As Peter explained in his previous post, getting from Zambia to Botswana was an excitement of its own. By late afternoon we were pulling up to our home for the next five nights, Chobe Game Lodge (pronounced choe-bee). What makes Chobe Game Lodge unique is that its the only accommodation located within the Chobe National Park making it very convenient for safaris (which was the point of our visit).
With 50 rooms, the Chobe Game Lodge was much livelier and busier than the resort we stayed at in Kenya, Richard Branson’s Mahali Mzuri which only had 12 tents. Less personalized but still friendly with an enjoyable atmosphere and beautiful grounds surrounded by lush green foliage, a swimming pool, and a large deck overlooking the Chobe River with Namibia on the opposite riverside. We checked into our room and were delighted to see that it was very spacious. It even had 2 bathrooms taking the concept of “his and hers” to the next level. The best part, however, was the deck that had a plunge pool and lounge chairs where we could relax, read and take in the sites between safaris.
Upon checking in we were given a list of activities for the next 5 days that were going to keep us busy. It was a very precise itinerary.
Most days included three safaris: a morning, afternoon, and early evening drive. Two of which were typically on land, and one on water. Again, one of the special privileges of staying at Chobe Game Lodge is the location. Since we were located in the park we were able to get a jump start for the morning drives beating those waiting outside the gates. We could also be the last ones to leave in the evening.
And like our stay in the Maasai Mara, the Chobe Game Lodge assigns you one guide for the entire trip and pairs you and your itineraries with the people that check-in on the same day. Our guide was a female by the name of DK. In fact, this game lodge only employs female guides. The lodge started an initiative in 2005 to give females more roles in the sought after tourism industry where most positions were held by men. This helped give women a boost in the Botswana tourism industry, but it was also noticed by hotel management that guests felt that female drivers were more sensitive to the guest’s needs and better drivers. I know any guys reading this will find that hard to believe. The driving part, not the sensitive part. The Chobe Game Lodge recruits the top female guides from across Africa and now 14 women guides are known as “Chobe Angels” and do an awesome job in the process. I whole heartedly respect what the Chobe Game Lodge is doing for women’s careers in Africa.
DK, our guide, is third from the left.
Honestly, the game drives weren’t quite as good as our previous safari drives in Kenya. For one, you can’t go off the marked roads to get a closer look at the animals. As such, all the vehicles are jockeying for a space on the narrow roads when there is a spotting. At certain points there was literally a line-up of jeeps, each taking their turn to see the animals from the best vantage spot for 1-2 minutes before moving out of line. It felt a little bit like an amusement park ride.
There wasn’t frequent big-game spotting in the Chobe National Park. Nevertheless, over the course of 5 days, we still had a number of highlights and overall great experience. We just had to seek harder and longer for those experiences. The following bold titles describes our highlights.
Boat Game Drives
The Chobe Game Lodge is located on the Chobe River. As such they have a few safari boats that are used each day for their guests. Botswana is known for having the largest elephant population in the world and many visit Chobe specifically for the elephants. The Chobe River alone hosts onwards of 50,000 elephants. There might not be a better place to observe these herds of elephant families than from a boat on the river where you watch them charge out of the bush to play and bathe.
We also got up close to crocodiles along shore. We even got to witness one catch a fish and devour it.
The other highlight was seeing large groups of hippos including baby hippos playing in and around the edge of the water.
Due to the number of days we stayed we were able to do multiple morning, afternoon, and boat drives while we were there. This way we were able to experience all the various animals, activities and species at different parts of the day. On our afternoon boat drive we enjoyed lunch on the water while taking in the sites of elephants and hippos on the bank of the river.
Overall the boat drives were a unique experience and certainly one of the biggest highlights of our trip in Botswana. When I think safari I envision a jeep in the African bush not cruising on the river watching animals taking baths and drink freshwater. But you could really see the animals in a lot of happiness playing in the water, just like us humans.
Elephants on Afternoon game drive
During one of our lands safaris we were having a slow start so DK decided to drive us over to an area that was more secluded without other jeeps. We found ourselves on a narrow dirt road surrounded by the most beautiful densely populated maze of trees. You could barely see a few hundred feet through these trees. Peter asked DK what the name of the trees were and she said, “Zambezi Teak.” It was right then that we ran into a family of elephants emerge out of the teak trees like Field of Dreams.
