Botswana Safari: Exploring Moremi, Savute, and Chobe

Our jeep was an open aired jeep with no windows, no doors, and no seat belts. When it was all loaded up you would have thought we were packed for a month because there was barely enough room for Ronen and I to sit. Our first campsite, Khwai, was a four-hour drive from Maun into Moremi Game Reserve. Because the jeep was open, Ronen and I wore our cooling scarves on our face to protect us from getting windburn. We looked pretty ridiculous.

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During the drive we saw tons of impala and a few giraffe just off the side of the road. As it got dark, we could see bats in the head lights flying like fighter jets catching bugs. We had to stop twice before reaching our campsite, first to let a zebra cross the road and then ten minutes later, a kudu.

Our camp was situated right next to the Khwai River in the bush in Moremi Game Reserve. This wasn’t a fancy lodge with a fence around it, it was bush camping at its finest. Once we arrived, we set up our tents and then ate dinner.   A few minutes after we sat down to eat, I heard a branch break behind me and I must admit that the first thing that came to my head was that it was a lion and I was going to be dinner. Ronen quickly shined his light in the direction of the noise and there was a spotted hyena 15 meters behind me! My fear was then replaced with excitement; that was the first time we saw a hyena in the wild. He then shined the light toward the river and we could see another hyena and the eyes of a crocodile and a hippo in the water. We went to bed to the sounds of elephants splashing and grazing in the river.

We woke up early for our first game drive with Sam, our new guide. Within the first ten minutes we saw six different species, Red Lechewe, Water Buck, Impala, Zebra, Warthogs, and Kudu.

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The most incredible thing was saw that morning, and really one of the most amazing things in my life, was a female Leopard. She was walking through the bush and resting in the trees licking her paws and cleaning her face. We were lucky enough to spend a full hour and a half just watching her. It was a very moving experience for me. It’s extremely rare to see a leopard in the wild and to have spent so much time with such an elusive and beautiful animal almost moved me to tears.

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When we left the leopard we drove to the Hippo pools where we found a lioness sleeping in the bushes. There is also an overlook that you can climb to the top of and watch the hippos play and argue and the crocodiles sun bathe.

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After the pools, we made our way back towards camp. On the way we saw more kudu, impala, warthogs and then a close encounter with a male giraffe.

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When we got back to camp for lunch Nico and Gabo were busy chasing away Vervet Monkeys who had discovered that Gabo was cooking. They were quite the troublemakers trying to steal food from the fire and playing all over the safari jeep. One even figured out how to open the zipper to the food tent and snuck inside and then completely freaked out when he couldn’t get back out again. Nico had to slowly open the zipper and then get out of the way so it didn’t bite him trying to escape.

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In the evening we went on another game drive. We drove to a floodplain of the Khwai River and found a gathering of tons of species; parked in one place we could see elephants, zebra, impala, water buck and then very close were six water buffalo.

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When we kept driving I saw something running in the distance and when we got closer we realized it was a honey badger. Unfortunately, it was moving too quickly and disappeared into the bush before we could get any pictures of it. Soon after we came upon a series of water hole with hippos and several species birds enjoying their time.

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When we got close to camp we saw two elephants, one was a large male and one was a female. The male was “excited” so we stopped for a few minutes to see if they would mate but the female moved off into the bushes and the male “put it away”. When we pulled into camp, the elephants were coming close but were headed to the west side of camp. I really had to pee and the toilet, which was sort of a shower curtain that zipped shut around a hole in the ground with a small toilet seat, was to the south side of camp. I asked Sam if I could go to the bathroom and he said it was ok since the elephants were headed the other direction. Apparently, while I was in there the elephants changed their mind, because right when I was going to stand up and pull up my pants I heard Ronen say, “Babe, DON’T COME OUT!” and then both Nico and Sam said, “DON’T MOVE!” A few seconds later, all the bushes and branches above and behind the curtain began to break and move and the male elephant was two steps away from knocking over the curtain. My heart was pounding and if I hadn’t already peed, I can guarantee I would have wet my pants. I just sat there, pants down hoping that the elephant wouldn’t come any closer and knock it over leaving me pants-less for the world to see or that he wouldn’t see me and get agitated or spooked. The elephant finally moved on and it was safe for me to come out. The rest of the night we could hear the same elephant splashing and grazing in the river.

In the morning, we loaded up the jeep and drove for six hours to Savute. On the way we took a detour through the park and did a game drive. We got to the river and it was a paradise of animals, there was a heard of 25+ elephants on one side, zebra, impala, tsetsebe, wildebeest, and warthogs all around us, and then another herd of elephants on the other side.

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As we kept driving we saw Roan antelope and a massive herd of water buffalo. There must have been at least 500 of them that created a black line from one side of the river floodplain to the other. We then saw a solo Steenbuck grazing and then all of a sudden Ronen tapped on the roof of the jeep to tell Sam to stop, there was a leopard stalking the Steenbuck. Sam put the jeep in reverse, which scared the leopard, and it ran off into the bushes. This is where I will say that our jeep was a bit of a POS; it squeaked and rattled and roared its way through the bush and it’s really is amazing we saw as much as we did considering the racket it made. More than once Sam said that he hopes it doesn’t break down, he called it a “Dodgy car” which was quite reassuring considering we were in the middle of the bush in Botswana.  Ronen was extremely disappointed that we didn’t get to see the leopard hunt but we continued on our drive back to camp.

