MAY 18-21– SPECTACULAR SAVUTI
For someone that talks for a living like I do, it is somewhat of an unusual experience for me to have trouble coming up with words to describe an experience. But it is difficult to talk about Savuti and to explain how fabulous it was for us. I think we had such a wonderful confluence of situations that made our time there so special that I am afraid to go back there again in the future, as another trip could not be nearly so spectacular as this one. First, it was of course our first safari camp, and while we had high expectations, we just didn’t really know WHAT to expect. We were just blown away by the fabulous abundance of game there that we had never seen before, except on TV or in some zoo setting. And the game was all WILD, fabulously so! Second, we were so stunned by the scenery, the open grassland plains which seemed to go on forever, culminating in such amazing sunsets. It just seemed to be the quintessential picture of Africa that we held in our mind’s eye. Third, we had a fabulous guide, Thuto (pronounced TOO-TOO, like Desmond...) <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Grin.gif" alt="" />, who has such a passion for his job, for conservation, for the Savuti channel, and the animals, ALL animals and birds, big and small, that was infectious and joyous and wonderful, that one could hardly NOT join in his joy and wonder. And so we did. Thank you, Thuto. Fourth, we had just wonderful companions in our jeep, as we shared all our game drives with just one other couple, who happened to come and leave on the same days with us, and we sincerely enjoyed each other’s company, and the company of Thuto. At the end, we called ourselves the 5 Amigos, and we were. Such a lovely time we had, and what FUN we had...
OK, so let me tell you more about Savuti. Savuti Camp is situated in the Linyanti Reserve, along the Savuti Channel, which stopped flowing in 1980. Now the Savuti Channel is a wide open grasslands. Savuti Camp consists of 7 rooms, 5 of which have their bathrooms within the tent. (Thank goodness we had one of those! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Smile.gif" alt="" />) As with all the camps we had an outdoor shower, as well an indoor shower. While we generally showered outdoors, I did not care to have to leave the tent to go to the loo in the middle of the night! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Smile.gif" alt="" /> Most of the tents, ours included, have a view out toward the Savuti Hide, which is one of the most famous hides in Africa, and there are several pictures of it in the Wilderness brochure. Strangely enough, looking at those pictures in the brochure, I thought those people in the hide looked awfully CLOSE to the animals, until I went to Africa, and we were even CLOSER to the animals than those pictures! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Smile.gif" alt="" />
As at Mombo, and most camps in the bush, Savuti is built totally on raised platforms. There is a venue for breakfasts which are all served around the campfire. The campfire was a strangely comforting thing to me, at 6:30 AM, an hour that generally doesn’t exist for me at home. They also served a wonderful dinner one night around the campfire, which apparently happens about once a week per camp, and unfortunately for us, this was the only place where we got to enjoy that particular pleasure. There is also a main dining, lounge and bar area, a minuscule shop, and a swimming pool. Savuti offers both day and night drives, which means that we usually stayed out after sunset for maybe an hour or so, depending on the game that we saw. We personally did not LEAVE the camp after sunset to go out on any game drives. I have no idea whether you ever do that at any camps or not.
Our tent was number 6, which had a very nice view of the Hide and of the open plains in front of Savuti.
It actually was a bit of a hike from the main dining area, which was fine, and did provide a nice measure of privacy. The rooms at Savuti were the most “rustic” of the places we stayed, but as with all camps, the beds were extremely comfortable, with high class sheets, pillows, duvets, etc. There were no safety deposit boxes in the rooms, but there are robes, body wash, shampoo, lotion, soaps, fingernail file, Q-tips, shower cap, insect spray, and laundry detergent. The only thing which I really could find to complain about at Savuti was that the light in the bathroom is PITIFUL. It is very small and makes it very hard to see in the bathroom, especially on those 5:30 AM wake-up calls, when my eyes weren’t working too well anyway!!! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Crazy.gif" alt="" /> As with all Wilderness camps in Botswana, they do your laundry free at Savuti, but here at Savuti, they did NOT wash your underwear. Most camps do not wash underwear, unless it is a 6 paw camp, although they will do socks. BTW, if I didn’t say it before, they DO wash underwear at the River Club and they do at Mombo also.
As I said at the end of the previous note, we saw probably 20 to 30 elephants together as we were arriving at the camp, some of them fairly up close and personal! We were BEAT when we finally arrived at Savuti around 4 PM, from a fairly exciting, then agitated, then distressing day, going from the helicopter tour of Vic Falls that morning, and then the road and boat transfer, and then the airplane transfer from hell. All this without having had any food all day (since we had skipped breakfast to make our helicopter flight) and not even any water since about 10 AM.
