Monday, September 15, 2014

Lions, Leopards, and Buff's, Oh my!

Now I’m sure most of your are aware that I've just returned from an amazing trip back home to see my family and friends (well, over a month ago now). That will for sure be a post in itself, but if you will allow me to divert from the chronological path that I have kept since I began this little blog, I am going to go a bit out of order here. I had an incredible time back home with the fam, but unfortunately I left my camera in Africa… so I wasn’t able to capture many photos! I will tell you all about it though soon.

Now for this particular story, I DID have my camera on me. And man, was I glad that I did.

So Zimbabwe has two back to back public holidays (“Hero’s weekend”) in the second week of August every year. This is always a good time to take a nice little long weekend trip somewhere close. We had originally planned on going up to Masau, which you will remember from my previous posts with Adam and Megan, but its actually a really long drive for us to get up there and back even if we did have a few extra days to travel.

So thanks to our friend Lauren Mallett and her brilliant idea.. we decided to go camping in Botswana instead! Brief geography lesson: This country is directly to the west of Zim, as the crow flies probably about 250 miles from Bulawayo. But even closer if you are travelling across the border from Victoria Falls! With some last minute luck we managed to find an available campsite in Chobe (Cho-bee) National Park. The lack of availability led us to believe that this was a pretty popular place, and for good reason…

So once the decision was made and the final list of travelers was decided we got together all of our camping gear and headed north(west) toward Vic Falls, and the Bots border! We were originally planning on having 5 of us total on the adventure, but unfortunately our other two guests had other prior obligations. So at about 5am Saturday (Aug. 9th) morning, me, Cu, and Lauren (“Lol”) hopped in the truck and headed to the border!

We crossed the border with ridiculous ease and before we knew it were inside Chobe National Park! As this was the first time that any of us had been to this particular national park (and my first time in Botswana! Another one checked off the list..), we had no idea really what to expect.

The Chobe River creates the northern border of the Chobe National Park, and stretches towards Botswana’s Okavango Delta. So we were prepared for a lovely drive on the “River Road” in the park, but did not expect the vast floodplains beyond the river that allow for uninterrupted views wildlife all the way to Namibia. As we entered the park we were welcomed with a large herd of Elephant and Buffalo grazing along the river and an unbelievable amount of birdlife bathing in its refreshing waters.

It was at that point that we knew this was going to be a special place. The deeper and deeper we got into the park the more wild it became. We took the long way to our campsite along the road that runs parallel to the river all the way through the park.

I will say the only negative thing about Chobe that we noticed right away is the amount of people touring the park. That is one thing that we take for granted in Zimbabwe, it’s a bit of a hidden gem for some tourists who still think that the country isn’t safe or don’t realize the beauty it holds. So you rarely bump into another vehicle when in Zim’s national parks. In Chobe however, there was another car every 5 minutes. It took away from the awe of our surroundings, but only slightly. There is a reason that so many people visit this place.

As we were cruising along, we came upon a lone elephant really enjoying himself in a mud bath. He was caked in mud from head to toe and spend 20 minutes wallowing and rolling around in the pit! What a funny little guy. During the rest of the drive we spotted more elephants, giraffe, sable, kudu, and tons of fish eagles (looks a bit like a small bald eagle).

After winding along the river road for a few hours, we made it our campsite. We were pleased to find out that our site was right next to river and the endless floodplains beyond on a private section that no one could access unless they were staying at that particular campsite.

So we set up our tents and got our campsite organized then headed back out for a short drive to watch the sunset. There is something about an African sunset that just cannot be put into words. We sat and watched a herd of over 800 buffalo made its way across the plains as the enormous sun made its slow dip into the horizon. Its moments like these that I really appreciate where I live and what I am fortunate enough to experience in my own backyard. Those sunsets will never get old.

And as if that sunset wasn't enough, it happen to be full moon that night, so we stayed and watched the unbelievably huge orange moon rising into the sky, humbled by its presence. I know its not scientifically possible, but when watching that scene, a small part of me feels as if, in the very spot I am standing, I am miles closer to the sun and the moon than any other place on earth. It just makes you feel so small and yet so privileged at the same time. 

That evening we were enjoying our campfire dinner and drinks, when a couple at a nearby campsite warned us to be careful as there was a leopard right by us! We jumped from our seats, managed to grab the camera and slowly crept to the other side of the tree sheltering our tents. Sure enough, an adolescent leopard was sitting there waiting to climb “his” tree. He was not deterred by our presence and went about his business ascending the large tree to have a look around. He stayed there, directly about our campsite for what seemed like hours before departing from the tree and trotting off into the distance.

What an unexpected treat! We were hoping to see leopard while we were there, but not this close! We all sat in wonderment for a good hour trying to wrap our heads around what we had just seen, before heading to bed for the night.

Woke up early the next day so we could head out and catch some early morning game sightings. Not 10 minutes into our drive, as we rounded the corner onto the river road we spotted two lionesses sitting directly on the road! They looked fat and satisfied from what we assumed was a successful night’s hunt. Undisturbed by our vehicle, the lionesses allowed us to observe them and get some great pics.

The rest of the day was full of some more incredible sightings. We spotted a leopard sitting high in a tree lounging in the safety and comfort of a hamerkop’s nest (small African bird), a large troop of banded mongoose frolicking and playing all around us and our campsite, the largest herd of giraffe I have ever seen (about 30 in total), and yet ANOTHER sighting of a leopard sitting in the shade of a nearby bush. We also spotted the rare Lechwe antelope found in very few regions of Africa, snake eagles, and zebra frolicking in the plains alongside hippo, warthog, elephant, and buffalo. Overall one of the most stunning sceneries I have ever witnessed.

After yet another remarkable sunset we settled back into our tents, falling asleep to the sound of buffalo ambling in the riverbed next to us. The next morning we packed up camp and slowly made our way out of the park and back across the border into Zimbabwe where we spent a night camping in the Victoria Falls National Park. Not many game sightings in that park, but still so nice and peaceful camping on the banks of the Zambezi River with the soothing sound of the rushing rapids next to us.

What a trip! I’m still finding it hard to believe that each time I venture into the bush I discover more new and amazing things. This place continues to astound and amaze me! Can’t wait for more adventures to come!

Until next time…