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Beginner's Luck? Botswana, April 2013


Carina

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I don't know, maybe I wasn’t all that lucky, but I feel lucky. After reading many of the trip reports on this forum, one might go on a first safari fully expecting leopard and lion sightings at every camp, multiple visits with wild dogs, finding cheetah in the mopane, roan and sable antelope aplenty, many wattled cranes and a breeding pair of honey badger. Not to mention a crocodile fight, baby banded mongoose and so many fabulous birds you give up on trying to keep track of them all.



My itinerary was Tubu Tree 3 nights, Kwando Lagoon 4 nights, and Vumbura Plains 3 nights. I flew Portland, OR to JFK to Jo’berg to Maun without any breaks. It was a long, tedious haul and clearly I wasn’t thinking straight when I decided against taking Dramamine before my first bush flight. The plane was a tiny 4-seater and there were two other passengers- a honeymoon couple headed to Abu Camp. I somehow managed to keep the puking to a minimum on the first leg. Understandably, they couldn’t get out of the plane and away from me fast enough when we landed at Abu. Thank goodness I’d never see them again.



The pilot invited me to sit up front with him for the remainder of the trip, but I declined, knowing he would be grateful to me later. Abu to Tubu Tree was probably only 15 minutes, but it felt like an eternity. I’m sure those sketchy chicken/mayo wraps they serve on the SAA Airlink flight to Maun was at least partially to blame for this fiasco. Using an airsick bag requires impeccable timing. Any miscalculation results in disaster. My timing was bad and I managed to make a horrific mess on the back of the pilot’s seat. Worse, the bag leaked a significant amount of the contents onto my left leg. I felt so miserable, I didn’t even notice until it was too late to rectify the situation by double-bagging. The remainder of the bag contents somehow managed to spill on the floor between my feet. When we landed at the Tubu airstrip, I was mortified at the thought of having to get out of plane covered in vomit to meet my guide. I apologized repeatedly and profusely to the pilot for my mess, who didn’t seem fazed by any of it (I don’t think he had realized at this point the back of his shirt had not escaped unscathed). My guide was a good sport and pretended he didn’t notice anything and I was appreciative of his discretion. You can thank me later for not posting photos for this portion of the report.


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owenshaffer

Dear Carina,

 

You have a great sense of humor!!! You also know how to write in your own unique style. I'm reading this report because I've visited Lagoon camp 2 years ago and I'm going there again this year and to Tuba Tree as well.

 

I send you my warmest personal regards,Owen

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The drive into camp from the airstrip allowed my pants to dry and I was delusional enough to think that no one could possibly discern what had transpired just by looking at me. The camp manager, Eloise, greeted me with a cold, lime-scented wet cloth, which I quickly used to clean my face and then vigorously rub my pant leg. I’m sure she didn’t think that was weird at all. A young bull elephant known as “Frank” was eating marula fruit at the bar. I had an instant liking to this place. Eloise offered to let me settle in first (of course she could tell I was covered in vomit, who was I kidding?), and then have someone take me out to meet the vehicle later for the game drive. But I wasn’t going to let dirty pants keep me from missing anything. So I quickly signed the obligatory paperwork and jumped in the vehicle for my first game drive. It turned out to be a good decision, as less than 10 minutes out of camp, we stopped to see a female leopard in a tree finishing an impala that she had stashed there two days prior. The guide explained that leopards are second only to hyena with respect to their tolerance for rotten meat. She finished up the scraps in the tree and then came down to gnaw on the bones that had fallen into the grass. She was very relaxed and didn’t give us a second thought, even ambling right over to the vehicle at one point to sniff a patch of grass and then plopping back down to resume chewing on her impala leg.



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That first game drive felt great – the air was heavy with the pungent scent of wild sage. If only I could bottle that scent and take it home with me. We saw too many red lechwe to shake a stick at, elephants everywhere, several journeys of giraffe, a baboon family, lovely lilac-breasted rollers, two fish eagles and a tiny steenbok smaller than my shepard mix dog back home.



