Where to begin?! This weekend was absolutely incredible, and honestly it could not have been better. I’m just going to go over some of the highlights and let the photos that Braydan took do all the talking in his next posts, sound good?
Saturday morning we left bright and early for our group’s Chobe trip. This is the safari trip that we had all been waiting for, and we were excited to say the least. Getting to and through the border was peachy, although after crossing the Zambian border, we had to take a boat ride to the Botswana border, go through immigration/customs again, and then–and this was the most important part–walk/step through this little concrete box fully of muddy liquid and a wet mat that was apparently full of a disinfectant that would disinfect our shoes….yeahhhh…..
After getting through customs and stepping in the “disinfectant” we were off to the resort where we would start our trip. They fed us brunch, split us off into groups, and sent us down this dirt path to the boats waiting to take us on our river cruise. The river cruise was fun, but kind of annoying at the same time because 1) we were placed on the biggest boat while the girls from the LBP that came with the BYU group were placed on the smaller boat, and 2) our driver was so slow and would randomly stop to give us facts about the river that we really didn’t have context for, nor was super important to us. That being said, we still got right up close and personal with some crocodiles, hippos, and various other creatures. We tons of elephants(!) but steered clear of them because they can have a temper. The impalas were frolicking like crazy and the water buffalo were just minding their own business chewing their cud. Overall, it was a very tranquil scene to be in.
When the boat safari was over, we zipped back to the resort, had lunch, and then got split up from our LBP friends again to go on the legit safari. Again, it was kind of annoying because the girls would’ve fit in our jeep just fine, and they were going to end up at the same campsite anyway, so it was frustrating that we got a jeep to ourselves and then one more person was added at the last minute. But, I digress. The “jeeps” were actually decked out open-air Toyota Land Cruisers, but regardless, they looked like legitimate safari jeeps, so I wasn’t complaining.
Ten minutes later, we arrived at the Chobe park entrance and everyone was buzzing with excitement! After registering us as park guests, our guide hopped back in the vehicle and we took off. It would be an understatement to say that we were blown away. My thoughts about the safari were that yeah, it would be cool, but it would mostly be us driving around not seeing anything and then getting really excited when we finally saw an impala or kudu or something like that. Nope, that’s not how it was at all!
May and June are the start of the dry season in Southern Africa, and with the dry season, animals that had migrated out of Chobe to higher ground were now migrating back in full force because of the lack of water in the higher areas. Because of this, we saw tons (and I literally mean tons) of animals. The first animal we saw was one I thought we’d be lucky to see if at all, but it turns out we ended up seeing probably one hundred of them: giraffes. And with that introduction to the park, we took off for another few hours of driving over bumping dirt roads, winding our way through the park to see as many animals as possible.
We saw almost everything we came to see within the first hour which just blew us away. There were elephants everywhere, and there was at least one or two that trumpeted at us right as we passed by it. Let me tell you, everyone jumped a good few inches in the air when they did that because a trumpet is almost always followed by a mock charge. We were told we probably wouldn’t see lions during our stay because the office at the other end of the park had seen them leave the park a few days earlier. While we were definitely disappointed by the prospect of not seeing lions, there was plenty more to see that the disappointment didn’t last too long. Towards the end of our drive as the sun was going down, we heard it! A real lion call! Our guide was so excited because he said it was likely a male which meant that the pride was probably back in the area. Even though we waited for a quite a while, the lion never made an appearance, but it gave us hope.
Once the game drive was finished for the day we arrived at our campsite. I’ll be the first to say, I’m really not a fan of camping. Theoretically, it’s okay. But I have yet to enjoy camping in legitimate tents on the ground. The most recent times I’ve been camping have ended up with me freezing the entire night despite wearing FIVE LAYERS of clothing, being so uncomfortable and in pain from my back that I couldn’t sleep, and waking up sick in the middle of the night from sharing a drink with someone else. Needless to say, tent and/or ground sleeping is not my thing. Furthermore, using the restroom in the woods is something my body physically rejects. Like, I cannot, it just doesn’t happen. That being said, the bathroom situation was better than expected and we at least didn’t have to squat to do our business. And there was toilet paper. So all was not lost.
We arrived just before dinner and dropped our stuff off in our tents. The tents were high quality and durable, and I only worried slightly if I would freeze. Having a heater for a husband is also a bonus, and after eating a filling dinner of meat and veggies, we went to bed. Y’all. I was so warm I almost cried from happiness. The mats on the ground were better than most, so I at least slept a little bit instead of none at all. It’s the little things, you know?
