Botswana safari part II: Cat watching in Savuti and getting stuck in Moremi

8 09 2011

Continued from Part I.

when you come to a fork in the road...just follow the sign, no deep thought required

After setting up camp in Savuti where we’d spend the next two nights, we went on an evening game drive and ended up stopping off to see a (surprisingly well-intact and possibly fictitious) 3,000 year old rock painting.

The sight of a Cool New Thing and the slight rush of danger as we scrambled up the steep rocks to see the paintings brought some energy back to our group after the long day.

Sunday morning, the next day, we got up early to go on another lion hunt. I wasn’t so sure we’d be lucky enough to see them, but one of the girls in our group pointed out that many of the post card photos of lions are taken in Savuti, so maybe the odds were in our favor.

We drove around for a bit before finally spotting two male lions napping near each other in the morning sun. Exciting! I had the urge to high five someone, even though I hadn’t accomplished anything myself, I’d just sat in a jeep while someone I paid drove me towards big cats.

It was difficult for us to see them at first because their light brown fur blends in perfectly with the grass. We were the first group to spot them, so there were no other tour jeeps to disrupt the view. Our guide told us they were probably brothers because male lions don’t usually hang out with each other.

Even though they were really exciting to see, I think we all kinda felt like, let’s just admire these deadly creatures from a distance, ok? When our driver kept pulling closer to them and yelling to us “Get the shot! Get the shot!” we quickly snapped photos and felt a bit of relief when he backed the jeep away.

sucks to be in the jeep behind the lion when you want a photo

Whatever hesitation we felt that first morning quickly dissolved. Apparently one lion sighting is all it takes to feel jaded and when we saw them again on our evening game drive it was slightly less thrilling. We also realized that our guide kept “accidentally” beeping the jeep horn so the lions would look in our direction and we could take better photos. Clearly it was not his first trip to the rodeo.

All in all, Sunday was a very good day. In the morning we spotted our first lions, and that evening, we saw our first leopard in a tree. Unlike the lions, whom the guide claimed he could smell as we got closer, we spotted the leopard in a more civilized way: there was a ring of jeeps around a tree with all camera lenses pointed up.

It was still our first leopard, and gawking tourists aside, it was great to see! We started to get cocky at that point and think, well, we’re lucky enough to see lions and leopards, we’re definitely going to see some cheetahs this trip (we didn’t).

I started to make a list of the animals we’d seen at this point, which included: lilac breasted roller (my favorite bird), bat eared fox, wild cat, tsessebe, wildebeest, stable antelope, secretary bird, corey bastard (the biggest flying bird), kudu, live elephants, a dead elephant, flies, vultures, guineafowl, mongoose, and many others that you’re probably getting bored with reading about. Anyway, it’s like a freakin’ zoo out there.

paw prints on the road, the roots crew from philly in my headphones

After spending two nights at the same campsite in Savute, we were on the move to Moremi Game Reserve. At this point in the trip, I broke down and started listening to my iPod for the first time. I just needed something fast past as a mental break from the relaxing vacation. The Roots fit the bill (like they always do).

And, in a serendipitous way, I was listening to Jill Scott’s version of You Got Me when we slowed down to see cheetah prints on the dirt road (that was as close as we got to those cats). Anyway, Jill Scott played Mma Precious Ramotswe in the movie version of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, which is set in Botswana, so I felt kind of justified in listening to American hip hop when I was supposed to be immersed in Africa.

When we arrived at our new camp, we were right next to a marshy pond, and the green grasses were a welcome site. The guide and I walked to the camp next door to borrow a battery charger you plug into a car’s cigarette lighter from an Italian couple. They said they hadn’t seen any big cats in the park yet because their vehicle couldn’t drive through deep water and many of the roads were covered from a bit of flooding. We invited them to come with us on our morning game drive.

The morning started out great. Our camera batteries were all charged up (thank you Italy!) and we were about to show off our guide’s big cat hunting skills to the new editions to our group.

On our drive we learned more about the passengers, a substitute teacher and a truck driver. This was far from their first trip to Botswana. A few years ago they’d taken over a year to drive from Cairo to Cape Town, and had lived modestly so they could return again and again to the places they love.

We first returned to the location were we’d spotted a leopard sitting above its kill the night before. No luck, the cat was gone. Next, it was the Italian woman, not our guide, who spotted a pair of hyenas lying in the grass (it’s rare to see the nocturnal animals in the day).

Then the adventure began. We fuckin’ got the fuckin’ jeep stuck in (possibly) crocodile infested waters.

For the whole trip our guide told us, 1) never get out of the jeep on a game drive, and 2) never go near the water because a crocodile could be lurking right below the surface.

sure, we're laughing about it now, but at the time, not so much

All around Moremi we’d been driving the jeep through water so high it would lap against the windshield. I learned what the safari snorkel exhaust pipe was for, and stopped worrying about getting stuck in water.

As soon as we got stuck, our guide told all of us to take off our shoes and jump in to push. We all made eye contact with our mouths hanging open. He said it again and again, and I emptied my plastic toiletry kit and shoved my camera inside to keep my number one prized possession safe. Then I took off my shoes and jumped into waist high water.

We pushed from the side. We pushed from the back. The jeep didn’t budge. I could feel the grass and branches on my bare feet and was worried about what else was there. Our guide said there were no crocodiles in this water because it was flood water and they stay in rivers. But I’d stopped believing him at this point.

Another jeep drove up. It was a German couple and their guide who’d been looking for hippos in the area and heard us yelling. We weren’t yelling for help, just yelling in general.

They tried tying a rope to pull our truck but the rope was too short. At this point, I grabbed my bag from the jeep and carrying it over my head, walked to shore. I was done pushing the jeep.

The Italian man left with the Germans to get a longer rope from his camp. Our guide found branches on the shore and put them under the jeep tired to help with traction when the longer rope arrived. Then we waited and waited on the bank looking at our poor jeep.

When the Germans returned the woman gave us tea and coconut cookies (I love coconut cookies). It was a very civilized way to get rescued. The rest of the group rigged up the longest rope from our jeep to the Italians’ jeep, which he’d just returned with. Then, they tied another rope from that jeep to the Germans’ jeep.

Some of us sat on the bank sipping tea and snapping photos. I’m not ashamed to say I was in that group.

The chain of pulling vehicles worked and our jeep was free! Although the Italians’ rope broke in the process. We hadn’t delivered the big cat sightings we’d promised, but we delivered a memorial morning nevertheless.

this is gonna be a cash only shopping situation, am i right? or do you take visa?

When we returned to camp, the cook had heard about our adventure from the German’s guide who’d stopped by to fill him in. He helped us out of the jeep with more care than usual and looked us deep in the eyes to ask if we were alright. He also shook his head in a way as if to say, that’s not supposed to happen, the guide takes too many risks. We only drove through shallow water for the rest of our trip.

Our time in the parks was coming to a close. We drove to our second campsite in Moremi and along the way we stopped to pick up more fresh water and I bought a basket some women were weaving. Our last day and night in the bush were uneventful. We’d gotten use to our new life and could have camped for longer, but we were looking forward to life with electricity and solid beds.

Read more in Part III.


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18 09 2011
Botswana safari part I: Camping out in Chobe « The ZsaZsa Balza Column

[…] Keep reading Part II. we roam and roam so far from home Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

20 09 2011
Botswana safari part III: Axing night on the Okavango Delta « The ZsaZsa Balza Column

[…] Continued from Part II. in case you forgot what country you were reading about, it's Botswana […]

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