I was not at all sure that I was up for the game drive that evening, but the kind folks at Savuti had saved us a bite of a quick lunch and even though we were beat, we decided to go ahead and do a game drive that night after all, especially since the other couple had been waiting on us to arrive, to go on the game drive. OH what a good decision!!!!
THE SAVUTI BOYS ARE BACK!!!!!!!
Before we left home, we had gone to a photo viewing on cheetahs at the National Geographic Society here in DC. I have long considered cheetahs the most beautiful of the cats, by far, and since they are very endangered, I was somewhat apprehensive that we would not see any cheetah. Cheetah are routinely very solitary animals, which is part of the reason why they are not nearly so successful as hunters as lions, for instance, which generally hunt together. The Savuti Boys are an exception to the solitary rule and the three of them have patrolled the Savuti area together for several years. However, prior to our trip, they had not been seen at Savuti for some six weeks, until just the day BEFORE we arrived at Savuti. I was ecstatic that first night, as one of our first sights was the Savuti Boys!
Our first game drive was really quite something, as we saw several animals that were quite unusual, and in fact, did not see them again the rest of the trip! Unfortunately, I did not get many great pictures that night, as I had messed up when we were hurriedly getting around to leave for the game drive. I had only my short lens on my camera, and thus wasn’t able to take the quality of shots I was able to take later on. After that first game drive, for the most part, I just left my long lens on the camera all the time and if I had a picture that the long lens was TOO long for, I just took the picture with Eric’s camera. His camera wasn’t nearly as good as mine, but switching lenses on my camera while riding in the jeep was just too much trouble! So, enough whining about the camera...
That first game drive we saw impala, wildebeest, jackal, hyena, rabbit, and an African wild cat !!!!, in addition to the Savuti Boys. And the piece de resistance, a caracal kill!
Thuto said that was only the second time he had seen a caracal for all of 2005, and we were lucky enough to watch it stalk some type of small game for maybe 15 minutes, and eventually be successful! I think it was some type of a small mouse or rat, but we weren’t able to actually see very clearly what it was that it caught. Actually, this was the only kill that we saw, which was really kinda fine with me. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Smile.gif" alt="" /> We saw lions eating kill on several occasions, but I’m not at all sure that I would have really enjoyed seeing an actual lion kill.
We returned to the camp, happy and very tired! We thoroughly enjoyed our first dinner in the bush, which featured Ostrich--the other dark meat!! Strangely enough, ostrich is a dark meat, somewhat similar to beef, and what we had at Savuti was incredibly tender. We also enjoyed a vegetable curry, salad, green beans, and some type of a dessert. We retire early to our room to finish downloading pictures to the laptop. Hey, BTW, a secret, for anyone that’s traveling to Savuti–unplug the bed-side light from the wall behind the bed, and you can plug in your laptop, camera battery charger, whatever, direct in the room, instead of having to go to the front desk to have them charged! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Clever.gif" alt="" /> BUT, you do have to have a South African adapter, which we bought in the US, although it was available also at the Johannesburg airport, at the one shop which has a boatload of such items, including CD’s by the way. We were kind of obsessive compulsive about trying to make sure we had no equipment malfunctions, so we burned a copy of the trip report notes and of some of the pictures to CD’s while in Africa. (Part of the reason we were so obsessive is that we went to Tahiti two years ago and ended up with almost NO usable pictures, as the x-rays ruined our (film) pictures, so we wanted to ensure that for this journey, there were NO technical problems with pictures.)
HIGH SEASON??? By the way, please explain to me again why later on in the winter (as they call it in South Africa) is better than when we went, as we thought everything about when we went was GREAT! The mornings were somewhat chilly, but by the afternoon, the temperature was quite warm–maybe 80 to 85–and you could wear shorts, which is what we preferred anyway. The grasses were not really tall most places we were, but everything still was green, which provided a really nice contrast when photographing animals, if there was some green in the picture also, not just everything brown, etc. We had very few bugs of any nature. And, in contrast to what I had read several times, that folks could not wear their contacts because of too much dust, I had a problem with wearing my contact lenses only ONE day, when it got fairly dusty, but otherwise, I had no problems with them at all. The dust was just not a problem anywhere we went. At Savuti, as far as game, there were HUGE herds of zebras, as well as just about every other type of animal. I can hardly imagine that game would be more prevalent at other times than what we saw at Savuti, at any rate. At one point, we came over a ridge and Thuto said that there were roughly between 500 and 1,000 ZAYbras (as the locals called them! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Smile.gif" alt="" />) on the plain in front of us. However, unless you’re in a helicopter, there was no effective way to take a picture of those massive herds. My mind’s eye sure has a vivid picture of it though.. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Smile.gif" alt="" />
Before I forget, for Savuti and for the bush camps in general, the day was generally arranged as follows: (All times are approximate)
6:00 AM (differed a bit from camp to camp)--Wake up call
6:30 AM – Light breakfast, with cereal, toast, coffee, and at my request, for me, two hard boiled eggs, as I don’t eat much carbs, and everything else they served for breakfast was loaded with carbs
7:00 AM – Depart for morning game drive
9:00 AM – Coffee or tea break, with snacks, usually a cookie
11:00 AM – Return to camp for brunch, which included eggs and omelettes to order, usually bacon or sausage links, plus luncheon offerings, like some type of a main dish, salad, fruits and cheeses, etc.
