Tag Archives: Lion

Moremi National Park, Botswana – 7 lessons from living in the African bush

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Moremi National Park, Botswana – 7 lessons from living in the African bush

After 1 night in Savuti we were all a bit tired of all the sand and the long walk to the ablutions so were looking forward to moving on to Moremi. We had no idea what type of campsite we were heading to but all had dreams of it being something like Dan’s place in the Caprivi (private bathroom, kitchen, dining room, clean sand etc etc).

Accommodation in Moremi is limited and in high demand. We had ended up booking on the edge of the park in Magotho campsite on land belonging to Khwai Development Trust. The journey there turned out to be incredibly slow and bumpy and was made even slower when our trailer broke (luckily not permanently).  In the early afternoon we arrived at the co-ordinates for Magotho campsite and our hearts sunk.  There was no office, no person to tell us where to camp, no running water, no ablutions. To put it simply, there was nothing. Suddenly the sand and distant toilets of Savuti seemed like luxury.

We drove around looking for someone to help us and eventually found some campers who said that no one from Khwai Development Trust had been around for a few days. They suggested we should just find a camping spot and set up. We looked around for a bit and found a few potential spots – some had numbers on a tree and others just had the remains of another campers campfire. We chose one of the latter on the main road with a lovely bunch of trees behind us and a beautiful open view to the front of us. It later transpired that where we had camped was not an official campsite (still not sure what made a campsite ‘official’) but we were settled there so we stayed.

Be under no illusion, although I may make references in the above paragraphs to ‘campsite’, ‘official’ and ‘booking’ this was no ordinary camping holiday. We were completely on our own in the middle of the African bush. So, should you expect to find yourself in a similar situation one day, here are our ‘7 Lessons from living in the African bush’.

1. A campsite is sometimes just a bit of land around a tree.

When in the wild, do not expect modern luxuries of buildings, a roof, lighting, electricity, toilets, showers or water at all. Do not expect the security of a fence, an armed guard or even a sign telling you that you are permitted to be there.  Instead, content yourself with a flat, dry area of land and hopefully a tree for shade.

Our beautiful yet rustic campsite

Arriving at our beautiful and rustic campsite

Camp set up

Camp set up

2. Elephant walk along ‘corridors’ and camping within these mean elephant will walk through your campsite

We cannot help you identify an elephant corridor as our experience of Botswana is that elephant are everywhere. While the sight of 5 large bull elephants suddenly emerging from the trees behind your tent and passing by your campfire may be quite alarming, we found that they generally just ignored us and continued with their eating / drinking / walking. We had about 2 hours of the one herd hanging around and, with us keeping a respectful distance away from them (and close to the car) they were an absolute delight to watch.

The first of many elephant to wander through our camp

The first of many elephant to wander through our camp

Sitting around the campfire with a pretty amazing view

Sitting around the campfire with a pretty amazing view

3.  Camping next to the water means hippo

While a campsite with a view is always in demand, remember that a watery view comes with the risk of grazing hippo (one of Africa’s more dangerous beasts). We had a lovely view of a river from our campsite which meant elephant and buck came down to drink during the day. However, as the sun set we would start to hear the now familiar grunt of hippo as they readied themselves for their night time graze. During the night you could hear the ‘chomp chomp’ of the hippo as they wandered around near our camp eating. Definitely important to stay in your rooftop tent until morning! Although, saying this, I believe hippo can travel up to 10km at night while grazing so even if you chose a campsite without a water view you may still see them.

Do not be fooled by their cuddly appearance

Do not be fooled by their cuddly appearance

4. Be prepared to build your own toilet 

When in the African bush and faced with the prospect of no formal ablutions, be prepared to build your own. You will need a spade to dig the hole and to put sand back in the hole after every visit. Choose your location  carefully. It should be far away enough from the campsite for some privacy but close enough so that people can hear your cries for help if you are at the toilet and come across a lioness. Ensuring good visibility is also a good idea – I never feel comfortable having my back to the African bush.

Chris digging the hole

Chris digging the hole

5. You will only shower if you make one

If cleanliness is important to you then perhaps living in the African bush is not for you. Water is scarce and swimming in the water channels is downright dangerous. We were fortunate to have one of our team able to safely collect river water and build us an outdoor shower so we could at least feel a bit cleaner. Luckily, some elephant chose to wander down to our camp at the same time providing an exceptional showering view.

Collecting water at a crossing point

Don collecting water at a crossing point

Chris, shower and elephant

Chris, shower and distant elephant

6. Make a big fire, you never know what will try visit you at night

A fire is your friend as it provides light, heat, a place for cooking, a center point to your evening conversation and a deterrence to some particularly scary wild animals. On our first night, we sat nervously around the fire surrounding by a thick blackness like I had never experienced when Don suddenly said ‘whats that?’ and aimed his torch out to the front. There, a mere 8 meters (we measured the next morning) was a hyena. A giant hyena. A giant hyena with a jaw that can crack bones. What amazed me was that it had got that close to us without the rest of us hearing one thing. We reassured ourselves that with the fire it would not have come any closer.

The next night we were setting the table for dinner when a car suddenly came careering along the road in front of us. It slammed on breaks and asked us if we had seen the leopard. Ummm…. no? Apparently it had been walking down the road towards us but when the car came up it ran into the bush next to our camp. Now it was somewhere around us and we had no idea where. The next morning we woke up and found its footprints on the road right next to our fire. Like it had walked through the camp, around the fire and back out the other side. We heard and saw nothing of course.