We were woken up at 5:45am by the guides, and by 6:20am we were headed back out into the park. For a while, we didn’t see much. But then our guide got a radio call that there was a sighting of wild dogs. Apparently, wild dogs are really rare to see in Chobe (the guide only sees them once every few months if he’s lucky) and after asking us if we were buckled in and wanted to see them, he took off! Literally, it felt like a roller coaster ride. We were booking it to where the dogs were, and if we hadn’t been buckled in, we all would’ve been thrown out of the cruiser. Honestly, it was a thrilling ride!
The dogs were incredible! They’re also called painted dogs, and they looked like paint had just been thrown on them with all of their spots of color. With their massive ears and bushy tails, they were the picture of beauty and grace, and you couldn’t help but want to throw a squeaky toy at them. When we first arrived to the clearing they were at, it was difficult to see them because of the distance. However, our guide was wise and turned off the vehicle and we waited. After about 5-7 minutes of waiting, the dogs made their way back towards us and came within literally three feet of the cruiser as they crossed the road back into the bush. I think we all held our breath and tried to signal that we weren’t tasty snacks because again, the cruiser was open air, and they could’ve easily launched themselves into the car if they had wanted to.
Thinking that our luck had probably run out, we continued to cruise around the park seeing more giraffes, zebras, and elephants. Our guide got another call from the office at the other end of the park that the lions had been spotted coming back into the park sometime during the night before, so we made our way towards where the lions would likely be. As we rounded a corner, I looked to my right and saw three things: lions laying down under a tree, a giant gray lump on the ground, and what looked like another lion on top of the gray lump. In the time span of about two seconds though, we heard a massive elephant trumpet and turned to our left to see a very angry momma elephant storming out of the bush right at our vehicle. The guide quickly gunned the gas and we took off just in the nick of time.
The elephant continued storming over to the gray lump on the ground, scarring off the lions, and it became apparent very rapidly that momma was realizing that she had lost her baby to the lions. Truly, it was a sorrowful moment. She was obviously very mad, but her grief was evident as well as she tromped around throwing sand in the air and sending out grumbling signals to any other elephants in the area. We waited for a bit but didn’t dare go back the way we came because of the understandably angry elephant. While we waited, we could see the lions slinking through the bush waiting for her to leave.
Eventually, we made our way around too another area away from the elephant but on the other side of the lions and we were able to get an up close and personal look at them. We stopped about 20 feet from them, but I wasn’t too worried since they were all really relaxed (there were eight of them with one male in the bunch) and didn’t look like they wanted a human snack to subsidize their interrupted meal. They were truly just biding their time until they could return to the kill. It was both beautiful and frightening to see these creatures in a completely uncontrolled environment and doing what they do best.
After seeing the lions and dogs, our day felt complete. However, we had more time left on the drive, so we slowly meandered on back towards the park exit. We saw more elephants, including one that I’m dead serious waved it’s trunk back at me when I waved my arm towards it like a trunk. At the top of a sandy hill, we saw another elephant that was far less kind. In fact, she seemed grumpy, and she wasn’t afraid to let us know that by mock charging our vehicle. The guide, Leo, threw the car in reverse and we hot backwards as the elephant headed our way. She backed off a little bit, and when our guide thought it was safe, we started off again. Or rather, we tried to go. Our wheels, however, we stuck in the sand, and we weren’t going anywhere. Upon hearing our car rev, the elephant got P.O.ed again and decided to mock charge the car again, and then backed up and mock charged another time, coming within about 2 meters of the car. During the entire ordeal, our guide was working to get the car loose, and luckily he did right after the elephant backed off after her second charge. We knew if she charged again, it would be for real, and that was a scary prospect.
With all of our hearts racing, we couldn’t help but laugh at how frightened we all were and how incredible it was despite the threat. Our poor guide seemed a bit shaken, too, but luckily he didn’t show it until afterwards. With the scariest part behind us, we made our way to the exit and said our final goodbyes to Chobe National Park. While we didn’t see the leopard that we were longing to see to complete our “Big 5” experience, we was a leopard’s kill up in a tree, which was cool and frightening in it’s own right
After we got back to Livingstone, we were all drained and hungry. Braydan and I dropped off our stuff, and then pretty quickly headed out to a local fish restaurant called Ocean Breeze. We had delicious sushi and fish and chips, and came back to the compound with full bellies and sleepy eyes. After much needed showers, we curled up on the bed to watch a movie and ended up falling fast asleep as per usual. Overall, this weekend was incredible and an absolute dream come true. 10/10 would highly recommend! Until tomorrow, ¡adios!