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Unfortunately, it was also during this first drive that I realized I would be stuck with the Vehicle Mates from Hell. I have never encountered anyone more annoying than these two women with whom I had the misfortune to share the next three days. They talked non-stop and at maximum volume during every single game drive. In retrospect, I should have asked the camp manager to put me in another vehicle. But as we were the only three guests for most of the time, I guess I thought it wouldn’t be appropriate to ask for a vehicle just for myself.


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johnkok

I can empathize. Over the years, we've had a few. The one that sticks in my mind is the lady who complained about the sound of my camera shutter. These days we always try to book a private vehicle.

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Sorry about the tough start to your safari- but hey, we've all puked at some point. Excellent recovery, judging by your photographs. My sympathy on the vehicle mates from hell which is my biggest fear on safari, so far averted by coughing up for a private vehicle. Looking forward to the rest of your report. I love the photographs of the elephants literally in the delta, something I have not seen.

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penolva

Very entertaining writing and beautiful photographs. So lucky with that leopard, she must have made your vehicle mates shut up when they saw that?? Camera shutter :) :) that's a great one. Pen

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owenshaffer

Dear Karina,

 

I love your text and photos. I can't wait to see more.

 

I send you my best wishes,Owen

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That first night, we were treated to a surprise bush braai at dinner. The food was delicious, but I was completely exhausted. After the meal, stargazing, and a very weird conversation about the certainty of alien life on Mars, someone finally noticed I was nodding off in my empty plate. They took pity on me and delivered me to camp so I could turn in.
Notable sightings from the next morning's game drive include beautiful kingfishers (woodland, pied and malachite), bateleur eagles, a water monitor lizard, vervet monkeys, kudu and an elephant chasing a buffalo through the water. We also happened upon the same female leopard from the previous day, as she was sleeping in the grass just feet from the road. My vehicle mates became bored after 10 minutes, as the leopard wasn't "doing" anything and they wanted to move on to the next great thing. I'm not sure what could be greater than a leopard lounging only feet away from the vehicle, but to each their own, I guess.
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The staff at Tubu were feverishly working to complete construction on Little Tubu, and on my second day, the new sister camp was essentially complete except for some minor work on the walkways to the new rooms. We began taking all our meals and teas at Little Tubu while the common areas at original Tubu were dismantled and the area prepared for renovation. The decor at Little Tubu is very modern. I guess that's the trend, but I preferred the comfortable, lived-in look/feel of original Tubu, but it's gone now, and reportedly will be decorated in similar fashion to LT. The view from the common areas (including the Loo with a View) are much better at Tubu as compared to LT. The tents at Tubu were also in the process of being renovated. I was told the tents at both camps will be the same once everything is complete. The new tents are larger and brighter, with lighter colored flooring and a much larger deck. I stayed in an old tent, and I thought it was just dandy. I wouldn't have changed a thing, were it my decision. For anyone curious about what LT looks like:
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pault

Little Tubu looks like my house without all the cats. I'm with you on that - yuck!

 

I think it sounds like you were lucky with sightings - someone else's report always sounds better because of course they write twice as much about the good days... Well, that is my theory.

 

Sorry about the too chatty people. Did you ask them if they had hearing problems? We've generally been lucky so far - touch wood!

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Thanks everyone for your condolences regarding the vehicle mate cluster. Unfortunately, unless or until my dog enters into a very lucrative modeling contract, the cost of a private vehicle would make a trip like this too expensive for me.

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owenshaffer

Dear Carina,

 

I think it will simply take some time for people to get used to the new design of Tuba Camp. Again I find your sense of humor irrepressible. Furthermore I may take expensive safaris and stay at first class lodges but I think a private vehicle is ridiculously expensive. It simply isn't worth it no matter how obnoxious or stupid your co-passengers can be.

I can't wait to read more of your report, please keep up your good work. I hope that you have the opportunity to take more safaris in the future so that I can get a laugh reading about them.

 

All the best,Owen

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@@owenshaffer don't you worry, I'm already scheming for my next safari. I wouldn't let a bad experience with two whack-a-doodle ladies dissuade me from it. I'll take my chances and make the best of it - and then tell all of you how annoying everyone else in the vehicle was!

