Day 91 - Sun Jul 3 Chitabe Camp, to Savuti Camp
(Jen) This morning we did a combo driving and walking tour. We drove for about 30 minutes, parked the land rover, and go out and walked for just under an hour. Our guide took a rifle and a belt clip with a ton of ammo (he said he'd never had to use the rifle before). The goal of the tour was not to track down game, but rather to learn about animal poo (droppings) and tracks. Newman explained how to tell the difference between giraffe, impala, kudu, and spring hare poo. We also got an up-close look at elephant dung both before and after the baboons dug through it and ate all the undigested seeds (Chris: elephant dung looks like an extra-large Duraflame log that has been broken up a bit). The only real wildlife we saw was a fleeting glance of the wild dogs as they ran across our path about 75 feet in front of us. Later on back in the Land Rover, Newman tracked them down again and all 6 were sleeping in the sun. One of them had a really bad limp though - Newman thought he may have gotten hurt running over stumps and bushes and he'd be fine in a few days.
After a quick shower and brunch we left Chitabe for our 1 PM flight to Savuti. There were two other couples leaving at the same time going to Savuti as well. I was not looking forward to another small plane ride at all so I was a bit relieved to see the plane actually held 12 passengers. Unfortunately that didn't seem to matter though and the trip was still pretty darn bumpy. We also had to make a small detour and drop off three people at another camp ½ way through our hour-long flight - so that meant two take-offs and two-landings. I was holding it together okay until the pilot started banking really hard to the left to line up with the run-way at the detour camp - so we're banking and declining really fast and I was totally freaked out and started crying. For the second half of the flight I kept my eyes closed the entire time and tried to pretend we were in the Land Rover bouncing along the road and that seemed to work much better. Ugh. Small planes suck. (Chris: when we get back y'all might still be able to see the marks Jen left in my hand).
We finally arrived at Savuti at 3 PM and discovered that this is elephant central. There used to be a wide and deep channel that ran through the area until 1980 when an earthquake changed the flow of water and it all dried up. In order to keep game in the area, they've created a handful of man-made waterholes that are fed via a water pump - and one of the water holes is right in front of camp. When we arrived there were about 40 elephants hanging out and drinking. Our room also has a view of the watering hole and we're only about 150 yards from it. In the evening the elephants get quite loud bellowing and rumbling at each other. It's quite a trip. Just before dinner some of the other guests were about 10 feet away when some elephants came up to the plunge pool and drank out of it.
The geography here is different from both Tubu and Chitabe. It's dry except for the few waterholes, and there are grasslands now where the channel used to be. Right now the grass is dry and brown as it's the dry season. The land isn't quite as flat either with very small rollers, mostly around where the channel used to be with bands of trees around the edges.
Our evening drive was relaxing but fun. The other two couples that came with us from Chitabe were tired so they stayed in and we had our guide, Dennis, all to ourselves. Right away he took us to see some lions that were lounging around a baby elephant they had killed the previous day. They were fat and inactive but Chris got a great shot of one of the females lying on her back with her legs in the air. For the first time we saw a large herd of giraffe - 18 in an area about the size of a football field. There was also a baby that was about 3 months old. She was super cute with really long eyelashes. We also saw a large (about 50) herd of zebra and wildebeest. We'd seen them before but only in a small group. Other sightings included 5 ostrich, a pair of bat-eared fox, and a pair of black-backed jackals. After dark on our way back to camp Dennis also spotted a serval which I was really hoping to see at some point. They are a bit bigger than a housecat and look like a miniature cheetah, though their diet is mostly bugs. As always here in Africa, the sunset was amazing.
Day 92 - Mon Jul 4 Savuti Camp
(Jen) Happy 4th of July!! No fireworks for us today, but we'll substitute baboon and elephant noises at bedtime instead. This morning's game drive was relatively quiet. We had two lion (both male and female) sightings today, but they were fat from eating the baby elephant the day before so they were laying around and lazy. We also saw a few giraffes and warthogs and a few good-size herds of zebra and wildebeest. At one small waterhole there was a herd of zebra and then a bull elephant came by and wanted the water hole to himself. He would snort and throw his head at the zebra from about 200 yards and try to scare them off. Our guide said that in general, elephants are selfish and do not like to share their watering hole with other animals.
This afternoon we spent about 2 hours in the elephant hide right outside camp next to the watering hole. The hide is a bunch of dead logs piled on top of each other to a height of about 3.5 feet arranged in a 20' wide square. Inside you can stand and observe the elephants. At one point there were probably 40 elephants around the hide drinking and lounging about - a few seemed a bit interested in us and came within about 6 feet of the hide. When you are on the ground and so close to them, you really get an appreciation for how large they are. We were especially happy to see some of the babies so close - one in particular was quite small and was less than a year old. He stayed quite close to his mom and even walked under her legs a few times.
