Elephants, elephants everywhere!
03.07.2010 - 06.07.2010 70 °F
Since we did not have Internet access at Savuti Camp, we are posting a single entry for all three days.
SAVUTI CAMP DAY 1
We left our hotel in Livingstone and on the way out of the gates we saw giraffe. They have become our official send off at each place we leave.
The Livingstone airport is quite small and we were the only passengers there. After going through security a large group of school children came into the airport to learn about it. They were brought through security (gotta love other countries!) with their airport guide and their teachers.
They were from a small village and had never been to the airport and some had never seen a white person before. The kids acted like we were Kobe Bryant! They pulled Wil up from his seat to take pictures with him, the teachers spoke to Peter and myself independently while the kids randomly circled us to have individual and group pictures taken. It was so fun and their enthusiasm infectious. The Zambian airport only has one runway and the airport guide let the entire group of school children out onto the tarmac to watch us take off. Again, you have to love other countries! Can you imagine that happening in the US?
We got into a tiny six seater (that seat count includes the pilot) Cessna. We had a brief 20 minute flight to Kasane airport in Botswana to go through customs and immigration which took all of 10 minutes. I felt like I was in some sort of tv skit where the person that did our customs forms took her hat off and moved to the next booth to do our immigration form. It was that small!
After getting back into our tiny Cessna we flew another 45 minutes to a dirt airstrip in Chobe National Park. The flight was NOT my favorite as I felt like we were all over the place! Upon landing we pulled over at the end of the runway to allow another flight to take off over us before turning around and getting picked up by our new guide. Some of my friends could NOT have done this flight. Even Peter said it was stressful because it was very loud and uncomfortable. It was so small you felt every little bump. The only person that got out unscathed was Wil who happily munched crackers and listened to his ipod. I will never ever complain about a regional jet again!
After deplaning we met our new guide, Lets. He was very fun loving right off the bat and friendly. We drove in our Land Rover to our next camp which took about 30 minutes. It was driving on sand so it was very slow going but the weather was warm and sunny. The topsy turvy drive didn't help my already queasy stomach.
Upon arrival at camp, we were met by the staff and they gave us a wonderful of a light juice with a slice of melon in it. That really helped settle us. Next they took us to our room which is spectacular in an entirely different way than Mala Mala. Savuti Camp is raised so everything is on platforms, the structures and all walkways. In Mala Mala we had an individual structure just like here at Savuti but there it was a permanent "house" and here it is only semi-permanent. They didn't put up permanent structures as the camp area is only leased from the Botswana government (5-15yrs) so they wanted to be able to take it down. The camp has a main area with a large main dining room, living room, two levels of decks with a bar etc. There are only seven tents for guests. Our tent (and honestly, if this is camping, I could do it!) is beautiful. The roof is thatched with hardwood floors, shower, dressing area, sitting area (inside and out). Lying in bed, you look over the river as you do in the sitting room or the ouside chairs. Wil has the same setup as we do and his room is attached through a door/hallway.
After a quick lunch, we headed out into the bush for our first game drive. The bush here is much denser than that at Mala Mala in South Africa, and there is a river that cuts through most of it. Interestingly, the river was bone dry until two years ago. There was a slight tectonic shift upstream from the camp that started to divert water into the channel. So, it is now a thriving waterway.
The game drive was excellent. We saw a hippo in the river, elephant, a small herd of giraffe, a lone hyena, some zebra and a few kudu. One of the highlights was watching a giraffe drink from the river. Because they are so tall, they must spread their from legs very wide to get low enough to drink. We also learned that they have special valves in their necks and a special area in their brains to keep all the blood from rushing to their heads and causing them to black out when they drink! Another highlight was getting to see a Giant Eagle Owl up in a tree. It was about three feet tall and had huge eyes to see in the dark. A final highlight was catching a glimpse at a bushbaby jumping between some bushes. They are very small primates (think, large mouse) with large eyes for seeing at night, and they are fairly rare to see.