11:30 AM to 3:00 PM – Theoretically, on your own, and folks were expected to rest before the afternoon game drive. Especially at Savuti, we did not rest much in the afternoons. The first afternoon, we didn’t arrive until after time to leave for the afternoon drive, the second afternoon we were busy downloading pictures, making notes for the trip report, etc., the next afternoon, we were on the all day picnic, and the next afternoon, we left! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Grin.gif" alt="" /> We did actually rest a bit in the afternoons at Little Vumbura and at Mombo.
3:00 PM – Afternoon ‘tea’, which sometimes was just that–little cucumber sandwiches, but at Little Vumbura, they had pizza one afternoon and tacos one afternoon, so it just depended a little on the camp, what their definition of ‘tea’ was.
3:30 PM – Leave for afternoon game drive
6:30 PM – Sunset, accompanied by ‘sun downers’, drinks and snacks. Again, the snacks varied by the camp. It seemed that Savuti had a nice selection with nuts and cheese, maybe (can’t remember specifically) and Little Vumbura didn’t have much, and Mombo had CHICKEN FINGERS! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Laugh.gif" alt="" /> You’ll have to wait till the Mombo installment to get the story on the chicken fingers! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Smile.gif" alt="" />
8:00 PM – Dinner.
9:30 to 10 PM – For me, anyway, FALL into bed. (Eric stayed up later than I, but that’s not unusual.. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Smile.gif" alt="" />
Next morning, rise and do it again!! There’s animals to see!!!!!!
Thursday morning we were treated to one of the things that I loved best about Thuto–he truly understands cameras and camera angles and how light affects a picture. I could not count the number of times that he would drive up to a sighting, realize the lighting was off for us to be able to take a decent picture, and he would re-position the jeep so that we could take a picture with the light at the correct angle! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Clapping.gif" alt="" /> I don’t know whether Wilderness requires some type of camera training for their guides or not, but if they don’t, they should!!! Thuto’s assistance with taking pictures was invaluable, as well as his eye in setting up the picture. He took us down to the water hole, as he saw the zebras were coming down to the water, and he knew that if we got there before they drank, and took pictures as they approached the water hole, that it would be a truly fantastic picture.
That morning we also chased a lioness who seemed to be hunting (although she never really got close to anything that we saw, anyway) through the brush, and I mean LITERALLY THROUGH the brush. We knocked down 6 foot tall thorn bushes in the process, which we thought seriously cool! The thorn bushes led to our other standard happening–flat tires! Almost every game drive we had at least one flat tire, which Thuto changed with only a modest amount of grumbling! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Smile.gif" alt="" /> I think he thought we were some type of jinxes, as he said that he never had so many flat tires in 3 days! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Grin.gif" alt="" /> In addition to the lions and zebras, that morning we saw Wildebeest, lilac breasted roller, elephant, giraffe, ground squirrel, impala, and my new OTHER favorite animal, in addition to cheetah, WARTHOG!!!
Now, don’t ask me in particular to explain why I loved warthogs so much, but I loved warthogs!!! Something there was about that ugly little face, and that little scrawny tail shooting straight up in the air when they run, I just loved them!
