Africa, Botswana

Past Africa Trips – Part 1

Before I tell you about our plans for Kenya, I thought I would tell you about our other two trips to Africa:

Botswana 2016

Honestly, I am a big chicken and safari had never been on my bucket list until a health scare, and then all of the sudden I was pretty much up for anything because life is short and why not? When we decided we wanted to go on safari it was pretty difficult trying to figure out which countries to go to, but somehow we ended up on Botswana. I can’t remember why – I’m lucky if I can remember what we had for dinner last night!

We had to hire a TA for the trip, which is pretty unusual for us, but I’m very thankful we did as there are lots of moving pieces if you are flying between camps, etc.. It worked out wonderfully and was worth the cost.

Botswana is gorgeous. We began the trip in Zimbabwe staying at a hotel in a leaky hut overlooking a canyon. The three main things I remember about Zimbabwe are: 1) No guard rails or safety measures – I remember wondering how many people fell in the canyon each year. I also remember thinking law suits must not be a thing there. Ha! 2) Going into the main town and seeing warthogs for the first time – our first true African animal sighting! 3) Seeing Victoria Falls – simply amazing and worth the trip to see.

View from the hut
Beautiful Victoria Falls

After Zimbabwe we made our way to a houseboat safari:

Our home for a few nights

It was just us and two other ladies on the boat for a few days. They were very nice and we really enjoyed meeting them; one was an author and had interesting elephant stories. The boat safari was the first time we saw lions and elephants. From the main boat we would go on a smaller boat and motorboat (not that kind) up and down the river looking for/at wildlife. The ladies knew it was our first time and had us sit in the front for the best views. That’s what they told us, but I have to say the first time we pulled the little boat up to shore to see lions, I really wondered if we were at the front in case something bad happened and they’d eat us first. I mean, we were in this *boat* on *shore* with the motor off and there were at least four lions close enough we didn’t need our binoculars to see them.

My favorite memory from the boat was coming across a group of ellies for the first time and just floating there listening to and watching them. I couldn’t stop my smile. I knew I loved elephants before this trip, but getting close to them and seeing them in the wild for the first time? That was next level.

My favs

We would watch them come over the small hill and walk into the water and drink and splash. It was my first experience with discovering how *quiet* these huge creatures are. I could have watched them all day.

I remember the boat safari had a major bug issue. Somehow these really big flying bugs were in our room. Yes, we were on safari and expected bugs, but this amount were the things nightmares are made of! Hubby snores and sleeps with his mouth open a lot and all I could think of was him choking on a bug in the middle of the night. Actually, they were big enough that I don’t know if they would have fit. Yuck! Thankfully the next night before we went to bed they sprayed our rooms to kill the majority of them. We just had to hope the spray wasn’t harmful to us because when they sprayed, THEY SPRAYED. That boat was hot and buggy, but we still had a great time – especially since it was our first actual safari experience.

From the boat we would go on to four different camps. Between all of the camps we got to see all of the animals we could have hoped for with the exception of rhinos (rare where we were) or cheetahs (just not lucky, I guess). The tents we stayed at were nicer than some hotels we’ve been in – it was glamping at its finest: running water and a flushing toilet!

Lagoon Camp – situated on a lagoon with laughing hippos. This was our view.

Remember the story about being in the little boat and going to shore with lions not all that far away? Well, that was nothing compared to the first time seeing them in a safari vehicle…

Definitely still a chicken. Definitely miss vehicle doors. Definitely wondering how many clean underwear I had left at camp.

One of the highlights from the first camp was seeing wild dogs. These aren’t that common to see as these dogs are mostly running around constantly in packs. We actually got to see them napping, so they obviously felt comfortable around vehicles.

Sleepy pup

Since we went in November, we were lucky enough to be there during the green season, which is off season, so lower pricing. It’s off season, though, because of rain (hence ‘green’). Because it was off season and the camps were slow, we got to have our own private vehicle at Duba Plains, the second camp, for the first time. Usually you have to pay a pretty hefty fee for something like that.

Highlights/memories from this camp:

  • The young woman who had recently started working there showed us to our tent at night after dinner was definitely memorable. On safari, when it is dark, someone will walk you to/from your tent early in the morning and at night. Night time is scary there. Lots of crazy sounds and your senses are really heightened. At the first camp, we had big unbothered men take us to our tents. Here, it was the small young woman who admitted she was also scared at night. I was sort of shocked they had her do it, to be honest. Once she dropped us off I was concerned about her getting back to her own tent alone OK! And one of the big reasons for that was because of the next point…
  • Casper! That’s the name of the elephant that hung around the camp and caused mischief. Some of the team had told stories about him coming into camp and eating the fruit from the marula trees. I remember the first time we saw him it was literally at pre-dinner drinks:
Pre-dinner entertainment!