Once we got back to camp, we had a wonderful meal with everyone who is staying here in the main area. Ironically, there is a large group from Andover, MA here. Who knew that 90% of the people staying here would be from within 15 miles of each other.
At night, they lower the mosquito nets around the beds and pull curtains all around the tents. They are really heavy canvas cloth curtains. The final touch is that they put hot water bottles in the beds, so we have a warm place to sleep when we return for the evening. Wil jumped out of bed when he first got into his bed because he thought the hot water bottle was an animal! Again, I could camp like this! Another difference between this camp and Mala Mala is that the frogs in the river are incredibly loud all night long. At first, it is very noticeable, but as you get used to it, it because a very pleasant background noise. One frog, the bell frog, makes a very distinct sound like a small bell ringing. In the end, we all had a great nights sleep.
SAVUTI CAMP DAY 2
Our morning started very early with a 5:30am wake up call, but soon became exciting. After a nice breakfast around a fire on the deck next to the river, we all prepared to go out for our game drives. Kellie and Wil stayed back on the deck, and Kellie suddenly noticed an impala running very fast along the far bank of the river. The guides heard her and looked, and they started yelling "Wild dog! Wild dog!" Sure enough, there was a wild dog that chased the impala into the river and swam in after it. We all jumped in our vehicles and drove over to the area where we thought they would land. Unfortunately, we could not get to it easily, and our guide, Lets, got our jeep stuck on a ridge of dirt (who knew that they could get stuck). After the other car came and pulled us out, the two guides went walked out to the river and came running back saying "Hurry! Hurry!" We all grabbed our camera and ran over in time to see a pack of four wild dogs eating the impala on the far bank! The guides think that the wild dog caught the impala in the middle of the river and dragged it back. It was truly amazing and a bit gruesome all at the same time. It only took the dogs about 20 minutes to completely devour the impala. Kellie and Wil were able to get into a canoe with Lets and paddle to the other bank to get a close-up view.
After the excitement of the wild dogs, we headed out to the northern area of the property to see what else we could find. Near the airfield, we saw a pack of hyena jogging after a herd of zebra, but the zebra turned and faced them and the hyena walked away. When they left, they walked right past our jeep, which was very cool. They have very powerful fronts and shoulders, and their backs slope down to small rear legs (almost like a German Sheppard).
We soon got a call that another car had found a small pride of lions and we headed off into the bush to find them. After about 10 minutes of driving through very thick bush, we joined the other car. Sure enough, the lions were sleeping away a good meal. There was a female and two smaller males, who were her cubs. They were very beautiful. However, I am starting to get the feeling that all lions do is sleep :-).
After the lions, we had a nice light snack out in the bush and learned all about Lets, our guide, and his childhood, education, Botswana, etc. He's a pretty interesting and humorous guy and Wil was especially engaging with him. It seems that Wil really enjoys talking with the guides and learning about what life is like in the small villages.
On our way back to the camp for lunch, we ran into a small herd of elephant. They walked right across the road in front of us!
After lunch, I tried fishing off the deck for a little while, but the sun was high and hot, and the fish were not biting. Then, we headed back to our respective tents for an afternoon siesta. I took a quick look with the binoculars over to where the impala had been eaten, and the vultures were making short order of any leftovers.
We left for the afternoon ride around 3:15pm and headed west along the channel. At first, we did not see much, but when we got to the area where we had seen the four giraffes drinking yesterday, we saw a herd of approximately 25-20 elephants. Lets parked the car, and we just sat there as the entire herd crossed the river in front of us. It was truly magnificent! The river is not very deep in that area, so as the elephants crossed, their feet and trunks got wet and turned a darker gray. It almost looked as if they had socks on :-)! It was very interesting to watch the adults put all the small ones in the middle of the group to protect them as they crossed the river.
We then drove a little further along the channel and found a herd of five hippos in the middle of the channel. They seemed to be just hanging out together and kept bobbing up and down almost as if they were playing a game of Marco Polo with each other. It was amusing to see them appear, disappear, appear at different times. Interestingly, hippos in water are not all that dangerous because they are very comfortable. It is out of the water that they are aggressive.