We enjoyed a nice brunch back at camp, which included eggs and bacon, salad, slaw, BBQ chicken, peas, fruit and cheese, and vegetable pot pie, among a host of dishes. After lunch was the time when they normally anticipated that folks would lay down for a nap, etc., but we really never did that. There was always too much to see and do!! We generally–as I think most people did–took our showers either right before or after lunch. That’s because it was kind of chilly to take a shower first thing in the morning or last thing at night, and in the morning, the water might not be warm anyway, as hot water is heated with solar power most places. We also used the afternoon rest period to lay around a bit, download pictures, make notes for our trip report and generally enjoy the camp, NONE of which we could if we were sleeping! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Grin.gif" alt="" />
We then set out for our afternoon game drive, and enjoyed a very full afternoon. We saw a journey of 6 giraffes together, 6 ostriches together, and one of our most exciting moments–HIPPO VS ELEPHANT! We pulled up to this really lovely waterhole, where there was a single (LARGE) hippo ensconced in the center. We had pulled fairly close to the water hole and Thuto had turned the jeep off, as they do when they are at sightings. We took a few pictures of the hippo, when Thuto noticed this big bull elephant coming down to the side of the water hole also to drink. The elephant got a nice long drink, and then proceeded to walk up behind our jeep, to investigate us, I suppose. The problem was that he kept walking! He ended up about 10 feet away from us, and basically blocking our path, unless we put the jeep in reverse. By this time, the hippo was getting kind of boisterous, showed us his teeth,
and treated us to a LARGE spray of water!
Meantime, now the elephant is flapping his ears and raising his trunk and starting to get kind of cantankerous himself!
Thuto finally decided we had all had enough fun, and he started the jeep to try to get the ellie to move off, which he didn’t, coming closer instead! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Shocked.gif" alt="" /> By this time, I am in need of a change of shorts. Thuto pounded HARD on the side of the jeep, and the elephant gave a couple more harumphs and finally moved off... After we all regained our equilibrium a bit, we all laughed merrily..
We drove off to the next water hole, where we came upon my favorite, a wartie, and then, once again, the Savuti brothers! We enjoyed a fabulous sunset with the Savuti boys,
and once again, Thuto helped me set up some fabulous sunset pictures. [img]http://www.info-res.com/ehill/pixs/africa/svt22-a.jpg[/img]
As we were driving back to camp in the near dark, Thuto pointed out a chameleon in a tree. We accused him of planting a fake chameleon there, as we had no idea how he had seen it during those lighting conditions. And, for good measure, before heading in to camp, we saw some black backed jackals and a hare. My goodness–what a day!!!!
PICNIC IN THE BUSH!
Thuto had asked both us and the other couple the day before whether we would enjoy doing an all day game drive and picnic in the bush. We both said “YES!” We left the camp around 7am, as usual, and did not return until 4:30 PM. Thuto said such a drive is really unusual these days, as he had not done one in over six months. All our stars were aligned, in allowing us to be able to do the drive, since it can be done only when everyone agrees, and generally when the people assigned to the same jeep arrive and leave on the same day, as otherwise, there are specific drives that the guides will generally do. AND, most important, of course, is to have folks in the jeep who get along. It was GREAT!
For the all day drive, we were able to travel all the way to the Linyanti River, which was a real treat! We saw wonderful herds of red leche, fish eagles, many elephants and many, many hippo! We enjoyed our morning tea at the river, with a wonderful view of the beautiful Linyanti, many birds and a whole pod of hippos! Just before lunch, we had an unusual siting. We saw a baby hippo laying out of the water on the bank, RIGHT by the road. The shoreline was very narrow there between the water line and a line of pretty substantial trees, so Thuto elected to continue driving, basically right UP to the hippo. He, and we, thought that the hippo must have been injured or dead, as the hippo continued not to move, even as we approached. There was a single large hippo in the water, a little ways off, but he or she seemed not interested in us at all. We drove all the way up until we were right beside the young hippo, about 6 months old, by Thuto’s calculation. He finally woke up and took a look at us and eventually just ambled out into the water! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Smile.gif" alt="" /> Thuto figured he was just sleeping, very heavily, sunning himself and didn’t want to run into the water earlier. [img]http://www.info-res.com/ehill/pixs/africa/svt04-a.jpg[/img]
Please note the white blob in the foreground, which is Eric's hat, which shows you how close we were.
We were seriously amazed that we were able to get within about 3 feet of him!!