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owenshaffer

Dear Carina,

 

I'm afraid that you'd find me the most obnoxious person of all to share your vehicle because I'm an incessant talker

who is simply obsessed with Africa. In fact most of the year I live in Nairobi. I'd love to meet you because I know you'd simply crack me up with your vitriolic attacks.

 

To all your future safaris,Owen

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Had these two ladies wanted to talk about Africa, I would not have found them nearly so annoying. Unfortunately, all they wanted to talk about was celebrity gossip, what famous people they last dined with back home, and other such nonsense. I'd like to think I'm capable of tolerating anything for three days, but these two pushed me to my limit.

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owenshaffer

Dear Carina,

 

I understand perfectly well you were sharing your vehicle with two total airheads. They sound like my two younger brothers-one of whom actually told me that I needn't go to Africa to see wild dogs because they could be seen at the Brookfield zoo! The other one doesn't even know what the Masai Mara is or the difference between Nigeria and Kenya.

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Sharifa

Enjoying your trip report thoroughly :) I can sympathise with you on the ride since I also fall in your catergory. Have to carry those brown bags around. :wub: Glad to see you still have your sense of humour intact :D

 

Aside from the 'vehicle mates from hell' you had some wonderful sights. As for the accommodation one would not think one is in the Bush at all though it is beautiful.

 

Looking forward to more

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wilddog

Wonderful report great pictures and I love your sense of humour. The ability to laugh at oneself is such a great thing. :) You do seem to have made a very good start with your first sightings but with terrible vehicle companions. One of the great things about being on safari is the quiet, but some people have no understanding of that. I just hope that on that very first drive you still smelt strongly of vomit and the smell all wafted in their direction. I wonder of the smell helped the leopard relax........................ ;)

 

I must admit I prefer rustic so the new camp would not suit me but above all else the hope is to enjoy the wildlife and clearly you did that.

 

Looking forward to reading your next chapter and hoping for more 'laugh out loud' comments.

 

Thank you.

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madaboutcheetah

Can hardly wait to hear your report from Lagoon ...... great start so far!!!

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Dam2810

Hi Carina

 

beautiful pictures. tubu is a good place to see the leopards. i think I saw the saw female last june (close to the airfield). I remember a similar experience during my stay at Tubu Tree when some guests with who I was sharing the car were fed up to follow a leopard after 30 minutes. I was so sad to leave this beautiful female who was quite active and maybe trying to hunt

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africapurohit

@@Carina I'm really enjoying this report - not because of your misfortunes but because it so honestly written. Your photos are great too.

 

And I have no problems listening to stories about vomit - as a parent of three I've been "puked" on so many times, it's like water off a duck's back :D

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owenshaffer

Dear Carina,

 

I'm dying to see to read the rest of your text and see your photos. I hope that it comes out soon/

 

I hope that everything is going well for you,Owen

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During the afternoon drive, our guide unknowingly drove between a female elephant and her calf, who was hidden in the brush on the right side of the road. Mom was upset and confronted us with flapping ears and stomping feet. It looked as if she might charge the vehicle. Our guide cut the engine off and told us to be very quiet and not to move a muscle. The stand-off lasted a fuIl two minutes - an eternity when you are waiting for an elephant to decide whether to overturn your vehicle or not. The two ding-a-lings in the back seat were so terrified they almost peed their pants. It was literally the only two minutes of silence I got the entire three days with them. When it was over, the guide broke out into hysterical laughter. I think he was grateful for those two minutes of silence as well.