You could tell by the behavior of the elephants that they weren’t use to seeing jeeps. They didn’t just ignore us like usual. Sometimes you hear about one of the animals charging a jeep and tipping it over. We found ourselves in a moment of what felt like touch-and-go. DK stopped the jeep near the elephants. For awhile we observed them until one started to approach the back of the jeep. Suddenly the elephant lifted his trunk and his front legs in what appeared to be an attempt to come at us. Of course I instinctually stood up and then was told to sit down. The elephant took his trunk and sniffed around inside our jeep then turned and walked away. All of the passengers had a high five and a nervous laugh together afterwords. Either way you slice that moment, it was a thrill!
After this particular trip home we discovered a dead baby impala laying off to the side of the dirt road close to the gate of our resort. The baby itself was sad to see but you could also see the mother standing by, prancing around nervously as she kept an eye on her baby, waiting for it to get up. For the next two days the mother was still there each time we left and returned from our safaris. Each time just staring at her dead baby impala, hoping that it would miraculously stand up. It was a heart breaker and a lesson on animal emotions, feelings, and a mother’s instinct to protect. DK explained that it would wait until a carnivore would scare off the mother impala and eat the carcass.
Our Last Evening Drive
On our last full day I think Peter and I were both pretty ready to be done with the safaris. Sitting in a safari jeep for multiple 3 hours drives each day gets a bit tiresome. And up to this point the land safaris and been pretty mellow. We had seen a pride of lions snoozing, but only in the distance. We had heard there was a leopard around but no sign of him. There had been many sightings of warthogs, water buffalos, impalas, and monkeys which were all fun to see, but you get spoiled and want to see the big game, the predators. But despite our lackluster spirits, we recognized that it was our last day and when would be the last time to safari in Botswana. We rallied.
If it helps illustrate our interest level in yet another safari on our last evening game drive, I was actually texting back and forth with my friend Shastin at the start of the safari, distracted and not expecting too much.
DK asked the group, “What do you want to see tonight?”
The group in a half cheer replied, “lions and the leopard.” One of the guests in our jeep yelled out, “wild dogs” which are really, really rare. DK gave an affirmative node.
No exaggeration, within 5 minutes DK gleefully shouted, “Lions!” She punched the brakes and backed up and speed off in the opposite direction. Everyone was seating at the edge of their seats scanning the landscape to spot the lions, but we were all confused, we couldn’t see any lions. DK was silent. But sure enough, as we continued to drive down the road we came across a pride of lions. How these guides can spot animals the way they can while also driving is baffling.
The Chobe National Park had the Maasai Mara beat in terms of animal intensity. Up close and personal, there was something both thrilling and scary in the Chobe. Since jeeps aren’t allowed off the trails the animals aren’t as used to vehicles. They also just look rougher around the edges and these lions had way more swagger than the Maasai Mara lions which seemed more cuddly than predatory.
DK was the first to spot the pride so our group was able to observe for awhile on our own. After a few minutes, she dutifully got on the walkie-talkie to share the location of the lions with the other guides. But it was ours for awhile.
We moved with the lions as they sauntered the land in search of a kill. At one point we even saw an an attempted attack on a warthog (think Pumba from Lion King) where the pride surrounded the warthog and finally made a dash to only come up short. Still thrilling and heart pumping to watch. Those lions can sprint in the attack!
We all felt pretty good and satisfied after our lion encounter and there was a definite air of adrenaline and excitement in our jeep. The lions went into the bush and we continued on the drive. No less than five minutes later DK yells, “Leopard!” Once again before anyone other guides had spotted the leopard we were the first. DK’s hawk eye was out in full force and we were the lucky ones.
Early on in the safari and we had already crossed off the top two animals from the jeep’s wish-list. Everything else would be a bonus.
During our safaris we always had a little pit stop for a drink and snack break in a guarded part of the park. On this break, we all marveled and toasted together on a successful safari. Night-time was approaching and we realized that this would be our last sun-downer in the African bush. We were in such good moods that not even the monkeys getting into our jeep and trying to steal our snacks bothered us.