As it became time for lunch, we found a really pretty spot to pull over. Thuto brought out a table and chairs, a frying pan, and all kinds of food and drink out of the jeep, and proceeded to make our lunch! He cooked bacon and eggs on the camp fire and bought out tons of food, including chicken and beef which had been pre-cooked, potato salad, bread, regular salad, cheese, nuts, and a big bowl of fruits, and all manner of drinks, alcoholic and otherwise!!!! [img]http://www.info-res.com/ehill/pixs/africa/svt21-a.jpg[/img]
It was more food than the 5 of us could ever eat for lunch!!! We spent a little over an hour and a half there enjoying the views and friendship before moving on to more game and site seeing. At one point, Eric’s hat blew off and we got Thuto to stop and Eric hopped out to go retrieve it. Thuto said “Bye, Eric!!!”, and started to speed off!!! We all laughed a lot at Savuti. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Smile.gif" alt="" />
As we were nearing the camp on the way home, we had a puncture again. But this time it was a slow leak, which was fine, UNTIL we came across the herd of elephants that was blocking the road. Of course they had the right of way and were not interested in moving. So the tire was going flat and we have a herd of elephants that were doing their thing in their own time. We sat in the road for about for about 15 minutes, during which time, Thuto was constantly checking the status of the tire, to see how flat it was
getting. Finally, since it appeared that the elephants were not going to move anytime soon, and changing the tire in the middle of a herd of elephants which was really not a good option, Thuto decided to let the elephants know they needed to move on! [img]http://www.info-res.com/ehill/pixs/africa/svt05-a.jpg[/img]
The elephants were trumpeting and upset with us at that point. Finally they moved and then it was pedal to the metal so we could get back to camp before the tire was completely flat.
Since we had just arrived back at camp at 4:30, we decided we would have sun downers in camp, the 5 amigos, at the main lounge area, which was quite lovely, as we watched the sunset as some elephants came up to the water hole. What a lovely memory!
That night they served the evening meal at the boma by the campfire, and entertained us with lovely singing and dancing, and the ladies sang that beautiful song, ‘I will never forget beautiful Africa. I will never forget beautiful Botswana. I will never forget beautiful Savuti. I will never forget my new friends”. Such true, poignant words!!!
We think it was purely coincidence, but that night at dinner, one of the regional managers for the concession happened to be there at Savuti for the evening meal. We also just happened to sit right across from him. Somehow the subject of our airplane transfer came up, and the Wilderness manager said “Oh, you’re those people????? You’re famous!!!!” <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Laugh.gif" alt="" /> I guess we were famous for getting lost in the bush for 4 hours! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Smile.gif" alt="" /> He didn’t really tell us what actually happened, but we were fairly convinced that Sefofane gave our pilot the wrong airport designation for where we were supposed to be. Just a screw-up, as someone thought “Savuti”, that is “SVT” airstrip. The fellow told us that our transfers after that would be no problem, he guaranteed! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Smile.gif" alt="" />
Much as we hate it, all good things must come to an end, so we headed out on Saturday for our last game drive at Savuti, which again surely did not disappoint!!! We saw the Savuti Boys first thing, and then Thuto heard on the radio that the wild dogs had been spotted over close to Duma Tau. He said we would have to drive like a bat out of h*ll to get there and back, as both couples were leaving that morning, but we all said, “Fine, great! Let’s do it!!”. Wow, it was the Savuti 500!!!! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Shocked.gif" alt="" /> We all hung on and laughed a lot, and Thuto would turn round every once in a while to make sure everyone was still onboard! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Smile.gif" alt="" />
We finally arrived at the pack of 14 wild dogs, and we were very happy to see them, as they are pretty hard to see many times. I wasn’t particularly happy with the lighting conditions, as they were laying down in the shade and weren’t too inclined to move much,[img]http://www.info-res.com/ehill/pixs/africa/svt07-a.jpg[/img] [img]http://www.info-res.com/ehill/pixs/africa/svt06-a.jpg[/img]
so I wasn’t real happy with the pictures I got, but many people never get to see wild dogs at all.
After the wild dogs, we headed back toward Savuti and saw lions eating a wildebeest kill, then one final siting of my favorite, the Savuti boys! Wow, what a morning! Our final game drive was something special, as they all were!
Because of having seen SOOO much that morning, we were a little late getting back to camp, to get our stuff together and have a meal before we headed out to our next camp. We had basically not packed anything before that last morning, and it was a big rush to do that, so we resolved in future to get most of our stuff packed BEFORE the last morning on our successive transfers, which is what we did from then on.
After a nice brunch, as always, we took pictures of the 5 amigos. [img]http://www.info-res.com/ehill/pixs/africa/svt17-a.jpg[/img]
Then we were off, the five of us, this time to the airport. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/Sad.gif" alt="" /> It was sweet and sad, all at the same time, as it seemed to us the same herd of elephants that greeted us the first day, and who had stood blocking the road rather boisterously on the day of our all day game drive, came out to say good-bye to us. They seemed to appear in about the same place along the road as they had before. [img]http://www.info-res.com/ehill/pixs/africa/svt08-a.jpg[/img]
This time they were a bit off the road and didn’t block our way at all. Foolishly, I imagined they knew we had a plane to catch and needed to be on our way. We bade an emotional good-bye to Thuto[img]http://www.info-res.com/ehill/pixs/africa/svt18-a.jpg[/img]
and then we were OFF to Little Vumbura! Link to next section of trip report