Monday, June 9, 2008

Botswana: Elephants playing in Chobe river

When we arrived from Zimbabwe to the Botswana border post, we all piled into a building where there was only one immigration officer, so that took a while. We changed vehicles at this point and drove to the building on the Botswana side where our passports were duly stamped.

Making a stop soon after the border crossing, we were required to leave our truck and wipe our feet on a wet, very dirty looking mat which was, I supposed, (once upon a time) soaked in disinfectant. They obviously didn't want any Zimbabwe bugs in Botswana.

Our Lodge was the Cresta Mowano Lodge. Our rooms were not ready for us so we booked onto a 10.00am game drive.

Our game drive driver was Steven. The vehicle was a three tiered Landrover. I sat right at the back on the highest tier as I thought this could be the best place for photography.

We had some great Americans with us, they were really funny they kept saying "Did you see that, honey?" (elephants - about 15ft away). "Oh my Gawd honey, they are coming nearer" - "My oh my did you see that honey?" (Cape buffalo 50ft away) - and so on and on. They had heard a story from someone about an elephant attacking a vehicle while she had a calf with her (sounds reasonable). Every time we got within 100ft of an elephant they lapsed into "Oh my Gawd honey, its coming nearer!"

We saw huge numbers of elephants, and the biggest herd of cape buffalo I have ever seen, "Maybe three hundred" our driver reckoned. We saw puku deer which we hadn't seen before; puku can only be seen around the Chobe area. We also sighted a lot of kudu, impala and we saw a sleepy lioness under a tree. We also sighted sable, wart hog and baboon.

The Chobe River runs alongside the lodge and National Park and on the opposite bank where there are cattle grazing, is Namibia. The lions sometimes swim across into Nambia and take an easy meal of cattle. We discovered that Princess Alexandria arrived at the Lodge today. This is making the Americans even more excited than usual.

We went on an afternoon cruise. This was interesting but, for game viewing, disappointing. We saw some elephants in the distance and some hippo and a crocodile or two. We did see a red lechwe which is a deer that lives only in swampy areas. There was also a fish eagle that dived for some meat the boatman had but it all happened so fast that neither of us captured it on film. After a good sunset we arrived back at the lodge.

Tomorrow, after a morning game drive we shall not be sorry to leave to go into the Okavango Delta. The Lodge is understaffed and the staff are undertrained, hopefully things have changed now. The only exception to this was in the safari office which made us very welcome and ran the game drives very efficiently.

We had a good game drive this morning. We saw the huge herd of buffalo we saw yesterday. But one delightful sequence we did see was a couple of young bull elephants playing in the Chobe River. I have always wanted to see elephants playing in the water. We sat up on a bluff and watched them for a while before they hauled themselves out. The water was obviously quite deep as at times they both submerged, and all we could see was the tip of a trunk waving around.

We came across a couple of lionesses resting under the trees, they had a cub hidden away in the bush; we couldn't see it, but Steven knew it was there. There is an island in the middle of the Chobe River that is claimed by Botswana and the Botswana flag flies on it. Namibia also claim it is their island, and so there are armed troops watching the Botswana flag from this side of the river and on the other side troops are watching for an opportunity to put their flag up. What a ridiculous situation; they are behaving like children. Apparently the problem has gone to some court of appeal and they are likely to take about 20 years to sort out ownership. I could understand it if the land was of any value - but it has no value at all. When it rains, 95% of the island is covered by water, anyway.

We drove to Kasane airport. While we waited for our plane I asked if I could photograph the Air Botswana plane we were flying in. That was fine, but I wasn't allowed to photograph, "that plane over there." The "plane over there" was Princess Alexandra's plane, sitting on the tarmac and flying the Union Jack. I said to the guard that it was our Princess and the plane belonged to our Country. I found the whole thing so funny, but he was there to guard it and guard it he was going to do, so I was good and didn't photograph it.

There were only five of us on a 45-seater plane; those are the sorts of odds I enjoy. We were amused to be told that in the event of having to land on water we were to 'use bottom seat cushion for flotation', this is on an hours flight across the African Desert!!

We landed and were taken into the new arrivals building. Our cases were brought over on a wheel barrow, we collected them and walked out of the exit, there was nobody to check us out at all. We were met and taken to a small four seater plane.

