Another preview on the Botswana self-drive…
Elephants were heading for the water as the sun set. I was cooking dinner while this happened so we wouldn’t eat and then have to climb into the tent in the dark.
You can probably guess how difficult it was to finesse a gas-top-cooked Spanish omelet while all this was going on behind me.
The omelet survived, dinner was delicious as the sky turned violet, and we just made it into the tent by dark.
Unscathed by morning, and there I am back in the kitchen. We started another day with coffee, then collapsed the tent and set out for a game drive.
During our eight day self-drive through Botswana we camped at Savuti, an area in the central western part of Chobe National Park. Exploring the area during a morning game drive, we found a waterhole and parked the Land Rover there to see who would come for a drink. We waited ten minutes watching a mongoose and a cory bustard, then three impala and a lone sable antelope came to the water and drank. Meanwhile, a large adult male giraffe remained in the cover of the bush nearby with only his head sticking up, cautiously checking us out.
When giraffes spread their front legs and lower their heads to drink, it is their most vulnerable position. So, the large male waited, watching us for another ten minutes before he decided it was safe. When he finished drinking, the rest of the family, the mother and their two babies, emerged from the bush one at a time to drink while the male stood behind safeguarding them from potential side or rear ambush.
Even though we’d been traveling for a few days in the 1992 Land Rover Defender, which we rented for a self-drive through Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park, I still didn’t realize what a tank it was.
Not until we encountered this:
September 21 —
The afternoon light bathes the spring in warm tones, and reflections on the small pools are a golden blur.
The lions have eaten so much of the elephant (they took down the night before) that their bellies have become distended.
Of all the wilderness sites we visited in Southern Africa, the bush camp at the Chitake spring was the most remote and wild — wild in the truest sense of the word.
Visitors to Mana Pools National Park are allowed the privilege of walking in the territory of wildlife that can be dangerous — and we were heading into the depths of the bush at the height of the dry season. We would be visiting the spring during its most dramatic period of activity. Continue reading
September 18 —
We arose at 5:30, and during breakfast said our goodbyes to our German friends who had capsized and lost equipment in heavy wind conditions the morning before. I told them how happy I was to make their acquaintance, and quickly added, “Of course, not under the actual circumstances.” They all laughed in agreement. What a great group. I was sorry to see them go. But they decided to take their leave of the river and continue on with their tour of Zimbabwe.
We set out on the river some time around 7:00 am in a light wind that was manageable. The cloud cover had vanished and the day was heating up within an hour; good reason to set out as early as possible. Also, the morning light is beautiful — soft but luminous, with the sun ahead of us as we traveled east down the river.
Bono, River and Walking Guide, and apprentice, Ali
September 17 — Soon after we arrived at our new river camp, the wind was still blowing strong. A group of 6 canoers, who had all capsized, were brought in by boat unexpectedly. They were still wet, wringing out their clothes and checking what they’d managed to prevent from being lost in the river. Our plan was to get out on the river just after lunch, but the other couple we would be canoeing with arrived much later at the camp than expected. Emily, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, and Steven, the founder of a business management consulting group had just climbed Mt Kilamanjaro in 3 days, and made transit from Tanzania to Zimbabwe, (and exhausted, had slept in late somewhere between here and there!) before making their appearance. We did not set off until around 4 pm by which time the wind had calmed significantly and I felt less hesitant.
Mana Pools is part of a larger Parks and Wildlife Estate that runs from the Kariba Dam in the west of Zimbabwe to the Mozambique border in the east. With no physical boundaries, the wildlife is free to move throughout the area – even north of the Zambezi River into Zambia, where there are also large areas set aside for wildlife conservation. The Zambezi River flows through the middle.
Mana Pools extends southwards to the summit of the steep Zambezi Escarpment and the Zambezi River’s southern banks form its northern border with a view of the Zambia escarpment on the other side. Within this floodplain area, the river flows into a broad expanse of lakes, islands, channels and sandbanks. Mana means ‘four’ in the Shona language, and refers to the four large permanent pools inland that remain of the oxbow lakes the Zambezi River carved out thousands of years ago in the process of changing its course northwards.
A World Heritage Site, Mana Pools is one of the least developed National Parks, and the only one where walking is allowed. As much of it is seasonally inaccessible, it remains unspoilt. During the rainy season, most of the area’s wildlife moves up into the escarpments. But during the dry winter months Mana Pools arguably has one of the highest concentrations of large game on the continent. As the waters of the floodplain recede, great herds of elephant and buffalo return to the same places, and lion, leopard, cheetah, kudu, eland, waterbuck, zebra, impala and other antelope as well as 380 bird species move back in toward the river. Certainly one of the largest concentrations of crocodiles and hippopotami in Africa is found along the river in Mana Pools. It is unquestionably one of the most exciting places to camp, to explore on foot, and by canoe, for the varied amount of wildlife that can be seen in its true wild state.
I had no real idea what I was in for.