Leopard prints

Leopard prints

Some beautiful lionesses we found about 1km away from our campsite

Some beautiful lionesses we found about 1km away from our campsite – wonder where they were that night?

7. Be prepared to work hard

Life in the African bush is not easy. Anything you need you have to either have brought with you or be in a position to collect yourself (firewood, shower water etc). The roads (where there are roads) are just marked out of the bush and you must get used to sand, bumps, obstacles and water crossings.

The look on Chris' face says a lot about how he feels about this

The look on Chris’ face says a lot about how he feels about this

Collecting firewood at sunset

Collecting firewood at sunset

It sounds like a cliche but is an absolute privilege to stay in the wild in the African bush. There are not many places left in the world where you can go without the restraints of a reception desk and checkout times and without the security of phones and wifi. If you are lucky enough to experience this, embrace it. Give in to the lack of toilets and showers and relish the chance to walk around a corner and see a family of elephant playing in the water. Be respectful of your surroundings and remember that you are the intruder. Leave it as you found it so many more travelers can get the chance to experience the same.

Savuti, Botswana

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Savuti, Botswana

Getting there:

The road from Chobe to Savuti is a proper sandy 4×4 African track. To make it across in 1 day you will need an excellent 4×4 vehicle, an excellent 4×4 trailer, an excellent 4×4 driver (good levels of concentration essential) and a strong bladder (those bumps do not make it easy). Luckily we had the first three elements and plenty of toilet breaks in the reserve to get us through the fourth element.  We left Chobe around 7:30am and were in Savuti by mid afternoon feeling quite pleased with ourselves at our speedy progress. However when we came to set up camp those bumpy roads came back to haunt us as we discovered that all of our food containers in the trailer had been shaken open and all our food had been broken up and dispersed across everything else in the trailer. With the high temperatures and dry conditions this was not a good start to our stay in Savuti. (Tip: Secure all boxes of food as if they are to be placed on a roller coaster)

The road from Chobe to Savuti

The road from Chobe to Savuti

Some of the food that stayed in the box

Some of the food that stayed in a box

Accommodation:

If you want to camp in the reserve then your only option is the SKL campsites. There are 14 campsites of varying size and a few tented camps.  Each campsite has their own braai area and a tap with fresh water – which was an absolute blessing with the ‘food splattered through our trailer’ disaster. There is one adequate communal bathroom but, unless your camp is right at its door, it is a long walk and is useless after dark when you aren’t supposed to walk around.

A map of the campsite - we were 'upgraded' to CK4 and were quite happy with it.

A map of the campsite – we were ‘upgraded’ to CV4 and were quite happy with it.

The view of our campsite from across the channel

The view of our campsite from across the channel

In our 3 week holiday this campsite was by far the most expensive. I can only think that it is because accommodation is in such short supply that they can up the price. In 2013 one night was R250 per SADC adult and $50 per international adult. This campsite really is in the middle of nowhere. There are no phones, internet, shops etc anywhere nearby. There is a tiny little supply shop open for a few hours during the day that sells the essentials like cold coke and “tinned stuffs”. They also sell firewood but we would recommend bringing in all of your the firewood you think you will need and only relying on this for emergencies. You are not allowed to collect firewood in the reserve so will face very steep prices for firewood (wood that other people have collected outside the reserve and driven to the campsite).

Rations at the tuck shop

Rations at the tuck shop

Wildlife:

The campsite is along the Savuti channel. When we were there (granted it was the middle of the dry season) there was only a single little watering hole and nothing as majestic promised by the word ‘channel’. However, just in the first few hours of setting up and cleaning out the trailer we saw elephant and buck coming down to drink so we were pleased it was there.

The campsite has no fences and is just plonked in the middle of the park. We had a rather terrifying moment when a large Bull elephant decided to wander through all the campsites during the time when 2 of our party had taken the only car out for a drive – there are high panic moments when there is no vehicle to hide in and elephant wandering up towards you! I had stupidly read that elephant had destroyed the last Savuti campsite and was concerned they were on their way to take on this one. Other than that our more regular visitors to our campsite were some very cheeky hornbills.

Elephant on the channel next to our camp

Elephant on the channel next to our camp

Little hornbill wanting to share my mom's breakfast

Little hornbill wanting to share my mom’s breakfast

We took several game drives around Savuti. The fabulous thing is that you hardly have to drive very far to see anything. We had been told that Savuti was cat country so we were desperate to find some cats. We didn’t have to wait long as mere minutes after driving out of the campsite we found a beautiful male lion. It was thrilling to know that lion was less than 1km from our home and we were constantly reminded of it that night when we were lying in our tent listening to him (and a few others) roaring nearby. This was a unique and unforgettable experience for me.  Another special moment was when we came across a huge clearing and were busy admiring a very definite elephant path when my mom pointed to elephant coming out of the trees along the path. She quickly maneuvered the car off the path but kept it close (closer than I would have liked but further than she would have liked) and switched off the engine. We sat there silently and watched the whole herd walk peacefully by us.

Lion

Lion

Elephant

Elephant

While you’re staying at Savuti or on your way out we would highly recommend stopping by the rock paintings not far from the camp entrance . The paintings themselves are small but scrambling up the rock while you look out for leopard is a lot of fun. Also, the views from up there are gorgeous – we watched giraffe and elephant from above.

Us and the rock paintings

Us and the rock paintings

(Em)