I was shocked how close he was – and it wasn’t dangerous because we were on an elevated platform and he was ignoring everything except his mission to get the fruit from the trees. We would see him a couple times during our stay, and each time brought excitement.

The second time was when we were walking from our tent to the jeep to meet our guide. We were walking and then someone yelled out to us. Holy crap, there was Casper literally in the middle of camp eating the fruit – we hadn’t seen him. We quickly got into the jeep alone – because he was between us and our guide! I thought I had read you aren’t supposed to look elephants in the eyes (I am so embarrassed to write that now), so since I was sitting closest to him I stared ahead, trying not to blink so maybe he wouldn’t see me. I am both a chicken and a ding dong.

The third time we saw him was when we were surprised with a lovely breakfast in the bush at a surprise location, and all of the sudden he came around the corner. Luckily we had two jeeps – the one in the pic is the chef’s jeep. Eventually he walked away and he didn’t disturb any of the breakfast stuff.

The last time we saw Casper, we were on the back deck after lunch, getting ready to leave for the airstrip to go to our next camp. We were out there sitting in the shade, trying not to bake, and I remember saying I wished Casper would have showed up to tell us goodbye. And then he did!

I think he is my favorite memory from Botswana.

On to the next camp, which was Selinda. We had the best guide at this camp. My back went out one day and he went above and beyond to get pillows/cushions so I could keep going on drives. He was also our favorite guide as he was like the animal whisperer and was an excellent tracker. He was also extremely respectful of the animals and gave them distance, which I appreciated.

The highlight of this camp was seeing wild dogs again, and when they had *just* killed an impala. 1) I was glad we didn’t have to see the suffering of the impala. 2) It was pretty amazing and gruesome seeing how fast they ate it. Predators steal food from other predators all the time, and so if you’re pretty low on the predator food chain you have to eat quickly before someone else shows up to steal your meal. Adding some space for a significant warning…

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>>>WARNING – GRUESOME PIC AHEAD!!<<<

Ick.

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The only real low point of the entire trip was the camp manager at Selinda. She was extremely rude to the guests and everyone actually complained about her and then all of the sudden she wasn’t around anymore. It was wild. We did see her when we left, but she wisely avoided everyone after her initial horrible behavior.

Our last camp was at Vumbura and they had two camps, Little Vumbura and Vumbura Plains. We were supposed to stay at the smaller one, but found out before leaving that they were doing maintenance/construction, so they moved us over to the larger one. It was our fanciest camp, by far. We had a private plunge pool! It turned out great because it was so hot there.

Lots of skinny dipping in Botswana!

The thing I remember the most about that camp was that while we were there a coalition of four sub-adult males lions (I might be getting the terminology wrong, but these males did not have fully grown manes yet) that were trying to take over the territory from two adult males. One morning we were out driving around and all of the sudden the action really started and the two adults had gotten separated and the four subs were after one of them. It was a flurry of fur and roaring, and several vehicles were chasing along, including ours. Well, our guide didn’t see one of the four running to his left and he cut him off while driving, because he was ahead of him. The lion looked me in the eyes, very agitated – he definitely didn’t like it. Lions are used to vehicles, but they are not used to vehicles being aggressive; they usually see them as noisy moving rocks. I wasn’t sure how he was going to act after that, and was actually pretty scared until he started running again away from us. Everything was pretty much happening all at once and I think that was the fastest my heart rate went the whole trip. Our guide apologized to us and explained why he was driving so quickly – the camp was surprising guests with a mimosa & pancake meal in the bush and some workers were in the direct path setting up, where the lions were running. We were trying to get to them to warn them! It was a crazy time. Everyone was contacted in time and they saw the lions run by while they were in the back of their pickup truck!

After that chase, heart still pumping, I asked them if they had straight tequila. No? I then requsted they hit me with the straight champagne. I also made sure I was in the middle of a group of people or right next to the vehicle the whole time we were there. I didn’t want to be anyone’s meal.

That was our last camp and our very first safari vacation. We absolutely loved it!

2 thoughts on “Past Africa Trips – Part 1”

    1. You should be really, really glad I didn’t post the video Clay has, because it was a crime scene when we first came upon it – this pic is nothing in comparison, sadly. The poor thing had only been dead probably less than a minute. I was just so thankful I didn’t have to hear it dying, because I’ve read those wild dogs eat it alive, rather than kill it and eat it. I would have had nightmares, I’m sure.

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