 

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Later during the drive, I was advised that my vehicle mates had already made arrangements with the manager that our guide would take us the following day by boat to Jao Camp for brunch and a tour of the facilities (i.e. spa). This meant the next morning’s game drive would be cut short en route to the boat launch and the afternoon game drive would also be cut short or even eliminated, depending on what time we returned to Tubu. I guess it was assumed I would go along with this plan, as no one even asked me if this excursion was something I was interested in. I wasn’t happy about it, but I went along to get along, the whole time becoming increasingly agitated about how these two were dictating (or I was allowing them to dictate) my safari activities. I suspected the motive behind this excursion was so they could weasel their way into the spa for a mani/pedi. I was pretty sure we wouldn’t see much in terms of wildlife on the boat trip (as compared to a game drive), and I was even more confident we wouldn’t see any wildlife while touring a luxury camp. Happily, I would be wrong on all counts.

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owenshaffer

Dear Carina,

 

I would have refused to go on a game drive with two morons who had to go to the spa. I can't wait to read more.

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The next morning, the boat trip to Jao was uneventful, and I smugly confirmed to myself that I had been right about this day being a total waste. We had a lovely brunch and the manager took us on a tour of the camp, including the spa (yawn, eye roll). Luckily, the spa was booked for the afternoon, so I didn’t have to worry about wasting precious time with that foolishness. Our guide had gone off to look for a family of banded mongoose that were living somewhere in camp. He found them living under a metal shipping container at the mechanic shop. The mongoose family had been living in various locations in camp for several years and were very relaxed around people. They had nine, 5 week old pups which were adorable and very entertaining. We spent at least a half hour watching them and then our guide got a tip that a male lion was walking around (not sleeping!) near the Jao airstrip. We borrowed a vehicle and drove out to find him. He was half-heartedly following a small group of impala, not caring too much if they saw him or not. He started calling and the sound was amazing. I can only imagine what a lion roar sounds like when they give it all they’ve got. This one was barely whispering. I was very pleased with this sighting, as our guide had told us we would not see lion at Tubu, as they pass through only occasionally.

 

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Mid-afternoon, we boarded our small motor boat and headed back to Tubu. The motion of the boat lulled me to sleep, but suddenly the boat stopped and the guide was directing our attention to the area we had just passed, where a lot of thrashing and splashing was going on. He turned the boat around to investigate and became very excited when he discovered that all the commotion was caused by two, 4 meter long crocodiles (that’s 13 feet for the metrically-challenged) fighting. He said he had never seen crocs that large in this area. The crocs had by this time separated and were lying in shallow water, hidden by heavy vegetation. Our guide wanted a closer look, so he maneuvered the boat into the reeds. We got a closer look indeed, as our little boat was literally sitting on top of one of them as he lay just a couple of inches below the surface in the shallow water. The water was murky and one of my vehicle mates didn’t believe there was really a croc under our boat. So to make a point, the guide grabbed a long pole from inside the boat and tapped it quite hard on the back. It was huge. Scary huge. He tapped it a few more times, and with a quick thrash, the croc propelled himself deeper into the reeds and out from under our boat (whew!).

 

So, this excursion was turning out not to be a total waste of time after all. And it would soon get better as our boat entered a wide spot in the channel where we unexpectedly ran into several hippos. We hadn’t yet seen hippos, so it was exciting to be this close to them. Our guide quickly positioned the boat in an unobtrusive location where we would not block ingress or egress to the channel. Over the next half hour the number of hippos mysteriously increased from a handful to over 20. Where were they all coming from? There was quite a bit of yawning by the hippos closest to the boat, which the guide explained was a threat display. We made our exit as it was getting late and we didn’t want to get caught in a narrow channel at sundown with more hippos. A good day, after all.

 

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At breakfast the last morning, one of the ladies was complaining about the “tarantulas” in her tent. I’m sure she had no clue what a real tarantula looked like. I briefly fantasized about her waking up with an actual tarantula on her face.

 

On our last drive, I enjoyed seeing lots of elephants making water crossings. One herd had a tiny calf, less than a month old. The water was deep, but the guide said the calf would hold on to the tail of one of the adults in order to make the crossing. Later that afternoon, the parting shot from the dynamic-ding-bat-duo as they left for their bush flight: “Hope you find new vehicle mates that you like as much as us!” Good bye and good riddance, I muttered under my breath.

 

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Next up- Kwando Lagoon. Dogs! Cheetah! Dogs! Cheetah!

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