While we were watching, Lets needed to "mark his territory" and he headed off into the bush. After a minute or so, he came running back very excited and we jumped in the car and drove around the corner of the channel. Well, this time, there was a herd of 100+ elephants with some very small ones all crossing the river. The water was a bit deeper here and some of the small one would get completely submerged and have to use their trunks as snorkels to cross. The mothers would walk in front of them and straighten their tails so the little ones could grab on with their trunks if necessary. It was very moving to see all those magnificent animals so near to us! We took lots and lots of photos.
After the elephants were all gone, we went back to where the hippos were, parked and enjoyed a nice snack of pistachios and billtong (jerky) while enjoying the local St Louis beer (3.5% alcohol). The hippos continued to bob up and down as if we were not there. We then headed home for another great meal and some sleep.
SAVUTI CAMP DAY 3
Our third and final full day at Savuti Camp started out relatively slowly but got more exciting as the day progressed. The morning drive was beautiful and we saw many of the animals that we had already seen. We went to the north side of the property for the first time. One interesting thing was that we would not see any animals for a bit and then, we would see zebra, impala, warthogs, etc. all in the same area which apparently is very common for protection purposes. The more eyes looking for predators, the better.
One funny thing was that during the snack stop, our guide, Lets, took a piece of impala dung, stuck it in his mouth and spit it at Wil. Lo and behold, impala dung is 99.9% grass and has a hard shell, like a jelly bean. Lets said that as kids they would have contents to see who could spit one the furthest! We, of course, found it very gross.
During the downtime between the morning and afternoon drives, Wil went up to the central meeting area and caught a bream (fish) off the deck! The funny thing is that he had no idea how to take the fish off the hook. He yelled for Precious, the assistant manager, who yelled for one of the guys working in the dining room. The man finally came over and took the fish off the hook and tossed it back in the river. Unfortunately, Kellie and I did not get to see it because we were back in our tent.
The evening drive also started out relatively slow. We did get to see a large group of baboons that allowed us to get very close. It was amazing to watch them groom each other. There were also a couple of very small babies that were extremely cute. As we were leaving the baboons, Lets got a call that another jeep had seen the wild dogs again near the camp. Lets told us to hold on tight because he was going to drive very quickly to get over there.
The next 20 minutes was probably the most exciting drive any of has ever been on. Lets was tearing down the dirt roads and around tight corners. There was another car a little bit ahead of us that was also rushing to the same area. As we crossed a timber bridge over the river, a medium sized elephant standing next to the bridge trumpeted at us but Lets kept moving on.
The most exciting moment came a few minutes later when we heard an elephant trumpet ahead of us because the car up ahead had frightened it. Well, when we came around the corner, the elephant was right in the middle of the road facing us. Lets stopped the vehicle about 25 ft away from the elephant. The elephant sized us up, made a mock charge to within about 10 ft of the jeep and trumpeted very loudly. Kellie, Wil and I were very startled, but Lets was very cool about it. Apparently, if you stay still, elephants will mock charge but not really charge. Lets then started up the jeep and crawled forward to motivate the elephant to move off the road. It very begrudgedly moved to the side but just off the road. Lets gunned the engine and tore past the elephant and the elephant started charging us at full speed! Luckily, we had clear road ahead of us and we quickly outpaced it.
We then went over to the area where the wild dogs had been seen. Luck for us, Lets parked in just the right spot and we got to see two of the wild dogs very close to our jeep. Even better, a hyena was following one of them to see if they killed anything. Unfortunately, it was pretty dark and we were not able to get many photos. It was pretty cool though!
Our final dinner at Savuti Camp was also great because we got to eat outside in the boma around a fire. The camp staff told traditional stories, sang songs and danced. One tradition of the boma is that the men are served first, unlike the rest of the meals. In addition, you have to eat everything with your hands. It was all great fun.