Botswana blog: days 10 & 11

We awoke in Namibia to a crisp and clear morning. The sky above Livingstone’s camp was like a Bob Ross painting – happy clouds, purples, yellows and oranges penetrated the last remaining darkness. It was going to be a good day!

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**If you haven’t been following along, be sure to check out my main page on Botswana Blog, and read the most recent posts: Days 1-4Days 5&6 and Days 7-9 before this one.

Day 10: Namibia to Savuti

It felt a bit like backtracking to turn around and head back to the Botswana border after just one night in Namibia, but we were determined to head back to Chobe and see more big cats! Our plan had evolved from the original itinerary: instead of spending two nights in Namibia and driving west above Botswana before crossing the border again, we decided to turn around and head back through Chobe and Moremi before going into Central Khalahari. At least that was the plan still on day 10!

Images from the road

After a fast (tar road) drive back to the border, we re-entered at Ngoma gate near Chobe. The sandy drive back to Savuti was just as slow and bumpy as last time, and once again with nothing much to see in the way of wildlife. We did have one interesting experience, however.

About an hour from Savuti camp there was traffic. In fact, we came to a stand-still in the sand. I drove our trusty 4×4 Blake up onto the side of the track as we waited for a truck hauling a trailer to be dug out, where it had gotten stuck an hour before. We made friends with some of the other onlookers – two Americans and two Germans – who were two weeks into an overland trip of their own. After about thirty minutes and some help pushing, the truck was out of the sand and on its way to Kasane. I hope they made it! In fact we were quite lucky – because it was the slow season still this was the only time we encountered a stuck vehicle. I imagine during the busy season you can spend hours waiting or helping stranded tourists!

We pulled into Savuti just after lunch and were assigned our campsite. Because we only managed to book that morning, the campsite we got wasn’t the best. It was right next to the ablutions and surrounded by other campsites with no privacy. We planned to drive around camp after sunset to find another empty camp and move (as with Ihaha, people often book and don’t show!). But for now – it was time for another game drive.

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Elephant at Savuti marsh stretch point

We still hadn’t seen wild dog but had been told there were some in the Savuti marsh area. Of course this was a bit like being told there’s a needle in that haystack – good luck finding it. We spent four hours driving through the marsh land, avoiding the most treacherous roads but still finding ourselves occasionally in dicy, deep and muddle tracks. There was at least one point when my heart raced as the back tyres skidded through a section that probably hadn’t been visited by other vehicles in a few days.

Despite the effort, in four hours we saw mostly birds and a few wildebeest. But that was the biggest lesson of this trip – you have to enjoy even the small things, or you’ll never appreciate Botswana. There is no guarantee you will see big cats, rhino or wild dog, but look at the natural beauty constantly surrounding you!

We pulled up to a stretch point, where we were planning to have sun-downers, to find a large bull elephant. There was no way we’d be getting out of the car here! We watched him for awhile before continuing on and seeing a breath-taking sunset with giraffe walking across the horizon.

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We only started the 10k drive back to camp after the sun had already set, which made some of the small water crossings a bit more treacherous. At one point we hit a nicely size puddle head on, and found ourselves in a bit deeper than expected. It would only be in the morning when we realised our number plate and part of the front bumper had been pulled off…

When we got back to camp there was a bit of chaos ensuing. A group of South African tourists had arrived late after spending 10 hours in their cars traveling just 200km. I spoke a bit with the matriarch of the group, an aggravated and exhausted grandmother, who told me their cars weren’t built for this journey. The camp manager was busy trying to organise a big enough spot for their five vehicles; she moved us to a new camp to help the process. Our new site was much more private and better-suited for our needs. We fell asleep in Savuti to the sound of lions mating, once again.

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Day 11: Lion tracking in Savuti

We awoke early, made coffee and set off on a game drive. It was still quite dark when we initially left camp, following the sounds of the lions that we heard throughout the night. About 30 minutes from camp, we stopped the car and listened. A deep roaring noise echoed off a nearby rocky hill – we were close. We drove a few minutes further, stopped the car again and listened. The sound seemed to have moved. We saw vultures in a tree, indicating there was a probably carcass, and thus lions, nearby.

A few minutes later we stopped again and heard nothing. Disheartened, we decided to turn around and explore another section of the park before breakfast. As I drove the vehicle back, I saw tracks on the sand – over the top of our tyre tracks! A lion had been there after we drove through. We followed the tracks until they disappeared into the bush, then we stopped and turned the car off. Not two minutes later, this gorgeous female walked out of the bush and in front of our truck.

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We followed her, at a safe distance, for some twenty minutes as she called to her pride. It was just us and her – no other vehicles in sight. What an experience.

She didn’t mind us at all – in fact, at one point she rested for a good ten minutes in the sand, calling and listening for her pride.

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This was by far the most amazing experience of the trip. Naturally we were proud of our ‘tracking’ skills and for finding this lioness. It was also amazing to have this experience all to ourselves – very rarely can you watch a lion so close to camp without other game vehicles being on top of you.

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She disappeared into the bush 30 minutes after we first saw her. It was an epic start to the day, an indication we made the right decision to come back through Chobe, and a lovely reminder of the beauty and magic of Botswana and Southern Africa.

On our way back to camp we found a group of ground hornbill hunting in the grass. Hornbill are listen as vulnerable by the IUCN – one step from endangered. It was quite cool to see a large group of them together.

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Back at camp we had a different kind of hornbill visit us. This one was quite interactive and continued to land on Blake (our 4×4), looking at its reflection in the windscreen. Quite amusing!

Just before we left camp for the day, Ricky made a surprising discovery. Buh-lah-key (aka Blake), our trusty 4×4, had lost its number plate. The zip ties we used to reenforce it weren’t quite as strong as we had hoped, in the end. Somehow we both knew where the incident had taken place – the previous night, during the more treacherous puddle crossings. We decided to look for it as we left camp, not feeling very optimistic about our chances.

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Our attempt to find the number plate was unsuccessful. We found a few small pieces of the plastic bumper, but no license. The metal weight likely caused it to sink to the bottom of the deep puddle – and neither of us were keen to wade in. We continued our drive out of Chobe, en route to Moremi, with some great sightings of ostrich and elephant along the way.

Everything was going splendidly. We were on track to stay in Moremi, maybe see some wild dog, head to Maun for a night then continue to Central Khalahari. The trip was looking good! That is, until our speedometer stopped working and the electronics said 4×4 couldn’t engage…

Next post coming soon!

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