Day 4, Tubu Tree and Savuti
This was moving day. We elected to sleep in until 7:00 and pack rather than try a short drive. It was nice to enjoy the camp at a more leisurely pace. A kudu was wandering around between the tents; the camp staff told us he was old and probably knew he wouldn’t last long if he ventured out into the open. As it turned out, everyone at the camp, all 10 guests, that day were leaving so we all ate breakfast together. After quick good-byes we left for the airstrip. Four of us got on to the first plane to arrive, a somewhat larger plane seating 12. The flight to Savuti Camp was almost an hour long and it soon became clear we were leaving the plentiful water of the Delta behind. The landscape below was dry and brown but some green appeared beside the Savute Channel itself.
At the airstrip we then met the two couples from Toronto who were to be our companions for the next three days. The ride to camp was longer than at Tubu. Our new driver, a young man with long dreadlocks, was named Carlton. His accent was even heavier than Seretse’s but he was easily understood. His jovial manner was also a contrast but his skills and knowledge were second to none.
As we approached camp, within sight of it, actually, we found a large herd of elephants of all ages in a mud pit. The mud apparently cools them more effectively than just water. As anxious as we were to get to camp we couldn’t take our eyes off the sight of 15 or 20 elephants rolling around in the mud. As always, the babies were the cutest!
We were greeted at Savuti Camp by the manager and his staff, all very nice people. The common areas there seemed a bit worn and dated compared to Tubu but still beautiful and the setting was gorgeous. The dining area and lounge and all the tents overlook the Savute Channel, so the camp has the feel of being on a river. Our tent was similar in size to that at Tubu, that is to say huge!
The bathroom area had double copper basins and an indoor shower that was at least 8 feet square. From the waterside deck we couldn’t see any other man-made structures and, we later discovered, it was a great spot to watch elephants in the water.
After a brief orientation, Carlton was anxious to hit the trail. Reports had been received of a pack of wild dogs and, since they are not commonly seen, he wanted us to get to that area. From our perch at the top of the Rover we bounced quite a bit while we raced along. It was well worth it; the pack of dogs, perhaps 10 or 12 mostly juveniles had surrounded a young giraffe.
They chased it and took turns trying to nip at its legs. Carlton narrated the drama, explaining that the young dogs really stood little chance of taking such a large animal and that the older dogs were nearby, just letting the youngsters practice. Sue was fascinated, as we all were, but let us know she would close her eyes should a real attack start. Well, the giraffe either remembered or learned the way to defend itself: it stopped running and kicked violently if a dog got too close. The dogs soon lost interest in the stalemate and, as far as we could tell, left the area hungry. This episode was as close as we came to seeing what most of us were hoping for, “a kill”. Sue, of course, was quite happy no blood was shed. She understands how the food chain works, she just doesn’t care to see it in person. The remainder of the drive was not nearly as exciting, “just more zebras, hyenas, etc.” Amazing how quickly such things become routine…
By the time we stopped for sundown and drinks, finished the drive and returned, had dinner and then more drinks, it was very chilly. Luckily, the staff had prepared our beds with a couple of “bushbabies” (hot water bottles) so we were cozy all night. As before, the bed was very comfortable and the linens and heavy comforter much appreciated. During the night I heard animal sounds in the distance. I thought they might have been hippos but was told they were more likely lions. This was exciting as that was one of the few animals we had not yet seen. Day 5, Savuti
This day started even earlier than usual; we were on the road by the time the sun rose, about 6:30. Carlton did not like to waste time and that was to our advantage. Very near camp his keen ear and experience worked to our benefit. He heard bird calls that he said were warnings so we investigated and soon found a leopard dozing in a tree. Carlton seemed to know her and we noted that one of her ears was missing. He said she had lost it in a fight with a couple of honey badgers, just outside of camp. Now, that must have been a sight to see! The leopard’s ear area seemed to be raw, perhaps infected, accounting for her lethargy. We watched for a while but it was sad to see since it was clear that she needed to eat soon or she would die, and she did not seem strong enough to hunt. We briefly wondered if we could intervene, maybe feed her something from camp, but of course that is not allowed nor is it a good idea.