As our safari was starting to end we all wanted to pass the lion spotting site on our way home just to see if there was any new action. All we found was the majestic black maned king laying as lions do.
After our good-byes to the lions we heading back to our resort. We were the last jeep in the park because, as I explained, the rest of the companies and cars have to leave before the park closes.
Within minutes of reaching the gate to our resort, DK slammed on the brakes and yelled, “Wild Dogs!” At first we thought she was making an ironic joke in regards to our luck being strong that day. But no, there they were. “I can’t believe it. A pack of wild dogs. Its been 5 months since the last wild dog spotting,” DK explained, almost getting choked up. “We are so lucky,” she continued. Indeed we were. The guest that wanted to see wild dogs was in doggy heaven. We had really hit the safari jackpot on this particular evening which also happened to be our last.
These carnivorous wild dogs are an endangered species with only 5,000 in all of Africa, Botswana boasting the most. Your best change to see a wild dog is in Botswana but even then its very rare. This species is considered elusive and mysterious. Showing up in areas that they haven’t been in months then suddenly disappearing again. We truly were lucky dogs. I was fascinated by their spotted coats and bat-like ears. These ain’t your domesticated purse dogs.
We all watched in a bit of awe until DK decided it was time to head back again. She had run out of tricks up her sleeves.
But thankfully we still had mother nature on our side who provided one of those inspiring African sunsets. The chocolate coating of the cherry sitting on a bed of whipped cream on top of your favorite ice cream.
Making new friends
You spend a lot of time with the other people on your safaris. We hadn’t really enjoyed the company of the Scottish couple on our safaris in Maasai Mara, with their anti-American jokes at our expense, so we were absolutely delighted when we met a very down to earth, kind, full of positive energy British couple, Bronwyn and David. We spent every safari with them laughing and talking.
On our very first safari I discovered Bronwyn and I had birthdays within days of each other. We had fun sharing birthday stories from the past week. That evening we were the only four people left in the dining room after dinner. We were at separate tables but near each other. When suddenly the lights dimmed and about 20 employees came out with a huge cake for Bronwyn. I mentioned in an earlier post about the singing production that had occurred on my birthday, but this was next level. Peter and I had the perfect spot to watch the performance. In some sort of choreographed song and dance these employees performed like it was their last chance on The Voice before the judges were going to make their final decision. It was awesome! I felt like we got a special bonus live entertainment to end our day. After the staff exited the dining room in a line of signing and dancing, Bronwyn looked over to us, face beet-red, shaking her head saying, “I’m so embarrassed.” Peter and I laughed and thanked her for the lively end to the evening.
David was hilarious and could really make both of us laugh. He was so quick witted and the jokes he would come up with on the spot were not only clever but really comically perfect. He also liked to jokingly peer-pressure me by saying things like, “Do you really want me to drink alone,” as he took back an afternoon beer. Or, “What is one drink at lunch really going to do?”
Bronwyn was given a surprise bottle of champagne that a staff member had put in their room. She kept saying I had to share it with her. The last night the resort put on a special African Braai (BBQ) and celebrated the end of our time at the Chobe Game Lodge. The dinner was lively with a positive buzz. Guests were dressed up and everyone was in a good mood exchanging safari stories. It was that night that Bronwyn and David opened the bottle of champagne and had it on ice next to their table. The entire evening David kept coming over and filling my glass like a posh butler, hilariously bowing as he poured. I would have three sips and he would come over with a big grin, “Looks like you need to top that off.” They were both so great.
It really does make a difference when you spend five days of safari with people you not just thoroughly enjoy, but people by the end you consider friends. Bronwyn and David truly enhanced our experience in Botswana and for that we are grateful.
Botswana rounded out the end of our 3-week African adventure. Visiting Africa opened our eyes wide to an entirely different world. A world of unique beauty of sunsets, landscapes, people, and animals that you will never see or feel anywhere else. The sunsets will take your breath away, they are indescribable. The landscape will make you think you are dreaming with its vastness. The people, their positive energy, and their smiles will touch you in your heart in a way that you will never forget. The animals will at times break your heart but you will ultimately leave with a deeper understanding, appreciation, and love for the animal kingdom. Africa will change you.
Thank you for joining us on such a special trip.
With all kinds of love,