what could have happened, an illness perhaps, though it was a possible that the river water was too warm and shallow. The army would be informed and would investigate. (We saw two more in another part of the river on a different occasion.)

 

After sundowners we returned to the mooring to face the problem of getting me ashore. With help, I managed to climb the ladder from the deck to the gunwale, but from there to the steep embankment was literally a bridge too far. After several polite but fruitless attempts by the guides to get me across the gap, Spencer — a very tall  well-built and good humored guy —exclaimed, “There’s nothing else for it. It’s got to be the African way!” With that, he got me in a tight grasp, swung me through the air and planted me on solid ground. The African way! Of course! Why hadn’t we been doing that all along? I thanked him profusely.

 

In the flashlight beam on the way home I remembered why I was putting myself and everyone else through this: an aardwolf and a civet

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Seniortraveller

Who needs pictures, your words create excellent images. Your description of the dead hippos brought back memories from our recent trip.

We were in Hwange, Zimbabwe, around the same time you were in Botswana.  As the crow flies, probably not too far from your location. There were a number of dead hippos in the dam, beside our camp. We were told that they died from anthrax and that tests had confirmed this. 

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shouldbewriting

Thank you, Seniortraveller. 

 

Sad, scary, but interesting. Possibly the drought encourages the spread of disease.

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michael-ibk

Your expressive writing really pulls the reader in, it´s a joy reading this. I have very fond memories of Lagoon, just sitting there by the water and relaxing, and this report refreshed my memories in a very nice way!

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shouldbewriting

Thank you, Michael! Lovely to have the appreciation.

 

We loved Lagoon too. Everything about it a delight. From the people, to the animals, to cooling your feet in the pool, to 🍹 too much delicious lemonade!

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Mtngirl

Incredible trip report. Thank you. 

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Atravelynn

You could swing me through the air for an aardvark and civet!

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shouldbewriting

Thank you, Atravelynn!

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shouldbewriting

Thank you so much everyone for your encouragement!

 

Over the course of eight game drives at Lagoon we saw a small pack of wild dogs resting after a hunt, and the tracks of a male leopard who was deemed “too shy” to follow. We saw innumerable lilac breasted rollers, many posing like pros. We saw a spectacular journey of seventeen giraffe from babies on up. We saw the wreckage caused by elephants and large herds of the elephants themselves. We saw big herds of buffalo and herds of antelope, some rare; and we finally saw, after a very long morning of tracking for miles over all manner of habitat, with Wago and James sometimes wandering around beside the Jeep, a very calm, cooperative and completely lovely female leopard. 

 

This was the first really good close long look I’d had at a leopard on this trip, and indeed ever, and it was well worth waiting for. She had been born here in the vicinity and had no fear of trucks, of people taking her picture and tracking her every move. In fact, a couple with a private vehicle spent three hours following her around after the rest of us left. I’m not sure I’d have been comfortable doing that, but presumably it isn’t considered intrusive.

 

Wago referred to her as “relaxed”, and she was. She was resting on the shady side of a tree, on a slight rise, and nestled against the bark. We almost drove past her. Apparently in the peak of youth and health, her body was lithe, her coat was sleek and her eyes were clear. What a gorgeous creature! Seeing her, so alive, and at home in those seemingly empty surroundings was somehow unbelievable and is something I won’t forget.

 

One afternoon Wago set course for a sight I’d read about and was longing to see. After a long drive he pulled up at a spot overlooking a lagoon partially covered with bright green weed and home to numerous hippos. On a distant sand bank there were signs and sounds of bird activity and we drove over with increasing excitement. 

 

It was one of the sites where hundreds of carmine bee- eaters go to nest, and we arrived right on time: the end of the day, and they were flying in to their nesting tunnels in the sand. Against the emerald green back drop of the lagoon, which was now dotted with the staring heads of curious hippos, the brilliant red and blue birds cascaded out of the sky in waves. The air was full of piercing cries and sprays of sand as they clawed vigorously into the tunnels. A monitor lizard patrolled the perimeter, awaiting his chance. There would be eggs for supper. I think it’s safe to say that all of us were gobsmacked.

 

This extraordinary sight concluded the wonders we’d encountered in Botswana. One month later, I am still thinking about it every day, and dreaming about it every night. It took a few weeks to recover physically (our return journey lasted forty hours) and now with another full moon over head, I am almost — almost! — ready to think about another journey.

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TonyQ

A fantastic report with superb writing that conjures up strong images. Photos are not missed at all

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