That morning drive was one of the longest we took.
We encountered a small bachelor herd of Cape Buffalo, many interesting birds, hippos in and out of the water, and, finally, a lion! Sue cried (again) but the sighting was actually a bit anticlimactic. The lion was just resting in the shade, surveying the area and eyeing some far-away food she had no hope of catching. We drove for a while hoping to find her cubs (if any) but had no luck. Carlton drove us part-way across a wooden bridge swarming with a huge troop of baboons.
On the other side we could see a number of young impala, running back and forth and sometimes leaping through the air. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to their activity, just play we guessed.
The morning drive soon turned into an early afternoon drive and Carlton repeatedly radioed that we were going to be late for lunch. At some point he must have told them to make another plan because we came upon a small pond and there, on the banks, the camp staff had set up a full lunch, apparently the same one the rest of the guests had eaten back at camp.
They even brought a porta-potty of sorts for one of our companions who found it impossible, because of knee problems, to squat behind a tree. She would have preferred a more private facility back at camp but she managed. We didn’t return to camp until 2:00, more than 7 hours after we left.
The afternoon drive started with the discovery of a hollow log very close to camp with a colony of dwarf mongoose (mongeese?) living in it. Cute little things, if you like rats.
Many elephants along the way, including one who was sleeping on his side in the middle of the road. Another large bull standing in the road facing directly toward us.
I had another of those “he could flatten us if he wanted to” moments, but all was well. Apparently elephants have the right of way at all times… One of the other young males decided to demonstrate what we were (later) told was a mock charge, not really meaning anything but to remind us of his temper. It worked. Luckily we all had clean underwear back at camp.
Carlton parked us alongside a lake for “sunset” and we watched (and listened to) a large group of hippos. I thought their predominant sound was sort of a cross between a deep chuckle and the barking of a very large dog. Our vehicle and another from our camp followed a leopard walking along the road. At one point she jumped up a tree, easily 20 feet above the ground. We were told there were bushbabies in a nest up there but it was too dark by then for us to see them, and the leopard didn’t get to them.
Dinner was outside, in a boma, a sort of stockade used for ceremonies.
After dinner the camp staff sang for us and we were escorted to our tents. Day 6, Savuti
Early in the morning, about 4:30, we were awakened by the sound of several elephants walking between our tent and the neighboring ones, noisily stripping leaves from the trees. Later we discovered they had broken several walkway railings.
Another long morning drive, 6:30 until 1:00. Carlton has such enthusiasm he wanted to show us everything and teach us everything. He knows so much! No dramatic sightings, just zebra, giraffe, warthog, wildebeest, elephant, hippo, kudu, and innumerable birds.
That’s all. We did surprise a young elephant beside the road and he trumpeted loudly, startling the poor folks on that side of the Rover.
The afternoon drive was a long distance journey. Lions had been reported to our north, near the King’s Pool camp. An hour and a half of high speed driving brought us to the edge of a huge swamp, the far edge of which was the neighboring country of Namibia. We (and a couple of other vehicles) did find the three young male lions, sleeping in the brush, on their backs with their legs in the air, obviously completely relaxed. Exciting for a time, but watching even lions sleep can get boring after a while, so we looked for a good, safe spot near the swamp for sundown drinks. The first clearing we came to was already occupied by a troop of baboons so we moved on a bit. Another beautiful sunset and some pleasant adult beverages…
We were then able to locate the lions, at least two of them. They were sitting on the bank of the swamp not far away, seemingly admiring the view, too.
We could occasionally hear the third lion but we couldn’t see him, even with the red spotlight. As we backed up to head for home, I looked down behind our vehicle and saw him lying in the brush, his tail inches from our back tire! A close call.
The drive back to camp was long and the air very cold but we were met, as usual, by camp staffers with a warm washcloth to clean up. Dinner at 7:30 featured venison stew (actually springbok), chicken, and more. Creme brulee for dessert, Amarula, and bed. What a full day!