After the hide we were back in the truck for a short evening game drive. Another guide had radioed that they were tracking some cheetahs so we barreled along to join the hunt. We were only driving a few minutes when we rounded a corner and there they were, two cheetahs (brothers) walking about in search of food. Once again, I was surprised how relaxed they were about the trucks (they literally didn't even seem to see us) and we were able to get within about 6 feet of them. They looked a bit skinny and Dennis thought they hadn't eaten in a while. We continued to follow them for about a ½ mile and then the cheetahs spotted some impala. We parked the truck and watched the event unfold. Unfortunately it was getting dark so it was hard to see. The impala were oblivious to the cheetahs and kept moving in their direction as they were grazing. One cheetah stayed crouched and motionless watching the impala while the other went around a strip of trees and bushes to come up from behind. After about 20 minutes of watching, we could see a burst of activity and hear the herd of impala running, but it was too dark to see specific movements. Amazingly, the cheetahs were not able to make a kill and the impalas got away. I actually felt sorry for the cheetahs because they really did look hungry. Our guide said they expend so much energy trying to make a kill that they would have to rest a while before trying again. We've been quite lucky to see cheetahs on two separate occasions on this trip - lots of people come to Africa and never see them at all. Chris also got some fantastic pictures.
Dinner was different this evening as it was "traditional night" which all of the camps seem to do on Monday nights. The staff do a traditional African dancing and singing performance for about 20 minutes and then we have dinner in the Boma which is circular area of sand with a firepit in the middle and chairs all around. The men sat on one side and the women on the other - and the men got to serve themselves and eat first. We also ate traditional food which is pup (sort of like polenta, bland and gummy), shredded beef, pumpkin, spinach, and rolls. We also had to eat with our fingers. The staff did come by with a bowl of lemon water to wash up with before hand but I don't think that helps much against the grime and bacteria the lives out here. I would have rather used soap and water.
Day 93 - Tue Jul 5 Savuti Camp
(Jen) This morning Chris and I both had a horrible time getting up because we slept so poorly - probably the worst yet of the entire trip. We were both absolutely freezing. We had about 5 blankets on us and the hot water bottle the camp gives everyone to keep your feet warm, and we were still cold. Chris also woke up with a stomach ache around 1 AM and still felt icky when he woke up. He said he would have stayed in bed and skipped the game drive had our tent not smelled so horrible. I noticed when we first arrived here that our tent seemed to smell like elephant poo. I asked other people if their tent smelled horrible too and they all said no. I finally asked the manager about it this morning and she said she would check it out. When we returned from the game drive she said that the top of our tent was covered in baboon poo and they'd been roosting in the trees above our tents. They've cleaned it now and it does smell loads better. Makes me wish I'd asked about it earlier!!
Anyway, off on the morning game drive we went. A guide at another camp had spotted some wild dogs on the far end of the concession so we went off racing to find them. We passed several herds of zebra, giraffe, and wildebeest as we were driving but Dennis didn't want to stop for fear of missing the dogs. We even passed a male lion sleeping off the side of the road and kept on going. Chris was appalled that we didn't stop to check out the lion- it is pretty weird when you pass up lions to see other game. After about 30 minutes we found them. There were 11 in the pack (a few more were back at the den with pups) and had just eaten an impala (which we didn't see). Several off them had blood on the fur around their faces and necks. Dennis explained that they were heading back to the den to regurgitate some of their food to feed the remaining members of the pack and cubs.
After the wild dogs we then went in search of lion cubs. We looked unsuccessfully for about 30 minutes and then stopped for tea and coffee. Chris still wasn't feeling well so we all agreed to start heading back to camp. Just as we started out again Dennis spotted a lioness and thought we should follow her and see if she leads us to the cubs. Sure enough, she did. The cubs were about 2 months old and probably about 15 lbs. Two had just come out from the bushes they were hiding in. We got to watch them for about 5 minutes before they hid in the bushes again. They were super super cute. They have spots all over their body that fade as they get older and they had big yellow eyes.
We left the lion cubs and headed back to camp. This time we stopped for a few minutes to visit the lion we saw on the way to finding the dogs. Two hours later he was still in the same area, he'd just moved a few feet to find shade. We continued to see lots of giraffe, zebra, warthogs, and wildebeest. It seemed everyone we looked there was wildlife. It's funny how some days all the animals seem to be out and other days they all seem to be hiding.
Chris still wasn't feeling well so he skipped brunch (I brought him some rice later). I took his temperature and it's normal and he's napping now. Hopefully he'll feel better soon.
(Chris) I did in fact feel 70% better after my nap, and really wanted to see hippos, and this was the designated hippopotamus drive, so off we went. It was a long drive out to the Linyanti River, probably an hour each way, but it was well worth it! There were 20 or so hippos, roughly evenly divided between being in the river and on the opposing riverbank. They didn't move fast, but when they opened their enormous jaws for us to see, that was pretty fun. And on the way I spotted a 4' long Water Monitor Lizard (though to be fair, Jen is an excellent spotter, everyone says so). So now we've seen pretty much everything we wanted to, except for rhinoceros, and those aren't in Botswana at all, they're apparently up in Northern Zimbabwe and Kenya.
On the way back there were a ton of elephants (no pun intended, and they're more like 10 tons each), and one gave chase to the LR for about 45 seconds. It was dark, so we couldn't see it, but it was trumpeting the whole time and crashing through adjacent underbrush... scary!
At dinner there were fewer people than normal because some had left the camp, and the guides opened up a bit more than normal. The only female guide, Chantelle, was telling stories and we all sort of relaxed more than normal. It was a good way to end the day.