We arrived to camp late afternoon and quickly set up. Sam asked us if we wanted to go on a game drive. We said yes; after all that’s exactly what we wanted to do, see as many animals as possible. However, a part of me wanted to say no, I was so tired after a bumpy ride and baking in the sun all day but I just knew that if we didn’t go, we would miss something amazing, and I was right. Before we started, we went to the park office to fill up water jugs and we met a few South Africans that had found a baby elephant stuck in a hole. They were trying to recruit people to help get the elephant unstuck. We declined helping because the elephant was alone so it had been abandoned by its mother and our guide Sam said that usually if an elephant is healthy, the mother can easily pull it our of the hole with its trunk. Its sad, but its part of nature. Furthermore, in Savute, there is a disease that affects elephants called Anthrax and once the elephant is sick with it, there is nothing that can be done to save it. Sam suspected that this was the fate of the little elephant in the hole.

We left the South Africans behind and started our drive. At first we didn’t see much, just some kudu and impala. We then saw nine giraffe in the distance; two of the males were fighting and swinging their heads around smacking each other in the neck with their horns. While we were watching the giraffe we noticed a group of other safari jeeps a little ways ahead so we went to investigate. We then saw our THIRD leopard of the trip! It was relaxing on a branch of a Rain Tree.

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It’s so rare to see one, and we got to see three leopards! Sam told us we must have been saying the right prayers in the morning because we were very lucky to see three leopards, two in one day. At this point, we kept driving and Ronen and I really wanted to see a lion. We had only seen the lioness but she was far away and hard to see. We had stopped at the edge of the river to watch an elephant take a mud bath. It was hilarious, rolling around in a little mud hole and splashing itself. At one point it was lying on its belly and rested its chin on the edge of the hole and the slowly flopped his trunk down.

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I was happy watching this elephant when another jeep drove up and told us they had heard of a lion that was eating a baby elephant but it was a few river crossings away. Sam wasn’t sure if our little jeep could make it so we sat for a few minutes debating and Sam decided we would have to at least try. Sam was our hero because twenty minutes later we were ten meters away from an old and huge male lion while he ripped pieces off the baby elephant carcass and licked the blood off his face!

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I couldn’t believe what I was watching! It felt like I was watching a National Geographic or BBC documentary! It was absolutely incredible and was hands down that most amazing nature experience of Ronen and I’s life.

The sun was setting fast so we reluctantly left the lion alone with his dinner and drove back to camp. When we arrived, there was a visitor patrolling the edge of camp, a curious honey badger that could smell the steaks on the fire. The entire night he circled camp trying snag a meal and we kept trying to scare him away.

In the morning we again packed up and left for Chobe. It was our last day on the safari and I wasn’t ready to be done exploring Savute but we had no choice. About ten minutes in, we saw the South Africans we had met the evening before. They were pulled over and there was the elephant stuck in the hole. Apparently, they had gotten 20 people including some park rangers to help pull it out the night before. It had been standing when they left it but in the morning, it was back in the hole. This time, its position was one it could have gotten itself out of if it had the strength but it was just laying there, eyes all gummed up from the heat and sand. It was incredibly tragic and I couldn’t suppress my tears. I had hoped that if the elephant was sick and unable to get out of the hole that it would have been put out of its misery during the night and would have been dinner for lions or hyenas. Unfortunately, this little one was suffering horribly and there was nothing more that could be done to save it. We continued our drive and it took me awhile to stop the tears from rolling down my cheeks.

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We drove through the bush to Kasane where we were supposed to camp in the Chobe Lodge right on the edge of Chobe National Park. When we arrived at Chobe Lodge to check in to our campsite and for our evening boat cruise I found myself feeling out of place. Chobe Lodge is a luxury safari lodge complete with wealthy people decked out in top of the line safari gear and Prada sunglasses. I had been wearing the same pants for the last three days, I showered once in a week, and I smelled like campfire. The whole place felt very fake, almost like it was a way for people to pretend they went on a safari without ever really becoming immersed in the experience. For me, camping in the bush, having all my meals cooked over an open fire, falling asleep to the grunts of hippos grazing, hyenas laughing, elephants splashing and lions roaring was all part of the experience. I just couldn’t imagine staying someplace like Chobe Lodge, it just felt fake. My observations were proven to be true when we boarded the 55-passenger “Safari” boat where they were serving mixed drinks and to the delight of everyone on board we saw some crocodiles, hippos, elephants and water buffalo.

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The highlight for Ronen and I was seeing four elephants cross the river. At some points, the elephants were completely submerged with just their trunks above water like a snorkel.

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Now don’t get me wrong, we loved seeing all the animals, but the whole vibe on the boat was not our scene so we were happy to get off at the end of our three-hour tour. The sunset that night was one of the most spectacular I have ever seen. There were several fires on the Namibian side of the river and the smoke turned the sky pink and the sun magenta.

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When we got back to our campsite, Ronen went with Sam to fill up the jeep with fuel so they could make it home the next day. We ate dinner and gave Sam, Gabo, and Nico our headlamps so they would be able to see and work at night. We had been letting them use our lamps all week so we figured they really needed them and we could buy new ones in South Africa. After dinner, we packed up all our stuff so we could leave the next morning for Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The next morning, we had to say goodbye to Sam, Nico and Gabo and head to the border and continue our journey. The entire day I kept wondering if the jeep made it home.

Our time in Botswana was incredible. We had the most unbelievable experiences in nature that I still can’t believe we were lucky enough to experience. We are already trying to figure out when we can come back, but in the meantime, there is a lot more world to explore.