Today’s Wheel of Adventures has stopped at 2014, so here we go. . .
This is part three of a four part series about an African safari.
Part one introduced Camp Banoka and described what a typical game drive day was like, and showed a variety of some of the larger wildlife. Part two showed more of what camp life was like along with photos of the camp rangers and staff, and a look at some of the birdlife along with more about how game drives are done. Part three is all about a wetland camp where guests travel by boat and canoe for the game “drives”.
Camp Banoka was mostly dry forest with scattered swamp areas, Camp Xigera is almost all wetlands intermixed with open dry areas, many of which have tall palm trees. The camp lodge and tent facilities are even more luxurious than the previous camp. It’s located on a peninsula between a large swamp and a fast moving clear water river that flows right past the lodge’s viewing deck. Tents are placed on raised wood decks and walkways about 10′ above ground. Vervet monkeys scurry about, a few large animals appear at night and sleep on the ground under the tent decks. It certainly is unique to hear a snoring elephant just below your bed! Antelope families also sleep in camp since the lions don’t come near. But hyenas are on the walkways at night. A dirt section at the walkway entry records all the wildlife comings and goings as they leave tracks.
Large bull elephants are very impressive passing this close to our canoe
The day starts with a 5:30 am wake up call, rangers escort the guests at 6:00 am to a delicious breakfast around the lodge morning campfire, then off to the boats around 6:45 am. The early morning fresh dampness feels brisk on the cheeks as we speed thru a number of reed lined channels to our first stop – a large herd of elephants standing hip deep in the water enjoying mouthfuls of tender grass. Since the herd has a number of babies, one must speak in whispers while boat outboard motors are now silent so to not alarm the dominant matriarch. “Kerchoo” – someone sneezed and in an instant the herd started to flee. The sound of several dozen elephants trying to run thru deep water is terrifying – almost like the roar from Victoria Falls! Running away from us, they soon slowed and stared back at us with some loud trumpeting.
We dared not move any of the boats now, just wait and see. After a few minutes, a smaller group headed back towards us on the way to a nearby earth mound. Suddenly one bull began to run after some females, ears flapping, trunk up, making the most frightening shrieks. Big and very fast, not all like the calm zoo elephants one normally sees. Well, this got our attention, so we certainly listened to the ranger’s elephant warnings from then on. (learn more about this behavior in part four) After all that excitement it was time to beach the boats for our morning tea and biscuit break before the next search, this time to find hippos.
Soon the boats arrived at a very large pond, almost a lake really. Hippo groups were everywhere, not just a few like the Disneyland Jungle Cruise, but dozens at a time, snorting and wiggling their ears. Since hippos kill more humans world wide, one needs to understand the limits to how close to approach them. They keep an eye on us at all times, sometimes submerging only to surface much closer. This became sort of a game for those with cameras to be ready for where the hippo submarine fleet would surface next so as to get a dramatic photo. The best shots were when they suddenly yawned wide – shots quite hard to get. Hippos feel safe in water, but become wary on land when away from the safety of water. If a human appears between them and the water, the hippo will run as fast as 30 mph and crush the person to death with one bite.
Returning to camp for a fine lunch and siesta time, we then went out once again for the quiet sunset cruise, looking forward to the on-water cocktail hour. While temperatures are moderately cool at dawn, mid-day is very pleasant in the high 70s due to being in a swamp – interestingly, virtually no mosquitoes were ever experienced. Possibly the combination of so many insect-eating birds and the camp repellant tiki lamps did the trick. So evenings were very pleasant shirt sleeve with campfire picnics, song and dance. No city lights for hundreds of miles – more stars than you’d ever seen before.
The finest experience is the sunset mokoro canoe slow drift among the lilies, silently propelled by rangers with poles. Some areas had a gentle current so we could just sit, observe and listen to the soft sounds in the most divine serenity imaginable. These are the times most vividly recorded in my memories of Botswana.
Next up: More stories and photos in part four. This time to Camp Duma Tau for viewing leopards, giraffes, and lots of elephants.
– Bob Gurr