The plane was taking a large supply of soft drinks for the camp and we watched them being loaded. There was an old African clutching two glass jugs, he was coming with us. Ralph sat beside the pilot, I sat behind with the elderly friendly African who continued to clutch the two glass jugs all the way.

The flight to Delta Camp took about 20 minutes. We flew over a very dry delta where all the pans were dry. I saw three elephants which my African friend pointed out to me.

We landed in the middle of the bush on a narrow short dust track and were met by our hosts, Carol and Bob. The elderly African who was still clutching the jugs when we landed disappeared into the bush - never to be seen again.

Our room was a bamboo chalet, very open to the elements. The only air conditioning here comes through the holes in the bamboo.

Just before dinner we sat around a log fire out in the open and watched the fire-flies twinkling all round us. Delta camp is in middle of nowhere and only takes 16 people. Princess Alexandria wanted to stop here but the air strip wasn't large enough to take a twin engined plane and members of the Royal Family, we were told, could not fly in a single engined plane.

Dinner was taken by candlelight. The pilot from the plane joined us. I asked him if the elephants ever damaged the plane sitting on the air strip, apparently the elephants are not the trouble; it's the wart hogs, they eat the tyres!

The following morning at 6.30am we went out with out guide in a makolo. A makolo is the local name for a dugout canoe. You sit on seats in the makolo one behind the other, they are a lot more comfortable than they look.

Almost as soon as we left the lodge we saw an otter and a couple of red lechwe. We sighted a large group of impala lying down and a wart hog, elephant and a lot of birds. For anyone who is interested in bird watching this place is a paradise.

We got back to camp for breakfast. Bob called up a fish eagle which he feeds regularly. If he threw some cooked meat on the water it would sit on the dead tree waiting and would not come down, it would only come down for raw steak. Goodness knows how it could tell from that far away, its eyesight must be remarkable. Bob then threw the raw steak into the water, as as we glued our eyes to our viewfinders, Bob counted it down 3-2-1, as Bob said 1 it swooped down and collected the meat from the water.

4pm and we go off on our mokolo ride. Our guide warned us about the elephants, they don't like humans, neither do the buffalos, both will charge if they see us. The way to escape is to climb a tree. There are two things wrong with that advice. Firslty There are not many trees around as we drift through the tall blue-grass and secondly, most of the trees are very tall and straight with no branches for at least the first 30ft. I suppose it depends on how frightened you are as to how far you shin up the tree.

We saw zebra, impala, art hog and red lechwe. This is not the place to see a lot of wildlife but it is very relaxing and tranquil being poled along through the reeds. The water lilys are very beautiful.

A young man who arrived here at lunchtime is studying the elephants and their effect on this area. He'd spent the afternoon observing four elephants and at one time the wind changed and one of the elephants got his scent and charged, he dived behind a large ant hill, and reckons the trunk missed him by only a couple of feet. Certainly the animals here are not used to humans and if they are, they don't like them. Here at Delta Camp there is an electric fence to keep the elephants out. Last year they got into camp and flattened one of the huts, not that that would be too difficult.

Waking up early the next morning I remember hearing a hyena sometime in the night. We were out for three hours with our guide this morning. We were looking for hippo but we couldn't find any. We saw some elephants quite close by but we kept downwind so they didn't know we were there. We also saw baboons, red lechwe and lots of birds.

As we got ready to leave Delta Camp we sat waiting for our plane to come in and a lone elephant approached the camp, we left before he arrived.

We flew back to Maun photographing an elephant from the air, we were flying about 600ft.

Maun is a real one horse town. We were given our boarding cards to Kasane. The departure lounge is a stuffy little room with plastic chairs, we felt very hot and uncomfortable as we waited for our Air Botswana flight to Kasane.

Landing at Kasane we were collected and driven back across the border to Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe.

We enjoyed our short time in Botswana but felt a little disapointed by the lack of wildlife. But had we been keen on ornithology it would have been paradise. The lodge was excellent and quite different from anywhere we had stayed before. We were looked after and well fed by Carol and Bob.

It was worth coming to Botswana just to see those two elephants playing in the Chobe river, a magical moment. We enjoyed our short time in Botswana but I don't think we will go back.

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